Improvisational Sampler Quilt

Have you ever wanted to make improvisational quilt blocks, but didn’t know where to start or what to make with them?  Well, now is the time to try some out!  I’ve created this sampler quilt using some popular improv blocks plus some that you might not have seen before. I will demonstrate the more unique blocks and provide links to tutorials for the others on my blog.  Then we will put them together to make this fun eye-popping sampler.  Improvisational piecing is fun and doable for beginning and advanced quilters alike.  Let’s get going!

1 fat quarter bundle or approx 36 fat quarters of your choice (I used A Stitch in Color by Malka Dubrawsky*)
1¼ yards** of red tonal (23210 16) for sashing and binding
4 yards of blue with green dot (23209 16) for backing

* Malka Dubrawsky’s latest line is From Outside In and will be available in stores January 2014.
**You only need 1 yard of sashing/binding fabric but I’ve allowed for a little extra in case you have to square up the fabric.

There are seven different block types, pieced borders, and sashing. You can make the sampler like mine or choose your favorite improv block style and make 12 plus the four wonky fan blocks for the corners.

NOTE: Use a scant ¼” seam throughout. WOF = width of fabric. The short edge of a fat quarter measures 18″ and the long edge measures 21″/22″.

From the short edge of each of three different fat quarters, cut a strip approximately 1½” to 2″ wide. From a contrasting fat quarter, cut one 14″ square. Cut the square in half on the diagonal. Place one strip between the cut edges. Sew the strip to each cut edge.

Cut the square in half again at a different angle. Sew the second strip in between the cut. Be careful to line up your first strip on either side of your new strip.Cut the fabric in half again where the two strips intersect. Sew the last strip to either side of the cut. Press and trim to 12½” square.

2 asterisk blocks measuring  12½” square unfinished

I made my stitch ‘n’ slash blocks from scraps of fat quarters I used throughout the quilt. These are simple improvisational blocks and perfect for scraps. Find the instructions {here}.

2 stitch ‘n’ slash blocks measuring  12½” square unfinished

Start with a square-ish piece of fabric and cut a free-form quarter circle.

Place the quarter circle over the corner of another piece of fabric, aligning it so the edges are ½” off the side of the second piece of fabric.  Cut along the edge of the quarter circle.  Then cut another free-form arc 1″ to 2″ wide above the first cut.  This is the second piece of the block.


Place the second piece over the corner of another piece of fabric.  Make sure the edges are hanging off the edge about ½” on either side. Cut along the top of the second piece.  Then cut another arc 1 to 2″ wide.  This is the third piece.Overlap them (like they were sewn together) to check your sizing.  If they are about 5 inches on a side, it is time to cut out the corner piece.  If not, add another arch.

To cut the corner piece, place the last arc about 2″ away from the corner of a piece of fabric (mine is only an inch here and it was pretty tight).  Cut along the top of the arc and then up to the edge of the fabric. This is what your pieces should look like.

Place the first and second pieces right sides together.  Place the corners so they over lap by ¼ inch. Stitch slowly along the edge with a ¼” seam.  Lift the top fabric and line it up with the bottom fabric as you go. Repeat for all remaining fabric arcs. Press seams towards the first corner piece.  It may be a wonky mess, but we are going to trim it up.

Square up block to 6½”. Make three 6½” curved blocks and join all four together into one 12½” block. 

2 improv curve blocks measuring  12½” square unfinished

For this block, I am going to give you some some general guidelines to get you started towards making your own unique house.  Feel free to improvise, use your imagination, play around, make some mistakes and make your own house masterpiece.   There are only two rules:  keep using at least a ¼ seam and trim the finished block to 12½” square so it will fit with the other blocks.   Let’s go!

Start by picking fabric for the components of the house. Each section starts out as a square or rectangle and you can introduce a bit of wonkiness as you piece the compenents together. First create the body of the house by combining a square of fabric with two contrasting rectangles of background fabric.

Create a roof for your house, once again combing a rectangle with two squares. Attach the squares as dog-ear corners and be sure that the roof rectangle is wider than your house.

Combine the roof and house body with a strip of background fabric and a strip of fabric for grass. Trim to  12½” square.

1 wonky house block measuring 12½” square unfinished

To create a wonky tree block, repeat the same procedure as with the wonky house but instead switch up the square for a triangle. I made two trees for my block.

1 wonky tree block measuring 12½” square unfinished

Log cabins start with a center square and you add rectangles to each side of the square (these are your logs). Make it wonky and mix and match the fabrics or use the same print for each log around the square. See the tutorial on my blog {here}.

2 – wonky log cabin blocks that measure 12½” square unfinished

Wonky star blocks also start with squares. For each block, you need {1} 4½” square for the center, {8} triangles cut from four 5″ squares for the points, and {8} 4½” background squares.  When choosing fabrics for the star, use contrasting colors for the points. My fellow Moda Bake Shop Chef Angela Mitchell has a {great tutorial for wonky stars}. Follow her instructions and your stars will finish at 12″ – perfect for this quilt.

2 – wonky log cabin blocks that measure 12½” square unfinished

Cut a 12½” square for the background of the fan block. The fan blades can be as tall or as short as you would like, but a good rule of thumb is for the blades to be two thirds the size of the finished block.  In our case that would be 12 x 2/3 = 8 inches tall.  Remember that this is a wonky block, so the measurements don’t have to be exact. Find a piece of fabric about 8 inches tall and cut the straight edge at an angle.

Move the ruler over and angle it until you have another wedge shaped piece.  Cut. Repeat as desired. If I am making multiple fans I like to stack 3-4 layers of fabric together to speed cutting. The blades can be fairly rectangular or quite pointed.  The points should be at least 1/2 inch wide or you will have problems with bulky seams.  A good rule of thumb is for the pointy ends to be between 2 and .5 inches wide and for the tops of the blades to be 3-6 inches wide.  Each fan will need 6-9 blades, depending on the width of the blades.

Place two blades right sides together and stitch from top to bottom with a 1/4 seam allowance.  Press the seam to the side. Repeat until your fan is large enough to cover the background fabric from edge to edge.  If the top edge of the fan is uneven trim it even with scissors.  Remember, this is Wonky – don’t get out a plate or compass to make it perfect!

Press under the top edge of the fan 1/4 inch. Pin to the background fabric. Zig-zag along the edge or use your favorite decorative stitch. You can also do needle turn applique if you choose. Yeah!  Fan are blades attached!

Now we need to cover up the bottom edge of the blades and add the corner round piece.  Find a squarish piece of fabric that is at least 1 inch longer than the distance between the corner of the background fabric and the start of the blades. Lay the square over the corner of the block so that it over laps the background fabric by at least 1/4 inch.  Make a notch with scissors at least 1/2 inch above where corner square overlaps the fan blades. Repeat on the other side.

Cut a curve between the two notches.  Ok – kind of scary to make a free form curve, but you can totally do it.  Trust me, it is very freeing. Press under the curved edge of the corner piece about 1/4 inch. Pin the corner round piece in place – be sure that it covers the edge of the background fabric – and stitch along the edge.

Trim the block to size by flipping it over and cutting off the excess fabric along the edge of the background fabric. You did it!!!  One wonky fan block.

4 – wonky fan blocks that measure 12½” square unfinished


From your fat quarters, cut strips of fabric that are between 1½” and 3½” wide and the length of the fat quarter.  Do not use a ruler to make the cuts.   Don’t try to make the strips perfectly straight – angled and a bit wavy is what we are going for.  Sew the strips of fabric together until you have a panel that is at least 12½” inches wide.  Press seams to the side.  Use steam and starch if necessary to press flat. Square up the panel to 12½” wide by however long your strips were.  Sew the panels together until you have two panels that are 12½” x 36½” and two panels that are 12½” x 48½” inches.

2 – wonky strip-pieced border panels that measure 12½” x 36½”
2 – wonky strip-pieced border panels that  measure 12½” x 48½”

From your sashing and binding fabric, cut 14 strips measuring 2½” x WOF. Set aside 7 strips for binding. Sew remaining 7 strips end-to-end and cut sashing strips:

4 – 2½”x 12½” strips
2 – 2½” x 64½” strips
2 – 2½”x  48½” strips

Create binding using your preferred method with the strips you set aside.


Sew the 12½” improvisational blocks together in a 3×4 grid as shown. Sew the top and bottom borders together by first sewing a corner fan to a 12½” strip.  Attach that to a 12½” x 36½” border piece.  Attach another 12½” strip and fan to the end.  Sew a 64½” strip to the bottom of the top border section.  Repeat for the bottom border section.

Sew the 48½”strips to the 12½” x 48½” border panels.

Sew the side borders to the middle section.

Sew the top and bottom borders on.

You did it!  Quilt and bind as desired!

One improvisational sampler quilt measuring 64½” x  76½”

Leila Gardunia

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