Improvisational Quilting and Making a Baby Quilt Top

Hello all!

Today I have a sort of challenge for you, I want you to come with me on a little quilting adventure. If you have seen any of my tutorials you already know that I prefer to improvise my quilts, so I thought I’d walk you through the process of improvisational quilting.

improvised modern quilt

Of course improvisational quilting is ideal to use up scraps, but for an introduction to the process I think a few fat quarters will be easier to manage. I started with 12 fat quarters in shades of grey and yellow, but ended up using only 10. Using mostly solids is a good idea since you can turn your cut pieces around without having to think about right and wrong sides.

Get some matching thread and a ¼” foot for your machine. Other than that all you need is your rotary cutter and MadamSew’s 6x24 non-slip ruler.

Make A Preliminary Plan for Your Quilt

While we are going to be improvising, it is necessary to have a general idea of what the design is going to be. Look through magazines to find images that inspire you (I also have a Pinterest board for that), explore the work of improvisational quilting artists like Denyse Schmidt, Nancy Crow or Alicia Merrett, look at your favorite works of art and think about their use of color and composition… But don’t get too hung up on creating a “work of art”!, this is just about getting inspired and making a few decisions.

First, decide whether you want to make individual blocks that will be sewn together later or whether you want to create one larger design. For this tutorial I went the latter route, but here is an example of another quilt I improvised using wonky log cabin blocks.

log cabin improvised quilt block with beige fabrics
log cabin improvised quilt block

The next decision is about composition, are you going to have different parts to your quilt? I went with a distinct top and bottom, but I could have done columns or stripes, for example. Are you going to group your fabrics by color or are you going to mix them up?

pick fabrics for your improvised

Now is the time to play around with your fabrics, put them together in different compositions; fold them at different angles, mix them and separate them…

Cut your fabrics on a cutting mat

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Remember that these are just general guidelines, this is your quilt so you can change your mind at any time! Often once you start cutting you may notice that the fabric sort of dictates where it wants to go.

Cut the Fabric for the Quilt Top

Before you start, test your rotary cutter blade and make sure it’s sharp, if it doesn’t make a clean cut, change it now (do as I say, not as I do ;-). If you need help figuring out how to change the blade, check out An’s tutorial on the blog.

Now take a deep breath and just get to it, there is no wrong or right here; even if you think you have made a mistake you can always use any cuts, you are improvising after all. I do have one recommendation, however: better to start with just straight cuts, let’s leave curves for a later project; this way you can just focus on the process of improvising, without having to worry too much about technical issues like putting together opposing curves.

Just grab your first piece of fabric, position your ruler so that you can cut away from you and slide your rotary cutter against it.

cutting grey fabric with a cutter, ruler and mat

If your cut is longer than your ruler, use a second one to prolong your line.

quilt ruler hack to make your ruler longer for cutting long pieces of fabric

Piecing a Baby Quilt Top

You don’t have to be finished with your cutting to start piecing. Often it is easier to do a few cuts, put them together, and then continue cutting to fill in the gaps.

Piecing is done with ¼” seams as always when quilting, and here is where that ¼” foot with guide comes in very handy.

When joining intersecting seams, make sure the seam allowances point in different directions to avoid bulk. For more details check out the tutorial on how to use the ¼” foot with guide.

When joining together triangles, also take care that your seams are exactly ¼” to ensure sharp points. If necessary, stop and trim seam allowances carefully.

unmatched points of triangles on a baby quilt top
matched points of triangles on a quilt top

That’s all there is to it, really. The hardest thing is to get past the fear of messing up, remember there is no right or wrong here! I hope you give improvisational quilting a try, it is a lot of fun and I’d love to see what you make! Do post your pictures in the comments!


Blogging for Madam Sew

Recently Ana showed us how to baste a baby quilt from beginning to end with curved pins in a Facebook Live!

See the entire process of sandwich and pin basting to make quilting as easy as possible!