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Scrappy Improv Quilt Blocks

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One way I like to cut down on my growing scrap fabric pile is by making mini scrappy quilt blocks.

At the end of an evening, when I’m too tired to work properly on whatever my main sewing project is, I make a couple of scrap fabric improv quilt squares to wind down.

These are especially good for making after you’ve made any kind of intricate quilt block, like a foundation paper pieced block with lots of small shaped pieces that mean you end up with very odd shaped scraps!

Mine measure 3 & 1/2″ square and can be used to make larger quilt blocks or for other scrappy sewing projects.

You can make yours any size you like. Ideally you need a clear acrylic template to help you frame and square them but other than that you can go for whatever size suits you.

There is a Video Tutorial for this project at the end of the post or read on for the step by step written instructions.

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

Pick a Size for Your Scrappy Blocks

Why 3 & 1/2″?

Well because I got a set of acrylic templates when I started making these squares and out of the different sizes that were in the pack it just seemed a manageable size!

You don’t have to sew for very long to get your scraps large enough to cut a 3 & 1/2″ square out of!

So it’s satisfying to finish a little something at the end of the night without too much effort.

What can you use Scrappy Blocks for?

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

I have a pretty large growing pile of them now.

My intention is to sew them together into a big scrappy quilt when I get enough but there a lots of other ways you could use them too.

  • Make 4 in a block quilt blocks and add it to an Orphan Block Quilt.
  • Use them as a square in a traditional quilt block and mix with solids for a contrasting look.
  • Make a vertical or horizontal row of them and use them to divide a pieced quilt back.
  • Use one on either side of a zipper pouch.
  • Turn 4 or more into a cushion cover.
  • Make coasters
  • Make lavender pouches

Decide if you are going to go totally Scrappy or ‘Frame’ them.

Because I have a quilt in mind for them, I am trying to use either white or black on the edge of each square and the coloured scraps in the middle.

So the white or black is acting like a kind of frame or window for the coloured scraps.

scrappy blocks - white scraps
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

I have a separate scrap bin for whites and neutrals.

The idea is that when I sew them together it will look like little peekaboo colour on a somewhat homogenous background – albeit they aren’t the same whites because they are scraps too!

So it might be one white based scrappy quilt and one black or maybe I will use the black squares to make a stripe on the quilt backing as I have less of them than the white based ones.

It will still be a long time until I get enough of these to add up to any real size, but I have been enjoying making them and it definitely does help keep the scrap pile at bay…a little!

Totally Scrappy or Colour Themed?

Some of the squares/blocks I’ve done in this way have had totally scrappy centres – just pulled from my scrap bin at random and using the whites or blacks to frame them.

But my favourite way to do this is to use colour themes.

scrappy blocks from green fabric
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

So either I pull out all the greens or blues from my scrap bin and start there or I use the scraps from whatever quilt block I was working on to make these as little ‘child’ blocks almost’. Little scrappy versions of the bigger ones.

scrappy blocks
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

Improv Sewing Method

I’ve used a few different ways to make these, but my favourite is the one I’ve illustrated in the images below.

Basically unlike a log cabin sort of approach where you are trying to line up straight edges I let myself cross over at angles and then trim a bit of excess fabric off when I need to.

It gives a more organic, almost floral look – or at least I think it does!

Really I suppose I am just trying not to think about it too much as I’m doing it, except for reaching for my whites or blacks to finish it off at the end.

Here is how I do it:

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

I start with two pieces not necessarily exactly the same size, but relatively small – crumbs essentially.

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

Then I pick another piece and maybe lay it at an angle. I’ve show above where I would sew and what I would trim off.

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

Then repeat again with the next piece.

I personally iron in between each piece but I know many other folk would probably just finger press to make the whole process faster. Thats what I did in the video tutorial below too!

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

Once I have enough of a coloured centre as I like to call it, I start adding my background fabric – basically whatever white, off-white, or sometimes black fabric I can find to fill in the edges and make up the size of the 3 & 1/2″ square.

In this case it was white scraps for the background from a quilt I’m making a special someone for Christmas – yes I have already started!

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

If you weren’t ironing all along, of course you should iron when you have a scrappy improv piece large enough to cut your square out of.

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

I find the whole process fun, but I really love this bit when I put my acrylic template down and angle it around different ways before squaring it off.

You can get a number of different looks with the same square depending where you choose to cut.

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

And here is one finished square.

Video Tutorial – Scrappy Quilt Blocks

Subscribe to Upcycle My Stuff on YouTube for more Video Tutorials!

scrappy blocks
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

Above are the finished blocks from the video tutorial.

I haven’t yet done the math to figure out how many of these squares I would need for a biggish quilt. I don’t want to depress myself!

I’m just going to keep making them until they seem to be too big for my box and then I’ll lay them out and see where I am.

scrappy squares
Photo: Upcycle My Stuff

I’d love to hear your favourite ongoing method for clearing your scrap pile.

I think making a point of using scraps for something specific on a regular basis is a great habit to get into, so I’d love to get some more ideas from you too! Drop me a note in the comments!

The other one I’m doing a lot lately is foundation paper piecing – I’ll write about my favourite free patterns to use with scraps in another post, so stay tuned.

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