This is a fun improvisational piecing technique that I use as a bit of mindless sewing.
You can make long scrappy braided strips for use in quilt borders or make wider braids that can be cut down into quilt blocks of almost any size.
This tutorial is going to show you this fun technique so that you can use it in your own way to make braided quilt blocks of your own design!
This kind of technique is perfect for using up strips of fabric and also scraps in odd shapes like triangles or ones that have been cut at angles as part of your other projects.
Improv Braided Quilt Block – Materials Needed
- Quilting Fabric Scraps – leftover strips, triangles, and oddly shaped small scraps are all fine.
- Rotary Cutter & Cutting Mat
- Sewing Machine
Below is a Video Tutorial for this technique or you can read on and follow the written instructions and photos.
How do you start a quilt block using improvisation?
You can literally start with whatever scrap fabric you have in whatever size – this is a no measuring improvisational technique.
You don’t need to pin and there is no set block pattern – this is a variation on crumb quilting and other improv quilt piecing techniques that can be really fun to get lost in when you get into the rhythm of it!
It is best not to think about it too much but the one bit of thinking I tend to do is to put a boundary around which colors I will use.
For the examples below all the scraps are from a quilt top that was primarily pink, yellow, white and cream. I stuck to that color palette for these blocks as I’m planning to use them for a pieced quilt back.
I find improv quilting tends to look more pleasing when the color palettes are more limited and not completely random and busy but that is a personal choice of course!
There are lots of different types of improv quilt blocks – these instructions are for a technique that leaves you with a piece (or block) that looks like the fabric has been braided. But as with any improv project you can always take it in another direction and combine it with crumb quilting or curve piecing if you like!
- Start with any Small Scrap
Pick a scrap of any size. The braided technique is going to start to work best when you have a triangle shape but you can start with an oddly shaped crumb and build it up to a triangle shape if you like.
If you are not sure what crumb quilting is you can check out my crumb quilting tutorial here.
- Add a second Scrap to one side of the first
It doesn’t matter which side you add your second scrap to first.
Just find a straight edge on your first scrap and add a second, right sides together.
Sew with a 1/4″ seam and don’t worry if the second scrap is longer than the first – we will be doing lots of trimming!
- Press units
Each time you add a new scrap make sure to press your unit with an iron before adding the next scrap.
I usually get a chain piecing conveyer belt thing going where I chain piece a number of units, cut them apart, press, trim and then add on to the chain again (see the video tutorial if you don’t know what I mean!).
- Trim unit
Trim this two piece scrap unit so that it has straight sides again.
- Add another Scrap to the opposite side from before
Now take another scrap and sew it to the opposite side of your triangle (ish) shape.
It doesn’t matter if adding that scrap will cause the ‘point’ of the triangle to go off to the left or the right or if it ends up right in the middle.
- Adding secondary Braids
If you end up with a short end to your triangle on one side – because, for example, your fabric strips were too short on one side – don’t worry!
Just trim that short edge to a straight edge and add another scrap. You can even use several and create a secondary braid pattern to your block.
- Repeat Trimming, Adding & Sewing
Repeat going back and forth from side to side, using your ruler to rotary cut straight edges on either side as you go.
- Alternate colors
If you are using a number of colors you might want to think about alternating light and dark or just keeping an eye on not using the same color in one place too many times.
Also, consider if you will be using solid fabrics or print fabrics and whether you want to have some variation there.
You can end up with fun stripes if you really pay attention to this!
- Trim Blocks to Size or Add to Other Blocks
You can use these types of improv braided quilt blocks as part of a scrap quilt, to add to an orphan block quilt, or use them as borders.
I have also used this technique to make extra-long strips that I use in quilt backs.
See the video above for more examples of these quilt blocks. I’m making a bunch of these to add to a quilt back – when it is finished I will post the photo here!
Update: Here is that finished quilt back! I ended up cutting a lot of these blocks into strips to make a huge triangle improv quilt back.
What to do with Improv Braided Quilt Blocks
- Make mini quilts
- Pot Holders
- Cushion Covers
- Table Runners
- Wall Hanging
- Practice pieces for free motion quilting
- Make a scrappy quilt back
- Replace a block in a traditional quilt pattern to make it your own
- Let it just be an improv project and stick it on your design wall until creativity strikes you for what to do with it!
- Combine with orphan blocks or log cabin blocks for a super scrappy quilt!
I think improv sewing is so much fun but I know for beginners it can sometimes feel daunting.
Just remember to enjoy the process and don’t worry so much about the outcome.
It is only fabric and you can always cut it in a new direction or into a new shape if you don’t like how it turns out and you will learn so much along the way.
This kind of sewing is my meditation and I hope you can enjoy it too!