A simple improv technique can yield interesting and unique results. This is the most basic way to improvise in patchwork. It is forgiving of some precision errors and piecing irregularities and allows for practice of basic sewing and pressing methods.

Block size: This should make a 9.5″ unfinished block.

Materials: For one block you’ll need two fat eighths (9″x18″ strips) in contrasting colors. With careful planning, you can get three of these blocks out of two contrasting fat quarters.

Cutting: From each fat eighth cut three 18″ long strips of varying widths. The widths should be random with nice variation but no skinnier than 1.5″ wide and no wider than 3″. Plan your choice of widths so that you can mate contrasting pairs whose (unsewn) widths total at least 4″ (make it 4.5″ to be totally safe). In this sample, I cut strips 1.5″, 2″, and 3″ wide from both fabrics. Experiment with other sizes.

Make sure to cut as close to on-grain as possible–that is, not on a diagonal; cut parallel to the threads in the weave.

Piecing: Using 0.25″ seam allowances…

1. Pair up strips of fabrics whose unsewn widths total at least 4″ and seam along the long edges with 0.25″ seam allowance.

2. Press the seams to the darker side. Your seam folds should be crisp. Go ahead and use some steam!

Note: It’s okay if the strip sets are different widths. We’ll square up later. But they should be at least 3.5″ wide.

3. Stack up your strip sets neatly. Trim one of the short ends to prepare for cutting. Then begin to cut the stack of strips into pieces of varying widths. Again, make them no skinnier than 1.5″ and no wider than 3″.

I cut mine into 1.5″, 2″ and 3″ again, but you need not use the same measurements as before.

4. Lay out these pieces to make up three new strips that each measure about (at least) 13″ unsewn. You want to alternate colors along the way. It is okay if there are pieces of the blue fabric overlapping, as long as they are different sizes. Play around. Rearrange. There’s no “right way” to do this, but the goal is an improvisational feel. Here is one of mine.

5. Sewing in pairs, seam up these new strip sets.

6. Press all the vertical seams in the same direction. Flip the patchwork over and press again to crisp up those folds. Use steam!

You should have three of these.

7. Now square up the long edges of these new strip sets, trimming with your ruler perpendicular to the outer edges. They should still be at least 3.5″ wide and at least 9.5″ long at this point.

8. Arrange these three strips. Again, there is no right way, but make sure that adjacent pieces of the blue fabric are different sizes. For instance, I want to move the rightmost strip to avoid the occurrence at the bottom of the photo.

i just rotated it and moved it over to the left.

9. Sew these strips together.

Then press the new seams in the same direction. Flip the block over to press again, crisping up the folds. How about some steam?

10. If all went well, then we can cut a perfect 9.5″ square out of this patchwork. Please make sure that pieces on the edges remain at least 0.5″ wide after cutting.

[Note to NewBee Quilters: If your block of patchwork is smaller than 9.5″ square or if you aren’t confident in doing this final cutting step, please just send me what you have. I can work with it.]

11. Repeat! Want to do something a little different? After cutting in step 3, replace one of the blue pieces with a contrasting piece of scrap fabric. Then randomly place this contrasting bit in the block.