Tag Archives: planned improv


I'm still playing catch up on showing you my finished improv log cabin mini quilts from my last 100 day project. You can see my green and yellow quilts in previous posts. Today, I'm sharing my red version! My main rules were to use black, white, and one color, and that my finished quilt would be 16 1/2" square, bound in black Kona.

In my red quilt, I chose to start with a traditional quilt block in the center of the log cabin. The sawtooth start block is one of my favorites, so I started with that. Since my mini quilts finish at 16 1/2" square I made a 6" star block for my center.

Initially I thought my logs would be wonky to surround the block (another variation to try later!), but I think the busyness of the print fabrics steered me away from that idea. In the end I have uniform 1" finished, rectangular logs. My log placement worked counterclockwise around the block.

I had fun with the quilting. I started with three colors of thread in three weights, Aurifil Red (#2250), Black (#2692), and White (#2024) in 50wt, 40wt, and 28wt. (Thanks Mel for the loan of a few spools I was missing!) I didn't have an overall plan. I just knew that I wanted to use a variety of color and thread weight. I started with a favorite filler, a zig zag meander, in the center of my star. Then I echoed the outer edge of the star. I switched threads and weights for each step. It adds a lot of time to the process, but I think the effect is worth it.

Here's an early view of the back of the quilt. This bowling pin print has been hanging out with my black and white prints, but it isn't quilt a black and white print, so it has been passed over many times. But it was perfect to back this quilt!

I filled in between my straight lines (which were free motion quilted, too) with wavy and zigzag lines of quilting. For the zigzag quilting I used washy tape to mark the lines where I needed to switch directions to help achieve a mirror image at the bends in my path.

After more echo lines of quilting, I filled in the corners and edges with zig zag meander in white. I used my usual machine binding technique with solid black Kona, but I opened to do the top stitching with 28wt red thread. I love this added detail.

My finished quilt is 16 1/2" x 16 1/2". I really enjoy how the different colors of quilting show up more or less on different portions of the quilt. For instance, the white thread really pops on the black solid, but fades into most of the print fabrics.

Thanks for visiting!

You can read all about the other quilts in the series here:


I've linked up to Brag About Your Beauties!


I shared the first of my five mini quilts completed during my 100 day project a couple months back. The project I actually started piecing on day 1 back in July was this yellow quilt. Day 1 started with these first five pieces sewn together.

I'd started the project with a plan for the color palette (black, white, and shades of yellow) and the intent to make a log cabin that would finish at 16 1/2" square. I'd chosen the three black and white prints you see here, and before I started cutting or sewing I thought this version would be a quarter log cabin and chose the text print to be my starting corner. (This was about the largest square I could cut from the scrap of this text print.) As I added the black prints, I opted to fussy cut the placement of the dots and arrows. And I started with my lightest and brightest yellows. My black logs finish at 1/2" wide because that's what worked with the prints.

When I came back to it on day 2, the text print no longer wanted to be in the corner so I started building on all four sides of the log cabin. I kept my black logs at 1/2" finished and decided my yellow logs would get larger as I went. The first four yellow logs (one on each side) all finish at 1/2" wide. I also continued the pattern of adding the black to two side, then the yellow to the same two sides before I moved to the opposite half of the block.

Sometimes I lay my fabrics out to get a visual of where the fabric placement will me. I snap a quick photo as reference. Since I often work on multiple projects at once, you can see my pink/coral/white/yellow solids for some bee blocks peeking out from underneath.

My final design choice was to finish with the log cabin off center. At some point I did the math to determine the sizes of my yellow logs so the quilt would finish at 16 1/2" square.

I free motion quilted with Aurifil 50wt Yellow (#2135), beginning in the center with a daisy, then cursive l's (in increasingly larger sizes) in each yellow log.

I used corner triangles for my label and to use for a hanging rod and machine bound with Kona black. Keeping with my system of backing the quilts with a fat quarter from my stash, I picked this bug print since the front reminded me of a bumble bee.

I'll have to write in more about the 100 Day Project and the Improv Log Cabin series on my label, but the essentials are there, name and date completed.

You can see the other quilts in the series here:


The products featured in this post were given to me by Aurifil, OLFA, and Michael Miller.

I'm excited to share that I'm today's stop for the final 2020 installment of the Aurifil Slice and Stitch Challenge. Way back in November of 2019 I signed up as one of the Aurifil Artisans to participate. I was very excited about the Color Builder thread boxes that Aurifil had recently released. (They are such a feast of color!)

For the challenge I received the Florence Brown Aurifil Color Builder with three large spools of 50wt in Ermine (#2312), Toast (#6010), and Chocolate (#2360), a trio of Michael Miller Cotton Couture fat quarters in Khaki, Ginger, and Brown, an OLFA 28mm rotary blade (with refills), and a 24” x 36” OLFA cutting mat in Navy.

I enjoy planned improv piecing. I start with a set of rules or guidelines. This might be a color palette, a tool, a technique, or something else. My color palette and tools were provided for me. I knew I wanted to add a little bit of another color. Eventually, I landed on improv curves as my plan. (Scroll down for a mini tutorial on how I cut and sew improv curves.)

Initially I was considering a table runner with improv curves in khaki, ginger, and brown and thought I'd appliqué on some leaves in fall colors. I'm not terribly fond of the process of appliqué, so I pivoted to just improv curves. I eventually settled on a two-sided square table topper, because I had just enough fabric to make it entirely from my three fat quarters.

To complement the curved piecing, I opted for organic, curved walking foot quilting in four colors, adding a tiny splash of color with Aurifil 50wt Dark Turquoise (#4182).

My finished quilt is 16 1/2" x 16 1/2".

Thank you to Aurifil, OLFA, and Michael Miller for supplying me with everything featured in this quilt.

Improv Curve Tutorial

In general when I create improv curve piecing I make units that are oversized and trim them down after piecing. In the third photo from the top of this post above you can see my in progress work on my cutting table. The top and bottom edges are not aligned at all. If I wanted to create an 8" block I would probably start with pieces of fabric that were 10" wide.

Step 1: Lay two fabrics right side up, overlapping by a couple inches. (Not shown.) Slowly and carefully (keep those fingers out of the way!) cut through both layers with your rotary cutter (but no ruler or template), making a smooth improv curve. Always cut away from you. Remove the edges you've cut off of both fabrics so you have two pieces that fit together like a puzzle with the same curve cut. (This is more easily seen in the step 2 bottom photo below.) Here I have removed a little of the khaki fabric to the right of the cut and the edge of the brown fabric to the left of the cut:

Step 2: Using your marking method of choice, mark points that align on the two fabrics. Here I have chosen to use two straight pins, one in the khaki and one in the brown. These points should line up when piecing the fabrics together. If the fabrics are difference lengths, also mark where the edge of one fabric hits the other. I have not pinned the fabrics together at this point, as you can see in the second photo below.

Step 3: Flip the right piece of fabric over and place onto the left piece, right sides together. Use your marks as a guide for pinning the two pieces at those points only. Since I had two pins that were used for marking I have pinned twice at each point. A single pin should work fine as well.

Step 4: Sew with a quarter inch seam allowance. The curved cut gives you a bit of stretch along the edge of your fabric. As you sew, gently stretch the (only the) longer fabric between each pair of pins. This will change depending on which part of the curve you are on. In general, you'll be gently stretching the fabric that has a concave curve in that section. Do not remove pins until you get close to them. Take care to make sure that your bottom fabric is laying flat to avoid puckers. If you are ending up with too much of one fabric when you get close to the pin try stretching the longer fabric a bit more when you sew that section. This part take a little finesse, so practice until you like your results. Smoother, flatter curves will be easier to sew. This technique is not recommended for a drunkard's path 1/4 circle where the two pieces really need to be cut from different templates.

I generally prefer to press my seams open, but improv curves are a time when I press the way the fabric wants to go. If you are using high contrast fabrics you should be able to press to the dark side. And if you want to try it, pressing open can work as well. The seam shown above is the left seam below on the finished back of the quilt.

Sarah is a quilt artist, pattern designer, teacher, and lecturer who is passionate about using bold color and geometric design in both traditional and improv quilts. She enjoys inspiring others in their creativity. As a former math teacher Sarah loves the geometry and math of quilting. She is currently visiting guilds virtually to present lectures and workshops on Zoom. Sarah lives in San Jose, California with her husband and two quilters kids.

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