Starry Bright Sky QAL - Tips for Made Fabric blocks

This month we have an extra Monday, so today I want to share some tips on "Made fabric" improv blocks.
If you didn't hear about the Starry Bright Sky QAL, please visit the Starry Bright Sky QAL page!
Visit the QAL page to find all information about the quilt layout, all the future blocks and the rules to participate.
I recommend you to subscribe to the QAL announcements via email, so you don't miss out on future posts! You find the subscription form on the same QAL page (at the bottom).

In a previous post, last year, I mentioned that since my inspiration for this quilt is Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" painting, I want to be able to translate in my quilt the incredible texture and variation of all the different strokes and colors in the sky of the painting.

To emulate that, I will use my sashing texture blocks, but there is another way to include some "Van Gogh" within a block: IMPROV MADE FABRIC!!

Several of the QAL blocks call for a background piece (or few "big cuts")... so why not creating these pieces by using improv pieced sections, mixing and matching shapes and colors to create a dynamic effect?
Take scraps (or big pieces), join them at unusual angles, slice them, join them, slice, join, etc. :)
Stop when you reached a size that is "good" for now. It can be a complete 12.5''x12.5'' background piece, or it can be a small patch that you will use later as a regular small patch.

The point is: you can start preparing these pieces ahead of time, you don't have to wait until the patterns come out! The advantage is that you will be saving time later, and you will find it easier to create good contrast with the main "star" pieces if your "crazy background" is already assembled!

Few more tips that helped me be extra productive and make ahead many squares like the ones showed below that are ready for all my future textured four patches!!

  • Have a specific size goal
    I initially thought that just assembling what I have without a specific plan would be easier, but for me it is not!! Having a specific size goal helps creating some structure in the improv approach that otherwise is too free and overwhelming for me! So I picked a size and always make pieces to that size
  • Pick a size that makes sense: it should be big enough to be useful to you, but small enough to allow you to use tiny scraps you may have without having to add a million seams!
    I picked 6.5'' x 6.5'' because I have a small rotating cutting mat that is 7'' and a ruler that is 6.5'' x 6.5''. These two tools make it super easy to see how far I am to reach that final goal, and it's easy to use small scraps (stitch, press, chop, repeat). 6.5'' squares are also the exact size I need for my four patches, so no extra assembly needed there. However if I need a background that is 12.5'' I can stitch 4 squares and get to that size.
  • Sort your scraps by color, not size
    If you want to create single blocks that "read" one color (mine are dark blue), storing your scraps by color will make it super fast to just grab something from the pile and stitch them together. I store them in plastic food bags, and fabric scraps are just thrown randomly in there! Note: the picture below shows my bag after I created about 10 blocks already! The bag was overflowing, now it is just packed, but the scraps are going down!!!
  • Have a specific goal of blocks to make a week
    This is because I am a planner :) but in the past I had this idea of sewing my scraps until I run out of one color. Well... after 10 minutes I got bored and abandoned this idea. Now that I set myself a goal of making just 4 improv squares a week, I completed a ton of them! I can easily push and motivate myself, because 4 is a small enough number to reach. But actually for my monthly blocks I only need 2 each month, so if I make 4 each week I will still be way ahead of my needs. Plus if I reach my goal of 4, I feel super accomplished and happy, so setting myself a goal is a very important component of my success this time around!
  • Have rules on what fabric to use
    Improv "just sew together whatever you have" is just not my style... I like rules and structure. So I added structure but keeping it improv. My rules are simple: grab two random pieces from the bag and sew them together. Chop any excess but do not put the cut extra scrap back in the bag: I have to leave it out and I cannot use that fabric again in the block. I need to get a new piece from the bag. This will organically make sure that in a new block I will use that scrap that was cut in the previous block, creating a coherent look between the blocks because they have pieces of the same fabric! Plus it will guarantee a great variety in each block, so the superscrappyness will be maintained!
  • Use tiny stitch length and press seams open
    There is no risk of making a mistake and having to unpick a seam, because everything is improv, so using a small stitch length (1.4 or 1.2) shouldn't be a problem. This however would allow you to press each seam open, as you stitch them. I highly highly highly highly recommend to do this, because these blocks have sooooo many seams, and if you press them to one side, they will create layers that you will not enjoy quilting over!! If you press each seam open as you stitch them the finished square will be as flat as a single piece of fabric so it shouldn't give you much headaches later. If you are concerned about the "seam open" debate, just listed to the podcast "Pressing Seams Open Debate with Leah Day' :)
    I highly recommend the Clover Finger Presser for this, but just your finger could work too!
  • Take your time and enjoy the process
    If you have tons of tiny pieces like me, each block will take some time to assemble. But the fun part is that you should stop and look at each scrap you are using... they are there in the pile for one of two reasons:
    1) you used that fabric in a previous project... so you could think about the person that you gifted that project to, or the time in your life when you stitched that other project. It could be an emotional and special moment that you can really cherish!
    2) you got that scrap from someone else, so you can think about them, where they may have used that fabric, if they are a friend you can think about your relationship with them, etc.
    Take some time to really appreciate all the history that is behind every little bit of fabric!! 

So what do you think about "Made Fabric" improv blocks? Did you try them before? Do you have any other tip that you want to share? Please leave them in the comments below!!

Until next time,
Happy Stitching!!

Remember: all the details about the series are collected in the QAL web page.


  1. I have made a lot of improv slabs of fabric but I like how your colors blend so well. I can see how that approach will be perfect for this quilt. Thank you.

  2. I have tried the "made fabric" once before. I used it to make letters to put my kids' rugby club name on the back of a quilt that I use when it is cold at their games. That time I was just joining a couple of small pieces to get something big enough to cover a section of the letter that I was paper piecing. This time, I just looked for edges that were about the same size and put those together and then looked for the next matching piece. I also threw in several HST leftover from trimming other projects. Always wondered how I would use those, and here's the opportunity.

  3. Thanks for the tips. I've been contemplating making fabric from my crumbs.

  4. Love your made fabrics, the blues are great. I have been working on some scrappy made fabric, many colors. Also working on putting a bunch of oranges together. Lots of fun.


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