Sunday, November 6, 2016

Improv Batik Scrap Relaxation Tutorial - Part I

Last year, I went through a compulsive improvisational batik scrap phase - reaching into my batik scrap bag, pulling out strips, and stitching things together, this way and that.
Playing with batiks - which are like dabs of paint - is pure color therapy, so much fun that it's hard to stop. Here are some of the blocks I created: 

Before long, I had a pile:

What to do them?

1. Make a chain: I took one set of about six unquilted blocks - and stitched satin "rat tail" cord loops to one back corner, buttons to the opposite front corner. The cord is tied in an overhead knot; I dripped Fray Check on the ends; then used a regular needle and thread to stitch the loops to the back.
Now they can be linked together....back view...


Five ...
...With six in a circle, you wind up with a six-pointed star in the middle! That might look good on a table...
I gave this particular set to my artist friend Marian, suggesting she use them as coasters. Look what she did instead! 
Yup, she hung them on her Christmas tree! I was honored to be up there, notwithstanding that disturbing mask. (???) 

2. House of (Soft) Cards - The pile of blocks on my coffee table also led to the discovery that they make a safe construction toy. They don't snap together with the gravitas of Legos, but you can still pile and lean them together to construct anything you could make with playing cards (but more stable.)

3. Make a box. The construction experiments led me to use six of them to make a cube with a lid (and a vintage huge red wooden button as the handle):
A variegated thick yarn is couched along all the cubes' edges.
  The bottom:
4. I used several of them in a Cosmic Coasters Consciousness wallhanging, which I wrote about in April:
(In that piece, I alternated the scrap the finished blocks with finished NASA space photography blocks as explained in this blog post.)

5. A 3-D Quilt? (Or not?) Then I thought about stitching finished blocks upon yet another, larger quilt. That led to testing how my blocks looked against a slew of fabrics, including a giant black-and-white polka dot....
A restrained grey-and-white dot...
A black-and-white "networking" fabric....
A dizzying op art print...
A Hawaiian square print, with blocks substituted for print squares....
...An unusually screwy fabric...
Meh. Then I tested them on a 10"x 10" stretched canvas, with interesting buttons in the corners: 
Hmmm. This led me in a new direction, with many more possibilities as you will read in Part II.

Tutorial: How to make your own Quilted Improv Play Blocks

1. Obtain fabric scraps. The more beautiful, the better. For an arty look, use all batiks; for a modern look, all solids; for more of a quilty look, use prints, or mix them up. No rules!!!

If you don't happen to have scraps, it's easy enough to buy them - check at your (LQS) Local Quilt Store, or online, google "batik quilt fabric precuts." and buy a pack - like 5" squares, or 2.5" strips. For a desirably messy improv look, cut them with scissors rather than the rotary cutter. 

2. Stitch together. Make freeform rectangles and squares, like I did, or, if you're more of a symmetry person, cut them all to be the same size. My block sides ranged from about 3.5" to 5" per side. 

3. This is a great way to use up batting scraps, especially the long narrow strips. Once you have a bunch of blocks, lay out a strip of your backing fabric. On top of that, temporarily place a strip of batting that is wider than your finished rectangles. Place your improv squares on top. Rotery cut apart through the middle of the gaps between the blocks.
4. Don't sew them down this way!!! You now have to restack each deck. Remove the batting strip from the middle and put it down on your surface. Place the backing fabric, good side up, on top of it. Then place each pieced block, good side down, centered on its backing fabric. (you may no longer be able to see the batting.): 

4. Stitch around your rectangle, with 1/4" seam allowance, and leaving a 2" gap along one edge (don't leave the gap at a corner.). 

5. Trim away all the excess backing and batting. Angle-trim the corners close to the stitching line. Turn the block right side out. Extrude seams and corners with a chopstick. 

6. Tuck the excess seam allowance neatly into the gap, and stitch/fuse/and or glue the gap shut.

7. Option: Topstitch all the way around the edges, 1/8" in

8. Option: Quilt (or not) as desired. They don't have to be quilted. 

Next week: More things to do with these blocks! Here's a hint: 


  1. This look like fun sewing - love it and thanks for the explanation.

  2. Looks like they'd make an interesting fabric book, also!

  3. Prayer flags! Love this I want to come play at your house ;-)

  4. I made a lot of scrappy no-pattern batik 'fabric' from which I cut blocks and then alternated them with solid batik blocks of the same size to make drapes. I also used non-batik blocks the same way for a quilt. The sewing of the scraps was actually very soothing when I was being treated for cancer and found concentrating on patterns was difficult.

    1. Yes, not having to do measuring, just enjoying the colors and shapes is deeply therapeutic. Thanks, Jacquie, for sharing your experience!