TGIF, Quiltketeers! Or should I say, TGISISW! Thank God it's sewing improv strips week — as if I even needed to spell it out. 😉 Today marks the start of Week 3 in the Garland quilt sew along and if you thought last week was fun, ooooh Nelly! Hold onto your hats!
This week we get to do one of my favorite things in quilting, sew a bunch of stuff that doesn't take a lot of precision! Wahoo! You with me? First let's do a tiny recap on the schedule and then dive into the tips and troubleshooting. I strangely have a lot, even though this is not a technically tricky week.
Don't forget to mark your calendar for my IG LIVE video on Wednesday, January 25. I'm going to do some chatting and then a sewing demo.
Garland Sew Along Schedule
- Week 1, January 6: Pick fabric and gather supplies
Sponsor: Cottoneer - 1/2 yd. bundle of Trellis woven fabric by Fableism
IG LIVE - @suzyquilts: Thursday, Jan. 12 @ 2pm Central - We will discuss fabric selection + Q&A. If you have specific questions you want covered, post them in the blog comments below.
- Week 2, January 13: Cut fabric
Sponsor: Sewing Arts Center - $100 gift certificate
- Week 3, January 20: Sew improv strips
Sponsor: SunRae Designs - Free longarm quilting for one Garland quilt
IG LIVE - @suzyquilts: Wednesday, Jan. 25 @ 2pm Central - I will do an improv strip sewing demo + Q&A. If you have specific questions you want covered, post them in the blog comments below.
- Week 4, January 27: Trim improv strips and assemble the quilt top
Sponsor: Trace Creek Quilting - Free longarm quilting for one Garland quilt
Week 3 Assignment: Sew Improv Strips
Quiltketeers, this is where the magic happens! Last week we cut, and yes, that was fun and maybe even a bit liberating, but THIS WEEK we get to sew! Yeehaw!!
If you click the link in the Garland pattern found on page 4, you will be taken to a private tutorial video. The first 14 minutes are about cutting the improv strips. But that's soooo last week, so skip to minute 14:30. I show you how to orient your wonky pieces, chain piece, and keep the improv strips even so you don't get off course.
Even though I have every confidence that you can sew these improv strips together without much help from me, here are some added tips just for funsies. 😉
Tip #1: Make sure you have enough fabric.
I'm adding this as our first tip because of some questions I've seen pop up in the Suzy Quilts patterns Facebook group. One person noted that she was using a Layer Cake and was a little short on improv pieces. If you are using a Layer Cake, FQs or a Jelly Roll, make sure you are following the cutting diagrams on pages 3 and 4 in the pattern.
If you are worried you have cut your strips too wide or if your Layer Cake is fewer than 42 squares or your Jelly Roll is fewer than 40 strips, add another coordinating fabric. I don't want you to run out of improv pieces.
I'm using FQs and opted to use 12 rather than 11 because I knew I'd be cutting my strips really wonky. If you don't have an extra FQ lying around, use some of the extra fabric from your Colors 1-5 strips.
Too late! I've run out of improv pieces and one of my strips is short. What do I do?
You've got some options. The best option is that you realized you were going to be short before you finished all of your sewing. If that's the case you won't need to do much, if any, seam ripping.
If you are just slightly short (like an inch or less), you're OK. Wiggle room is built into the pattern. These strips get trimmed once the quilt top is sewn together.
If you are A LOT short, do this:
- Cut some more wonky pieces based on how many you think you need. Make these pieces fatter than the others. I say this because you will be adding them into your sewn strips and they will get trimmed to fit using the trimming technique in the tutorial video in the pattern found at minute 16:30 and also on page 8, Fig. 8.
- Lay out your sewn improv strips. Using a seam ripper, rip apart sections of the strips so you can sew in the new pieces. You may need to add some of these new pieces to finished improv strips that technically don't need them, just so the new fabric shows up in other places in the quilt.
- With the extra original improv pieces taken from some of the improv strips, add those to the improv strip that is short.
If you have any further questions about this process, feel free to post them in the Facebook group or here in the comments. I think explaining this makes it sound more complicated than it really is. Once you start doing it I'm sure you'll know what to do.
Tip #2: Dump your wonky pieces in a pile next to your sewing machine.
Last week you tossed your pieces around like fabric confetti so they got mixed up. Now dump that mixed up pile right by your machine. If you only have a few minutes to sew in between other life obligations, dump your pieces into a bin or basket so they stay contained.
Tip #3: Lower your stitch length a bit.
I took mine down from 2.5 to 1.75. I suggest anything from 1.75 to 2 since you will be trimming these improv strips down, you don't want the stitches long enough that they fray after trimming.
Tip #4: Chain piece away, my friends!
You know the drill! Just keep sewing pair after pair together without snipping your threads. Doing this saves thread and makes the process fly! I even got this funny little phone holder so I can watch Netflix while sewing. Just don't get so engrossed in a show you sew a finger or forget to flip right sides together.
Tip #5: Orient the improv pieces the same way.
I've discovered I get fewer crooked improv strips if I orient my pieces the same way when I sew. I place one strip right side up with the wide side closest to my machine. Then I place another strip right side down on top of that strip with the narrow side closest to my machine.
I then sew each improv pair together this same way so that once these pairs are all pressed, they fit together better the next time I'm chain piecing. Does that make sense? It's a little hard to explain, so look at these photos and I think you'll know what I mean.
Tip #6: Press in batches.
How often you press these strips is up to you. While the strip pairs are small (like 2 or 4 pieces) I like to press each seam before sewing them to the next pair. Because I do that, it makes the most sense for me to do all of my sewing and then do all of my pressing.
A lot of people like to press all of the seams at the very end. If you do this, or some variation of this, you just need to make sure that your strips stay relatively straight so you can trim them down in Week 4. If you can do that without pressing every seam, why not save the time!
Tip #7: Set up a mini ironing station.
If you like to press as you sew, a mini ironing station by your sewing machine can be nice. If you batch sew and then batch press, this isn't necessary, but I'm telling you about it because mini stuff is cute. 😉
I have an adoooorable mini Oliso iron that I like to use any chance I get. Be warned, though, it does not have an automatic OFF function like big irons do.
Above pic is from the Grow sew along.
Tip #8: Check in with your strips to make sure they aren't getting crooked.
To make sure my strips are staying straight, I use the edge of my sewing table to check they aren't going haywire. If they are, there are a couple different ways to straighten them out:
Cut first. Line the two pieces up on a horizontal guideline on your cutting mat and overlap the two ends. With a ruler and rotary cutter make a slice. The ends now fit together like a puzzle and the improv strip remains straight. There's a tutorial on this in the private video found at minute 16:30 and also in the pattern on page 8, Fig. 8.
Sew first. Feeling confident? Once you've straightened up a few pieces, you can probably eyeball where you need to sew before you trim. If you only need to correct the angle of the strips by a little bit, you don't even need to trim the seam after you sew.
In the picture below, I corrected enough that I'll trim the excess in this seam before pressing it.
Uh-oh. That show you were watching on Netflix got a little too interesting and your improv strip is looking like the letter "C." Do you need to rip everything apart? Oh no, no, no. Not everything, but you will need to rip one, maybe two seams, depending on how crooked it is.
If at any point your strip is too wonky, stop, rip out one seam where the strip start to veer off, then do the trimming techniques in Tip #8.
Tip #9: Measure your strips as you go.
When chain piecing two pieces together then four pieces together then EIGHT pieces together it can be easy to accidentally end up with a few VERY long strips. While technically you could do that and then trim them down to what you need in the pattern, I don't recommend it because the longer these improv strips get, the more likely they are to curve off and not be straight.
I recommend measuring as you go and trying to make your strips are roughly the length mentioned in the pattern. They don't have to be exact because they all get trimmed in the end.
I find it easiest to keep the pattern or even just the strip lengths on a piece of paper next to my sewing machine. I use a ruler or a measuring tape to measure the improv strips.
Tip #10: Hold back some extra improv pieces.
To make the Garland quilt you need pieced improv strips of various lengths. So you don't overshoot and make a strip that's way too long, keep some extra improv strips and sewn pairs off to the side so you can add them to the ends as needed.
In this example I needed a strip that was 23" long. After sewing two large sections together, my strip was about 22.5". Adding just one extra improv piece on the end enabled me not to waste time or fabric.
You've got one strip that's a little long and one that's a little short. Take your scissors and cut off the excess and simply sew that on to the short strip. Easy peezy!
In this example I needed two strips measuring 52" in length. One strip was 48" and one was 57". I cut off 5" from the long one and sewed it to the end of the short one. Another option is to rip the long one at a seam, but I found scissors to be even faster.
Next week we will trim these improv strips and sew our quilt top together. If you're feeling confident, feel free to work ahead.
Week 3 Sponsor & Prize
Our third week is sponsored by a new-to-us longarm quiter, SunRae Designs, offering FREE longarm quilting for one Garland quilt! Amber Foret, the founder of SunRae Designs lives in Katy, TX along with her husband and four kids. She quilts edge-to-edge pantographs using her BERNINA Q24. You can see all of her designs on her website.
How to Win
- Post a pic to Instagram. The photo prompt for Instagram this week is to post a pic of your Garland quilt progress and use #GarlandQuiltSA in the caption.
- You must have a public Instagram profile to participate.
- Each photo posted is an entry and you can enter as many times as you want in a single week. Once the week is over, those posts do not count in the next week's giveaway. Every week we start fresh.
- Your photo must be posted between Friday, January 20 and Friday, January 27. The winner will be picked randomly from all qualifying posts and announced at approximately 4:00 p.m. on the 20th. Good luck!
7 thoughts on “Garland Quilt Sew Along: Week 3 – Sew Improv Strips”
I started sewing my wonky strips a few days ago and I’m officially ADDICTED!!! It’s so much FUN! I’m seeing more improv in my future. Thanks, Suzy!
Another very helpful tutorial Suzy! Wonky can get…..well……really wonky really fast! I’m glad I read this or I would’ve been making a 25ft long ultra wonky strip 😂
Thanks for all you hard work putting this sew-a-long together! You’re so fun Suzy
Totally enjoying the trip! What a great way to make a quilt. Thanks Suzy.
Super helpful, Suzy! I am excited to begin sewing these fun little bits! 🥰 I have a quiet house this particular Saturday.
I have a question, If I would like to make a larger quilt would you suggest making the strips longer or adding strips around the outside of the quilt? I do so appreciate hearing you suggestions on line! So sorry I missed your show.
I think adding a border around the outside of the quilt is a great idea! You could even get fancy and make an inner and outer border. OH! You could make one of the borders from improv strips!! Cuuuuute!