Père-Noël zigzag quilt tutorial part three: improv patchwork for the quilt back and machine binding with mitered corners

In this third and last tutorial I will make an improv design for the back of the quilt using some left over fabrics from the top of my Père-Noël zigzag Christmas quilt top.

See also:

Part one: quilt top assembly

Part two: embroidery embellishments

Improv back of quilt

There are no patterns for this one, just a visual progression of the improv patchwork being put together.

I used the charm squares trimmings and some matching reds, green and white solids.

The patchwork is made by sewing the trimmings in between rectangles of solid colours.

I started with the middle strip. The white rectangles are 2 1/2 in wide down but they decrease in width and end in a triangle. The most obvious way to achieve this is to cut a long strip 2 1/2 wide which ends in a pointy end. Then slice the strip into bits.

The length of the strip depends on how long you want it to be. I wanted it to be almost as long as the quilt.

This is what the strip looks like.

After sewing the white strip I cut the trimmings again.

And did the same with both red solids. Some of the trimmings had to be stitched together.

To sew both strips together, place both strips side by side right side facing up. Overlap both edges well and then pin. Use the overlapping line to cut through the bottom strip.

Now pin together well and sew.

Do the same with each strip.

I continued until I finished all trimmings more or less.

This is the resulting improv patchwork that I will be the back of the zigzag Christmas quilt.

Now you need to square the improv patchwork into a panel that will be making the back of the quilt.

Use the same technique as before when sewing two pieces with uneven edges. Place the piece on top of a muslin or calico piece of fabric and pin. Then cut along the overlapping edge. Pin together and sew.

Do the same for both edges.

The back of the quilt is finished.

Assemble the quilt sandwich and quilt.

I used a variety of free motion quilting patterns for this quilt. The patterns follow the zig zag in the quilt.

Trim off the quilt backing and batting.

Machine binding

I have been machine binding my quilts lately. It takes a small fraction of time as compared to slip stitching them at the back and the finish is just as good in my opinion.

To machine bind a quilt, you need to place the binding on the back of the quilt, aligned to the edge of the quilt, as opposed to stitching it to the front first.

For small lap quilts I don’t use binding cut on the bias but just cut straight from across the grain of the fabric.

To start, cut a strip about 225 in x 2 1/2 in. You’ll need to cut several strips and piece them together to obtain this length.

Fold the strip in half and iron well.

Take the quilt on the back and place the raw edge of the strip aligned with the quilt edge.

Mitered corners

Stitch all the way to the corner stopping at 1/4 in from the edge.

Now fold the strip up in a 45 degree angle as per picture.

Then fold the strip back aligning the fold with the top edge as per picture. Pin.

Now stitch all the way to the end again, stopping at 1/4 from the corner and do the same again for the next corner.

Once you have done the stitching your top will look like this.

Now fold the strip back over the top of the quilt. The binding will cover the raw edge all the way to covering the stitching line.

When you reach a corner, with your finger fold the mitred corner as per picture.  First fold in a 90 degree angle the binding at the corner.

And then fold back again as per picture making sure you align both corners.

Pin the whole quilt binding this way.

And now top stitch as close to the edge as possible.

The binding is done.

And this is the quilt, back and front.

Ready for Christmas!

Revisiting improv patchwork tutorials


A series of blocks and mini quilts made using improvisation techniques.

The techniques do not belong to any book. I just use my scissors and a vague idea in my mind of what I want to achieve which does not always correspond with what the final block looks like, but that’s where the fun is. I try to use 1/4 inch seams but sometimes the seams turn out slightly wider or narrower. I tend to press to the side the seam goes naturally though I also press open where there is a lot of bulk.

The process to create the blocks are demonstrated using lots of pictures.

  1. Free form, free motion patchwork
  2. Free form patchwork mini quilt – visual creative process
  3. improv / free form quilt block number 1
  4. Improv / free form quilt block number 2
  5. Improv / free form quilt block number 3
  6. Improv / free form quilt block number 4
  7. Improv / free form quilt block number 5
  8. Improv / free form quilt block number 6
  9. Improv / free form patchwork headboard cover
  10. Reversible tray cover

Reversible tray cover using improv piecing and embroidery

This tray cover is made using patchwork improv blocks as well as embroidery. The cover is reversible.


Scrap fabrics in coordinated colours.

Embroidery pattern

Embroidery stitch: stem stitch (watch video).
Measure your tray
All the measurements are for my tray. Yours will likely be different so you will have to measure it in the following way.
First measure the inside width and length.

My tray has different heights around the sides so I need to  measure both sides separately.

Measure from the base of the tray all around on each side. One of the sides on my tray has a bump and it is higher. This is where I will measure the height.

Then measure the height on the side.

The measurements of my tray:

  • 12 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches for the base
  • 12 1/4 x 5 for the higher side
  • 16 1/4 x 3 3/4 for the lower side
All the measurements from now on are based on the measurements above. You will need to adjust yours.
Making the embroidery side of the cover 
For the embroidery only side cut:
  • one rectangle 12 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches for the base (I added 1/2 for the seam allowance)
  • 2 rectangles 12 3/4 x 5 1/2
  • 2 rectangles 16 3/4 x 4 1/2
Trace the words in the middle of the larger rectangle. “L’heure du thé”: Tea time.

And embroider them. I chose a variegated thread to add some interest.

Making the improv blocks

The foundation of the improv blocks is based on the size of the embroidered words.

Given the size of the tray, I worked out that I needed 4 improv blocks: 6 1/2 x 8 3/4 inches each.

To start cut 4 rectangles to fit the 4 words in them:

  • tisane: 5 x 2 1/2
  • thé: 4 x 2 1/2
  • chai: 4 1/2 x 2 1/2
  • infusion: 5 1/2 x 3 1/4

Now is when you start building the blocks. I basically just added strips around the main rectangle starting with a little strip on the opposite direction to give the blocks some interest.

Start cutting wonky strips. The length of my strips were 10 inches. Always use inches longer than required for your final rectangle so you will be able to trim your blocks to size.

You can see the process that I followed in the next photographs.

First I added some strips to the main rectangle to make it a full piece and then added the strips to the sides.

I used fabrics with lots of contrast.

My blocks are not big enough so I kept adding strips to each side until the blocks were big enough that could be trimmed to size, i.e. bigger than the required 6 1/2 x 8 3/4 inches each by at least 1 to 2 inches.

When you reach the required size, stitch the blocks together.

The embroidery is placed alternating longer and shorter words so that the visual result is more balanced.

Stitch all blocks together.


Do the embroidery before trimming.

Trace the words on to the middle rectangle.

Embroider the letters using matching thread. I used a hoop because the results are a lot neater. I find a small hoop easier to use than a large one.

The embroidery is finished.

Embroidery closeups

Quilting the sandwich

Do not trim the rectangle yet.

Cut a piece of batting as large as the rectangle.

Pin in place. No backing fabric is used.

Quilt. I used stipple quilting.

Then trim to size.

Trimming the back of the cover

Now that the front and back rectangles are done, we need to assemble the cover.

First trim the embroidered tray cover side using the quilted side so that both rectangles are the same size.

Adding the flaps 

Take the rectangles you cut at the start.

Pin them to the side and stitch.

Do the same with the other sides.

Press seams open.

Do the same with the improv side.

Sew and iron with the seams open.

Adding the ties

Cut 8 pieces of ribbon 9 inches long each.

Place both sides of the tray right side facing together.

Place one ribbon about 1 inch from the edge on each of the 8 sides as per picture below.

Pin well.

Stitch all around leaving a 3 inch opening to turn cover inside out. Trim the corners.

Turn inside out.

Iron well.

Top stitch on the seam line around the rectangle and then top stitch around the outer edges as close to the edge as possible.

The tray is finished.

The reverse side of the cover.

Both sides are quite different. The improv side is rather busy whereas the other side is quite the opposite.

I don’t know which side I prefer.