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Charity Quilt Tutorial

Red and purple improv log cabin blocks made with the free scrap quilt pattern from Shiny Happy World

For a while now I’ve been thinking about designing a free scrap quilt pattern that’s as fun, easy and versatile as the Warren the Charity Bear pattern.

Just like Warren, I wanted something that was fast. I know some of you make and give away a LOT of these quilt every year.

I wanted something that was easy. Easy enough for a beginner or a child to make.

I wanted something that was versatile. Something that you could play around with and make a lot of different looks – and not get bored making lots of them.

When Craft Hope announced that they were looking for some quilts for part of their newest project, I jumped right in.

I’m making my quilt entirely from scraps. I sort my scraps by color and I’m tackling one basket at a time, so the blocks so far are all purple and red. When I’m done it’ll include all the colors of the rainbow. 🙂

My quilt also uses Quilt As You Go – but a different technique from what you’ve seen me use for the applique quilts. For this quilt I’m actually quilting as I piece – a huge time-saver and lots of fun. This method also allows me to use batting scraps. Bonus!

Here’s how I build a block. . .

Batting squares cut and ready to use in a free scrap quilt pattern.

Cut some batting squares a little bit bigger than the size you want your finished blocks to be. My finished blocks will be 10 inches square, which means I’d normally cut them 10 1/2 inches – but I cut mine 11 inches square to give myself a bit of wiggle room. That wiggle room lets you be a bit imperfect in your cutting – see how the fold in the batting made a little jagged pointy bit on the left side? That’s ok – it’ll get trimmed off. 🙂

Important! You must use 100% cotton batting. You’re going to press this a lot and anything with polyester in it will melt to your iron. I always use Warm & Natural – you can read my review of it here.

Blue and yellow beetle fabric on a batting square

Pick a piece of fabric to be your center feature and cut it (roughly) into the shape you want. All of mine are four sides – but nowhere near perfect squares or rectangles. I used scissors (not rotary cutting tools) and just eyeballed everything. Slap that piece down in the middle-ish of a batting square.

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

Now pick another scrap of fabric. Trim it to match the width of the starter scrap, lay it face down over the starter scrap with the raw edges mostly lined up, and sew across the edge using 1/4 inch-ish seam allowance. You’re sewing through both pieces of fabric and the batting.

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

Flip that piece up and press it flat.

Now we’ll add another strip. I like to work clockwise, but it really doesn’t matter.

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

Lay a strip face down over both your earlier pieces and trim it (roughly) to fit. Sew it in place just like the first one. (You can click on the photo if you need to see it bigger.)

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

Flip that piece open and press it flat.

first rings of red strips sewn around a yellow rectangle, demonstrating a free scrap quilt pattern

Keep working your way around that center, building up the size of your block. I added the zigzag piece next, then the skinny stripes.

Keep adding strips until the batting is completely covered.

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

Those first four red strips were pretty uniform, so it’s time for a skinnier strip. I like to keep things mixed up for more interesting blocks.

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

I also like to make sure some of my strips go slanty – so they’re thicker at one end and thinner at the other. To do that, I don’t line up the raw edges exactly – I let the new strip slope up or down a bit, like in the photo above.

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

See how that looks when it’s pressed open? It’s not the most efficient use of fabric, but I’m only wasting a tiny bit and I think it makes the block much more interesting.

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

Sometimes I use a new fabric with every strip and sometimes I’ll use the same fabric a few times in a row to build interesting shapes. Two consecutive strips of the same fabric makes an L. Three makes a U. And four makes a frame.

detail image showing how to piece an improv log cabin block

Sometimes I only have strips that are too short to reach all the way from edge to edge of the block – especially as the center section gets bigger.

When that happens, I just sew two strips together and use the new, longer strip in my piecing. Sometimes I use two strips of the same fabric, and sometimes I use different fabrics (like in the strip on the right in the photo above). It totally depends on my mood at the moment.

Red improv log cabin block with raggedy edges, waiting to be trimmed. Free scrap quilt pattern.

Keep going until your batting square is completely covered.

Finished block in a free scrap quilt pattern, shown from the back so you can see the quilting lines

Here it is from the back. See how there’s fabric showing all around the edge of the batting? And look at the nice quilting already done – holding everything together. I’m going to back this quilt with cuddle fleece for special cuddly warmth. There are tips here for using cuddle fleece for the back.

Trimmed block (shown from the back) in a free scrap quilt pattern

Trim your block down to size from the back, so you can see that you’re getting batting in the entire block. I trimmed mine down to 10 1/2″ square.

And here’s the finished block!

Finished red improv log cabin block - a sample demo block in a free scrap quilt pattern

In the very first photo I showed the blocks arranged in a checkerboard-ish pattern, with red blocks alternating with purple. I’m not sure yet what the final arrangement for the quilt will be – it kind of depends on how many blocks I end up with for each color. Here’s an alternate possibility where the blocks blend from one color to another.

Red and purple sample block arrangement for a free scrap quilt pattern from Shiny Happy World

Whatever arrangement I choose, the final quilt will be bright and cheerful and cuddly and warm – just what I want to give a child. 🙂

Update! You can see the finished free scrap quilt here. Along with showing the finished quilt, I also answered a lot of questions people had about the process. Click over to get more details.

A couple of final notes. . .

I think improvisational scrap blocks like this look best when you sort your fabrics a bit first. You can see that within the red blocks there’s a brick red block, a red and white block, two bright pink blocks, one light pink block, and several bright red blocks. Within the purples I have one magenta-ish purple block, three lighter purple blocks, and lots of dark purple blocks. Sticking to one shade or tone per block keeps a little order.

This would be a really fun way to make an I Spy quilt – with pairs of center pieces to match up. I have two of the larger blue/green stars and two of the girl in the blue tree.

Here’s a post with some helpful info about where you can donate your finished beauties made with this free scrap quilt pattern.

Happy quilting!


  1. Sherry Meyer SAYS...

    Thanks so much Wendi – LOVE this!!

  2. Elaine Judd SAYS...

    Love this idea and your easy to follow instructions! Just when I was thinking I should use all of my scraps to stuff into a cat bed, you come up with a nice way to use them. Maybe I can even incorporate all of my leftover (orphaned) triangles somewhere in the blocks. Clever!

    • If you have a lot of leftover triangles you could use those as the centers of each block the way I used square-ish shapes. That would make great-looking blocks!

  3. Mary Henjum SAYS...

    Love your blocks! Now how do you join them together?

  4. fran SAYS...

    I love this quilt idea. It reminds me of my first try at quilting…lol thanks for all inspiration.

  5. Linda Biedermann SAYS...

    Great idea. This quilt is turning out super cute! Since the blocks are prequilted to the batting, how do you secure the backing to the quilt?

  6. Eva SAYS...

    Fantastisk scrap quilt!!
    Looks like it’s both fun, easy and fairly quick. I don’t have a lot of scraps yet – but I could quickly tear up some fabric 😉

  7. Bonnie G Ellis SAYS...

    Does this mean you will have to back it and requilt??? Or how will you put the backing on???

  8. Cheryl SAYS...

    I love how this is turning out! It’s SUCH a makes you feel happy just looking at it kind of quilt. You have a really fantastic eye for color combinations, among the plethora of other things you are really fantastic at, which…I have determined, is pretty much everything you create, lol.

  9. Grisel Martinez SAYS...

    I’ve just a few minutes ago enrolled on your website; just happened to come across it. OMG Wendi I love this………. I had seen something like this on another site a couple of months ago but it really didn’t make any sense to me. I love how you are soooooooo PRECISE with your instructions. I will definitely give this a try. I am so impressed with your web site and instructions.

  10. Kim Edge SAYS...

    I love it! And I wanted to thank you because I finished a queen sized quilt with my old standard machine because you said you had done a king sized one on a standard and you didn’t appear to be driven insane by it. lol Thanks for your tutorials. I have a lovely quilt now that I did all by myself! 🙂

  11. Go girl go!!! I love it and am inspired by you….

  12. Angelique Medhurst SAYS...

    I’ve always wondered about quilt as you go and with your instructions I’m now raring to go. Thank you x

  13. Dorrie SAYS...

    I’m totally confused. How do you attach the front to the backing if the front is quilted to the batting? What holds it to the backing???

    I make quilts for the local chapter of Project Linus and this is an adorable quilt, but what holds it together with the backing???

  14. Jayme Witcher SAYS...

    I really like this quilt! Would it work with t shirt material? My friend want to make a quilt with her late husbands t shirts. This would be great as she is a new sewer. Thank you!

  15. lisa SAYS...

    I love these blocks. When you have sewn the blocks together and then attach it to a backing, how did you secure them to the back? Did you do other type of quilting?

    • I stitched in the ditch in the seam between the blocks – perfect for attaching the front to the back.

  16. Bettylou SAYS...

    I’m inspired. Thank you, Wendy!