Friday, April 1, 2022

Hive 3 - April Tutorial - Improv Birch Block

Hello bee mates - I have chosen an improv block for this month.  If you have never done improv piecing before, don't worry - it is fun and easy.  I found a very well written free tutorial that will guide you through the process and I will share my tips and photos of my block below.

Improv Birch Tutorial Link

3rd Story Workshop Improv Birch Tree Tutorial

Block Size

I would like finished blocks that are at least 12.5 inches high and at least 12.5 inches wide.  When making an improv block like this, it is best to start with a larger piece of background fabric so that you can trim it down to size - you may be cutting the background at an angle and when you sew it back together, sometimes you need to trim it square and it starts to get smaller.  I am thinking about making finished blocks in different widths, so if your block ends up wider than 12.5 inches, you don't have to trim it - you can just send it to me and I may use it as wide as it is, or maybe I'll trim it to 12.5 inches.  Likewise, you don't need to trim the length to 12.5 inches, just make sure it is at least 12.5 inches wide and tall.

Please make a minimum of 2 birches in your block - you can make as many as you want if you want to make more than 2 birches.  Your birches can be as skinny or wide as you like.  They can be straight or set in the block at an angle - just like trees in a real forest.

In the example of the red birch block at the top of the page, I started with a piece of background fabric that was 14 x 14 inches.  The finished block is about 18 inches wide.  Depending on how many birches you put in the block and how wide your birches are, you could start with a narrower piece of background fabric.  You can also use strips of background fabric that are 14 inches long instead of cutting a larger piece to insert the birches.


My inspiration for the blocks is based on photos of birch forests.  Here are a few.

Fabric Parameters

You will need 1 background color fabric and scraps of white and black fabric for the birches.

I am requesting solids or low volume prints that read as solids for the background, and white and black scraps.  For the birch accents, use black and white stripes or prints that will look birch-like.  If you don't have any black and white prints for accents, it is perfectly fine to use black and white scraps only for the birches.  The red birch block at the top of this post doesn't use accent fabrics.  The green birch block farther down does use accent fabrics.

The background fabric should be about 14 inches tall.  You will be inserting the birches vertically into the background fabric, so you can use one big piece of fabric, or several pieces shorter in width and insert the birches between the shorter width pieces.  It is okay to piece together scraps for the background if you don't have a large piece of fabric.  

For the background color, please use solids or low volume prints that read as solids - colors for background can be any shade of red, orange, yellow, or green.  Here is an example of solid colors you might use and one showing some grunge or low volume prints that would work.  I am looking for colors you might find in a birch forest, so the golden yellows and greens work well.  Please don't use greens or reds that have blue in them.

You will also need some scraps of black and white fabric.  For the whites, you can use white, off-white, low volume white on white fabric - as long as it reads white.  If you have some black and white striped scraps or other black and white prints that would work, you can use them in the birches (see tutorial), however, just plain black and white scraps are fine.  Here is an example of the scraps that I used and a photo of some black and white prints that I will be using for accents on my birches.

About Improv
If you haven't done improv piecing before, don't worry - it is very forgiving.  You don't even have to use a ruler, however, if you feel more comfortable using a ruler, go ahead.  It is okay if seams aren't straight.  Real trees aren't perfectly straight.

You can press the seams any way you like.  The black strips are so thin, it is hard to press toward the dark color, so it is okay to press your seams open or to press towards the white.  For the green block, I pressed seams to the side.  For the red block, I pressed them open.  I think pressing the seams open was easier for this block and I will be doing my other blocks with seams pressed open.  But this is your choice.

In my block below with the green background, I have two trees overlapping.  Where the trees overlap, the seam is a little bulky and doesn't lay particularly flat.  If this happens to you, don't worry about it.  I don't think it will be noticeable after the top is quilted.

Photos of My First Block Progress
The tutorial says to start with a fat quarter of white fabric.  I just used some 2.5 inch strips I had in my stash.  I did cut a couple of them lengthwise so that they weren't all the same width when I made my birches.

First, I sub cut my black and white scraps.  You can see with the black scraps I wasn't using a ruler.

The next few photos show my progress at sewing the strips together into the birch units.

Here is my birch unit ready to be cut up into birches.  This unit ended up being about 8 or 9 inches tall - however, I really need it to be 14 inches tall so I can insert it in my background fabric.  Since I was planning to add some black and white striped accents to my birch trees, I didn't need to make them 14 inches tall - they will become taller when I add the accent fabric.  If you don't have black and white accent fabric to make your birch trees taller, then just add a few more rows of black and white strips until your birch unit is 14 inches tall.

This photo shows the birch unit that has been subcut into strips to make the birch trees - I have also flipped every other piece so that they look more random.

This photo shows the birches after I have inserted the plain white between the striped strips and added my accent fabric.  If you look at the red block at the top of the page, you'll see that I have one birch that doesn't have a white strip in the middle.

I forgot to take a photo of the first steps of inserting the birches.  You can see that on the left, I cut the background fabric at an angle and inserted a leaning birch tree.  For the second birch tree, I cut through the bottom of the first birch tree so that when I sewed the second tree, it looks like it is in front of the first one.  You can overlap trees if you want, but it isn't necessary - you can have each tree separated by background fabric if you want.

Here is my block after the third tree has been added.

And here it is after I added the background to the third tree.

This is my block - you can tell it is a lot wider than 12.5 inches.  I am going to wait until I assemble the top before I cut this block down.  I may end up adding more birches on the right side and make it a really wide block.

Here are a few photos of my red birch block under construction.  The first photo shows my 14 x 14 inch background fabric and my slab of black and white strips for the birches.  The second photo shows the birches after I sewed then together, but before I inserted them in the background fabric.


I hope you enjoy making this block.  I am looking forward to seeing all of the birches this hive will be making!

Rebecca @spockie_

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