Island Batik Improv Log Cabin Tutorial

Making an improv log cabin quilt was a fun challenge.  In my newest Island Batik challenge, I combined two themes to create an improv log cabin wall hanging–here’s the tutorial showing how I did it.

Cozy Log Cabins is the first challenge theme that I used!  Log cabins are a great traditional pattern and I remember making many versions when I first learned to quilt many, many years ago.   It’s also a traditional pattern that you can easily make modern and I will show you how I did that.

The second theme is Whimsical and Wonky!  I decided to incorporate that theme as well in this wall hanging.

The Island Batik fabrics that I used to make the blocks are strips from the Brights collection and the background is a neutral.  You can find Island Batik fabrics at shops like my local favorite shop FabricSmart and online:

Strips used for log cabin blocks. I love this bright modern color group!
Island Batik Watercolor Texture Sprinkles

[divider]  Inspiration Quilt & Making The Improv Log Cabin Block

[divider] As a reminder, here is a traditional log cabin block.


Several years ago, I made a small whimsical log cabin quilt.  I used this quilt as an inspiration for this wall hanging–but with one big difference.

improv log cabin quilt
Wonky Improv Log Cabin–small modern wall hanging that is an inspiration for this new piece.

[divider]I wanted to make the outside shape of each block as irregular as possible (like the inspiration quilt) , and I wanted all of the log strips to be angled.

To make my log cabin blocks, I started out by drawing shapes in EQ8 for the centers.  I decided that would be an easy way to end up with an irregularly shaped block.   I printed the centers out and pasted them on to card stock to make cutting templates.  I’ll save these templates in case I decide to make a full quilt someday with these shapes as the centers.

Here are some of my templates for the centers.  I only used 4 templates  in the piece.

improv log cabin block centers

Here is how I cut the logs for one of the blocks.  This is a totally improvisational process. Notice that I slightly altered the shape for the red center from the template because it was still too rectangular.   I was improvising right from the start.  The fabric strips are all 2-1/2 inches by about 40 inches.

cut 1 center from red and sew to a yellow strip.


Press open. Cut yellow strip at an angle.


Added 2nd yellow strip –attaching it to the first yellow strip. (This is standard way of building a traditional log cabin block.)
Pressed open and cut yellow strip 2 at an angle


Selected blue for strip 3 and 4.  You cannot measure exact length strips.  Instead, all strips have to be cut oversize in length because of the angles in the improv log cabin block.


improv log cabin quilt block
Blue strips being added to improv log cabin block.

After adding blue, I added deep purple, green and finished with orange.  This was block #4…read on to see why I made this block at the end of the process.

Layout Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Here are the three original blocks.  I made them at a wonderful retreat hosted by Cultured Expressions in the mountains near Denver CO this summer.  Visit her site to find out about upcoming trips and to see the great fabrics and classes that are offered.

I taped the blocks to a window–loving the effect of stained glass.  I decided to stop with 3 and then decide where to take the project when I got back home.

improv log cabin blocks


Back at home, I played with several layouts. (notice Block 4 is NOT in this layout.) I’m showing only two of many layout  versions I played with.

improv log cabin layout idea
I do like this version and might use it one day in a full quilt.
I like the tumbling effect–and might use this as a design inspiration in the future.

[divider]For some reason, I wasn’t quite satisfied.  I even had input from a quilt buddy who was visiting one day last week while I had this on the design wall.

Then, light bulb moment!  I decided to make a 4th block and after playing around with a horizontal arrangement, I decided to arrange the blocks vertically.


Adding the background was also an improv piecing process.  I did not measure the blocks–instead I just estimated a length and width for each strip to be added.  I added strips to each block as dividers (negative space). After sewing the background on strip on, I trimmed in the logical places.  You can see some of the strips added in the image above.

Then, I added other strips to fill out the shape which was emerging.  For this process, you really need a vertical design wall so that you can see the progress step-by-step.  Yes, that means that I had some large scraps left over along the way.  Some of them I pieced together to piece in as background in other areas.  At the end, I only had small scraps left over.

I layered it with a luscious Island Batik Blender called Butter for backing and Hobbs Wool Batting.

I quilted the piece with 50 wt. white thread in random lines with my walking foot.   Sometimes I marked with blue masking tape.  Other lines were echoed or quilted by eye. Quilting took about 90 minutes–with snack break.


Here is the final wall hanging.  It measures 46 inches long by 27 inches at its widest point.  I pieced the binding with some leftover strips and mitered the corners.  Notice Block #4 is at the top of the piece.  I think it adds a needed spark to the design–maybe it’s the sharp angle going off to the left.


5 thoughts on “Island Batik Improv Log Cabin Tutorial”

  1. Elizabeth A Franck

    Just got to this…. and I do really like the wonky triangular shapes! Love working with geometric shapes – especially
    triangles…… Elizabeth

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