Friday, April 1, 2016

A FAL 2016 Tutorial: Improv Herringbone Table Runner

Today, I have an easy tutorial showing you how to make this improv herringbone table runner. I finished it last weekend and it looks great on my table. My runner is about 12.5" wide by about 42" long - this project is simple to customize to your own table. Measure your table so that you have a finished size in mind.

Start with a bunch of fabrics that you like. I pulled out a bunch of solids in colours that pleased me and added just a couple of prints. Cut a bunch of strips from 1" to 3" wide.  Cut strips about 20" long - or along the long side of a fat quarter. If you cut width of fabric strips, cross cut them in half. I cut a bunch of strips and then later in the piecing as I started to run out of options, I cut more strips so that I had lots of choices as I went. The left overs went into the scrap bin.

You could, if you want, cut these strips without a ruler and that will give you a more organic shaped herringbone. But improv can also have straight cut edges.

To start the herring bone, pick out two strips and sew them together at a perpendicular angle. Press each seam as you go.

Continue to add strips to one side and then the other. After pressing each seam, trim on the side you are going to add the next strip to.

This photo shows the part that is trimmed. I also trimmed along the side when it became a bit wobbly.

I used to want someone to teach me how to pick the colours for this kind of improv piece. Eventually I learned that I just had to relax and place the colours mostly randomly. For this piece picked a lot of colours that were similar with just a few that contrasted. I tried to use only a small number of contrasting pieces so the pops of colour would be both intentional and dramatic.

Also, remember to look at the piece as you stop to press. If you don't like some of the colours, you can just slice them off and start again on that side.

I planned to quilt the runner densely and I knew that would make it draw in and shrink in size.  To make sure that the runner did not get too small, I planned to make the top of the runner a good 4" or 5" wider than I needed and I encourage you to do that too. Measure the width of the piece as you add fabrics and when you are able to trim the top straight and have the width you need (in my case about 16"), trim the top straight.

Keep adding more strips and every so often trim the sides perpendicular to the top cut so that you can keep the piece growing in a rectangular shape.

You can see more trimming in this photo. Also you will see that sometimes I added two strips on one side before I added to the other. Because this is an improv piece, the "V" created by the herringbone does not run exactly down the middle and sort of migrates from side to side. If you want, you can manipulate the location of the V, depending on how wide each strip is before the next one is added.

When you get to the final end, you need to keep adding strips until you can cut a horizontal line at the required length. Again, I added about 4" to my planned final length to give me room for trimming the final runner.

You can also see in this photo that my trimming along the sides was not perfect as I went, but that is not really a problem as the runner will be trimmed after quilting.

Make a back piece for the runner that is longer and wider than your top. I added two layers of cotton batting and basted the runner just as I would baste a quilt. (If you need a reference, my tutorial for basting a quilt is here.) I also suggest you consider adding a layer of heat resistant batting for one of the two layers if you have some on hand as we often put hot bowls on table runners. Since I did not have any handy, I just used the two layers of cotton batting.

Quilt as desired. I used my walking foot on my domestic sewing machine and quilted straightish lines randomly spaced following the lines of colour.

It's a good idea to go and measure your table again. Then trim the quilted runner to the size you desire.

Bind the runner and enjoy your lovely runner.

I used a single fold binding and my tutorial for single fold binding is here if you need a reference for binding. Once the binding is complete, the runner is ready for the table. Generally I would wash the runner first before using it, but this time I did not bother as I know it will be spilled on soon and washed then. I am certain the texture from the quilting will be enhanced by a wash.

Please let me know if you have any questions and I would love to see photos of any runners you may make.

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Don't forget to link up your Q1 2016 FAL finishes before the end of April 7 - go here - and also to check out the other FAL tutorials this week. Here is the schedule:




  1. I love the texture from all the seams and the quilting!

  2. Thats a great tutorial, thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for sharing this tutorial Leanne. The detail about when an how to square up is quite useful. Your runner is very refreshing. The randomness of where the pinks ended up and to the interest.

  4. Thanks for this tutorial. I would love to give this a try with some cream, orange, and mustard fabrics I have.

  5. I love how the "v" point meanders down the length, and great advice about trying something and just cutting it off if you don't like it after the fact.

  6. I have always love herringbone and this is such a perfect project! I'm anxious to try it out! Thank you so much! I love how the center flows...perfect, yet not!

  7. This is lovely, Leanne! Thanks so much for sharing. I'd love to give this a try one of these days...great solid scrap buster!

  8. Terrific! I think now that I need to go and buy lavender cutting mats as your project looks so great up against that color (much better than my dull green cutting mats). This turned out beautifully. Thanks for the tutorial.

  9. Love the colors and the improv.

  10. Love, love, love this! I'm feeling a new weekend project coming on! Thanks :)

  11. Your table runner is beautiful! Thank you for the tutorial. I have a question for you, if you don't mind. In one of your pictures, it looks like you have a Gingher nickel finish rotary cutter. I'm curious if you are pleased with it? I've seen them in catalogs and wondered if they are worth what they cost. Should I splurge and get one for myself? Thank you.

  12. I NEED to make one of these in spring/summer colors.....seriously. How is it I can want to make sooooo many projects with so little really does get in my way! UGH!!!

  13. Just gorgeous, Leanne! I love your colors. This will make me re-think tossing out my 1" strips. Thanks for the tutorial!

  14. Nice! I have some braids from old scraps tucked away somewhere. My girls will recognize lots of them.

  15. Oh Leanne this is wonderful!! I want to jump into my solids small stash and make one...but I'll have to get back home first ;-)

  16. It's really pretty! I am filing this away on my mental "someday" list!

  17. Thanks for the tutorial! This pattern has always puzzled me, but you have made it so much more logical! I'm pinning this for future reference!

  18. What a fun design and lovely result! Thank you! =D

  19. Great runner - but your tutorial is even better. So fun to see your creative process. Thanks!


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