Improv Dresden Squares // Tutorial

Mermaid Improv Quilt with spiral quilting
[Quilt finished in 2016]

I am happy to share my Dresden Squares Tutorial today. I used a dresden ruler (the EZ Dresden Ruler designed by Darlene Zimmerman) to make 6.5 inch “faux improv” squares.  Combining the precision of the dresden ruler with randomly cut squares is a simple way to ease into improv piecing for those who are hesitant to try improv but like the look. And of course, if you feel completely comfortable with improv sewing, this is a fun block construction method that looks much more complicated than it is.

Supplies Needed for Dresden Squares Baby Quilt 
Finished quilt: 36 1/2” x 42 1/2”(smaller than quilt shown)
10-15 prints & solids; scraps, FE, and FQs all work
1 yard solid for border
1 1/4 yard for backing
1/4 yard for binding

1.  Select 10-15 prints and solids in a range of colors and values.

Dresden Squares Fabric

2. Layer fabric and use an 8” dresden ruler to cut wedges.  This quilt uses 20 Dresden Squares.; refer to the chart below if you want to make an alternate number of blocks.  I cut four dresdens at a time and individually fussy cut the Mendocino mermaids & octopi (a long out of print collection designed by Heather Ross).

Dresden Squares
Dresden Wedges Needed
4 blocks
16-18 wedges
8 blocks
32-34 wedges
12 blocks
48-52 wedges
16 blocks
64-68 wedges
20 blocks
80-84 wedges
3. Chain piece 3/4 (or so) of the dresden wedges. Note: Chain piecing is another word for assembly line piecing. Instead of sewing two wedges together, cutting the threads and putting them in a pile, sew multiple pairs of wedges together in a row, without cutting the threads between them. This speeds up your piecing, and if your machine tends to sputter or catch threads if the needle isn’t on the fabric when you start sewing, this helps that problem.
4. Press blocks well (I press towards the darker wedge). Lay wedges out in rows of 12-14, adding in individual wedges as shown below if necessary. Sew wedges together, press seams in long block.
Dresden Squares Layout

5.Use a square or regular ruler to cut the wedge strips into 6 1/2” squares. Rotate the ruler in different directions as you go.  If you end up with an extra dresden or two after cutting your squares, sew them onto the end of a different row of dresdens.

Cut Dresden Squares

6. Repeat steps 3-5 until you have the desired number of Dresden Squares.

7.  Play around with the layout of your Dresden Square blocks.  Once you find a layout you like, sew the blocks together in vertical rows. Press the blocks in each row. Tip: Press all of the blocks in row 1 towards the bottom, press blocks in row 2 towards the top, press blocks in row 3 towards the bottom, etc. If you alternate the way you press the blocks by row, when you pin the rows together, the seams will “lock” with the two seams going in alternate directions. This quilt top is a 4×5 block construction; it measures 24 1/2” x 30 1/2”.


8. Place 2 rows right sides together, pin on either side of each seam, and sew. Press the seams, and continue with the remaining rows.

9. Adding your borders. Tip: I find that my borders are more likely to be square/less wavy if I cut border strips to size before I start sewing.  For a 36 1/2” x 42 1/2” quilt with uniform borders, cut two borders that are 6 1/2” x 24 1/2” and two borders that were 6 1/2” x 36 1/2”.

Dresden Squares Quilt Top_SwimBikeQuilt

Dresden Squares Top

Note: I wanted my version to be bigger than that, and for the Dresden Squares to be slightly off center, so I kept adding borders until I was satisfied with it. I also used a few extra blocks in the outer borders of the quilt. **Note: 3.5 years later, I decided I did not want extra borders, so I chopped them off. You can see they are wavy in the picture above, and the proportions weren’t great.

10. Sew borders and press well. Square up quilt top.
Tip: If you plan to photograph a quilt top, don’t wait until the last minute. Or else it might rain cats and dogs. And you will have a small lake in front of your house. And rambunctious kids. And disappearing light. Ask me how I know :)
Dresden Squares in the Rain
11. Prepare the quilt back, adding scraps or leftover blocks for interest.
12. Sandwich, quilt, and bind according to your favorite methods.
Please let me know if you have any questions, and leave me a comment to enter to win an EZ Dresden Ruler of your own!!!  [Giveaway closed] I’ll pick a winner on Friday.  Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Dresden tutorials and inspiration. Good luck!
A big thank you to the Salt Lake Modern Quilt Guild (SLMQG) for hosting the EZ Dresden Quilting Challenge and inviting me to join in the fun.   The SLMQG has teamed up with EZ Quilting/Simplicity and a host of other manufacturers to celebrate Darlene Zimmerman‘s 20th Anniversary designing quilting tools for EZ Quilting. They are hosting a challenge — Use a dresden ruler to create a project, then enter it by September 6 to win some really great prizes, including a photo of your quilt in Quilting Arts magazine, a Singer Sewing machine, fabric, thread, rulers, and more!  Click here for more contest details.
June 1 – The Sat Lake Modern Quilt Guild:
June 2 – Lee:
June 3 – Katie
June 4 – Victoria: and Tanya:
June 5 – Val: and Leigh:
June 6 – Amy: and Elisa
June 7 – Katie: and Emily:
June 8 – Melissa: and Brooke:
June 9 – Nicole: and Amy
June 10 – Elizabeth: and Colleen:
June 11 – Faith: and Deonn:
June 12 – Angela: and Barbie:
June 13 – Amy:
June 14 – Jessica:
June 15 – Salt Lake MQG: Wrap-up
And thank you to all the EZ Dresden Challenge sponsors!
This entry was posted in Improv Sewing, Quilts, Sew Alongs, Tutorials and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Thnx or sharing–I’m loving all the creative uses or this ruler besides he obvious, Dresden plates.

  2. Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Great colour palette! And the extra little rogue block in the bottom corner is perfect!

  3. Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Very nice-I like how you did the borders and offset the pieced blocks.

  4. Posted June 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I would love to win! I love the design of the baby quilt.

  5. Posted June 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Great quilt. Love this idea.

  6. Posted June 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I like this idea. thanks for sharing i.

  7. Posted June 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    It turned out awesome! Great job! I’d be all over making one of these…

  8. Posted June 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I love the pop of blue in your color selection!

  9. Posted June 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Great giveaway! I always love a ruler!

  10. Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful baby quilt.I`d love a ruler!

  11. Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    What a great way to use the ruler! I have been inspired by all the blogs so far on this dresden plate adventure!

  12. Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I love your quilt! I’ll have to try it…as soon as I have a Dresden ruler 😉

  13. Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Lovely quilt. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  14. Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    LOVE how you used the dresden ruler! Pinning for addition to “THE LIST”.

  15. Jenny
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I love the playfulness of this quilt Katie
    Not to mention the awesome mix of colors

  16. Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    another fun way to use the dresden ruler…I love how you made the blocks…thanks for the giveaway…

  17. Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I love this use of the ruler to make a fun modern quilt! The colors are so pretty :-)

  18. Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Very different! I sure am enjoying the versitility of the Dresden ruler!

  19. Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    so many ways to use this humble little shape…thanks for the tutorial!

  20. Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    It is fascinating to see all of the different ways to use this ruler!

  21. Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Very cool, Katie! I love your design.

  22. Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Katie, I love this! I would never have thought to use purple for the borders but it’s fabulous.

  23. Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Love your quilt and the colors. Thanks for the chance to win the ruler.
    Linda F.

  24. Posted June 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Great looking quilt. I like the border added to the 2nd one.
    Thank you for showing us.

  25. Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    sure like your improv block and the baby quilt tute! your color choice is fabulous! am enjoying all the dresden posts, great ideas, information! thanx for the tute and the chance to win the ruler :)

  26. Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Love the colors you selected (and that photography tip you gave under tip # 10 – very, very wise advise!).

  27. Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Love the colors you selected (and that photography tip you gave under tip # 10 – very, very wise advise!).

  28. Kristen Sanderson
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    The dresden block is something I have wanted to try. I looks like the ruler is the key to success. Thanks for the giveaway. (Great color combo by the way)

  29. Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    love your dresden xoxo and sooo jealous of your heather ross mermaid print …..

  30. Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    The colors you used have a real punch. Nice.

  31. Posted June 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    I love the different take on using the dresden ruler. This is gorgeous! Thanks for the chance. :)

  32. Vroomans' Quilts
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I am loving seeing the versatility of this ruler, thank you for sharing your idea with us today.

  33. Gill
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I love this – especially the block at the bottom!!
    Thank you!

  34. Posted June 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Your technique looks great! Could be just the thing for this “improv-challenged” quilter. Thanks for the inspiration and for the chance to win!

  35. Posted June 7, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    you are right about how easy it really is…. Thank you for sharing. I am very new to this plate jazz and having a variety of quilters to look at for inspiration is a wonderful way to connect with new people.
    Mondy Fawn

  36. Posted June 7, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the great ideas on how to use the ez dresden ruler to make squares. It would be grand to win a ruler. Perhaps Dresdens are in my future. alternate email mlwright29(at)hotmail(dot)com

  37. Posted June 7, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    Fun take on using the dresden ruler. Great design and I love the palette you chose. Very inspiring.

  38. Posted June 7, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I love your design! Very cool and modern!

  39. Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the tutorial! Love the design!

  40. Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Something else for me to try! thanks!

  41. Posted June 8, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Fun design. Thanks for sharing your tutorial. I’m getting so many ideas to try!

  42. Posted June 8, 2012 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    I really loved your design!

  43. Posted June 8, 2012 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    It’s amazing to see all the different designs made with this template!

  44. Sew Very Sherry
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    Great ideas! I can’t figure out to comment on this post with just an email address. I don’t have any of the accounts listed on your drop down window.

  45. Posted June 8, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Fantastic tutorial, thanks for sharing. And thanks for the chance to win an EZ Dresden Ruler.

  46. Posted June 8, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I can’t get over how many different things you can do with this ruler. Clever!

  47. Needled Mom
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I love the versatility of the Dresdens.

  48. Posted June 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    This is brilliant! And I adore your colour palette. And I hate purple, so that’s pretty impressive! I even want to track down some of that lighter purple, I like it that much!

  49. Posted June 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Oh, this looks great! Thanks so much!

  50. Posted June 8, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Love the colors in your quilt! And would love to win the ruler to make one like it. Thanks for the chance.

  51. Posted June 8, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I love this quilt! The colors are so great together!

  52. Posted June 8, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Love the purples…Looks like banners at a renaissance fair :) Thank you for sharing your tutorial! Awesome!

  53. Posted June 8, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    The only thing holding me back is that I don’t have “the ruler.” Thanks for the opportunity to win one.

  54. Posted June 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    I like the creativity on this bloghop!

  55. Posted June 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Love this modern looking quilt. And you made it with that ruler! I love it, very nice tutorial too.
    Greetings from the Netherlands
    Marina Fluit

  56. Posted June 9, 2012 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Love the modern looking quilt. I’m hoping to do a dresden soon………

  57. Posted June 9, 2012 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    Love doing the blog hop for this challenge. Super fun to see all the creativity. This is an interesting block, but think I wold break it up a bit to ease the eye. Seems a bit busy for my style.. but love to take the idea and see if I could put my own spin on it.


  58. Posted June 9, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    You have so much imagination. They are almost to much :-)

  59. Posted June 9, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    love your idea of using the dresden pieces to just sew rows!! Great idea, especially for making a block with no applique!! Thanks:-)

  60. Lee
    Posted June 9, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    love the extra blocks in the border! thanks!

  61. WandaFish
    Posted June 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the tute – it looks great!

  62. Posted June 10, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Nice job on this! I LOVE the colors!

  63. Posted June 11, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I love blocks that look harder than they really are – the faux improv blocks are awesome!

  64. Posted June 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    so cool- i love the purple for the negative space.

  65. Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    My goodness! I love this quilt!

  66. Jilly
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Love the mermaid print!

  67. Posted June 13, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Fun quilt and blog!

  68. Posted June 15, 2012 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    I totally love this quilt! Especially the escapees in the borders. Very cool idea for the dresden ruler!!

  69. Posted June 16, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    Amor a primeira olhada,

  70. Posted June 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    What an inspiring way to use the dresdan ruler.

  71. Posted September 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    i’ve wanted to try the dresden ruler! what a lovely quilt <3

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