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Reversible tray cover using improv piecing and embroidery

This tray cover is made using patchwork improv blocks as well as embroidery. The cover is reversible.

If you’ve never done any improv patchwork, don’t worry, check out this 2 minute video and learn. Using paper as a stabiliser is optional:


Scrap fabrics in coordinated colours.

Embroidery pattern

Embroidery stitch: stem stitch (watch video).
Measure your tray
All the measurements are for my tray. Yours will likely be different so you will have to measure it in the following way.
First measure the inside width and length.

My tray has different heights around the sides so I need to  measure both sides separately.

Measure from the base of the tray all around on each side. One of the sides on my tray has a bump and it is higher. This is where I will measure the height.

Then measure the height on the side.

The measurements of my tray:

  • 12 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches for the base
  • 12 1/4 x 5 for the higher side
  • 16 1/4 x 3 3/4 for the lower side
All the measurements from now on are based on the measurements above. You will need to adjust yours.
Making the embroidery side of the cover 
For the embroidery only side cut:
  • one rectangle 12 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches for the base (I added 1/2 for the seam allowance)
  • 2 rectangles 12 3/4 x 5 1/2
  • 2 rectangles 16 3/4 x 4 1/2
Trace the words in the middle of the larger rectangle. “L’heure du thé”: Tea time.

And embroider them. I chose a variegated thread to add some interest.

Making the improv blocks

The foundation of the improv blocks is based on the size of the embroidered words.

Given the size of the tray, I worked out that I needed 4 improv blocks: 6 1/2 x 8 3/4 inches each.

To start cut 4 rectangles to fit the 4 words in them:

  • tisane: 5 x 2 1/2
  • thé: 4 x 2 1/2
  • chai: 4 1/2 x 2 1/2
  • infusion: 5 1/2 x 3 1/4

Now is when you start building the blocks. I basically just added strips around the main rectangle starting with a little strip on the opposite direction to give the blocks some interest.

Start cutting wonky strips. The length of my strips were 10 inches. Always use inches longer than required for your final rectangle so you will be able to trim your blocks to size.

You can see the process that I followed in the next photographs.

First I added some strips to the main rectangle to make it a full piece and then added the strips to the sides.

I used fabrics with lots of contrast.

My blocks are not big enough so I kept adding strips to each side until the blocks were big enough that could be trimmed to size, i.e. bigger than the required 6 1/2 x 8 3/4 inches each by at least 1 to 2 inches.

When you reach the required size, stitch the blocks together.

The embroidery is placed alternating longer and shorter words so that the visual result is more balanced.

Stitch all blocks together.


Do the embroidery before trimming.

Trace the words on to the middle rectangle.

Embroider the letters using matching thread. I used a hoop because the results are a lot neater. I find a small hoop easier to use than a large one.

The embroidery is finished.

Embroidery closeups

Quilting the sandwich

Do not trim the rectangle yet.

Cut a piece of batting as large as the rectangle.

Pin in place. No backing fabric is used.

Quilt. I used stipple quilting.

Then trim to size.

Trimming the back of the cover

Now that the front and back rectangles are done, we need to assemble the cover.

First trim the embroidered tray cover side using the quilted side so that both rectangles are the same size.

Adding the flaps 

Take the rectangles you cut at the start.

Pin them to the side and stitch.

Do the same with the other sides.

Press seams open.

Do the same with the improv side.

Sew and iron with the seams open.

Adding the ties

Cut 8 pieces of ribbon 9 inches long each.

Place both sides of the tray right side facing together.

Place one ribbon about 1 inch from the edge on each of the 8 sides as per picture below.

Pin well.

Stitch all around leaving a 3 inch opening to turn cover inside out. Trim the corners.

Turn inside out.

Iron well.

Top stitch on the seam line around the rectangle and then top stitch around the outer edges as close to the edge as possible.

The tray is finished.

The reverse side of the cover.

Both sides are quite different. The improv side is rather busy whereas the other side is quite the opposite.

I don’t know which side I prefer.


  1. Love the embroidery! Which stitch did you use? All I know is the backstitch but that wouldn’t work for variegated thread…


  2. Hi Ann

    I used stem stitch for the embroidery. It’s really simple to do. Backstitch still may work if the progression of colour is very gradual.


  3. Thank you. I was just looking at an old tray this morning that is way past it’s best and thinking about throwing it out. I shall now cover it instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this. I was looking for a project to use scrap fabrics on and this might just fit the bill. Thanks for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

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