Have you heard of improv piecing? Basically, it is the process of sewing a quilt without a pattern, letting it grow organically as you stitch each block together. I’ve wanted to try improv piecing for a long time. The main thing I couldn’t wrap my brain around was how to make a flat quilt with wonky lines. Then I found The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. The book breaks down several techniques for improv that help create a little structure in what could be a completely unstructured process. Next my plan was simple. Schedule a workshop based on this book so that I would force myself to learn enough before the class to lead whoever dared to show up!
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
This book is exciting and can help take you in infinite directions.
Author Sherry Lynn Wood (definitely check out her work, it’s amazing!) shares a wealth of knowledge in the book including techniques, ways to fix puckers, and how to set limits and work within them. Instead of a pattern she gives you scores. A “score” is a concept to work within. After her detailed explanation of the score, she shares sample quilts from students that have taken her classes. Seeing the score in multiple quilts really helped me visualize the concepts.
I decided to start with the first score in the book, Floating Squares. I limited myself to mostly squares (which really turned more and more into rectangles), and only 3 colors (blue, black and gray and then a little white made it in there too). Part of the technique outlined in Wood’s book includes not using rulers to cut your fabric. This can add to the wonkiness of the blocks, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to it (and eventually cut straighter then when I started)!
I love improv!
I love the freedom to create, work with fabrics on my own terms, and all the possibilities. I find no rulers freeing. I love that it can evolve from squares to rectangles or to anything else I desire. For me, it’s quilting without boundaries, which I love!
It’s a great way to use up stash and scrap fabric.
For this quilt I made it completely from scraps and a handful of stash fabrics. I love looking at a scrap quilt and remembering the projects before it. There are pieces from the table runner I made my sister for Christmas. Long strips of flannel that were trimmed off the last two quilts I made. A beautiful and soft boiled wool from a project that didn’t work out. Organic cotton fleece scraps from a sweatshirt I made. And many, many more!
Lots of yummy soft textures and thicknesses is a good thing and a bad thing.
I love all the different types of fabrics in this quilt. It is super soft and snuggly. But quilting it was hard. I decided that I wanted to quilt a giant bird. So I made myself a small test quilt to try out my ideas. What I found out was that all those different fabrics on the front and the back created 100 different thicknesses that my machine hated.
It took some trips to Blow’s Sew n Vac (Thank you, thank you Kerry & Darren) before I figured out how to navigate the layers. I do not have a long arm machine (#goals), so I decided to made six small birds and filled in with branches and leaves. I’m really excited about how it turned out!
I love sewing with you!
I decided it would be fun to learn improv with my people (that’s you!). Plus if I committed to a class then I would for sure follow through. As I planned out the class I decided my intention was for all of us to learn together and give anyone that came a safe place to try it. No pressure, no big deal.
If you are interested in trying improv quilting I’ll leave you with this: Making a quilt from a kit is like paint by numbers. You are given a pattern and you fill in the colors as instructed. You know exactly what to expect and you are guaranteed a pretty piece. And hey, it’s fun! Quilting from a pattern is sort of like one of those painting classes with the wine. You start with a blank canvas but the teacher tells you exactly what to paint. You have guidance but you can still add your own flair if you’d like. Also very fun!
This class is a blank canvas and you are in complete control of what it will look like in the end. That can be scary and exciting all at the same time. It’s hard to predict what will happen. There are so many variables. But I promise, you can’t make a mistake. And in the end, it’s just fabric.
There are lots of techniques for improv, and as we explore the idea as a whole, we are excited to host Colleen Carlson for a workshop called Improv Elements.
If quilting without rulers is too stressful for you or you like the look of a straight line, this is the class for you. Colleen Carlson is teaching an all day class called Improv Elements. She has studied improv for years and has made many improv pieces. In this class you will have time to dive deeper into the concepts, try out some really cool blocks (including letters), and learn how to take a photo and turn it into a quilt design. I’m really hoping my schedule allows me to take this with you.
Saturday, February 17th
10:30am – 5:30pm
Or, If this crazy concept of no rulers and no rules sounds fun to you, there are two more opportunities to work through the Improv Handbook with me! I haven’t decided yet which score we will do in the remaining classes. I orginially thought strings (pictured above) but after talking to the first class I’m leaning toward curves.
Wednesday, February 21st
10:30am – 12:00pm
Wednesday, March 21st
10:30am – 12:00pm
Whether you are into improv quilting or not, my hope for you is that you jump in and try something new. Something you’ve never done before. Something that makes you just enough uncomfortable to push you to the next level in your journey. And if you need some encouragement or just a hug, I’m always here. Because sometimes when you jump in that deep it’s hard!