Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Break-the-Rules Improv Piecing

In the past few months, I’ve added to my quilting library with some notable titles. I wish I could say that I’ve finished—or even started!—projects from all of these books. I have many craft books, however, that I’ve never made projects out of. They serve more as reference and inspiration than sources of patterns.

The exception is Sherri Lynn Wood’s Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. Purchasing that volume coincided with attending a workshop, hosted by my guild and led by the author. I went into that daylong event presuming that improvisation wasn’t my thing. The most I had pieced improvisationally was a few projects from the Stitched in Color Curves Class I took earlier this year, and although I liked the results, I still preferred the predictability of patterns. Plus, I didn’t know much about Sherri Lynn Wood or her work. I figured I’d gain some techniques that I could incorporate into my quilt making, but I doubted that the sewing I did in the workshop itself would result in a quilt. I was wrong.

The workshop explored bias-strip piecing. We started with big fabric petals (like 18 inches long!) and proceeded to add layers of bias strips to them. Along the way, we addressed all the unforeseen puckers and curling and general wonkiness that arose when sewing with those shapes.

By the end of the day, I was hooked. Working with the petal shapes opened new doors for me. I had been thinking a lot about movement since I saw my friend Kim’s Exodus quilt. I think the petal shape in itself evokes a sense of movement, and I can’t wait to see where the project with these petals ultimately takes me.

Three of the four petals I made at the workshop.
The far-right petal is 26 inches long!

What was perhaps the most striking part of the workshop, and something that Sherri touches on in her book as well, is the process of creating improvisationally. Most of my quilting is done in bits and pieces between breaking up my boys’ WWF matches and feeding/chasing after/carting around my aspiring wrestlers. Sherri, however, encouraged us to be present in the moment in a way I’m usually not. Often my hands are sewing, but my mind is focused elsewhere. She suggested methods to center ourselves, to constrain our creative process (with, for example, self-imposed limits on the time at task or on our fabric resources), and to make the most of our time with improv techniques. I’m notorious for skipping the intros in quilting books and heading straight to the quilts themselves, but I recommend the opening pages of The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters that address these issues of creating improvisationally.

During the workshop, Sherri also showed us ways to break the rules to get the results we wanted. After years of striving for consistent quarter-inch seams and perfectly pressed quilt blocks, I found myself stretching fabric (on purpose!), pruning away parts of the fabric I had just pieced, and in general, celebrating the places my so-called mistakes took me as a quilt maker.

Can you see some of my creative sewing solutions here?
I inserted pleats to flatten the fabric.

Where do you stand on the subject of improvisation in quilts? Have you dipped your toes in the improv waters or already jumped off the diving board into the deep end? (I’d understand if you were still sitting under an umbrella working on a drink. It’s a comfortable place to be.)

Linking up to Let’s Bee Social, Needle and Thread Thursday, Sew Cute Tuesday, and WIP Wednesday ...

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  1. Oooh... improv curves. That's cool! Don't you love how a workshop with an expert can really get you energized about a technique? Modern Quilt Bee is another book I've found useful on the improv front. I've made a number of quilts inspired by the blocks in it... I can't say that about all the books on my shelf!

  2. You are brave to try curved seams. It's on my "quilty bucket list" with an apple core pattern. I guess as a beginner quilter (having done less than 10 quilts), I've stuck to patterns to gain some accuracy and am doing some scrappy work in a postage stamp. Enjoying your posts.

  3. I jumped off the deep end! And I don't know how to swim ashore (aka finish the thing). I take out my petals and promptly put them away not knowing how to move forward. How are you doing on this part?

  4. I love all forms of improv - and especially Sherri's book. :D I actually just taught a whole bunch of different improv techniques to my guild. I hate rules in general, and especially in quilting and other arts. :D So of course I love improv! Glad you're enjoying your time in the water!

  5. What a wonderful workshop! I've taken some others from Sherri Lynn but not this one. I like the fabrics you're using.

  6. I am trying to dip my toes into improv quilting. It is nerve racking in the beginning but once I start going it really turns out to be fun and freeing.

  7. Very cool petal shapes! I made a table runner with improv petals from Jaquie Gering's and Katie Pederson's book Quilting Modern, and I loved making them! I did find the longer ones were significantly easier to piece; I wonder if that's why she had you making such BIG blocks during the workshop. :-)


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