Monday, June 11, 2018

You, Too, Can Sew Improv!

Bloom Chicka Boom, my first improv quilt.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when I thought improv was a magical kind of quilt making. It was beyond my skill set and best left to the masters—Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Sherri Lynn Wood, and other sewists known professionally by three names. At that point in my sewing career, creating without a concrete plan seemed hard and inefficient. How did I know whether I was going to like my finished product? The idea of wasting my time and fabric on a project that I might not love was unappealing.

But I have grown, friends. I’ve learned that improv doesn’t mean sewing without a plan. It doesn’t mean you start piecing fabric, willy-nilly, and end up with a fabulous finished quilt. You might not be following a pattern per se, but you do sew within a framework, the rules by which you select fabrics, cut them up, and sew them back together. I can say all of this with confidence because I just completed my first quilt with lots of improv sewing. : )

The difference for me was the instructions set out in Stash Statement, a new book by Kelly Young, of My Quilt Infatuation. Kelly approached me a few months ago about participating in a blog hop for her book, and I agreed to it with some hesitation. I am happy to report, however, that Stash Statement has helped me conquer my fear of improv, and it has the potential do the same for you, too!

Still skeptical? Let me address your likely concerns ...

It Seems Hard

Creating your first improv quilt can seem daunting, but having a framework makes the task manageable. And that is exactly what Stash Statement provides. Following Kelly’s advice, you learn how to sew improv panels, blocks, or strips and incorporate them into patterns. In other words, Stash Statement marries what’s scary and new (improv) with what you already know and love (bold, modern patterns).

Bulldogs, curlicues, flowers, ducks ... this background has it all!

Sometimes the improv panels you make will appear in the foreground of the quilt top. In the quilt I made, Kelly’s Bloom Chicka Boom pattern, the improv is in the background. For me, this was extra fun because I got to use up a chunk of fabric in cool shades of gray, blue, and periwinkle, not my typical palette. (See my first post about this project here.)

The variety in the background prints creates great texture.

I Don’t Have a Big Scrap Bin

When I first received Kelly’s book, I had just given away the majority of my scraps. Lucky for me, Kelly addresses using yardage in improv piecing. You’d never know that almost all of my low-volume fabric choices came from yardage in my stash. There’s such a great spectrum of fabrics, including many novelties that were aging in my fabric drawers for years. It felt good to get those beauties out of my stash and into a project.

I spy Lizzy House’s constellation prints from her Whisper Palette.

It Seems Time Consuming

Some of the patterns in Stash Statement are more time intensive than others. Bloom Chicka Boom, with all that improv in the background, is probably one of the more time-consuming ones. I started well in advance of today’s deadline, sewing my improv panels here and there when I wanted something fun and relaxing to sew. If you’re looking for a faster project, choose a different design, maybe one that features the improv in the foreground. Check out Beach Retreat, for instance. I think that would go together a lot faster. (In fact, I think I’ll be making a rainbow-y version in the future!)

Something to keep in mind is that you don’t have to be super legalistic about this process. After all, it is supposed to be a fun opportunity to use what you have on hand. Bloom Chicka Boom calls for sewing improv panels and then cutting them down into smaller sizes for use in the blocks. When I found a stack of low-volume 2.5" squares in my stash, I could have sewn them into panels and then cut them back into 2.5" squares, but I used them as is and they look great in the quilt.

The Bloom Chicka Boom block also calls for 1.5" by 4.5" strips. Since I was cutting from yardage anyway, I simply cut 1.5" strips of varying lengths, sewed the short ends together, and then cut them into the needed 4.5" lengths. You would never know by looking at my finished quilt that I took a shortcut.

I love these chummy little mice!

There Are So Many Seams

Your finished improv quilt top may have some spots where the seams are bulky. I didn’t want to quilt not-so-straight lines through any bulky areas, so I chose to free-motion quilt my project. Granted, I didn’t know how to free-motion quilt at the time I made this decision, but I thought it would be more forgiving. In the end I figured out how to FMQ, and it worked well for me with this project.

The one issue I did not foresee is how the bulk would affect my binding. I machine-finish my bindings, and I wish I had given myself more wiggle room than I usually do to compensate for that extra bulk at spots along the edge of the quilt.

If you have sewn something improvisationally, how did it go? If you’re new to improv, are there other concerns that are preventing you from making the leap?

The back features prints in the same palette as my improv background.

Now that I’ve covered improv, I need to tell you all about my adventures with FMQ! Stay tuned for a future post on that subject.

Linking up to Let’s Bee Social and Needle and Thread Thursday ...

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  1. Its true! Everyone can do improv! Your version is gorgeous!

  2. This is stunning, Michelle, and I definitely can relate to the feeling that only master (with three names, no less) can do improv. This is such a great, honest and relate-able post. I am also insanely excited that you free motion quilted this finish and look forward to hearing more about your FMQ adventures!

  3. You IMPROV'd and FMQ'd!!!!!! YAYAYAY :D And yellow?Love this quilt!!!

    (Can I pretend we're the chummy mice? :D)

  4. I LOVE this quilt, Michelle! The low volume background is just awesome. It makes me so happy to know that the book demystified improv sewing for you, and that you enjoyed it! Thank you again for participating in the blog hop.

    :) Kelly

  5. Wow! It sounds like this quilt had some huge milestones for you. I'm REALLY excited to hear about your FMQ! Your improv is gorgeously done and really shows off depth in your background!

  6. A beautiful quilt. I love the improve background in the soft colors. The movement is wonderful. I may work up the courage yet to do some improv.

  7. The improv background really adds to the quilt, it's beautiful! It's fun to see all the fabrics.

  8. I love the process of improv and have made smaller things. I love your quilt and I appreciate all the detail in the post about how the experience worked out for you.

  9. The bright colors pull the eyes toward them and I was surprised to learn that you had improved to make the background scrappy. It was difficult for me to fathom that. I was looking at another blog today and noticed that the blogger commented that she had pieced the background. When I looked closely, the "white" background looked as if there were some stains in it. It was where a slightly darker shade of white or ecru had been used. If she had not mentioned the use of piecing of the background and it had been close to a bit of applique, I would never have noticed it. What a great lesson from two different quilters today! Thank you.

  10. I looked at your lovely quilt and my first thought was how is that improv? I love a scrappy low-volume background for the texture and life it gives, but I had never thought of that as improv.
    So improv isn’t about sewing such wonky lines that it looks like you were drunk when you did it? Phew! 😂 I learn something new!

  11. Awesome quilt, love the low volume!


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