I’ve been vacillating about reviewing this book by Sherri Lynn Wood as I admired parts, and became extremely impatient with other aspects. Other quilters have responded much more positively to this book (see Fresh Lemons Quilts for an example) so be aware that responses vary wildly.
It’s another modern quilt focused book about freeing your work through improvisational quilting. Lucie Summers (“Quilt Improv”) and Alexandra Ledgerwood (“Improvising Tradition”) have written recent books on the topic.
Wood’s take on improv is to divide different types of improv into scores (as in musical) that correspond loosely to squares, string piecing, flying geese, curved piecing, etc. She devotes a chapter to each, showing how she made a quilt for each score. I like that she includes quilts made by other quilters to interpret the scores. You can see many of them on Wood’s website. She also gives a lot of guidance for techniques to deal with the fallout of ruler free improv work; the pleats, the lumps, the gaps, the overlaps, etc.
You read that right – ruler free. Wood’s approach derives from Nancy Crow and the Gee’s Bend quilters. Crow doesn’t permit her students to use rulers but trains them how to cut by eye. The Gees Bend quilters lopped off and added fabric to make pieces fit and didn’t worry about squared off edges.
Anyone trained in classical quilt making with precision points and lots of ruler use will shudder while reading this book. Wood celebrates all the by the seat of the pants make-dos that are drummed out of new quilters. That may not be a bad thing. Too often quilters get so focused on the technical aspects of their work and following the pattern they forget about the fun of just in time decisions and building a quilt to suit themselves.
However, these improv techniques can be dangerous (joke!) in the hands of quilters inexperienced with making independent design decisions. Wood studied with Nancy Crow and has made quilts for many years, so she has developed a sense of design and color.
The improv round robin quilts featured in one chapter were clunky and awkward to my eye. I know that’s judgmental, but I don’t believe every improv quilt is great or even OK. It takes far more effort than is apparent to make a good looking improv quilt, and I think that half of the improv quilts I’ve made don’t hit the mark.
I mention this only because quilters new to improv shouldn’t get discouraged at their initial results. It’s always fun to cut up a “failure” and reuse it.
Wood gives helpful advice on beginning improv work, though I winced at some of her word choices. Here’s her synopsis for the strings score: “curate your fabrics, set limits for three distinct string sheets, define your patchwork procedure, create a composition with the string sheets.” (Sorry, I have a knee jerk negative reaction to curating anything. Can’t I just pick my fabrics?) Actually, this is similar to The Parts Department used in “Freddy and Gwen Collaborate Again,” which was published in 2009. This review by Dining Room Empire captures the flavor of Gwen Marston’s and Freddy Moran’s approach.
Lovers of fine quilt construction will gasp in horror when they read the techniques section of this book. Wood shows how to take a dart in a quilt top to remove a bump. Personally I thought I would do that in some circumstances. Same with darting across curves. I know, I know. If you constructed your top correctly you wouldn’t have to resort to such methods. Wood is definitely not a strict constructionist. One of her quilting references is “Accidentally On Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African-American Quilts” by Eli Leon.
Wood’s method of wedge strip piecing on a curve is about the only technique I’m inclined to try, mostly because I’ve already done a lot of her other techniques by accident or design. I have issues with the finishing methods given here for binding. I just hate overlapped binding ends because of the lump created.
My larger issue with Wood is her application of new-agey concepts to quilting. I’m to nurture an improvisational mind, journal, center myself before I start working, be present, and cut from my core. Not only are my knees jerking, but my eyes are rolling. Personally, I find such stuff pretentious, but I understand these terms may appeal to many. Quilting is a big tent with many roads to it.
Since pictures speak louder than words, here are quilts created by other quilters for this book that appealed to me. From the top they are “Burning Love” by Mina Kennison, “Indigo Bloom” by Latifah Saafir, and “Letting Go” by Drew Steinbrecher. Each shows a well developed design and color sense.