Tag Archives: improvisational quilting

Sending Out An SOS

Last week I noted in passing that I was working on an improv quilt. This week I’m surprised to report that I’ve finished the design part of said quilt. The lengths I’ll go to avoid difficult projects never cease to amaze me.

As I’ve written before, I have lots of scraps. My latest improv work made me confront the extent of my scrap collections. Of course I have cotton scraps arranged by color, with separate piles for strips. But I also have scrap collections of silks, organzas, and fused fabrics. Then there are the bits and bobs I have been subjecting to surface design experiments. Oh, and the shiny costume bits, but they don’t count because they were given to me.

Since my hot off the design wall piece contains scraps from three of my collections (cotton, organza, fused) plus surface design experiments, I am calling it “SOS” for Save Our Scraps.

SOS, about 35″ high by 32″ wide

The common theme is circles: polka dot fabric, inset circles, circles on fabric, and appliqued circles. I hadn’t planned to add the appliqued circles, but I felt something more was needed once all the pieces got sewn (with partial seams no less.) It all began with a scrap fabric pull, as my usual way to begin improv quilts is with a color palette. After I embraced the circle theme of the print turquoise fabric, I framed two feather prints and turquoise painted white on white fabric using the 6 minute circle technique.

Once I decided on appliqued circles I pulled out my high tech templates and my fused scraps and got to work.

Good thing I stopped at three sizes

The backing is pieced and the batting cut. Now all I need is a quilting design. I’m thinking about overlapping circles or maybe one big one.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process

I Really Have Been Sewing

Recent posts to the contrary, I have been giving my sewing machine a workout between a fantasy, glittery collage piece and assignments for my “Mod Meets Improv” online class.

The fantasy piece evolved from the latest bunch of sparkly scraps from the theatrical costume shop, plus some donated fabric (the birds) that was going begging.

The Costume Shop Jungle

Much of the fabric was leftover from dresses for “Dreamgirls.”

The green fabric was tricky to work with as it shreds easily. I hope to give my jungle a pillowcase finish and then outline quilt some of the birds and flowers.

My online class, taught by Elizabeth Barton, has pushed me to develop several quilt designs on paper. The class title may say improv, but if it’s a class with Elizabeth you know you’ll be designing on paper first. Some of the homework has been a bit basic for me, but the feedback has been helpful, as always.

The top row are practice pieces: floating 4 patches, curved piece grid, and half square triangles in a complementary color scheme. In the bottom row are some of my better colored pencil designs. The one on the left follows the lines of the traditional rail fence. The middle design is based on outside stairs I saw from our Airbnb in Quebec.

I’m now working on an original mod/improv design that has lots of negative space, in white of course. I’d forgotten how you need to press towards the darker fabric when you work with white fabric. Otherwise, the darker color shows and when the darker color is red, it really shows.

The class has been fine, but I’m sorry more students aren’t active in the online forum. It’s a great chance to get feedback and see what other students are up to. You can watch a video of work done in previous classes.

I’m linking to Nina Marie’s Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process, Modern Quilting

Cornering My Scraps

As I have noted before, I have a thriving scrap fabric collection. Some are even already sewn together. I like to pet these pre-made quilt beginnings in hopes of inspiration. Some time in October I decided to sew a group of hectically colored scraps together.

I sliced lengths of multi fabric strips in half and inserted narrow strings. I added to and lopped off bits to even up my rounds. Eventually I came up with the following.

Beginning of “Turning The Corner”

I liked the effect but wanted to give more weight to the left side and bottom. So, I added wider lengths of Marcia Derse fabric and more angled strips.

I finally quilted the top at the beginning of November. I used 30 weight variegated cotton thread, and extended some of the strips into the Marcia Derse fabric with quilting lines.


I find the colors cheerful as I catch drifting snowflakes out of the corner of my eye. If I can’t go to the heat, I’ll try to bring the heat to me.

I’m linking this to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects

My Nancy Series

I just can’t seem to get serious about quilt series. Usually I lose steam about the third or fourth iteration, and my current series is no exception.

As is often the case, my Nancy series began by accident. I attended a presentation on Nancy Crow’s way to create quilts, and we attendees played around with slicing and dicing solids using her methods. I sewed together most of the solids scraps I owned to create several starts of what I’ll call pieced cloth.

The first completed top was “Not Quite Nancy,” in which I included prints and circles. Many of you commented on this one while it was in process, and it is the better for those comments. The tag at the top is the dimensions.

Next, I finished off a smaller piece I named “Nearly Nancy” as it was made totally with solids. Oops, there’s one bit of almost solid fabric. I think the binding color sets off the other colors nicely. It’s actually quilted.

Then, I went Anni Albers with “Nod To Nancy,” which is more regularly pieced, though still asymmetrical. It’s quilted but the edges need to be finished. The waviness is in my piecing, not your screen.

Finally I devised “So Not Nancy,” which features two densely pieced blocks surrounded by shades of red and a bit of blue fabric I dyed. The large unpieced blocks run counter to the Crow method of dense piecing.

Right now I have just a few pieced fabric starts left. They’re in my parts department so they may show up in future work. Of course, I have yet to quilt two of the above tops, so it’s not like I have nothing to do. I expect you noticed I quilted the smaller ones first.


Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects, In Process

Making Do With My Experiments

Last week the fabric bits I’ve altered in some fashion spoke to me. They said they wanted to be part of my make do efforts.

My September master class assignment was lost and found edges. To avoid doing my sketches (more on them in another post) I decided to cobble together some of my created fabric bits to improvise blurred and sharp edges. I also added some old triangles and diamonds to my mix of possible materials.

I ended up with two pieces composed at the same time. Hey, piano players use both hands at once, so why shouldn’t I? My works share common colors, but have a different feel.

The Emerald Isles was developed around diamond blocks left over from an old storm at sea quilt. I surrounded them with fabrics I had printed, painted and dribbled paint on. I’m not kidding – some of the fabric is an old sheet used as a drop cloth.


The core of Second Growth was a piece I created using Sherrill Kahn’s book “Creative Mixed Media.” To that I added other printing experiments, plus painted tissue paper. It began much larger, but I decided the top didn’t work so I cut it off. Then I added the blue and yellow outer strips and called it done – for now.

second-growthI have several other pieces to quilt before I get to these, if I get to them. Sometimes a few months in a drawer helps clarify what a piece is best used for. It may need to be part of something bigger or it may need the circular file.



Filed under Art quilts, In Process

Gilding Some Weeds

In my latest effort to quilt without quilting I played around with old free motion quilting practice pieces that were underwhelming to begin with, figuring I had no worries about ruining them. I found them when I sorted through my stash of made objects to see which needed a new home. I pulled out paint and paintstiks to gild these weeds in hopes of improving them.

Occasionally I try to work with pastels and the typewriter piece is an example of why I don’t use pastels more often. I just don’t get them. Anyway, I thought some letters would go with the typewriters. I used fabric paint and large letter stencils I had.

FMQ improv with word

For another failed pastel FMQ piece I rubbed a paintstik over the lighter areas. I like how highlighting the quilting gives the insipid yellows and pinks more depth.

FMQ improv

When I washed the pieces I found that I must have used all cotton batting as they took on serious crinkling. I may hang the QUILT one on the door to my studio or donate it to my guild for the refreshments table. I know it’s completely machine washable. The other one may await a lover of pastels.


Filed under Fabric Printing, Techniques

Yet More Improv

And sometimes it’s comedy improv, especially when an errant breeze blows all the carefully arranged bits off my design wall.

What am I cobbling together this time? On our 4,700 mile car trip to Montana and back, I did big stitch embroidery on a wide variety of fabric pieces I had fused to interfacing. My notion was to sew them all together, unite them with connecting hand stitching, and turn out lovely small quilts. I was inspired by Linda McLaughlin’s weekly leaf series.

That didn’t happen. I found to my dismay that trying to achieve any sort of serendipitous harmony among wildly disparate fabrics is impossible. Linda’s leaves have a common theme and colors and her embroidery is way better than mine.

So I grouped my embroidered bits according to how well they seemed to play together.  So far I’ve come up with three possibilities. Two are well underway.

arcs in progressIn Arcs I’m trying to echo and extend the curves I embroidered on four small pieces. I couched on decorative yarns, and may add more. I’m also considering beading this one, and/or adding more color with paint or paintstiks. In person this piece doesn’t have as much value contrast as the photo shows.

In Grasses, made with the same fabric set, I couched on rat tail cord, and I plan to add more embroidery to give the impression of tall grasses. That line of French knots will be extended as well.

grasses in progressThe last group with any promise is made up of pieces of silk screened and stamped fabric I quartered and embroidered. I started playing with strips of that Radiant fabric I love. I may try for a jagged edge and either stencil or embroider larger snowflakes across the pieces.

snowflakes ideaMind you, none of this is fixed in stone. As always I reserve the right to change my mind. And that’s what I love about improv work.



Filed under Art quilts, In Process

What Was I Thinking? Maybe I Wasn’t

This year I resolved to slow down my quilt production and concentrate more on thoughtful design. Certainly I’ve been doing OK on slowing down my process compared with other years. Then I got embroiled in My Brain On Xmas, which was taken over by my id.

Brain 2I throw together project starters from scraps when I just want something mindless to sew.  It’s my way of experimenting with color combinations. As I looked for pieced bits I could use for FMQ practice, I pulled out one that reminded me of Christmas, despite the Indonesian temple dog from fabric purchased in the 1970s.

Brain dogIt sat on my cutting table while I was sorting through my dyed fabric. Next thing I knew I jettisoned all that slow and thoughtful approach malarky, and sewed together fabric with sparkly little gold circles and a paintstik rubbing of a trivet, which reminded me of a brain. A few more bits and strips from my voluminous scrap bins and I was done.

Brain detailSince I needed a piece to do handwork on while I traveled this one was nominated. Into a bag went different balls of perle cotton and skeins of embroidery floss. I layered the top and batting, and embroidered that. Then I added a backing and did machine quilting.

Brain fabric detailAnd that wasn’t enough. Out came the floss again as I added more hand stitching. Then, a bit of decorative machine stitching because it still needed more. By this time I had most of the surface covered with thread of some kind. Why do I do this? Because it’s pure fun to work intuitively without a plan. And I did use it for FMQ practice.

The title? It’s how I feel about the holidays – way too much stuff.


Filed under Completed Projects

First Finish of The Year

Since it’s still January, I’m keeping my resolution to finish projects before haring off on new ones. While I’ve quilted two projects I started in 2014, I got Impact bound first. I’m still mulling over fabric choices for the more complicated binding on my landscape.

Impact 2

Impact was inspired by Terry Aske’s quilt, Wedges. Her quilt was inspired by others, as she discusses here.

Wedges Terry AskeWedges by Terry Aske

I began with the same technique, random width strips of fabric sewn together, then cut into wedges using the eyeball measuring system. I used only two sets of strips, but inserted white  and solid wedges to make up the circle. I put in some of my modern fabrics by Zen Chic, Marcia Derse, and Parson Gray.

Impact wedge

I found I needed a lot more wedges than I thought I would. I came up with some work-arounds to join the quarters, and squared off the corners with big triangles of the gray and green fabrics.

Impact measures 42.5 inches square, is bound with the Parson Gray fabric used in the quilt, and is backed with a “modern” Zen Chic print.


Filed under Completed Projects

Short Story Quilts

Lately I find myself creating the quilting equivalent of short stories.  By that I mean small projects that take no more than a few days to design and piece, and often finish.  Some are inspired by other quilts I’ve seen, some by random bits of fabric on my table or partial tops, and some by what I’ll charitably call a vision.

They are respites from more thought-out projects that I’m stuck on.   Or projects that I’m afraid I’ll screw up if I push them too far.  Unfortunately, the only way I seem to know if I’ve gone too far is to do just that.  You know, your work gets too fussed at, too mannered.  It’s hard to critique your own work, and it’s even harder to find other folks comfortable with doing that for you.  But that’s a subject for another time.

These little projects allow me to be looser, to have a “what the heck” attitude.  Most often I use fabric leftovers, so there’s no worry about wasting “good” fabric. Here’s a sampling of my current stories.



In my quest to conquer circles I had made up Weeks and Kerr’s pattern for large joined half circles.  I was stuck for how to use the resulting blocks, and I had all those cut out half circles left.  Then I saw a quilt made of appliqued half circles and decided to use that approach for “Partial Eclipse” and “Broken Circles”.  The latter is a table runner – I’m making lots of them as a way to protect my cherry tables.  The former awaits quilting.  I think it’s time for me to try some quilted circles, or maybe just one.Neutrality

Originally “Neutrality” was to be a pillow that I planned to big stitch quilt for a demo I’ll give in the fall.  The idea comes from Moda Bake Shop, and is a version of the disappearing nine patch block.  My block arrangement became pretty random and then I decided I really didn’t want a 20 inch pillow. I started to extend the little squares outside the big square.  Then, I found some chambray I cut off old pillowcases and that got added.  Chambray’s hot now, right?

Boxed-upI’ve shown “Boxed Up” before, but it’s now completely finished.  I quilted rectangles on it using various decorative machine stitches, and then stapled it to an old canvas.  Beats the heck out of binding a quilt, even a small one. It now adds a certain flavor, of what I’m not sure, to my upstairs hall.

It’s about time I get back to those book length projects I’ve been avoiding, quilter’s block be damned.

Leave a comment

Filed under In Process