Book Review: Quilt Improv

Quilt Improv: Incredible Quilts from Everyday InspirationsQuilt Improv: Incredible Quilts from Everyday Inspirations by Lucie Summers

I am not enamoured of improv. I feel like the design potential of improv is overshadowed by sloppy choices and bad workmanship. I think improv is a valid way of expressing creativity. You have seen me make quilts in the improv style. It is not a way to avoid knowing how to make a technically sound quilt. Of course, I can’t say this very often because people take it the wrong way.

Lucie Summers agrees with me. She says in her introduction to this book “One of the my biggest bugbears about improv is when others assume ‘just because it’s improv’ workmanship doesn’t matter. Of course, it matters! Badly made quilts, whether traditional or not, are just badly made quilts. By badly made, I’m not talking about whether your seams or patchwork points match, I’m talking about fabrics sloppily stitched together so there are holes” (pg.4). I was really pleased to read this, because I think, and have always thought, workmanship matters. You will often see in my posts about project some lines about identifying a mistake and deciding whether I could live with it. Workmanship matters. I like Lucie Summers.

I am just as surprised as you that I picked up this book. I am wary of books on improv, because it is improv. Why do you need a book? You certainly don’t need patterns. Cheryl had it at Sew Day and something about it drew me in. I leafed through the images and was interested in the colors and shapes. I checked it out of the library so I could peruse it a little more.

I like the way Lucie has written the prose. The style is friendly and approachable and, even for me, she has a reasonable way of explaining improv in a true fashion. Also, she isn’t condescending.

The book starts out with an introduction. In this introduction is my favorite quote (above) and a little bit about how she works, what working with scissors means, piles of scraps and the use of measuring in improv (pg.4). The introduction is followed by a section called “How I Work” (pg.6) which details piecing maps, inspiration and another fabulous quote “…as you embark on making a quilt from the gallery to make it yours. Give it your personality. Don’t search high and low for the exact blue dotty fabric I’ve used in the top right-hand corner of quilt number 6 – use a grey floral, or an orange solid, whatever… Make it yours, relax and have a huge amount of fun. At the end of the day we’re not saving lives here, we’re cutting into fabric and stitching it back together” (pg.6). This is so critical to me. I have made a few exact replicas of quilts in magazines and books. There are definitely benefits. I get to sew. I feel the meditative qualities of putting fabric through the machine, but these quilts do not have souls. They don’t come from my heart. Branch out when you work from this book. Use the fabrics you have with confidence. There is always more fabric!

The next few sections have to do with fabrics (pg.6), thread (pg.8) and equipment (pg.9). Lucie brings her calm style to these sections. They don’t feel rote or the same as other books I have reviewed.

“How to Use this Book” (pg.10-11) is really important. It is a guide to how this book is written, how she uses measurements in more detail than in the introduction. A great idea is the section on “Building Blocks” (pg.12-39). It starts with a visual list of the block designs Ms. Summers considers basics. This is your basic guide and it is followed by instructions on how to make each block. The section includes 13 different blocks. The reader could spend years making quilts from these blocks alone. The possibilities are endless.

Because publishers seem to require patterns these days, the blocks section is followed by “The Quilts” (pg.40-113). Lucie’s quilts are really stunning, vibrant and have a lot of movement. They are designed and do not look messy. You can see this on the double page spread introducing the section (pg.40-41).

One of the things I like about this book is that Lucie Summers discusses her inspiration for each quilt. I can always use more of that. She doesn’t take pages to do it, but it is important to the process and valuable to the book. Each quilt ‘pattern’ in this section includes a brief rundown of the inspiration, a summary of techniques, design idea, design plan, “Make Me Key”, finished plan, and the piecing map. The design idea breaks down the design while the design plan is more involved. Lucie uses this section to dig into the design, talk about resting spots for your eyes, how she balances different areas and the differences in her design and the finished piece. The ‘Make Me Key’ is a sidebar that combines some text with visual cues to the elements of the quilt. The piecing map shows how the various sections are put together generally. YMMV. The sections for each quilt are robust.

It’s hard for me to decide which quilts I like best. I definitely like the the Shoe Boxes Quilt (pg.42-47). There is a section of the Seed Tray Quilt (pg.54-59) that is very appealing. The fabric cohesiveness and simple design of the Feathers Quilt (pg.60-65) is exciting, too. Many of the quilts have circles and I like those, such as the Bricks and Fences Quilt (pg.66-71), too. I think the Plates Quilt (pg.90-95) is appealing because it reminds me of the Eye of God quilt I made some years ago, has dots and a fabulous inspiration photo. There are no bad quilts in this book, but my favorite might be the Building Blocks Quilt (pg.108-113). Many of her quilts remind me of views of cities with domes and this one is no exception. I also like the quilting. With the large variety of quilts, readers will find something that appeals.

These quilts are designed not thrown together. The fabrics are chosen carefully and quilts are designed to make the overall piece look cohesive.

The last section is called General Techniques (pg. 115-124). The first subsection is called ‘Piecing’ (pg.115) and has a good discussion of why use a quarter inch seam in improv piecing as well as how chain piecing works. She discusses pressing (pg.116) including which way to press and why to press to the dark. Lucie also has a little bit of ergonomics thrown in. ‘Assembling Quilts’ (pg.116) includes what to do to get your quilt to hang straight. The section on Finishing Off Quilts includes the envelope method or ‘bagging out’ (pg.119) as Lucie calls it. There is a short section on quilting (pg.120) with some interesting quilt designs and a bit about marking quilt designs. The Binding section (pg.122-123) includes both facing* (called invisible binding here) and a mitered binding. The book wraps up with how to make a hanging sleeve and labeling your quilts (pg.124).

I might buy Quilt Improv. I like the fact that the author isn’t lazy and discusses the attributes of design within the improv context. The photographs are wonderful. The fabric choices are VERY appealing. Well worth taking a look at.

 

 

 

 

*Remember my tutorial on facings.

BAMQG IRR in Process Again

BAMQG IRR, January 2019
BAMQG IRR, January 2019

I am a little sick of the Half Hexie Star project, so I switched to Big Stitching the BAMQG IRR. It never ceases to amaze me how much progress I make when I actually work on a project. It has been awhile since I worked on it and it is a nice break from EPP.

I had to get back in the Big Stitch groove, which was difficult. I finally figured out that I couldn’t do it when I was stitching in a seam allowance, because of all the layers. That means I am doing some stab stitching in addition to the Big Stitch.

One of the challenges I have is what quilting designs to use. Right now I am just echo quilting. I don’t know if I want to do more, if curves will work with Big Stitch or if there are other designs I should use. I haven’t handquilted a lot. When I have done it I have mostly used echo quilting to highlight the block designs. Occasionally, I have used stencils. I’ll have to look at some books and see if I can get inspired.

Big Stitch Update

BAMaQG IRR May 2018
BAMaQG IRR May 2018

I made some progress on the BAMaQG IRR at Craft Night the other night. The image shows the whole piece. Obviously, you can’t see the hand stitching, but you can get an overall view of the piece.

I am not using a pattern or marking much when I Big Stitch. I am following the stitching lines and eyeballing where my stitches go. They are mostly straight lines, a quarter inch from seams.

I plan to use different threads, especially the Sue Spargo threads I have been buying, but at the moment I am using an Aurifil embroidery thread.

BAMaQG IRR May 2018 detail
BAMaQG IRR May 2018 detail

The Flying Geese made some arrow type designs.

You can see, especially if you click on the image to make it larger, that I am doing multiple rows of outline stitching. I don’t want the piece to be stiff, so I probably won’t fill in the whole arrow, but I might do a few more lines. I’ll have to see.

BAMaQG IRR May 2018 back detail
BAMaQG IRR May 2018 back detail

I am pretty pleased with the way the back looks as well. Unlike 10 stitches to the inch hand quilting, the stitches on the back of a Big Stitched quilt are supposed to be smaller, according to Sarah Fielke. Mine are smaller and even, which is what I have been working to improve.

BAMaQG IRR May 2018 detail
BAMaQG IRR May 2018 detail

If I were to put stitches in all the solid areas so there was no open space, the look would be somewhat like one section I already did. The section between the green dots and blue flowers has about 4 lines of stitching that covers the whole area.

BAMaQG IRR Top Ready for Next Steps

BAMaQG Improv Round Robin
BAMaQG Improv Round Robin

The top is finished and I am on to putting together the back. I don’t think I will make my deadline of having this ready for Big Stitching, but I have made great progress and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

There is much more space and lightness in the piece and the solid areas will provide some good spaces for stitching.

Food Donation Quilt

Food Donation Quilt
Food Donation Quilt

I worked on a donation food quilt over the weekend. I decided, though it wasn’t a conscious decision, that I would try and use up the rest of my food fabrics and put that chapter behind me. Three food quilts is enough.

I think I also did it because I have been longing to provide another donation top and back to BAMQG.

 

Thus, I worked on the donation food quilt over the weekend. By Sunday night, I had a top, a back and a Frankenbatting.

I sewed it in kind of an Improv manner, but it is structured improv. I tried to use the pieces that I had and not do too much fiddly piecing.

Food Donation Quilt back
Food Donation Quilt back

I may have enough pieces for another version when I get the Food Quilt #3 back. I think the back is large enough to provide at least a base for another donation quilt.

BAMQG IRR

IRR - June 2016
IRR – June 2016

My Improv Round Robin has returned. Ruth had it for a couple of months because I wasn’t at the meeting last month and she wasn’t sure whether to pass it along.
She added the bottom part with the curves. It is an interesting addition.
I am trying to decide whether to try and get more people to work on it or whether I should just do some work of my own and finish it. I have some thoughts:

  • It needs some space around the edges. The outside top and right side might need some of the turquoise solid to provide some breathing room.
  • It is definitely not square and I need to figure out what to do about that, if anything.
  • I want to add more Flying Geese, which I will do myself. Perhaps I will add them on the right.
  • I am surprised that more people did continue the Flying Geese motif. The time constraints were daunting, however, so I understand.

I do need to look at it for awhile.

Cityscape Returns

Along with Flowerburst, I also got back this quilt, which I wish I had called Cityscape. It really does look like a cityscape.

Cityscape- back from the quilter
Cityscape- back from the quilter

I have sewn on the binding. I worked at sewing one whole side per evening so the binding process only took me about 8 hours. The quilt is 82″ x 84″ so quite a bit of work. I used a Kona solid for the back and the binding and it was a pain. The needle doesn’t slide through that fabric like I think it should. I MUST remember that.

Cityscape - detail
Cityscape – detail

The red is the background and I had Colleen think of it as a sky and put clouds in it. She did four different types of clouds in the four quadrants. I think of it as the four seasons.

Cityscape - detail
Cityscape – detail

The black and grey are more like buildings, so she did more geometric quilting in those areas.

Now I need to put a sleeve on it.

Improv Again

I got two new-to-me round robins last Friday. I didn’t have enough design wall space, so I took them out and looked at them. Different elements caught my attention – the squares in Annemarie’s and the applique’ on Michelle-Nicholle’s.

My addition to Annemarie's piece - detail
My addition to Annemarie’s piece – detail

I started with Annemarie’s after I finished the Cutting Corners donation top. I decided to add  the other corner to the top left. My corner has the same look at the corner on the right side. I wanted the elements to be related, but not to be derivative. I wanted to use more of the Alison Glass fabric, but there wasn’t any left in the packet.

I looked at it after I had finished the squares. They looked too square. I had to make up some space (see the bottom strips where the blueberry fabric is?), so I added some strips and kept adding until my addition was large enough to fill the space. The strips look more improv than the squares. I can’t blame my hand for the cutting as it is much better. Habit, I guess.

Michelle-Nicholle's Improv piece -before
Michelle-Nicholle’s Improv piece -before

Michelle-Nicholle’s was harder, mostly because it had the structure of a very traditional round robin. All the pieces in the round robin are getting quite large and Michelle-Nicholle’s is no exception. It is also, I think, the largest piece on which I have worked. There were also only a few motifs I could use as inspiration, none of which were very exciting to me. More applique’ would have been logical, but I just wasn’t in the mood. It was very difficult to think of an addition. I reached back to my early days of quiltmaking when I learned to do improv curved piecing. I added some of that. It is a simple addition, but effective, I think. I may add something else as my addition does seem like much, nor does it help the next person as a jumping off point.

Michelle-Nicholle's IRR after -detail
Michelle-Nicholle’s IRR after -detail
Michelle-Nicholle's IRR after
Michelle-Nicholle’s IRR after

 

Visiting with Improv

Improv Round Robin - March 2016
Improv Round Robin – March 2016

I got a brief glance at my Improv Round Robin piece before Ruth whisked it away to work on.

More of the Philip Jacobs print is showing up and that is creating some interesting results. I do think the piece needs more space, so I will add more solid or, perhaps, someone working on it will add more solid.

Cheryl’s IRR

I don’t actually have any IRRs right now and I wasn’t at the BAMQG meeting, so I couldn’t take another. I had three in quick succession, with Cheryl’s being the last before my brief hiatus. Ruth‘s and Claire‘s pieces were the other two in the trio.

Michelle and I met at Trader Joe’s again and exchanged IRRs. I took Claire’s to pass along as she wouldn’t be at the meeting either. I headed up to the North Coast again with DH for NSGW/#politicalwifery events and Michelle was headed to Spain. Rhonda was kind enough to take both bags to the meeting for us and I gave them to her at the CQFA meeting.

All of this meant that I had to get Cheryl’s done in time to get it to Rhonda. I had about a day once I figured out all of the timing, so I got down to business.

Cheryl's IRR - before
Cheryl’s IRR – before

Cheryl’s piece looked great when I got it and I was loathe to wreck it, but Michelle had added half a row, so that missing section was perfect for me to complete.

Cheryl’s piece is turning out really well. I love it, thus the feelings of avoiding wreckage. I really wanted to use the Paris map fabric, but couldn’t really fit it in once all was said and done.

I walked around with it on my design wall for a few days and decided to add some Flying Geese. Yes, I am still in love with Flying Geese.

I also needed to add my signature fabric, but I didn’t want to add a large patch or strip as I have on other pieces, because I wanted to preserve the mainly white and turquoise color story.

There were a few small strips left over from other piecing, so I pieced a few of those together to make another strip large enough to handle my signature fabric. I wanted something that would look like it fit in.

Cheryl's IRR - my part
Cheryl’s IRR – my part

I made some Flying Geese. Since those were the main parts, I started working getting Michelle’s strip completed. I added some white and a strip of the black and white stripe, which came to me after looking at the piece.

After making my piece, I think the white on the edge needs to be corralled, but someone else, or Cheryl, will have to worry about that. I am pleased with how my part came out and I think my signature fabric piece fits in well without overwhelming the whole design.

 

Cheryl's IRR - finished with my part
Cheryl’s IRR – finished with my part

I also think the piece needs some space at the top. The bottom is getting to be quite breezy while the top is looking a little cramped. Not fatally so, but a little. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Good things about this IRR

  • no rules about how much you have to do
  • don’t have to add much fabric

Ruth’s IRR

Finished: Ruth's IRR - complete
Finished: Ruth’s IRR – complete

Yes, they are coming fast and furious! I got two at the last BAMQG meeting, as I mentioned. I was able to work on Claire’s piece during my last free sewing weekend, but I didn’t get to Ruth’s. While having little time to sew on the weekend, I have had to cram the work into bits of time during the week. Of course, I forgot to take a before picture. 🙁 C’est la vie. If you imagine removing my part, that is the before. 😉

There is something that makes me think of a castle. The ‘mountains’ could be points of a tower and the curved sections could be arches.

My addition to Ruth's IRR
My addition to Ruth’s IRR

Ruth’s piece has a clear color story and large curved center with triangles seem to be a design focus. The piece spoke to me immediately after I put it up on my design wall. I saw the triangles on the top that looked like mountains and decided to add something similar on the bottom.

I had to do some fancy sewing with background around the mountains since I didn’t want to cut off the tips. I think the background looks like Mary Mashuta’s Pushed Neutral concept and I like it.

IRR Again

Claire's IRR
Claire’s IRR

Next on the IRR list was Claire’s piece. Claire was in my original group so I wanted to make sure I worked on all of those quilts. I received her piece at the January BAMQG meeting.

Claire’s IRR was a challenge. The colors are perfect for Claire, but they are not my colors. Also, many of the fabrics had been used up or smaller pieces were left. This is why the project is called a challenge! I did not let these things discourage me.

I put the piece up on my design wall and tried to see the focal point or the place where Claire started. I couldn’t really tell, so I looked at who had worked on the piece and still couldn’t tell what might have been Claire’s start.

Trying out the Grandmother's Fan idea
Trying out the Grandmother’s Fan idea

I put the focal point aside and looked at the piece. I saw some good curved lines and thought something like the Grandmother’s Fan block might work. I cut some blades and put them up on the design wall.

I really did try to keep, mostly, to the 20 minute rule. I find that rule to be hard as the pieces get larger. Of course, cutting is still a challenge. Also, the curves on Claire’s were not an easy design element. And, right on cue, life got in the way and the piece sat on my design wall for a week or more.

Claire's IRR - continuing the curves
Claire’s IRR – continuing the curves

As I walked in and out of my workroom I decided I did like the curves. At one point, I adjusted the fans so the existing curves would be continued — or give the illusion of being continued.

In the photo, I tried to point out to you, in a very obnoxious color, what I thought of as ‘continuing the curve’. No, the blades aren’t all the same size, but the curve seems to be the most important in terms of design. I hope the curves I added work with the existing curves to create a focal point.

The bad part is that I didn’t square off the fans. I know I should have, but I just didn’t feel like it. I know I can offer to do it later, if push comes to shove. I am hoping that someone else will square them off down the road.

Claire's IRR with my addition
Claire’s IRR with my addition

I am happy with what I did. I gave the piece to Michelle on Thursday and will look forward to seeing what she does.

Now I am on to Ruth‘s piece.

More Improv Round Robin

I had two recent opportunities, the IRR post and the BAMQG Meeting post, to talk about my round robin piece, which is still circulating, and missed both of them.

Jaye's IRR - December 2015
Jaye’s IRR – December 2015

I was able to glimpse the work done on my piece at the meeting last week. I think my piece is looking spectacular. There is a lot of interest because of the improvisational piecing. There is also cohesion because of the limited palette of fabrics.

I am so thrilled that some of that Philip Jacobs (or perhaps Martha Negley??) fabric was added (shells at the top). I love the boldness of it. I would like to take a better look at it as I see some other fabrics tucked into that top section.

As I said before, the pieces are getting quite large and mine is no exception. I think it is probably NICU size right now, or slightly larger. I want it to be larger, but may have to add bits of my own at the end. People from other groups are still working on it, which is great.

Improv Round Robin Again

Angela's IRR - Before
Angela’s IRR – Before

At the meeting the other day, everyone doing the IRR challenge got together and we swapped pieces. We changed things up and I now have Angela’s IRR piece. We were not originally in the same group. Her group was small and everyone had worked on all of the pieces at least once. I didn’t have one to work on so I volunteered to work on Angela’s.

The pieces are getting quite large. I quickly put a signature strip on the side and then started thinking about what I could add that would look great. I liked the castle fabric, but wasn’t sure about just putting in a big strip of towers.

The diamond motifs caught my attention and I started working on adding free form diamonds.

Free Form Diamonds in Process
Free Form Diamonds in Process

I have a hard time being completely free form/improv-y, but I did my best. I tried to make the diamonds not in alignment. I didn’t like the way they looked. I sewed the diamonds to backgrounds and played around with them a bit.

I looked at the piece and saw that dark grey kite fabric. I played around with that fabric and came up with a kind of checkerboard effect.

Finished Angela's Piece
Finished Angela’s Piece

I like the way it turned out. I think the dark fabric adds a bit of a frame to the piece and sets off the diamonds as well. I also like the visuality of the dark fabric going around the corner.

Angela's Finished Piece
Angela’s Finished Piece

Improv Class Piece

I made major progress on this piece during the weekend before Thanksgiving. I have had a lot to talk about, so posts are getting backed up. For someone who hasn’t had  much of a chance to sew recently, I seem to have a lot of content!

Potential Red & Black Improv Back
Potential Red & Black Improv Back

I walked around my workroom trying to get comfortable with the blue and green backing. I really tried hard to like it. I tried to convince myself that another color scheme would provide a different look and make a good addition to the piece.

No dice.

I had already cut one piece into two and I still couldn’t like what I saw. The blues just didn’t work with the red and black and I couldn’t do it. I admitted to myself that I wanted to save the large piece of red solid for another project and that cleared the way for progress. I found a piece of American Made Brands red solid on sale and bought it. That kind of freed me up to use the large piece of Kona red for the back, which is what I did.

I spent a whole Sunday piecing the back. I wanted to finish and it took me a long time. I did. I just need to make the binding and then I can take it to Colleen’s to be quilted. I like the way the whole piece came out, but I am glad to get it off my design wall.

The thing is huge and I need to take a photo of both sides outside, but that will have to wait for one of my quilt hangers to return from college.