I’m back and have absolutely no excuse for not posting in over 6 months (aside from hobbying up a storm) so we’re not even going to acknowledge that.
As you may remember, about this time last year I decided I might take a quick trip over to quilting land and see if it was something that might be kinda-sorta-maybe-somewhat interested in. (Hint: I’m obsessed.) Turns out if you like fabric and color and sewing and craft stores, then a hobby involving all those things just may be something you enjoy.
Unfortunately though, I do not like following rules. And quilting has a lot of rules.
In my first foray into quilting, I discovered that these are the things that matter most in quilting:
- The accuracy of your cutting and measuring and sewing. (Ugh math…)
- The sharpness of your scissors
- Apparently also how much you spend on your scissors/their brand. Ever had scissors fall apart in your hand? It’s weird and discouraging.
- Having the right tools. This will include: a cutting mat, a rotary cutter, a clear ruler for using with the mat and rotary cutter, a walking foot, a free motion quilting foot, quality fabric, quality pins that don’t leave a mark, curved safety pins, and a relatively powerful sewing machine (aka not the one I own). Oh and fabric scissors (see above).
- Having a good iron with steam (aka not the one I own. again.)
- The direction in which you press/iron your seams.
- The size of your kitchen table.
But if you’re not much of a rule follower then having to cut precisely and follow pattern directions to a T can get real old real fast. What’s a girl to do?
Welcome To The Amazing World of Improv Quilting
As part of my new found quilting enthusiasm, I naturally decided to follow every possible hashtag and quilting profile I could find on Instagram. I just by happenstance, I came across a post that casually mentioned Sherri Lynn Wood’s Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters.
And it. is. AMAZING.
It’s literally a book with instructions about how to not follow instructions! (The rebellious teenager inside me has finally collided with my organized administrator side and the results are tons and tons of fabulous quilts! Ok, it’s only two quilts so far but they take a long time.)
Wood does provide some basic guidance on how to curate beautiful quilts without measuring or pre-planning or following any traditional quilting guidelines, but mostly she gives you permission to not follow the rules. If you watch any YouTube tutorial for quilting beginners or read any book, they will present a lot of sewing principles as mandatory when the truth is, they’re not.
Now, obviously, if you want a perfectly square quilt that comes out to a very specific size and creates a very specific pre-planned pattern, then yeah – those rules about measuring and cutting are super necessary. But if you don’t care and all you really want to do it play around with different fabrics, then improv quilting is definitely the way to go. (This book even convinced me to try hand quilting which I never thought I’d have the patience for, but it turns out I love it and now that I just finished my 2nd quilt, I really don’t know what to do with myself now that I don’t have any sewing to work on. Hence why I’m actually getting around to writing a new blog post.)
Improv Attempt #1
Now since I’m notoriously impatient, my first improv quilt was 100% scraps that I had lying around. I combined scores #1 and #2 from the book and made string sheets of contrasting colors. Essentially I did two string sheets of cool solid colors and one string sheet using hot colored print fabrics.
I then cut these into squares of varying sizes which I then sewed together however I damn well pleased.
I’ll be honest, at first glance it doesn’t look that different from the jelly roll baby quilt I made, but it’s colorful and warm and I had a blast making it. And it’s a rare hobby that isn’t extremely frustrating the first time around.
Improv Attempt #2
One of the issues with attempt #1 though is that is really adhered to everything I already knew I liked – color and lots of prints. It just didn’t force me to branch out at all and what I really wanted from improv quilting was a finished product that would surprise me.
So for attempt #2, I decided to go 100% outside my comfort zone. I forced myself to purchase muted, solid fabrics (so boring when the new JoAnn’s has a whole aisle of just )Harry Potter fabric. I mean come on!) and opted to try a version of the traditional flying geese pattern.
This one definitely took a lot longer to lay out (I used a design wall that was not in anyway instagramable as it was held up by the most haphazard duct tape job you’ve ever seen.) and I was really unsure about the quilting design I chose as well as the decision to use contrasting red quilting thread. I worked on this quilt for the better part of 3 months and honestly felt pretty ambivalent about the results right up until I put the binding on.
But the beauty of improv quilting is that you can’t make any mistakes and knowing that you can’t waste fabric by cutting wrong or sewing the wrong pieces together is actually a very freeing experience. And I’ll be honest – the colors still don’t excite me the way the attempt #1 did and I’m not entirely sure I’m going to do another quilt with muted hues; I just love my rainbow-colored prints too much. But I’m glad I did it and will continue to look for new ways to push myself outside my comfort zone, no matter how insignificant the manner might seem.
That’s it. I don’t have any sage advice or final lessons to learn from this one. Just that improv quilting is awesome and rules are for suckers. Teenage rebellion rules!