Thursday 1 November 2018

The Endeavourers, No 4, Improv

The theme chosen by the Endeavourers for this quarter was Improv.

Probably everyone has their own idea about what improv means in quilting terms.  In general terms it means "to create spontaneously without preparation, or to produce or make something from whatever is available."

Anyway, thinking about the two definitions I started with the idea of producing something from whatever was available.  I thought that this suggests making the most of limited options so rather than pick and choose from my stash I artificially limited the options by choosing to use a pile of small pieces of interiors fabric (possibly linen shot with silk) from a sample book I picked up in a remnant bin.

Then I tried to be spontaneous!  First, I spent a lot of time thinking how to be spontaneous....  Then I worked out a plan for spontaneity...   I decided to make piles of samples and cut them stack and slash style.  Then I mixed them up prior to sewing them back together.  I tried to be random but couldn't help making a few changes when too many pieces of the same colour or tone ended up together.  Having pieced my blocks I spread them out randomly, but again I had to make a few changes because I wanted to have an even distribution of colours and tones, without any distracting clumps. 

Because I cut the piles in different ways, some of the blocks turned out a slightly different size from the others, but I didn't trim them down - yay, spontaneity.  As I joined the blocks into the quilt I threw some gold fabric into the mix, but I think this was less spontaneity and more obsessive tweaking. 

The quilt was very insistent that it wanted organic (spontaneous) pinstripe quilting in Aurifil wool, but unfortunately it only made its mind up about this once I had already quilted in the ditch, so I had to do a lot of unpicking and I'm still not convinced the quilt was right.   

I did enjoy making it, and it was fun trying not to overthink things, though it somehow took a very long time.   I do wish I'd been more adventurous.  Setting the personal challenge of using the sample book fabrics limited the options a bit and this theme has made me think about future experiments where I had more materials to choose from.

I think the idea of improv suggests that the results are random but in fact that's not really the case.  In (successful) improv comedy nobody just stands and shouts random words.  There's usually some underlying structure, like a chord progression in improv jazz,  that makes sense of the result.    In quilting you actually have to get your pieces to fit together into quilt form, and aesthetic considerations mean that you might be spontaneous only up to a point.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the other members of the group treated the theme.  You can find us all together on the blog, where there are also links to each individual member.

Quilt photo fail

Quilt details:

Approximately 2 x 3 ft
Furnishing fabrics, content unknown, possibly linen/silk
Quilted with Auriful lana


  1. First, I spent a lot of time thinking how to be spontaneous.... Boy I LOVED that you said this! I think you did a good job of being spontaneous right up until you added the gold and let the quilt tell you where to stitch the quilting. I find the concept of improv design to be daunting but you nailed it.
    xx, Carol

  2. I think, as you suggest, Catherine, the art of successful improv is in balancing spontaneity with constraint and I'd say you've got that balance just right. Your block cutting and construction has created a wonderfully complex arrangement of colours and the colour distribution across the piece is perfect. I also love the organic straight line quilting :)

  3. Loved the quilt photo fail. I agree with you that spontaneity is limited by the constraints of block construction. Quilts do ultimately determine how they are finished, sometimes much to our chagrin.

  4. I think you have pulled off planned spontaneity perfectly Catherine. The jumbled elements of your quilt have come together into a beautifully harmonised whole.

  5. I love it! As Fiona said, it is beautifully harmonised. I find the blend of soft colors, random shapes, and hand stitches to be very comforting -- it reminds me of a good cook that can take whatever is in the cupboard and make a delicious and wholesome dinner. It is visually rich and comforting!

  6. Your post made me smile broadly id not snicker out loud -thinking how to be spontaneous! I've quilted with upholstery fabric in the past, too. It lends a whole different look, doesn't it? And the idea of internal structure in improv is dear to my heart as that is my favorite piecing method. The muted autumn colors -so rich and nice. Reminds me of a quilt I made for my youngest grandchild.

  7. I like this a lot and reading about your process was interesting too. I don't think being spontaneous all the way through a quilt works (or not very often) except in always being ready to ask 'what if?'. I think your music analogy is the best one: it's about finding the underlying rhythm.

  8. I found it very hard to be spontaneous once I had decided to use circular pieces, especially trying to fit all the pieces together.
    I love the way you cut your fabrics, and they are such great colours!
    Barbara x

  9. I am late to this party, and I'm sorry, as your posts are always infused with such a great spirit of creativity and discovery. I love the use of those fabrics, as they speak volumes all by themselves. Your thoughts on improv are spot on, I think. Your quilt has the quirks of randomness, but holds together. I see too many "improv" quilts that are disastrous (which are probably most of mine...another reason I don't do that too much!) Congratulations on a terrific finish!


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