Shark Attack!

Improv quilt from Shark Week

Did you know a group of sharks is called a Shiver?

Things you learn watching Shark Week. And then Shark Week inspires you to get sewing. And sewing and sewing and sewing.

A few months ago a random comment on an Instagram post got me to make a few of these blocks. I was playing around with some improv work, focused on triangles. Someone said it made them think of shark fins. Then I decided to really make them look like shark fins. A few looked more like the top of witches hats, but then I sorted out the technique. So I made a handful, enjoyed the playtime, and set the blocks aside.

But then Shark Week started and all I could think about were these blocks again. I was out of town most of the week and desperate to sew. Upon my return I pulled all my blue/turquoise solids and went to sea. Now I've exhausted the stash of those colours. In my head the quilt isn't quite done yet so I need to do a bit more shopping. My Shiver is not complete.

I'm contemplating a video tutorial of this block. Is there any interest in that?

Improvisational Piecing For Those Afraid of Improv

Improv Piecing from Curved Quilt Blocks

Yes, this still counts as Improv. It has precisely pieced curves, all made and squared up to the same size. It has a controlled grouping of fabric. It isn't at all what I thought I would make.

I define Improvisational Piecing as this:

Starting a quilt without knowing what it will look like when you finish.

This puts the emphasis on the process, on the path, on the exploration. It makes it about the act of sewing more than the fun of figuring out how to make something beautiful from that act. 

So when I started this quilt it was just to play with the fabric and the curves. Years later, when I returned to the fabric I kept the initial play and ran with it. I simply made the blocks. There was no finished quilt in mind. Obviously, my intent was to actually make a quilt at some point and not just a pile of blocks. But I had no idea what size that quilt would end up or what the actual design was going to be. I just made blocks until I ran out of the grey fabric. (To be perfectly honest, I'd wanted it bigger, but the fabric is years old and I was too lazy to try and hunt it down. So 54'' square is the size of the quilt.)

Then I had to figure out a layout. With quarter circles you have practically infinite design possibilities. I spent a morning sketching and colouring some options. I played on the design wall. I looked at the quilts of Jen Carlton Bailly, in particular. All cool and pretty, but not what felt right with these fabrics. In the end, I remembered the movement of a quilt I made with a stack of half square triangles. The design wall play worked!

No plan, no sketch, no pattern. Just a bunch of blocks turned into a quilt top. Complete improvisation.

If the thought of wonky or irregular cut fabric freaks you out - and I know it does for some people - but you are willing to embrace the challenge of an adventure then I suggest an exercise like this. Take precisely pieced building blocks, like a quarter circle, half square triangle, equilateral triangles, or even pieced coin strips and embrace some playtime. Make them without planning out a design, then try out a million and one different options for lay outs. This is indeed improvisational piecing. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

What My Son Taught Me About Letting Go and Quiltmaking

Quilting With Kids

Here lies a very proud boy.

At some point last year my son asked me to teach him how to hand sew. We started with a basic running stitch and scraps in his favourite colour. Moments at a time - the attention span of a normal 4 year old boy - we stitched some triangles on squares and sewed them together. Then they sat. And sat. Then one day in the winter he asked to sew more. 

What ended up happening is he placed his one block on the design wall and started pulling scraps. He played and played and played. I loved watching it come to life one piece of fabric at a time. The next day it would change and again the day after that. In all honesty I thought it would stop there.

Boy, was I wrong.

Tips for Sewing With Kids

Soon he started pushing for us to turn those scraps on the wall into a quilt. Hmm... now how exactly was I going to do that? He was quite adamant that it literally be what he laid out. I thought about doing some planned improv - using his fabric and sizes but puzzling it together to make it a solid piece, a quilt top. Well, that, and some applique.

He shot me down. The boy knows nothing about quilting other than watching me but he knew exactly what he wanted. So we picked a background fabric and carefully, with his sisters' help, he transferred the design to the background fabric. Then he glued each piece down. Just so.

This is where I had to take some deep breaths. But, but, but... He picked a busy background fabric and it could be seen through some pieces... He didn't cut selvages off... All those raw edges... those unicorns are upside down...

You see, when I am teaching a new person - child or adult - I am a firm believer in basic, solid technique. Good 1/4'' seam allowances, pressing, colour work, squaring up. It's what I've done with teaching my own kids all along. Know the basics then riff all you want. But here was this boy completely making up his own process, his own rules. 

I thought about the articles you read where kids remember being told they aren't creative and they stop making art. About adults coming back to art after feeling shunned due to rule breaking. I thought about those things and didn't want to do that to my boy. I had to let go of constrictions and rules and supposed-to-dos. I had to embrace the way he saw the quilt and the process.

So I followed his instructions to the letter, even when they made me cringe a little as a quilter. Better to make a 'not proper' quilt than kill the spirit of a child. That made me feel better as a mother. When it came to finishing he made all the decisions - backing, thread colour, even the quilting pattern, and binding. He has the label even designed, but that's waiting for a picture with him and Daddy and the dog. 

Tag Fabric and Sewing With Kids, Quilts

We will make no mention of the fact that the quilt is effectively a baby sized quilt. He thinks it is perfect for Daddy. And so it is, son, so it is.  

Summer Play - Improvisational Piecing With Solids

Improv Piecing Solid Fabrics Cirrus Solids Robert Kaufman

A little bit of this, a little bit of that. We sew when we can.

The Improv triangle work started as a class sample. Then I liked it so much I kept playing. Still, I play. I set some parameters for the play. This is always a good thing to do, especially if you find Improv Piecing overwhelming. These are mine:

  • Two colour blocks, high contrast in value.
  • Only solids.
  • Fundamental construction revolves around the techniques I share in my Improv Triangles class.

I've invested in some more solids because my stash is minimal in that department. These are all a combination of Cloud 9 organic Cirrus Solids (so seriously dreamy) and Kona cottons. I work only 2 colours/1 block at a time. No rhyme or reason to my choices other than I think those two fabrics look fun together. 

Kids started summer vacation over the weekend. And we were going hard with activities until that Friday night. We are all totally pooped. The sum total of the sewing I've done (minus the quarter circles that got me on a tangent) in the last month is right there on my design wall. Hand sewing my Euroa quilt while still on pool decks and soccer pitches, and little Morning Make triangle bits slowly, ever so slowly adding up. Whether it is after dinner frisbee tossing or sewing triangles together, I'm having fun with this summer playtime.