Breaking Free

Improvisational quilting is not just about making wonky log cabins or wavy strip quilts. it's about not buying kits and patterns and fabric lines. In the spirit of Project Improv, and because I still don’t have a camera, I thought I could offer some encouragement for those just breaking into improvisational quilting.

Where do you start? Well, that depends on your goals and inspiration. Are you trying to make a baby quilt to match a room? Have you fallen in love with one particular fabric that you want to showcase? Are you simply interested in playing around at your machine? Heck, maybe it's all three.
For the nearly 50 quilts I've made or contributed to in my 10 years of quilting I can honestly say that maybe 5 were from a pattern - a straight out of the package or book pattern. I'm not one to be told what to do, so early on I started adapting ideas I saw, or creating my own to make my quilts. I would really call it an evolution of technique and effort, not a style.
The first foray into my own designs was simply taking traditional block patterns and putting them together without a pattern. I never understood how companies got away with putting together a pattern for a traditional block, like a maple leaf or churn dash, in a simple setting and convince people that they should pay $10 for it. Maybe it made sense before the proliferation of block patterns available on-line or in books? But you still see them in the stores. I digress.
My favourite places to search for blocks were here or here. If I was making a quilt for someone in particular I would try to pick a block that related to the person. For example, a Monkey Wrench block for a friend that likes to make furniture. Generally I would make a few blocks before I decided where I was going with the quilt. I almost never decide exactly what the quilt will end up as before I start. It is always an iterative process. Sometimes the settings were even quite traditional, with sashings and everything. It just depended on the recipient (if there was one planned) or simply what looked right.
Another favourite thing for a while was to take a block pattern and make it big. This works nicely for baby quilts. A 12 inch block translates nicely into a 36 inch block. This evolved into what I called jazz quilting: taking that original block pattern and repeating it in different sizes.
Then I got my new sewing machine. Thus started the obession with circles. I've made a whole shwack of circles quilts, all very different. The first one I did is one that still requires a label, but it already keeps Hubby warm on the couch in the evenings.

Subsequent circle quilts have included pieced backgrounds. This move then got me thinking about different ways to do these backgrounds and new shapes to applique. It's amazing how a simple shape like a half square triangle can look so different depending on what you do with it. Three of my most recent quilts all have half square triangles, but fabric choice and placement change the way they look. Often I cut the fabric first and make the blocks, then worry about placement and setting. Such was the case with this, this, and this quilt.

Along the way I've tried new things too. I had to get my Denyse Schmidt on and made this quilt a while ago.

And I liked the idea of the popular Yellow Brick Road quilts. But again, I couldn't bring myself to buy a pattern for what looked so simple. Rather than try and copy it I drafted my own pattern. When I went to make the quilt I decided I didn't want the look of a whole bunch of squares and rectangles. So I combined the wonky log cabin look with the pattern I drew and came up with this.
(Sorry about the crappy photo, I could only find a tiny one. The original is on the old computer and that's packed away for the renos.)

My latest projects have been about shapes too, and a lot of seeing what happens as you sew. Cut some fabric and sew, then see what happens. It's kind of like what would happen if Jackson Pollack quilted. Sometimes it is more about the process and not the end product. But you can still make something beautiful out of it.

When you are looking to break free from patterns and kits, remember you don't have to throw out everything from traditional quilting. It is always still a good idea to use a scant quarter inch seam, press well, and trim your blocks square. You can still take those traditional ideas and make them into something new. Don't be afraid. Just start sewing.