improvisational piecing

Itty Bitty Curves Update 2 Years later

Tiny Piecing Improv Curves

When I posted some photos of these little curves the other day a non-quilting friend asked me if I was making another version of the quilt. Because she remembered me working on them last year. Nope, same quilt. More piecing.

I pulled this project back in to the rotation last week. After so many scrap projects of late it is nice to be working with a controlled colour scheme. Not that the piecing is any faster with these itty bitty curves! I guess this was the itch that needed to be scratched.

Many times I’ve been asked how big I plan to make this quilt. The answer is always “Until I run out of fabric.” Of course, since I am working with solids I could replace them. Frankly, I’ve done that once already. But even I have limits and will likely stop once this round of fabric is done. In actuality, the supply of yellow fabric is getting low so I guess that will be my limiting factor. As it currently stands, the pieces for the top make it about 40’’ x 60’’ .

Tiny Piecing Improv Curves Quilting

As the fabric supply dwindles I’ve decided to focus on making the little blocks instead of assembly. I have absolutely no idea how much bigger this can and will get. My little plastic baggies are filled with the size sorted blocks, like some sort of quilting drug deal. Every time I sew, press, square up, and add to the collection my potential finished quilt gets an inch or two bigger. By sewing all the blocks now I will ensure that my colours stay balanced across the entire finished quilt and not have a portion where there is no yellow, for example. So I will sew all the blocks first then sew them all together. Fingers crossed this leaves me with a functional sized quilt.

It’s been precisely 2 years since I started this project in a class with Chawne Kimber. At the time it was a fun experiment, a good way to play with one of my idols in the room guiding me. There is no rushing tiny piecing, especially when you want the finished result to be large enough to cover a lap and not just a wall. There is also an inherent boredom in tiny piecing, especially when making something larger. It is a A LOT of repetitive action. If it takes me a few years, it takes me a few years. I am thoroughly engaged in the process when I am doing it and have no problem letting my interest ebb and flow. I’m floating down a slow river and the ride is good.

Chawne Kimber tiny piecing

Not Even All the Scraps

Scrap Quilts Cheryl Arkison

The weekend I finished this quilt the weather turned and a proper winter settled in. That particular weekend I did not leave my house, preferring to stay in and sew. Hence the finished quilt. It hasn’t really warmed up much since then, so no photos. But today it is a balmy -17C so I made my kids help me take a few pictures.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, this ended up being a queen size quilt so even my freakishly tall 12 year old had a hard time keeping it out of the snow!

Cheryl Arkison Scrap Quilts

Every single fabric in here is a scrap. In November of last year I decided to listen to my own teaching advice. It really isn’t that big of a deal to sort scraps, once you just decide to do it. All of my strips, and those gathered along the way, had made their way into this big blue IKEA bag. Not the little ones, the big bags. It was just short of overflowing. So I sorted those strips by colour and then by value. Then I sewed.

I did a lot of sewing. Mind you, this is mindless sewing. So perfect for Morning Make and holiday stress and snippets of time to myself. The girls came in and helped periodically, especially once I got a new iron. Then I cut.

I did a lot of cutting. The sewing is sewing long strips together. Well, whatever length they may be. Then I have to cut them and square them up to 3.5’’ square. More sewing after that to make 4 patches of each colour.

The design work, interestingly, I did on the computer. My design wall is not big enough for this many blocks. And to colour on graph paper would be an exercise in patience because of making changes. Each changes means a new drawing. So I went as low tech tech as you can go. I used Excel. Super fancy, right? But it helped me sort out a basic plan, which I then refined on the design wall.

Cheryl Arkison Scrap Quilts

Part of the challenges of turning scraps into blocks into a quilt is that there is one giant limitation - you get what you get. My process is to design as I go. That means I did not plan it out and pre-determine how many blocks of each colour I needed. Rather, I used the scraps and, at some point, figured out how many blocks in total I would need. Then I worked on a layout for what I had. In the end, a few blocks were re-scrapped and I raided the colour sorted scrap bins for a few more pieces to make additional blocks.

This is how it ended up. It is colourful! It is bold! It is fun! It is -17C worthy for sure.

The Places I've Been - Improv Letters in Action

Improv Letters and Words Quilting

The quintessential graduation gift is Dr. Suess’ Oh, the Places You Will Go! For whether you are graduating from kindergarten or medical school. It’s a fun one, full of optimism and encouragement. And while I don’t want to disparage any of that, I do think it is also important to look backwards some times. Not to hold grudges, obsess over past mistakes, or fester (although I do a fair bit of that myself). No, looking back sometimes is important for celebrating progress and success. It is a good reminder that our hard work did get us somewhere.

In the wake of some high profile retirements from the quilting industry, plus a few more you might not have noticed, I’ve been doing just that. Well, actually, I started this particular process years ago, but the past month really got me being reflective.

Quilting was a lifechanger and is a lifesaver for me, no question. I would not be the person I am, the mother I am, the woman I am, without quilting. It teaches me to embrace my own creativity. It provides a mindfulness that no amount of meditation would ever give me. It is an outlet for anxious hands. And, at the end of the day, is a career that provides financial freedom and personal challenge.

A few years back I started teaching a class on making letters and words, improv style. For my class samples I started working on the names of places I was at or had been. As a teacher I like having samples that can be something else some day, that can be built upon with each class I teach. It simply provides a focus. Picking the community names was a fun thing I tried. And it kind of stuck.

Cheryl Arkison Quilt Teacher

In all fairness, I haven’t got that far. I will admit to overwhelm when I think of having to add Charlottetown, Kangaroo Valley, and Prince Rupert to the list. That’s a lot of letters! But when I sit down to make a word, in the end, it doesn’t take that long. It becomes a wonderful trip down memory lane. I often pull out the photos from the trip and pick colours based on the scenery or something memorable from the class.

My plan is to make a quilt with all the places I’ve been. I can’t predict where I will go in this industry - it is constantly changing, as are my personal challenges - but I sure can appreciate where I’ve been. Since becoming a professional, as a writer and teacher mostly, quilting brought me to some pretty amazing places to meet some even more amazing people. How lucky am I?? I’ve worked hard and will continue to do so (this is not a retirement announcement). As I have no travel gigs booked for this year I might get this done to this point. Then we will see all the other places I will go!

Epic Battle With the Scraps

Little Log Cabin Scrap Quilts

Victory is mine!

A month ago - after teaching multiple scrap and Values Plus workshops - I got it in my head to buckle down and hit the scraps. And I hit them hard. While I have my lovely little bins of colour sorted a blue IKEA bag kept getting filled with strips and random bits. I sorted out a bunch of little bits back in May, but otherwise the bag sat there taunting me.

Hey you! Hey! I’m talking to you. You know you won’t throw me out, you simply can’t do that. But did you know I grow when you aren’t looking. The rest of the fabric? It comes to me at night and fills me up. You will never take me down!

Oh yeah? Let the battle begin.

I spent an hour or so sorting that bag by colour. Easy enough. And usually sorting is enough for me. It gives me the calm I want and finding order makes me happy. But there were just so many scraps! So I went headlong into the fury and am happy to say I emerged victorious!

Values Plus Scrap Quilts

This morning I finished the last of the blocks for a queen size quilts based on my Values Plus class. As I sorted, sewed, and trimmed for those blocks little bits and little strings revealed themselves, like soldiers stalking me in the grass. Well, they’ve been tamed too. I have a pile of skinny strings ready to action on my side - in some little log cabins. And the little bits leftover from battle are contained in colour sorted bags, another project in mind.

All my Morning Makes and any other free time in the last month has been spent on this battlefield. I became solely focused on this. While I generally have no issue with scraps something just got in me that these needed to be dealt with. Like an itch I couldn’t scratch it became an obsession to empty, sort, and use everything in that blue bag. While not everything is used yet, it all is designated or tamed. I am winning!

Now I hope to spend some time actually finishing a quilt or two, that’s a whole other battle.

Modern Scrap Quilts