emma jean jansen

Improvisational Quilting, Australian Inspired

Improvisational Quilting and Improv Play

My #arkisoninaustralia quilt top is done. To be honest, I felt like I could keep going forever. That's what happens when I get going on improv!

This whole quilt started as technique demos while teaching at The Creative Retreat a few months ago. Some random fat quarters grabbed started the colour scheme and the shapes. It is entirely done from improvisational piecing. From those first demos I ran with shape as my guide:

  • quarter circles
  • triangles, both spiky and as flying geese
  • inserted strips
  • curves and wavy lines
  • diamonds
  • a few arrows, for good measure when I needed to fill space

The colour scheme was led by the mustard and pale blue, the ones I started with, as well as black and white prints. I used solids, linens, even a canvas. Some of the prints are those of Emma Jean Jansen, an Australian designer who attended the retreat in Point Lonsdale. Some others are gorgeous treats from Leslie Keating at Maze and Vale, plus the ones we printed together

Improvisational Quilt Piecing - Triangles

As much as I was excited to get this quilt top finished I had a tremendous amount of fun putting it together. I made the components without any regard to specific size. I thought about scale - in terms of making the piecing large or small - but not a specific size. Depending on the technique you need a measured size to start, but that number was chosen out of the air or determined by the size of the fabric I had.

Components found a home on the design wall as I finished them. Eventually, I needed to find a bit of order. In stolen moments of time I would move, remove, and rearrange pieces on the design wall. With more and more mornings more and more components made their way up. Getting on the design wall allowed me to see where I had holes in technique as well as design. It also let me pick fabric to lend to the composition, as opposed to the composition being dictated by colour.

Putting together a quilt top with so many disparate sizes can be a necessary evil of improvisational quiltmaking. Personally, I don't see it as an evil, I absolutely love that part. One can always go the Magic Numbers route and square things off to relatable sizes. It makes assembly much easier, and for beginners that makes total sense. It might make sense for the design as well. I chose the path less travelled. It was a lot of fitting, adding, cutting off, making more, and y-seam construction. I stared at the layout a lot to figure out the easiest way to assemble. That challenge, for me, is a great boost. It gets me excited, the joy of accomplishing something difficult.

For tips and a demos and an understanding on improv quilting, check out my class on Creative Live: Improv Quilting Basics.

Improv Quilting at Its Best

The next challenge will come with quilting. I have absolutely no idea what to do there. Open to suggestions... It is a busy quilt so an all over design, chosen well, wouldn't hurt. I'm not sure it would enhance things though. That being said, tackling each component individually has a lot of potential. Including the potential to take a really long time. I can't believe I am saying this, but i am considering hand quilting. I love what Jess, a student at the Kangaroo Valley retreat is doing with the the piece she made in our time together. Jess also designed and had printed one of the amazing black and white text prints used in the quilt. It could be a good winter project, defining my seasons.

This project defined my summer, for the most part. It started at the beginning and I put the last pieces together on Labour Day. My early mornings on this got me through the onslaught of parenting all day. Morning Make, Australia style saved my sanity this summer.

Photography with kids and an improv quilt