improv quilts

Sewing Scraps with Chronic Pain

Log Cabin Scrap Quilt

For months I could only sew standing up so I would be in the sewing room at 3 am, hoping for relief. Beats letting the insomnia and pain wreak havoc on my brain. Full confession, I generally sleep without pajamas. This means I might find myself in the nude sewing away. I know, I’m weird, I embrace it. So one night I am in there - pain high but feeling some mental relief as I make little log cabins. I did not hear anything but the snip of the scissors and whirr of the stitching. Which means I did not hear my husband come into the room. To be fair, he was checking on me after waking up and not finding me in bed. But at that moment I completely startled. He should be thankful I dropped the scissors out of my hand on the cutting table before I turned around. I may have screamed too.

And that is how quilts get made in my world.

Log Cabin Improv Quilts

Anyone who has worked on scrap quilts before knows how the scraps multiply in the night, like gremlins. You think you’ve made a dent in them but no.

It’s also how I’ve come to refer to my chronic pain: there are Gremlins living in my lower back. When they feel extra precocious they travel down my leg. And yes, some times they multiply at night.

This particular quilt is one I distinctly associate with my pain. I started it a year ago, which is also when my pain started. Not a coincidence. But it is also one that has given me tremendous relief, both physical and mental. Whether it is sewing naked in the middle of the night or my standard morning make, the relief has been palpable when working on this quilt.

I’m not sure people understand the toll on our mental health when chronic pain or illness are in the picture. While I have general anxiety and the odd panic attack, my mental health is generally okay. Nothing to really worry about on the whole. I do think that my Morning Make has a huge impact on that. A regular practice of self care does wonders, as does the benefit of being completely present in something. That is, it all worked well until I started living with the pain.

Improv Log Cabins

Those same gremlins often feel like added weight when I am just trying to hold on to a cliff’s edge, making it harder to hang on or even preventing me from pulling myself up. I’ve cried and yelled more this past year, I’m definitely angrier. I won’t lie, some days are truly awful. If it didn’t hurt to lay down I wouldn’t get out of bed those days. Maybe, in that way, the way the pain is ends up being a blessing? I’m not going to walk around the neighbourhood in the middle of the night, but I can sew. So physical and mental health topped up at 3 am. That’s the way, at this point, I choose to look at it.

Depression is very real and quite debilitating for many, many people. I’m extremely thankful that I’ve had bad days and even weeks on end where it feels like that Bill Murray movie, Goundhog Day. Over and over again the same crap. That being said, I manage to keep myself going. Walking the dog and sewing. Getting outside and creating. Deep breath, we can do this. At least this week I can.

At the end of the day, too, you have to laugh. When my husband scared me that night he walked into a strange scene for sure. He alerted me to his presence with a “what the hell are you doing?” which was a valid question as I sewed naked at 3 am. And then we laughed. Belly laughs with all their jiggles in this situation. And for that brief moment the gremlins fell off my back.

Scrap Quilts



Make Waves Quilt Top and Vacation Dreams

make waves quilt top 1.jpg

My obsession with this quilt is strong. From a random suggestion in a phone call to a live online quilting class to this. If I had a long arm or a clean floor this one would already be in the quilting phase.

It started with the planning for The Thursday Club with Marisa Anne Cummings. I’ve known Marisa for years and we were chatting about the class I would teach with her. She said something about the water and I quickly sketched a block. When I went to test the design it worked exactly as I sketched. Well, after we filmed the class - which you can still catch - I became obsessed with making more an more blocks. For me, this is normal.

Make Waves Thursday Club by Marisa
Make Waves Quilt Thursday Club by Marisa

It made a dent in both my scraps and stash as I searched for all the colours of all the prints. I didn’t want too much repetition so it was a deep dive in to the fabric closet.

On a related note, I am thinking of a new class on using prints in your quilts. Thoughts?

It took me a bit to come to the final layout. You can read more about that design wall play. Some days I only moved two blocks. It had to be just right. And now it is. It makes me think of sunsets at the beach. Or sunrises. Take your pick. But it has me all dreamy for sand and the crash of the waves and a Tequila Sunrise. So basically, it is a vacation in a quilt.

Alas, it is heavy competition season for my girls and we are at the pool, not the beach. And I make them help me take quilt photos after practice.

Thursday Club Make Waves Quilt

And you can still catch the class if you want to make your own sunset or just like the block. It comes together quickly and by the end of one block you will be the master of improv curves! Catch it here.

Improv Curves - Scrappy Versus Scrap

Improv Curves Color Girl Quilts

I knew there was a reason I couldn’t throw away the scraps.

There I was, playing around and making this improv curve quilt. It was completely inspired by a very precise pattern by Sharon at Color Girl Quilts (Indigo). But the way I chose to make it meant then I was left with a lot of cut out curves. They matched and all, but they weren’t needed for the quilt I was then making.

Rather than toss them aside to get jumbled or lost I kept the pairs of pie and crust together then sewed them up when everything else was done. Then they got tossed aside and nearly jumbled and lost.

A few weeks ago I was in the mood to finish something. I was also in the mood for some design wall play. With zero plan for these scrap curves I started playing. For a few evenings I arranged and rearranged. Some layouts were too much like the original. One was, ahem, a little too lady-like. I had flowers and other things up there too. In the end I settled on the one that - at first - felt too predictable. But that first instinct proved the best. It used up all but 9 of the blocks and I am thrilled with the results.

Improv Curves

When I went to take the photo I discovered a very interesting thing - the scrap quilt was bigger than the original! Side by side they relate by way of colour scheme and the improv curves, but they are too very different quilts! One fundamental difference, however, is that I would call the first quilt scrappy, while the second is a scrap quilt. That is, the first one has multiple fabrics, all chosen deliberately. The second one was me working with what I was handed in scraps. It might be a subtle or even a semantic difference, but there is a difference.

Side note: The difference between scrappy and scrap is one of my new truck shows!

These now get added to the pile of quilt tops. No matter when they eventually get quilted though, I think they will have to go to a certain pair of sisters that lives in my house.

Improv Curves Color Girl Quilts


Make Waves - A New Class and a New Quilt

Make Waves Thursday Club

I didn’t mean to start a new quilt. But there I was on a video call with Marisa Cummings from Creative Thursday. We were chatting about her Thursday Club - a monthly exploration of the creative act for all of us - and my upcoming class. I can’t even say what was the initial spark, but a quick sketch on that call confirmed two things.

First, the Make Waves block is for my month teaching The Thursday Club. This Thursday join me as we make the block live! I will walk you through fabric selection, both hand sewing and machine sewing techniques, and finishing options. It’s okay if you can’t join us live, you can still purchase the event and learn all about the block. This will be the only spot I will be teaching it.

Make Waves the Thursday Club

If you ever take a class with me you know I am a big proponent of creating for the sake of creativity; that nothing you make in class has to be anything. That was honestly how I started with this. Just some class samples, no plans beyond that. I picked blue for the obvious wave reference. Then Marisa suggested we have some other colours because not everyone responds to blue. So I made a few other colours. I also make some solid versions, thinking the block itself is a miniature landscape. That got me thinking about sunsets. Suddenly I am making blocks in all the colours of a sunset.

So second, this is the start of a new quilt. It’s going to be a bit to make all the blocks. You know me, I don’t make small quilts.

In the meantime, make your own waves. Join us on April 4 at 1 pm MST to learn how to Make Waves yourself. This is a totally beginner friendly improv quilt block. I will be providing instructions for both hand sewing and machine sewing. Either way, it is deceptively simply yet has striking results.

Make Waves The Thursday Club

The Thursday Club is a wonderful initiative by Marisa. I’ve known Marisa online for over a decade. She continually inspires me and I can honestly say she has changed my life in some pretty positive ways. The Thursday Club is about giving ourselves just a little bit of time to explore creativity. Last month it was painting with Helen Dardik. Next month is another painting session with Marisa. And wait until you see the rest of the line up! Just one or two hours a month to explore, play, create. Just for you. Give yourself the gift, it is worth the investment in yourself.

Register Here