process

Improv Quilts Can Be Precisely Pieced

Stars BOM Quilt

Sometimes I just get in the mood for some precision piecing. Actually, it was more that I needed the distraction that comes with the need to focus when precision piecing.

The first of these blocks was probably made a decade or so ago. It was part of a BOM I found online called Constellations. I think I did the first 3 months and then never looked at or saw it again. Years back I tried to find the pattern to finish it because it was quite good, but never located it. Now and then - about once every year or two - I would pick a star block pattern I could find and make another block. I didn’t have to recreate the original quilt, after all! No plan, no rush though.

This is actually improvisational quilting. Yes, even though I am doing precision piecing. I define it as improv because I have no idea where I will end up. Improv = starting without knowing where you will end.

But this past week of dealing with stress and needing a different kind of break with my quilting brought out these blocks, and a path forward.

  • 36 blocks needed

  • 3 blocks of each star pattern

  • Add more variation in the shapes of the stars for remaining blocks.

So I am digging through the scrap bins and raiding the stash for more combinations of fabrics, playing with the original colour scheme I started. I cut a block or two at night, to be ready for my Morning Make. And I’ve picked out patterns for the two new sets of three blocks I need to make to get up to 36 stars in total.

It’s exactly what I need right now.

Star Quilt

What it really means to PLAY on the design wall

My absolute favourite part of making a quilt is the getting it all to work together part. For me, this means design wall play. Generally, I have a whole bunch of components and have to come to a lay out that I like. It would be different if I planned it all in advance. In that case the design wall would only be confirming what I intended. That just isn’t how I work.

More often than not I start out making a quilt without knowing I am actually going to make a quilt. An idea, a technique, a colour story. Anything can get me going. At the beginning, however, I don’t really know that it is will be a quilt. It is just something I want to try. Even if I have full quilt intentions, I have no idea how it will actually turn out. It could be awful or a different idea can come in to being. What is most important to me is to be open to the process.

Take my most recent project as an example.

I started off making sample blocks to promote my class with Marisa Anne of Creative Thursday fame. The Make Waves block is for the Thursday Club, an online class I taught earlier this month. With waves being obviously blue I made all my samples in shades of blue. Then Marisa suggested that I add in some other colours because not every one likes blue. (I know! Right?)

At this point I had no intention of making a quilt from these blocks. It was just fun times, a good sample. I honestly expected the blocks to sit around for a few years until I rediscovered them and then maybe made more.

Then I saw that yellow block, that pink one, the teal, the blue. I immediately thought SUNSET. More specifically, OCEAN SUNSET.

Make Waves Multi.jpg

And boom! I immediately starting making more and more blocks, picking colours of the sunset. Just running with the idea, no clear plan for a quilt just yet.

After I made a dozen orange and coral blocks I stopped to take stock. What exactly would I need? How many blocks should I make? Am I focused more on the sunset than the ocean now, or vice versa? Deep breath before I dive too deep. So I sketched a picture.

Make Waves Sunset Sketch.jpg

Nothing fancy, mind you. I just coloured the sunset of my imagination. An image search showed many, many variations on the theme of that red/orange sky and a dark foreground. The emphasis should be on the sky, not the water. This led to a more formal plan.

My goal was 2/3 sunset and 1/3 water. Since I’d already started with blocks squared up to 9 1/2’’ x 9 1/2’’ I kept that. If you know me at all, you know I don’t make small quilts, so my finished sized is typically over 80” square. It just so happens that that is the perfect size for a double bed and Oh! Guess what size bed all my kids have? Well then, 9 blocks wide gives me 81” finished. And 9 blocks tall gives me an even split into thirds. That meant I needed 54 blocks for the top part and 27 for the bottom. There, quilt math done.

Over the course of a few weeks I got the sunset blocks done. I did precisely zero planning for how many blocks of each colour. I just cut a bunch of fabric - first raiding scraps, then stash - and made blocks. All blocks are improvised, but with the same technique of gentle curves and number of strips. I did save yellow for last, assuming I wouldn’t need as much because that was my sun. It’s up to the design wall play to make them work together. Of course, I am open to deleting some blocks and making others, if that is what is called for.

Then I had to lay it out on the design wall - where the fun really begins. And frankly, it doesn’t truly end until I start sewing things together and commit to the layout.

Here is the first go around with all 54 blocks.

Make waves layout A.jpg

It feels choppy, like the colours aren’t flowing. I’m never going to have a perfect gradation, but this is too far off. I also don’t like that one random bit of yellow in an orange block. It needs to be managed.

On to the next try.

make waves layout B.jpg

Much better. The pink is more on the one side and the orange on the other, but without there being a defining line. But a few blocks stick out too much to me, I want more flow. And that pesky yellow strip is a bit more under control.

Still need to play.

make waves layout C.jpg

Closer yet. I think the pink has too much of a vertical dividing line now though. I may need to wrap the pink around the orange a bit more. And maybe have all the lights be at the top?

This is how it currently stands on my design wall, which means I am not done yet. I’ll know when it feels right. I usually, involuntarily, squeal and jump when it feels good. Then I sleep on it. Now matter how perfect I think it is I do not sew it together as soon as I think so. I always sleep on it. Then I do two things. 1. Look at it is bad lighting. If it still looks good, it’s probably a winner. And 2. Take a picture. Not just to compare to previous iterations like I’ve done here, but because then it is like looking at it far away on the wall. That’s when colour and shape become prominent.

The key thing is to not rush it. Something the perfect layout is the first one you do. No need to doubt that! Sometimes it is the 10th or 20th. Don’t doubt that either. By embracing the process of quilt making, but thinking of this as play and not work, you are giving in to creativity.

Firefly Quilt With a Fluttering Start (Via Pattern Drop)

Firefly Quilt A Long

Even though improv is my mother tongue, sometimes I crave a little precision piecing. It gets my brain working in a slightly different way. Yay for firing the neurons! (Does this mean I won't get dementia in later life?)

I made a single Firefly block to help my friend Katie launch a Quilt Along through her company, Pattern Drop. It was a pleasant way to spend an hour in the afternoon, digging through the scrap bin of solids. But hmm, that was a really nice way to spend the afternoon. Of course I started another block. Then I ran out of the backing fabric (before the block was finished).

Firefly Quilt Block

Darn it, I wanted to finish that block and make more! And usually I would just dig through the stash and keep going but I really, really liked the look with the Essex Linen (in the sparkle variety and regular) and didn't want to change that. That meant convincing myself to order some because no local stores had the regular Essex in Indigo like I needed. Then waiting for the order. And now I just need the time!

The original pattern calls for 16 Firefly blocks. Lindsey Neill from Pen and Paper Patterns did a great job of drafting this block. There are some piecing options plus a bee version (I think mine lands somewhere in between bee and firefly). The pattern reads for the whole quilt, with options. I won't lie, read that way it scared me with the cutting instructions. That's because I never cut all at once. I can cut one block at a time and feel good. Less efficient, but suits my time allowed and available brain space. Plus, I have a think a bit more so more neurons fired!

Scrap Fabrics Essex Linen Metallics

Storing Quilts Under Construction

When you have almost 40 quilts on the go you have to find a way to store them before they become quilts. And my sewing room is far too small to let them take over. And I am not one to thrive in a messy work space. So here are my storage solutions.
 

My cutting table was purchased with all the storage in mind. The top shelf contains bins with active projects. If I need to grab something or only have a few minutes to play this is where I go.

The bottom shelf contains all my scraps, colour sorted in bins - the pattern is the quilted storage box from Sunday Morning Quilts.

On the floor (usually tucked under the shelf) are plastic bins with class samples and other projects. I recently labelled them and this was an awesome move on my part. No more guessing!

In front there, but usually tucked to the side are some straw bag my mom once picked up on a trip to Acapulco. They are perfect for storing projects. Plus, they look cool and can be moved around the room as necessary.


I am lucky enough to have two full size closets in the room. One has my stash. The other has batting (all those messy scraps on the bottom right), garment sewing stash, my patterns (not visible) and then projects. On the top shelf there are the quilt tops (with their backs or fabric for backs) folded. I have no hanging space otherwise I would hang them. Then it is all projects sorted into piles - for bigger and more active ones, bags, and bins. I recently sorted through them all and this is actually quite neat and organized, even if it may not appear so.


One little spot in the closet holds some particularly small scraps and a stack of Liberty circles. I keep them front and centre just because they are pretty. And hopefully will motivate me to play with them a bit more.

It's a small room, but it is all mine! I've had to get disciplined about storage or else I would never actually get anything done. And now, no matter the mood nor the time, I have easy access to anything I could want to work on.