What is Improv Quilting?
Last week I did something I’ve never done before. I started making a quilt! To be specific, I started making an improv quilt. Improvisational quilting is basically patchwork quilting without an exact pattern. You choose your fabric pieces and sew them together as you go along, without a predetermined composition. Improv quilting is not a style, but a process. The resulting quilt can look just about any way.
Why Improv Quilting?
For a while now I’ve had a nagging desire to make an improv quilt. Actually, this desire that only recently reached a fever pitch, goes back several years. You see, I recall vividly first learning about one of my favorite artist/designers, Sonia Delaunay in undergrad. We learned, in the very rushed, bullet-point way that one grows accustomed to in school, that Delaunay did lots of work in fashion and textiles, in addition to her work as a painter. Being that this was a pretty typical art history class, we focused on the traditional parameters of fine art and Delaunay’s painting work was subtly positioned as more important than her textile work. Perhaps that is why I didn’t note, at least not in a concrete way, the stirring that I felt in my body when we learned about a patchwork quilt that Sonia Delaunay made for her infant son in 1911. I felt something. I was moved when my professor got to the grainy image of that quilt. It felt like a flood of adrenaline, a blood rush calling me to action without offering any further instruction. Now I know what that feeling was all about. My body was screaming, “ Hey, this is you! This is what you are about! That intersection of the artistic and the useful. This is what you are!” I couldn’t hear it. Or, I heard it but I couldn’t make it out, like it was muffled or in another language. I wasn’t in a place to decode anything that wasn’t urgent. I was too busy trying to accumulate the necessary credits to complete my degree and too disconnected from my body to acknowledge anything it was trying to tell me, including the chronic, stress-induced migraines I suffered at the time.
As I later learned, that quilt was much more than a side project to create a cozy heirloom for a newborn baby. Delaunay wanted to make a quilt inspired by ones she had seen in the homes of Ukrainian peasants and in the end, the patchworked color fields she created were actually an impetus for Orphism, the artistic movement which segwayed the aesthetics of Cubism into Abstract Art. She wanted to apply the same technique of color fielding, inherent in patchworking, to painting and other disciplines.
I love the organized chaos of that quilt. I have always been attracted to imperfect, artistic practices that use fragments of existing objects to create a new whole, particularly collage and assemblage. In high school, with African-American Modernist, Romare Bearden as my chief influence, collage is where I really found my footing as an artist. I was a serviceable illustrator, a decent painter, but collage was where I shined. So, it makes sense that I would be so drawn to improv quilting. It is basically collaging with textiles.
How Do You Start an Improv Quilt?
- Fabric (scraps, small pieces, larger pieces)
- Sewing machine with a 1/4 in. foot
- Iron & Ironing board
- Rotary cutter
Cut a piece of fabric however you may be inspired. Sew it to another piece of fabric and iron seams as you go along. You can create blocks. You can do something with large strips or large swatches. It’s up to you!
For this quilt, I’m using a subtle color combination of blues, grey, yellow and white. Who knows? I may get inspired to open up the palette a little more. I originally tried a crazier color combination and I wasn’t feeling it in the moment. The fabric I’m using includes some shibori samples I made a while ago, as well as turmeric dyed yellow fabric from a natural dyeing project.
I watched this improv block tutorial from Melanie Ham to get me started and it’s much pretty my rules from there. Stay tuned to see how my quilt progresses!