As I see it, improvisational patchwork (improv for short) is not completely random, and is seldom as "free" as it looks. While it may look random in many ways, improv always starts with some (a few or many) guidelines. You may call those guidelines by different names; rules, scores, limits, boundaries, constraints... those guidelines are all-important: They direct your improv throughout the making process and leads to a more unified result. Of course, being improv, the rules are there to be broken, so guidelines can change during a project. But it is necessary to have some in place to start off with.
If you are daunted by improv, you can simply increase the guidelines of your project to a level just beyond your comfort zone (after all, no harm in challenging yourself a small bit). To start, try mixing a little improv with your usual accurate and planned piecing, like I did. It all started with this:
|"More Hearty Good Wishes" by Janet Clare for Moda|
At the time I was doing quite a bit of Sashiko, and I wanted to capture some simple images in sashiko style stitching. I chose a couple of the less complicated images from the fabric and enlarged them to a comfortable size for stitching. It was great fun, and worked up much quicker than expected. I wanted to include the resulting small panels into a bigger project, a throw maybe, so I found some more fabric... I had a charm pack (5" squares), a couple of half yards and fat quarters, and my different-sized panels. I pondered how to best use it all to end up with a usable size quilt. At first I had no intention to use improv for this quilt at all.
Because I had no plan or pattern in mind for this quilt, I started with a few guidelines (guidelines can play a role in non-improv piecing, too):
- use the fabrics I had - no more fabric buying
- use the charm squares without further cutting - further cutting would reduce the final size, and I didn't want small, fussy piecing anyway for this one
- use the sashiko panels - I had stitched 3 images, and two patterned strips, all different sizes
- more linen/cotton was available - but would need more sashiko
- I wanted a no-fuss look - not wonky, just straight squares and rectangles
- use the fabrics randomly throughout the top - no advance planning of fabric placement
- balance light and dark
This is where the improv came in (finally, I hear you say). It was obvious really, since the sashiko panels were such different sizes I had to add fabric around them. So I started to edge the sashiko with random strips from my fabrics, until they were big enough to be trimmed to the desired square size of 9". After neatly trimming most of them I realised that they had to be 9" finished, so 9½” unfinished (of course!! aargh!) so I improvised the blocks some more!
Liking the effect a lot I set about improvising squares for the remaining gaps from arbitrary strips and pieces, finally ending up with 13 four patch squares, and 12 improv squares. They went together into a top like a dream...
If you look carefully you can easily make out where the square blocks are, but the overall effect is surprisingly random! So give it a go, set yourself some guidelines (a few or a lot), and start improv. Even limited improv can lead to great results, and it may be the start of your journey to find out what unlimited possibilities improv has to offer!
My quilt top will (soon, hopefully) be finished with some more sashiko images in the cotton/linen pieces, and a straight border to frame it. I didn't set out to make an improv top, and of course it isn't very improv anyway, but a project like this is great to gently ease yourself into improv piecing. If you are daunted by the idea of making an improv quilt, limited improv may well be the start of an enjoyable improv journey. Making improv can be done just like making a traditional quilt; one block at a time. And to finish off another image from one of the improv blocks:
I had to leave this part of the selvedge visible in the quilt, I'm sending you all "GOOD WISHES"!!
Linking up with AHIQ - Ad Hoc Improv Quilters at Sew Slowly and Fret Not Yourself
Also linking with Quilting Inspiration at Joy for Grace