Freehand or Improv Piecing Basics

I periodically post this set of basic instructions on piecing organic looking patchwork without drafting a pattern. Though it is possible to hand sew here, more complex constructions require cutting and re-piecing, making it a machine piecing technique for most purposes. Writing elsewhere this morning of Nancy Crow, America’s foremost art quilt maker and teacher who assembles her designs by improvisational piecing, I had reason to mention the innovative Canadian quilter Marilyn Stothers who first devised it nearly 35 years ago. Looking for information about it, I found this video: https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/the-best-of-both-worlds At the time, the rotary cutter was still a very new tool in quiltmaking, so Marilyn is pictured cutting her fabrics with scissors.

At the start of a 1992 4-day workshop on improvisational design in art quilt making, Nancy Crow taught these basics as a fast piecing technique to help us work through the many design exercises for that class. Nancy taught so many quilters how to do this, that for a few years at least it became known as ‘Nancy Crow’s piecing technique’ though now it’s universally known as improvisational or improv.

Freehand or improvisational piecing has become a modern convention which you’ll see everywhere. Some designs may look complicated, but they all involve the same basic steps, and with practice you too will be able to achieve more complex constructions.

The main things to remember are:

  • before cutting, place both fabrics with right sides facing up – yes, that feels counter-intuitive, I know.
  • with no built-in seam allowances, as you cut and sew the area of fabric becomes progressively smaller – so start out larger in anticipation, and add in more if needed.

There are video tutorials available; for example, Alicia Merrett ‘s YouTube videos, are good in a very precise, controlled way, but they were pitched to careful traditional quilters.  Down the years I’ve found my own way of working includes pinning along curves; but there is no ‘correct’ way to do this, and if your result is flat -you’ve got it right. Beyond this, experience will teach you whatever you want to know – think it, try it.  And, if you ever need my advice or help, feel free to contact me directly.

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One Response to “Freehand or Improv Piecing Basics”

  1. Barbara Hilford says:

    Greetings Alison. I have just discovered that I have been ‘Improv’ for the last 30 odd years….we used to lay lino that way to get a good join and I used the idea with fabric. (Nothing is new when you are old !!!! 🙂

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