Interesting marks, lines and shapes are all around us. I find plenty of them inspirational, providing as they do ideas for my quilted textile art. To me, the patterns made by lines are more important than the colours I end up working with. Line and shape come first, followed by colour and texture, which I rank together.
The joining of pieces of fabric patches, along lines or seams makes patchwork. In the 90s I learned how to make patchwork freehand, and it has remained my favourite surface design technique. It’s not difficult, just a totally different way of working compared with traditional patchwork. It’s made without using pattern pieces or making measurements, though rulers and quilters’ shapes are optional – there are always options. Basically, you just cut and sew as you go, often one seam at a time, following the few technical guidelines to produce an individual design in a nice flat quilt top ready for quilting by hand or machine.
Working this way is known in the quilting world as improvisational quiltmaking, and is widely used today in art quilts and in Modern Quiltmaking, which has become a big thing in the last decade or so. Google improvisational patchwork, and you’ll find many examples. The Modern Quilt Movement attracts many improv makers, and that whole group of quilters work in light bright colours with lots of white or other pale neutrals, and heavily machine quilt their quilts.
However, the technique itself can be applied to whatever colours you love working with. It’s one of my pet aversions to see photos of a group of students from a class all holding up something the same thing as the person standing next to them; so for that reason I don’t provide fabric kits. I have students make their own fabric selections at home before coming to the workshop with fabrics they love. I suggest that about half a pillow case of fabrics is more than enough to work with in a one day 6 hour workshop, where much time can be better used if those fabric choices have been made before class.
I’ll be teaching two classes on this technique next month at the 22nd International Festival of Patchwork, Gramado, Brasil. Whether teaching this technique and its finer points to beginners or advanced students, my goal is always to show how they can use it to piece together their own pattern of lines they’ve found somewhere. Quite a number of my quilts will be there at the festival, on exhibition and as class samples. I’m sure some students will copy one of those patterns using their own fabrics, which is fine, because just by doing that they will be learning a great deal. But I’d like everyone to go away knowing that they can diagram up some simple lines for themselves, choose some fabrics, and start cutting and sewing to develop their own ideas.