Posts Tagged ‘improvisational piecing’

Lines = Seams = Lines

Monday, August 5th, 2019

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.

Using a simple photo editing program on the computer, scan a shell, crop sections of the pattern, then play with colour ideas. Someone always says they can’t draw, but no one has to!

Revision Notes – Improvisational Piecing

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

I’ve just been updating my class handouts for introductory and advanced classes in Improvisational Piecing, IP, which I’ll be teaching in Gramado, Brasil, in September. I generally refer to IP as ‘freehand piecing’. Every line is a potential ‘seam’. I’ve loved this style of patchwork since I first encountered it c.1990, and these days it appears frequently in Modern Quilting, art quilting, and variations on traditional patterns.

Cutting only with the rotary cutter and piecing by machine, the maker has no set pattern pieces to follow. I often do a basic sketch diagram:

Some simple traditional patterns adapt well for improvisational piecing

– or have a photo in front of me to start with, such as this one:

Woollen fabric sample albums at a historic museum. Lines are everywhere! These images have been pinned on my wall for a while … the lines are important, but so are the colours.

Unlike the precision of traditional patchwork, accuracy of meeting points is not only unnecessary, little mis-matches and irregularities are essential for the organic look IP has.

Dividing a square to build complexity – the size of the square determines how much detail can be gone into!

I’m removing the above diagram from my class handout, because I’ve come up with something I think is better; but I’m sure some readers might find these diagrams a bit inspirational and want to try the ideas they suggest.

The basic geometric shapes that make up traditional patchwork patterns all lend themselves to improvisational inserts, and they’re worth playing around with because there is always plenty of scope for the ‘What if?’ and serendipity which make it so much fun to do. The end result is something more interesting, more complex, Plus there’s potential for borders and backgrounds …

Sunburnt Textures 4, 2014. 30cm x 30cm
Detail from Ebb&Flow 16, 2009

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