Posts Tagged ‘modern’

Freehand Or Improvisational Piecing – The Basics

Sunday, July 26th, 2015


detail, Ebb and Flow 2

I’m quite often asked how to go about improvisational or freehand (template free) cutting and piecing which has become very widespread  among quilt makers in the past 25 years- a modern tradition really.  Widely used by art quilt makers who piece their designs, and seen in quite a number of Modern Quilts, it’s all rotary cut and machine pieced.   The following basic instructions contain all you need to know to begin, as I only learned it from watching a short demonstration by Nancy Crow at the start of a several day long workshop, and then plunging in to using it straight away. It enabled us to rapidly get through heaps of exercises in her class on design and colour.  I’ve been enjoying this way of piecing ever since.

basics of improv


Hand piecers could use this just once,  perhaps, to make some wayy lines in the one direction  but it really is a machine technique,  even if you’re pretty speedy, as hand sewing won’t allow for more complex cutting, re-arranging, inserting slivers and so on.

Freehand or ‘improvisational piecing’ has become a modern convention – and once you recognize it, you’ll see it wherever there are pieced art and non-traditional quilts.   Elsewhere on this website are two galleries of my original quilts made between about 1990 and the present –  the Color Memories gallery followed chronologically by the Ebb& Flow gallery.  Keep in mind that have been piecing this way for over 20 years, but I too began with these simple instructions way back then.   With practice, you too will be able to achieve more complex constructions if you wish.

Basics of improv blog image

The main things to remember are:

  • to place both fabrics right side up
  • without built-in seam allowances, as you cut and sew each fabric shape its area showing on front becomes progressively smaller – so start out larger in anticipation. Experience will tell you how much to allow, but, if you run short somewhere on a side you can always add another piece as quilters traditionally have !
  • in addition to getting smaller, so, too, the edges become progressively more irregular. Resist your trimming urges until you have finished ALL the piecing.   When you do get round to trimming, discard tiny pieces but keep anything useful – small bits also piece up into lovely freeform mosaics you could use for appliqued or printed designs – see Judith Trager’s work among others for some good examples.

Alicia Merrett ‘s YouTube videos, are good in a very precise, controlled way –but, they were pitched to careful traditional quilters, but even so, you might find them helpful.    In the Nancy Crow class where I learned this piecing, we had a lot of colour and design work to get through in the time, and Nancy showed us these basics that enabled rapid working.  We put all rulers away and did no pinning, just putting edge to edge and sewed.  Some managed this better than others in the workshop; and at home I found my own way of working which includes periodic dots along the cut edges with permanent marker or other pen/pencil/chalk – and even more of these in tight curves.    I usually pin every few inches, more in tight curves –  but it all depends…. there are no right ways to do this, and only one correct result – a flat one.  Once you have learned the basics, experience will teach you whatever you want to know next – think it, try it.  And, if you ever need my advice or help, feel free to contact me through this website.


QuiltCon 2015 or Modern Traditionalism

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Modern traditionalism – what a great term!  Tradition and Innovation coexist strongly in all kinds of human endeavour, and quilt making is no exception.  It’s very human to want to continue doing things the way they have always been done – but equally human to want to vary it a bit – or a lot.

It is very interesting that in less than 10 years, the Modern Quilt Guild has rapidly taken off as a large subset of the Quilting Industry. It began as a movement of  mostly younger makers juggling jobs, families and creative time deficits which led the founders to communicate online; but as other people joined them guilds began to appear to cater to a desire of people to meet locally in real time – exactly the same function of such groups in the ‘other’ older and more traditional part of the Quilting Industry.  The focus of Modern quilt makers has always been to produce decorative practical home items (more bed quilts than wall quilts)  which are made with the now standard rotary cut fabrics, machine pieced and machine quilted. Improvisational piecing finds a natural home with many Modern Quilters, though not to the degree I’d have thought would prevail by now, as Modern quilts still predominantly feature straight edge pattern shapes.  I have been working freehand, template-free, that is, improvisationally, for over two decades now; and since I learned how to do that have always freehand cut the inner shapes of any repeat unit ( ‘block’ )  and very often the outer edge too.  I love grids and how straight lines contrast with more organic lines.  Modern Quilters still happily talk of ‘blocks’, and it is interesting to me that the movement has not found its own distinctive terminology to set itself apart a bit more from things traditional. While the Modern Quilt movement has brought quilt making into the lives of people many of whom have never quilted before,even though their mothers and grandmothers might have, there’s also quite a percentage who have defected from their more traditional quilt guilds and groups including some who have gone so far as to ditch their non-modern fabrics, and there are some with a foot in each camp.

In setting their identity apart from traditional quilt making, Modern Quilters maintain certain particular goals, some of which are spelled out on the movement’s website,  and the following generalisations can be made: these quilters tend to be younger in age than more traditional quiltmakers, are strongly literate in digital communication and social media, produce primarily functional quilts,  are (allegedly) inspired by modern design, and they favour use of bold clear colors and prints, lots of white/grey/neutrals with high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work.  whatever this last term means….  I also found this whole sentence, lifted exactly as it appears on the MQG  website –  “Modern traditionalism” or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting.”  

I’ve been browsing at the pics of the winning quilts at the QuiltCon 2015 exposition in Austin, TX  By all accounts, if measured by enthusiastic crowds alone, the Modern Quilt Guild’s annual event is probably well on the way to reaching equivalence to the more traditional International Quilt Festival Houston every october. There are classes to take, vendor booths with fabrics books and notions, speakers, discussion panels, block competitions and more, with a huge variety of categories of entered quilts vying for enticing prizes with attendant prestige.

The term ‘modern traditionalism’ is one of the exhibition categories for QuiltCon 2015, and below is the winner – for a closer look go to   It bothers me as much as most sampler quilts I’ve ever seen – only rarely are they well designed, as distinct from ‘well made’, which this one certainly seems to be.  Traditionally sampler quilts are a first project in which a quilter learns how to piece or applique quilt blocks while coming to understand the basics of colour, value, balance and contrast, the quilter then learns how to set them into a pleasing layout, with or without sashings and borders. When you add the sandwiching, quilting and binding, that’s a lot of learning in that one project. For this quilt, the addition of generous grey, white or grey/white print sashings ,and perhaps the odd empty block to surround the splashes of lovely clear bright colour would have achieved more expansive negative spaces and introduced some element of minimalism.  Some blocks could have been withheld from the front and pieced into the back where they would still available as a reminder of the learning they covered.


1st Place
Long Island Modern Sampler by Kim Soper
Centerport, New York
Individual MQG Member
Pieced & Quilted by: Kim Soper

There are some very interesting individual blocks in this overwhelming collection, and I hope Kim Soper selects one or two to work with for something more out of the box for next year. For example, she/he could take the bright mint green improvisational cross at lower left – it’s a popular motif for repeat units, modern or traditional. I used it  in a repeat unit design in organza in 2005:

transparent quilt 2 copy tiny_edited-1


The following link shows all the winners and runners-up in the exhibition and many are from countries outside USA, pointing to the growing popularity of MQG around the world – there’s even a couple of Aussie winners !yay! – check these out –

Bias Tape Quilting Challenge

Sponsored by Panasonic


1st Place
CPU by Katherine Jones
Chigwell, Tasmania, Australia
Tasmania, Australia MQG
Pieced & Quilted by: Katherine Jones


2nd Place  Stock on Hand by Katherine Jones

Chigwell, Tasmania, Australia
Tasmania, Australia MQG
Pieced & Quilted by: Katherine Jones

 I was born and raised in Tasmania – there must be something in the water besides the flouride 🙂




1st Place      plus a Judge’s Choice award !
Rainbow Magic by Mollie McMahon
Sutton, NSW, Australia
Canberra MQG
Pieced by: Mollie McMahon
Quilted by: Mollie McMahon
& Jules McMahon


And it is especially pleasing to see Best of Show awarded to this wonderful quilt by fellow art quilter Kathy York  whose work has been known to me for a long time –


i Quilt by Kathy York
Austin, Texas
Austin MQG
Pieced & Quilted by: Kathy York

You can see all the winners of QuiltCon2015 here

Go to the Modern Quilt Guild website and there visit some of the galleries, clicking on slices/thumbnails for a complete view of each quilt.



Stitch Plus Shape

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

kintsugi meets textile mending web

Top – Sample from today – some fused shapes with a variety of edge treatments, and including some metallic stitches.

LL – from a poor quality photo but an adequate aide memoire – of a section of kuba cloth we saw in a Colombian museum.

LR – detail of a hand quilted wall quilt,  2010, using the traditional squares with squares motif non-traditionally.

To me they’re related, and link to the ethic of mending something valuable; on which theme I recently discoverd the beautiful Japanese craft of mending broken ceramics – kintsugi 

New Work, Featuring Green

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

mostly about green web


With working title  ‘Mostly about Green’,  this is a detail of a work in progress, showing  the wonderful black chintz background before and after quilting.   The quilting along the edges of the strip inserts is very bright green, fluorescent.   Green is my absolute  favourite colour, just in case the red one I posted a week or two back  fooled you  ;-p    This one belongs to my Ebb & Flow series, certainly, and although both are about colour, I think the ‘Mostly About Red’ one one belongs to the Tracks series.   If you read both series statements you might agree or not, and feel free to comment – but it’s my say !

Museum of Old and New Art – MONA, Tasmania.

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

While visiting family and several friends in Tasmania recently, we made a point of going to the relatively new art museum there, MONA, Museum of Modern and New Art, at Glenorchy just north of Hobart.  I’d heard a lot about it, many people love it, and many say they don’t care for it.   I think some of those opinions are tinged by knowledge that the wealthy art patron David Walsh, who established and finances it, made his rather large pile through various highly successful gambling activities.  Tasmania is so very conservative about money.  ‘Old Money’ people don’t talk about their wealth at all, and tend to look down on ‘New Money” people, who do talk about it quite openly.  My mother was from Sydney, NSW, where they constantly and freely talk about the cost of everything, especially property and business developments.   She married into a Launceston family, who certainly knew their place on the financial ladder there – and when she talked of someone in the community, typically there was often a little qualifying comment, something like  “Of course, he could buy and sell half of Launceston…” or ,”They made a lot of money in …”  I have no idea whether she was ever right, close to right, or just tossing in such comments from habit and unfounded assumptions!  But, since one of her own aunts made a packet in Sydney industrial real estate in the ’30’s and ’40’s, and despite being a keen gambler at the dog track, she  managed and kept her fortune together well all her life, I think Mum would have been thrilled at David Walsh’s moves.  She might not have cared for some of the sexually explicit and other provocative exhibits, but it was Walsh’s intention all along to shock and challenge through art – he must be a curator’s dream patron, since nothing seems to be taboo, from what I saw, and indeed there is a focus on things that other institutions might have difficulty in justifying exhibition of them.   People are visiting in droves, and certainly talking about it.  Tourists and locals alike are also attending and talking about all the ancilliary events at MONA, too, including orchestral  concerts and wine and food events.  Tasmanian residents have free entry.  I liked that –  as although born and bred Tasmanian, I’m not living there just now and so didn’t didn’t qualify, of course.

So it’s been controversial to say the least – and not just in Tasmania.  It has had no trouble attracting publicity and reviews, and there is a lot about it online.  Here are a couple of  comments I found in the Wiki, representing quite different points of view:  First – Michael Connor of the conservative literary and cultural magazine Quadrant said that “MONA is the art of the exhausted, of a decaying civilisation. Display lights and taste and stunning effects illuminate moral bankruptcy. What is highlighted melds perfectly with contemporary high fashion, design, architecture, cinema. It is expensive and tense decay.”[10]      Then – Richard Dorment, art critic for the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph, said that Walsh “doesn’t collect famous names; his indifference to fashion is one of the strengths of the coollection. He likes art that is fun and grabs your attention, that packs a sting in the tail or a punch in the solar plexus.”[11]       And, they could both be right.

In another article published in the UK’s Telegraph this very weekend,  a long article profiles the man David Walsh, his eccentric and perhaps elusive character, his life and the development of the museum from concept to reality, and what the world is making of it… there are mixed opinions, and this is a long but comprehensive article, but very worthwhile reading, particularly if you’re planning to go there.  Quite fascinating.   When we visited, I’d heard far less than I now think I know, and I thought it was fabulous, Mike not so much so -and that may be putting it kindly.  I’m still fascinated.

It’s a strange rather forbidding building exterior that reminded me a little of those huge monasteries perched on precipitous mountain sides in Tibet. The first pic is the one used in the recent ‘Telegraph’ article really illustrates what I mean – and perhaps it was taken on a cold dreary day just like the day we visited –

MONA forbidding exterior


And this next photo, in a kinder light, is courtesy Australian architect Lindsay Johnston:



This building complex, however, is not perched on a mountainside but sits on a slightly elevated site above the River Derwent, lodged in a hollowed-out sandstone hill (we wondered how they got planning permission for that in a green state like Tasmania? ) 

MONA massive sandstone walls

You go in at the top and descend to the bottom where you pick up your ‘O’ – an adapted iTouch device, and then self paced you wander through exhibits of old and new art.  Your path through the several floors of galleries regularly brings you face to face with massive limestone walls rising from the bottom to the top floor.   In the pic above are people watching a water display that shoots out droplets to form words of the day’s headlines and popular search engine words.   it was rather mesmerizing.  The walls are awesome in their rockbolted state for stability, although the geologist in our party was not sure they had been correctly bolted, according to his underground experience.  Water was entering and running down the walls in places, and it definitely felt like being in a mine.

MONA massive sandstone walls 2

Your ‘O’ senses where you are in the museum and what works are around you – and on it each of the near works is pictured, and when you touch the pic it takes you to basic information, perhaps some review or critique ( called ‘wanks’) although not every work has a wank app – and you can vote on whether you love it or loathe it – no in between opinions – you like it or you don’t …  and I loved that decisive approach, although found it hard once or twice and then just refrained from giving my opinion.  It tells you then how other museum visitors have rated that work.  That was fun, to me, to know how my voting compared.  Of course, it really doesn’t matter, does it, as love it or loathe it is a personal choice only, and in the end, who cares?   There is often humour, and often ugliness, there is lots of old and new beauty run through with themes of sex and death predominating.  Many exhibits are definitely confronting – you can read about them elsewhere, written about by people far more erudite in art matters than myself… I just happily made my way among them, loving or hating as I went.   After about 3 hours I was mentally exhausted and although I would like to see more, we didn’t have time to go back on this visit.  It will keep, as long as water levels don’t rise more than a metre or two. 

I was thrilled to be able to see Sidney Nolan’s “Snake” in its entirety:

Sidney Nolan Snake    Lindsay Johnston Photo Lindsay Johnston

You just can’t get any idea of its overwhelming power from the pages of a book or tv doco.  It’s never been previously hung it its entirety in Australia, and I learned just now that Walsh’s apartment windows afford him a commanding view of the total installation.  Well its the least he could have in return for the massive debts and running expenses for the museum!  I’ll go back sometime, and look forward to that.


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