Posts Tagged ‘modern’

Try Improvisational or Freehand Piecing!

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

I’ve written before about freehand pieced work, including this article working from the scrap bag    This morning, looking around in my photos for something else, I was diverted by a sequence of photos I took last year while making this small piece for my friend Suzie.  I formed this collage to take some of mystery out of this kind of piecing known as ‘improvisational piecing’.  It’s a construction technique widely used by makers of ‘art quilts’ and Modern Quilts, too.

Suzie’s Quilt 30cm x 30cm.
Top left, centre and lower right – cut and remove an approx 1-2cm swathe.  Lower left – finished quilt; upper right shows pencil diagram and a strip insert pinned into place.  The tighter the curve, the more pins I use – just my way – there’s no ‘correct’ way.

Do a very basic pencil diagram if necessary (upper right),  audition some fabrics, start cutting and begin sewing.  No templates, no exacting measurements, and the result is a very organic look.  Improvisational piecing begins with simple steps, and the basics can be found here   If you want to try it at home sometime, thoroughly read through my 2 page notes first, then follow the easy instructions.  If you need any help or advice, don’t hesitate to contact me at

Working without pattern pieces is very liberating; it’s a worry-free way to construct quilt tops.  In my Memories and Ebb&Flow  galleries you’ll find many examples of works pieced this way; and I often use freehand piecing with grids constructed using rulers and different size quilters’ squares and triangles.  Honestly, anything goes, as it’s up to you how you use this technique.  By all means, pay good money and go to a workshop run by someone teaching this technique, which is fun, but if geographical isolation or financial challenges get in your way, you really can learn it by yourself at home.  You’ll find it in books and magazines, as well as online, but I don’t advise starting out by watching online demos. There are so many out there with different emphases, often by people more focused on selling you their book, that you may well become confused in a very short time.   I just looked at some, and found them all rather fussy, very precise and careful.  This is not what it’s about – it’s carefree, organic looking and meant to be very non-traditional in every way.  Using my basic illustrated notes, try working through the suggested few samples, while remembering that

  1. there is no correct way to do this kind of patchwork
  2. the only correct result is a flat one
  3. start out bigger than you want to end up
  4. resist the urges to trim as you go – save it till all piecing is done.

Feel free to use pins, marker pen or pencil reference points right on the cut edges which will be enclosed in the seam anyway  – use whatever you find that works for you.  When you’ve worked out how to do it and can repeat good results with practice, then if you will, spend a bit of time browsing some demos, but I think you’ll find you don’t need them.  Improvisational piecing has become a contemporary tradition, something to be shared in the time honoured way that traditions are passed along from one generation to the next.  So, what are you waiting for?

Desert Wind, With Toothpick

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Left – Desert Wind 1995,  200cm x 200cm.     Right – Toothpick, year unknown

A couple of days ago while showing some visitors a few of my quilts, I unfurled this one,  Someone said ‘There’s a needle in it…’  and we turned it over to find not a needle but a toothpick slightly protruding. It’s not of any kind I’ve ever bought, and I have no idea how it could have got there. The notion of someone stalking around an exhibition opening spearing a quilt with a used toothpick is quite bizarre.  ‘Desert Wind’ (bound edges not visible) is approx 2m x 2m.  It’s big enough for a bedcover – and in the right room in the right house it would be dramatic.  I made it originally to use as an eye catching backdrop for my booth at a contemporary craft show in Australia.  It doesn’t suit our style or anywhere we’re ever likely to live – but anyway it remains in my possession, and I exhibit it from time to time.  In its exhibition history it’s been handled by quite a few people one way and another, and of course, it took many hours of machine piecing, machine quilting and hand quilting.





How strange this toothpick has only just come to light!

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 

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