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Improv Quilting Basics

Lesson 6 of 7

Design Wall Play: Quilt Layout


Improv Quilting Basics

Lesson 6 of 7

Design Wall Play: Quilt Layout


Lesson Info

Design Wall Play: Quilt Layout

So you can see now how we're getting differences in how these two quilts they're going to come together we're taking our low volume ones and cutting a very precise size right and we're going to get a grid of putting it together we're all very familiar and quilting with going for that traditional grid but then we're going the full puzzle size on the other side there's an in between these two options ok we don't have to be so precise and everything being the same size and we don't have to have this complete puzzling together I'm going to now demonstrate the in between ok so remember that funky log cabin that I did right with this beautiful cotton and steal fabric and all the strips that I was cutting well I've got a whole bunch more of those log cabins let me get out I've made and cut a whole bunch more of these put them all upon the designer so you can see there is one that I made earlier they're all different sizes different shapes, different combinations of fabrics all right use those...

jocks got a darker outline see I had the postage stamps used them a different way you know got that all these sort of different sizes and shapes at this point right but I need to puzzle these together I can go the route that we're doing on the in conspired quilt over here and just start puzzling it altogether I could cut them all to the same size, like we're doing on our low volume with red quilt, or I can do this third method wage some people refer to as magic numbers. I just like to keep the word proportion in my head, so that means I am going to cut things in multiples of a number in my case threes, so I'm either going to have three by three or three and a half inch were quilters, so we had that half inch hod so three and a half inch by three and a half inches, three and a half inches by six and a half inches, six and a half inches squared six and a half by nine and a half, right, and they're all going to because we've done things in proportion, we are able to fit it together, so what I'm going to do is measure each block individually and see what my possibilities are for it. So there's still puzzling, but we're adding order to it in a certain way. If I can go up to twelve and a half inches, I will. So this block, I can't quite make nine and a half inches, so I'm going to make it six and a half I can make it nine and a half inches wide, but not nine and a half inches tall so I'm going to make it six and a half by nine and a half and give myself enough room on either side for all of that as well as whatever I cut off becomes something very functional okay, so I cut that off I can add that to my skinny strip pile and this one even though it's pieced there's nothing wrong with using that again in my pile let's move the blues to the side this way we can show you what we've got going on so I'm going to put that in my medium pile here's my skinny and there's my wide because there's all my inspiration fabrics right there okay we've got two sides cut for that so I'm squaring it off now but they're not all going to be squared off at the same size they're just going to be squared off in proportion to each other so I have that and I can change the way the blocks look when I go to square them off by how much of that log cabin I keep this one can I make it up to nine and a half inches no not at all so I'm going to make it six and a half inches but again I have choice on where I go with that I'm going to do it this way again that becomes a functional piece it shorter but I can use it on another set of blocks so we're going down to six and a half inches square those ones are pretty skinny, so I probably won't use those but see now those conf it together there and I'll continue on cutting the rest of them to try to get to where I want to be. So this one this is where we're talking about fudging you're ever so so close give your block a good pressing to make sure it's this flat as it can be and then determine just how close you are. I am not opposed to a little bit of fudging here and there along the way, but it depends on how close you are if I'm a quarter of an inch, which if I go right here right now, I don't know if you can see it, but I'm at nine and a quarter inches here not nine and a half you can't fudge a whole quarter inch, but if I move my ruler up a little bit sometimes if you move your ruler to the side or give it an angle, you can get it if I move it up and I have just a little bit of an eighth of an inch there and I have less than an eighth of an inch here I can fudge it see there I'm just a little bit short and there I'm just a little bit short but what I'll do and I'm good along there yet when I go two so this together what I like to do is pin pin something so that I know that blocks a little bit short so I don't forget in this case I don't have pins so I'm just going to do this right so now we have nine and a half inches square I'm gonna put it there and I'm just gonna have this piece on top just so I know that I need to be careful of my seem allowance when I go to so that together when I want to get the rest of these I think some of them might already be squared up hey I've easily got nine and a half inches square on that one and how big these blocks end up being depends on how big you've cut your strips in the case and whether you even do log cabins you can do this exact same technique with the type of complete improv that you guys are doing you don't have to be cutting them to the same size so I just want to get that block next depressing I felt like it was a little off okay oh no you can cut that up squared up to where we want I'm just going to square up the rest of these before I go back to the design well can I get nine and a half which is why yes but I will not get six and a half inches the whole way way that's the one we made this morning so this will be interesting because it's going to go vertical so totally change the way this looks there's a usable piece there and one more can I get twelve inches twelve and a half of that no not needed direction so it's going to end up at nine and a half inches and that's totally fine and when you're trimming stuff away if you ever find that well that's a usable piece just maybe not for this project will then into the scrap bin it goes because it could be something that functional another time in another place right? Like I just took the's skinny pieces off I might keep those there too skinny for what I'm doing here because once I so and have to trim but for something else they might work just nicely okay so now I have a siri's of blocks that I've made here and they need to try to put them together well, I can tell you right now I don't want these two next to each other because I don't want all that fabric together I want to separate them out and I know that I want my tigers to be vertical here as opposed to horizontal these two blocks to the exact same size but this one's horizontal and this one's vertical but I have some other nine and a half inch blocks so let's try this one here right? Okay, that works really nicely and then I have two more nine and a half inch blocks well, I'm just going to show you what happens if I do that and I do that well shoot now it doesn't match right that's no fun and if I do it this way I have the same problem as well so I have a couple of options because I've cut everything into proportion I know that whatever I want to put here I've got nine and a half inches here nine and a half inches here when they're sewn together is eighteen and a half inches I have six and a half and nine and a half when they're sewn together they're going to be fifteen and a half inches so I will need a three and a half inch piece to put together because I have that proportion of three, six, nine, twelve right? So things just have to add up to those numbers plus my half inch for seem allowance but I want to make this a little more interesting. I don't want to just put one piece here along the sides so let's separate things out maybe I put that one like that and I'm going to insert a three and a half inch piece on this section and maybe we'll move this all the way over here and insert a three and a half by six and a half inch section here or I make more of these and continued to puzzle that together right? I can play around with this in so many different ways for how I might want this to go is not making sense to you guys here in the studio I know you're frantically sewing with your own stuff numbers I start to that sorry I just dio I fair enough I think there are a lot of filters you are that way the one nice thing about this is if you don't like math and what you're doing is perfect because you're puzzling together based on size and shape on the perception of how things were doing if you're someone who likes math and wants the order and structure and doesn't have toe that's two free to improv to challenging then this is a great way to get the idea of what you're doing but with a little bit more order you could do a whole bunch of different things together with that so rather than show you guys I'll just cut out the pieces so you can see what it looks like so I'm going to go right into my pile of of thicker fabrics and see if I can get so I need a three and a half by six and a half not quite wide enough let's find another one there we go, that's a nice wide peace, hopefully it's big enough, definitely wide enough and definitely long enough so let's cut myself a three and a half by six and a half inch piece, right? I didn't have to go into cutting new fabric. I just kept going with this way. Go that one gets put up there fills in that spot and now I need one here, let's pick something with pink in its I don't have any big strips with pink that'll fit, so I'm going to cut one the's air, all continents, steel fabrics, different lines from the cotton steel brand, but they're all mixed together and they all work together. That's one of the things that the designers have worked really hard so that the colors work so you can mix and match from the different lines quite nicely, canning so I'm just I'm not I'm not worried about pressing this because I'm not cutting I don't need to cut over that, so I need a three and a half by nine and a half inch piece, and I have salvage here's, some cutting it a little bit wide to give myself some room that way flip that around, so there we go, there would be my piece that I would insert there. Right? And I can just keep building this I don't have to assemble this, but if I assembled this, then I go ok, well, this is going to be eighteen inches by when I was at nine eighteen by twenty four, right? I can then add that to another piece if I've got it, which lo and behold, I have handy how that works and I think this one is twenty four inches, right? So once all this is piece together, of course, it's I need to move it over and doing things this way allows you to have some control, some precision and some order or a way to provide order to seemingly random chaos and put it together in a fashion that you're quite comfortable with. Great. So this one is twenty four inches square of course on that so you can start to see how that builds together, right? Really very simple you can absolutely use, so we started off with sort of that pure improv just randomly putting things together. There's nothing to say you couldn't have taken those blocks and put them together this exact way, right? I'm just combining two different techniques to demonstrate in this particular quilt so there's a lot of options for what you're doing we can see on our design walls now things are starting to come together, we've got three blocks in our low volume that have been put together so far and what you see is by putting them in the standard size you put the order on the improv as well but what you also see when you do that are the grid lines of putting blocks together right? And that may be something you want it may be something you don't want that because of the color obviously yeah, just because e now looks a little untidy I must say but well you're not done yet maybe we are just we're making you think well yeah, yeah yeah but as we're going we've taken those seemingly random chaotic pieces and order is coming right? You're just finding the order in a different way and that's kind of what improv is is we didn't know where we were going when we started this I didn't give you direction on where we were going to go, you know, until well into the process for this, so see, now we're starting to get a bit more order and what happens when we start puzzling it together you go oh well now I'm I'm short again or which way did this go and do I need to again now she's got you've got the decision which direction are you going to put it in and do I need to add or subtract and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that so I mentioned on the low volume ones right when we cut to a certain size we get very defined grid lines when we're doing that again it's a design element like let's say maybe you make each one of these blocks and different color well then you're going to see those grid lines no matter what right again it's a way to provide order obvious kind of improv piecing when we were talking earlier about doing things in a group, it is fantastic because everybody can just come with their own sizes and you get something finished quite quickly but again, you see the lines when I do this kind of puzzling, I don't always want to see the lines or I want to minimize how you can't find him, but there are ways to confuse the eye even more and so this is where a lot of the intention can come in things so there's a couple of opportunities with what we've got here some of the things come when you use the same fabric side by side, okay? So in this instance I'm gonna flip it around because if I do this is hard to get toe stay on the boards a little bit at times once the pieces get bigger design walls are always your friend um just because bigger pieces don't stick as well, but you can see this is now going to create a line there I have a lot of these are combining their so this is a way to break up because once you saw these together you do you will have a nice line that goes across there but by having a fabric that's on both sides of the line you visually take away the line a little bit this line will also stand out a little bit I mean, lines are inevitable, right? You're got seems they're inevitable but you can make things more interesting by having that movement of the now it's going around the corner so you won't necessarily like when I look at improv I tend to stand at things ago have they put that together and I try to find the things you know, where the puzzles went together in that there's all sorts of ways to do it I'm just going toe play around just with the chunks that you do have um but I'm just going to do this off the board just to show at this point see here's another way, right? So we can create additional things we can do something like this right where I don't have those whites right next to each other where I I will intentionally line that up so that my seem is sort of that way or I can do something where like he was saying add to it and move it down so that happens right and then there's something above this you know I'm just these pieces are already big and you've already worked on really shaped rectangle you know becomes almost like one piece there yeah eggs eggs exactly right and so so when we're puzzling together we get to play with that sort of thing in terms of where the lines were and where they are so let's go back to what you had and see if there's a ideo good I d'oh this was along the top facing the other way this is why quilters get covered in threat to us because we're constantly or I'm constantly throwing things over the shoulder are pins are working just because the board moves right and this one you had here and then we were debating which way to put this one I like the with the gray out right up right so we so showed it that way let's look at it this way and see what happens well here's where we can play with lines again right? We can see member we have black and black and we were talking about the black we could move it over oh I like that too right and then we would be subtracting this chunk but that's a very usable chunk to be put somewhere else now we've created a different line there other things we can do is we can line up some of these types of seem lines in that there's lots of options and you can start looking ok well we're also talking about black you asked the question when we very early started about using this goal I intentionally put that gold in because I like everything else was neutral and the little pop of gold in there so you might want to think well wait I've got too many golds right here so no I don't want to do it that way you could argue that it's a lot to think about or you could just do it right and go oh yeah there are a lot of gold so well so be it no big deal they look cool right and when I make another trunk allowed more there kind of thing okay so I'll leave that for you guys to decide what you want to do because it's not my quill you guys are making it and you're going there you want the black sign up like that folks really need or the way we tried it the first time the blacks will evenly distributed it's that way yes and the in this direct way you're getting that gray right that's kind of moving through out like a little path you decide six and one half dozen here that that's why change it either way you have to start thinking am I adding or subtracting because if you look at the piece you're going to be sewing it next to one is longer than the other so are you adding something to the one ends too much okay so see now here's your option now this is where you can continue on that pure improv route or go ok well I have to add now that I'm thinking about these lines do I want to add something like do you want to add a white on that one corner right two now continue that white line or not or make sure you don't right that's up to you but this is where because we're thinking of the lines and stuff like that how we want to do it all right lots this is where if you're no but this is this is the moment where if you're the kind of person that is a foot sir and likes to plan this is where you get to do that right? So even though we started off with improv where on ly decision making really was what fabric to use and what shape to start sewing in, you know whether we did this sort of log cabin e or something more precise or went with this now is the time that we're going back and forth and back and forth and watching and checking things out right? So this is it's fun this is a challenge and we have done zero math okay? But you can see now how are blocks have come together to be something totally different totally totally different three different I mean it's amazing actually yeah so I'm going to take this one down we've all seen it we can see how it's coming together and you can use we could take these blocks and do this exact same thing right and it's a way if you don't like the standing at the board and fussing and trying to figure it out then do this where you cut things in proportion maybe you go for a twelve you know and then twenty four inches or you go to for eight depending on how big things things are or eat three six nine twelve like I have done it's all very different and there look at that five blocks that's awesome ok, now the same thing happens when we're playing with your blocks about continuing lines okay, so I just want to show you what I mean if we take this block and put it there right this is a very dominant fabric but now it's continuing there this is a way to break up the grid right to make it look less grid like let's see if we've got some other sort of matching areas so you look along the edges, what do I have in another block that kind of coordinates with something so I don't want to move those two so I'm going to do this because I have that block and I'm going to do that because I have this other really graphic fund fabric which right now when you sew it together it won't us but look at that it's perfectly matching up no one wants to put the scene together but right now I was really, really good right? So this is another way we're breaking up that it's a totally obvious grit in something and we can do that in you know, as you go through the quelled you can play with things and do different sorts of stuff with it so then it's not a perfect perfect grid so we're gonna get you guys going to finish up one more block so that you have six here, okay? And then I'm gonna let you guys finish up where you're at now as opposed to making a lot more there and then we'll be able to compare with all of them. So which one's your favorite I haven't heard which which one do you prefer? The more organized one or a great question personally when I'm sewing and I'm doing improv, I tend to lean towards what we're doing with the free, more free style exactly and I like this puzzling process I really do I have actually just finished a king size quilt that I've done exactly this way right and it just it took me I think two days to get like two straight solid nothing but sowing days to get the quilt top together because it was all this puzzling and different sorts of things in there on it was fantastic and what I wanted to do when I was doing that, quote that I wanted to avoid its very easy once you start getting larger toe have very long seems, and I wanted to avoid that. So I had seems where you go part way and then you have to sew this direction, and so then I come in different sort of puzzle. That's becomes a much more challenging puzzle in the bonus materials for the class. I'm going to go over that's. So you, if you want to avoid the big, long scenes, those air tips that you can do it, and the tips for all of the puzzling and all the explanations for these different methods are all in the bonus materials with that as well. But that being said, I have made tons of quilts this way on bits, because this is a great way to work on group projects. A couple of years ago in calgary, there was a massive flood encounters, a big city and the city parts of the city were completely decimated. Andi under mud and water and I started a charity quilt charity drive and we called it just one slab because when we get to this point I call that a slab that's ah it's a technique that we talk about in sunday morning quilts is making a slob and then cutting them to this size so I let a charity quilt drive for people because they were asking cultures want to do they want to share they want to make things better we wantto you know give comfort where we can and so when things like that happen I had people from all over the world going oh my god I heard about the flied what can we do? Can we send a quilt but it's really hard and expensive to send an entire quilt and there were a number of drives already starting and I said, well, why don't you send just one slap one fifteen and a half inch square? I thought I would get maybe a couple of hundred I got twenty, two hundred slabs so twenty two hundred of those blocks to put into quells each quote we put twenty and a quilt because that made a sixty by seventy five inch quill which is a great comfort lap size quilt I ended up having to have like guild members volunteering random strangers volunteering to put them together long armor's volunteering to get the quilt long armed and bound and I have about the last ten of them waiting for binding in my sewing room and they will get bound and they will be donated I recently just did just before the holiday season I did a a donation to a senior's home in one of the affected communities where thie entire first level was flooded but then they seniors who lived above who didn't get flooded they couldn't access their suites and they had to wait until the every all the mold and the mud was cleaned out and the elevator was working again because some of the seniors couldn't even some could use the stairs but it wasn't occupied like it wasn't habitable from a permit point of view so we delivered a quilt each resident in that facility and so there were hundreds from my program alone but probably thousands of quote it's delivered there but that's why I love this slob technique because anybody can do it unlike when you say ok give me a twelve and a half inch finished block a lot of people have different understanding of what twelve and a half inches ends up being but this is quite easy because you could just square it up and it didn't matter how you pieced it and any fabric works from the most traditional of fabrics like civil war prince or thirties feed sack prince to very modern prints to graze only the color any fabric works and so it's a wonderful technique t show off fabric and to show off piecing what we've done here with the's this shows off fabric right? I chose this particular way it's a very popular grouping of fabric and instead of cutting it into small pieces we were able to keep it bigger and showed off but it's still in process right? So not only was this a great technique for, you know, providing some measure of control to improv but also for really showing off and featuring the fabrics but it still has this great energy to the quilt and it's really quite exciting so I think it really depends on what you want to do sometimes I'm very intentional to go back to the question vanessa, I'm very intentional about what I want to do um in it and so I'll make specific shapes right? Let me show you a quote that I mean with that so this quilt show it to you right? So I was very intentional this is entirely improvised. The background of this is pieced exactly like we've been doing today completely random I puzzled it together but I started off by making the letters and it's such an appropriate statement for us quilters right there is peace and pattern and pattern maybe the fabric pattern maybe in how we so but it's there for us all of the time ok, you guys have been fantastic here in the studio. I'm blown away by how fast you're working. Enthusiasm does that to us. It really gets us going. I wouldn't look at that, so you decided not to add on the bottom. Yeah, right, wonderful. So there is the great, great start to that quilt.

Class Description

Improvisational quilting invites you to experiment with unexpected textures, designs, and colors. Learn about this playful quilting technique and sew along with Cheryl Arkison as she creates a completely improvised quilt top in Improv Quilting Basics

From fabric selection and prep, to sewing and puzzling blocks together, to making a quilt top, Cheryl will demystify the improv process. Cheryl will help alleviate any fear you have of this technique and bring a new level of fun to your quilting. 

You’ll learn how to:

  • Select, prep, and cut fabric
  • Plan using a design wall
  • Assemble pieces together

Cheryl will show you how to troubleshoot common obstacles and you’ll learn how to turn the fun of improvising into beautiful, quilts.



I have taken all three of Cheryl's classes and she is an excellent instructor. Amazing. She is clear, engaging, non-judgmental, informative and has a ton of quality suggestions. Can't say enough about her! I hope that she does more courses in the future. Thanks very much, Cheryl and Creative Live. Very inspiring.

Virginia Crawford

Great class. Cheryl is a very capable designer. quilter and teacher. I thoroughly enjoyed (and benefited from) the emphasis on design in this class, where Cheryl presents how to achieve balance in improv quilting design making best use of fabrics. I like that she covers using low volume fabrics. I'm very impressed with this class.


So I've just watched this whole course in two evenings, and can say I got my money's worth. Cheryl is engaging, experienced and reassuring, and has enough information and samples to offer to make things interesting for those not sewing along in the moment. I do not have the opportunity to attend classes, so seeing others sew with shared intent is new for me; sometimes having only a teacher's example leaves more room for my creativity, but this "bee" atmosphere prompts other kinds of jumping-off. I had some trouble with the platform (longer segments took up to 20 minutes to load and crashed if I tried to start somewhere other than the beginning) and would like the camera operators to be more aware of each others' shot lines so they're not standing in the middle of the viewer's screen. Sturdier design boards would be great. Now my only question is who got to keep the collaborative class samples!