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Improv Quilting Basics

Lesson 1 of 7

Improv Quilting: Facing the Unknown


Improv Quilting Basics

Lesson 1 of 7

Improv Quilting: Facing the Unknown


Lesson Info

Improv Quilting: Facing the Unknown

Thank you so much for tuning in to improve quilting with cheryl are kissin. Cheryl, thank you for being with us today. Thanks. I know you are a first generation ukrainian on and craft from your heritage is important to you. And I know that you have a book out what's the title of that and working people got my latest book is called you inspire me to quilt and it's all about making the quilts that the people in our lives ask us to make that we think are crazy. But we go ahead and we do it. So we follow a whole bunch of quilters and from start to finish and you learn everything about the culture and the process along the way you can get it in your local quote store amazon and right on my publisher's website. Cnt publishing. Great, so make sure to check that out if you haven't already. And if you haven't already also make sure you get that bonus material, there is a list of supplies that you can get on there and what else is a part of you get as a part of this improv class? A tip sheet. Fo...

r improv, when we get further into the class will be lots of puzzling that we have to do and we're going to get that bonus materials have all the tips on how to work through all the puzzles and obstacles you might come across awesome, so make sure you get that stuff for you on dh let's get started all right, thanks for joining us today thanks to my faithful friends here in the studio as well we're going to get sewing. So what is the first thing we need to do? What are we going to do today? We're going to de mystify, improv, piecing I know for a lot of people it becomes this thing of fear and I don't know what I'm going to do and that's about this confidence in facing what I've called the great unknown right it's we're going to start a quote, but we don't know what it's going to look like when we finish and that's a very challenging thing for a lot of people I personally find it very free it's very exciting and let's see what happens next and and go from there, but to take away that control is a bit tough for people on dh to take away, not taking away the decision making, but changing the decision making process in this so we're going to go all the way from the beginning right through to the end on how you go from picking your fabrics, preparing your fabrics, beginning steps of sewing to getting to the point of a finished quilt top will be sewing here in the studio today, and we'll also be sewing. You'll be sewing at home hope awfully, and I'm going to also demonstrate a couple other ways that we can do it because there is no one way to do improvisation, right there is it's, the spirit of improv, it's embracing the idea of not knowing where you're going, but there is no right or wrong way to do it on. Hopefully along the way, I'll give you lots of tips and tricks for doing it so let's define improv. First, I like to say it's it's someone without a destination in mind, right? I love to road trip more than that's, probably one of my favorite ways to travel, and we've instill that with our kids and funny, my husband is a little bit odd and s o he always says that we're never going on an adventure. We're going on an excursion because an adventurous when one member of the family doesn't come back so it's kind of more of it that way, but but so then it's just it's a big event, it's an excursion. So we're going on an excursion today not an adventure because we're all coming back and we're gonna have a great quills at the end of it more than anything but it is about sewing without that destination let's just head out on the road and see where we go and see what happens along the way see who we meet see what we see and have a good time while we're doing it and that's really it's the journey when you're on the road trip it's about the journey, not the destination and so when we're selling it's about the process more than the results in there so we're going toe also in doing this let go of conventional precision piecing okay absolutely is their improv when you're doing conventional precision piecing absolutely, but today that's not what we're going to be doing all right we bring precision into the process at a certain point but it's not part of it at the beginning and we go whole hog tio doing it a little bit differently this way to really break through barriers of what's expected and in terms of what we think we should be doing and what other people think we should be doing tio and we also want to do improv is great because it gives us the ability to respond to something right at the top at the moment in time even if you never improv again after watching this class or doing some exercises or being here in the studio it will have changed you when you get into the sewing room because there will be that moment when you run out of the background fabric that you've been using and instead of having a panic because you have this spirit of improv now in new york go ok, well let's figure out a solution, what can I change? How do I change the layout? What do I do here? And that panic will go away because that spirit is in you right there what we're also going to do and I'm really going to encourage you to do is some split second decision making right there's still decision and all of this but I'm we're going to stop the ok does this fabric look good next to this fabric? That sort of thing we want tio break free from a little bit of that. I know lots of quilters who even when they're improv ing will pre cut they say they're improv ing and then they're pre cutting everything and then laying it out and then sewing it together and there comes a point where we do have to have some thought in what we're doing, but that comes when we're puzzling together the quilt top and that will be getting too much much later first it's just about getting the fabric ready and going okay, but before we even get to fabric, I want to go over an example of a quilt that I've made, uh, with improv technique. It's. Now, for me, improv, it still has to start somewhere we talked in in one of my other classes here with creative live about translating inspiration and that improv is my home language where I go to sort of immediately when I'm when I am feeling inspired. But inspiration can be anything it can be. Ah, bundle of new fabric. That's, right, it's a color way that you want to work with. It's a shape, right? It's, it's, it's. Anything. So I'm gonna walk through one particular example for a quote of mine here. Okay, so this first quilt, it was inspired by mountain meadows. And I took all of these pictures on a hike with my family, right? We had the kids out where, you know, we call it stomping through the forest we're going on. It stops with an excursion where were stomping through the forest. But I was really struck by in these mountain meadows, the little dots of color that you saw everywhere from the flowers. And it was just so beautiful like you can't really ask you have gorgeous vistas in every direction, but when you stopped to look at what was right in front of you, it was just a cz beautiful and it was kind of that sort of macro level beauty compared to the all of the mountains and front of us, and I was really inspired by that, so I came home and started gathering fabrics and went from there, but what I found when I went to gather fabrics I didn't actually have what I needed because for me in this particular quilt, I needed solids I didn't want a whole bunch of patterns to represent the green in the fields I wanted the patterns to be the florals in the field on thankfully, you know, with my blogging and social media, I have a lot of very faithful, enthusiastic readers, so when I said, hey, does anyone have green scraps they would be willing to share? Two weeks later, my sewing room was filled with that zack of fabric, right? And so some people have very generous definitions of scraps. Eso thank you, everybody who participated in this quelled on dh it was absolutely wonderful to get all of these and I didn't specify color of green I just said green because I wanted to represent how they're like if you go back right there's no single color green in that field, you've got lights and darks, whether it's in the trees and the grass is and it goes everywhere along the way, so so it does in there, I did do a little bit of a sketch right when I'm doing improvisations sometimes it's just a matter of getting in the sewing room and going to town, right? It's? Absolutely that but then a lot of times I want to have a bit of an idea where I'm going. So in this case, I had a very, very rough sketch on this about where I might go and you'll notice on that sketch it's dated august two thousand eleven I finished that quilt last summer, so sometimes things sit for a long time and that's okay, it's totally fine to have that, but you can see my original quelled. I was seeing sort of lighter areas and darker areas, you know, it wasn't going to be a completely mishmash of of all the greens I wanted a little bit of control. So it's improv. But where we have a starting point, we have a guide that's getting us along the way. So that's, where I started with my sketch and this was the first set of blocks. That I made it was ok let's just cut and and see what happens some of them are mostly lights with a little bit of dark in some of them have more darks then lights on and I just kind of basically sat down one afternoon and I probably did all of those in about a half hour or forty five minutes my pieces air all different sizes but it was just I needed to test the concept right let's try it let's see how it looks let's see where we can go with this and I will fully admit I was clearly in love but then I also got busy and I didn't touch it for a long time in there and then I decided last summer was like no I need to pull this out again I was really excited for it again I think it was that we had gone on another couple of hikes and we were driving through the mountains again and the roads were lined with the flowers and I saw all that quilt I haven't looked at that quilt in a long time I'm going to pull that out and in a matter of I think two days I had the quilt top down because I got again re inspired and went for it there and so then it started becoming about puzzling it together right is you get those improvs you'll see in the first one nothing is squared off right I've got you know random edges you know nothing really fits together on dh that's okay that's where we're going to be shortly and that's where everything comes to at a point and then you get to the point where you have to start puzzling it together right? So then you start putting pieces and figuring out how they go there so on this one in particular a couple of things will notice so I've already piece this one long section right here and then I threw this one up and I went yeah that's kind of going to go and then that one's going to go there oh but it's not wide enough hear so I added a piece they're right well then this piece and then I could so those together but then now it's not as tall as this piece so then I added another section there and that would I maybe I added a complete big section maybe I had a piece to section that works or maybe if I put a piece section on here it made it bigger than this and they're that's the puzzling right and that's the part that's hard to go from random blocks to making a quilt top and that's sort of the the second main crux of what we're going to be doing here today is we're going to make the quote blocks would make the blocks first you're comfortable with that but then we're going to get to this puzzling, and I'm going to show you a number of different ways to approach this puzzling because we don't all see it the same, and we don't all respond to that challenge the same. So I'm going to give you everybody a couple of different tips on how we can do that. Ok, so then here is what turned out to be the finished quilt top, right? Totally ran in that section that I just showed you is right here, right. See, that was the long section, the shorter one. I added a piece to the side that was the block and then added another piece section up there. So that's where it ended up in the quilt there. But then I did that for the whole quilt on there. And then we can look at the actual finished quills. Here it is. And it's natural habitat outside of my studio. Um out in mountains. I told my husband I said we need to go to the mountains this weekend we live about an hour away from the mountains. I said, we need to go to the mountains this weekend. He's like, why don't like so I could photograph quilt. What really I'm like yet so we're getting into towards bantam okay, turn off on the lake minnetonka road and we're going here we're going to this parking lot and this view will be in the bat like he's like this is so weird like you get to go to the hot springs and for brunch afterwards so be quiet so on and then here is the actual finished quilt for all of us here, right? I'm saying do it here because I like toe be able to see it overhead and all that so you can see that's helpful to see the finish quote because you see the scale of the piecing I've got big pieces I've got little pieces all over the place my quilting is reminiscent of the meadow I quoted this on a long arm machine that I rented and so was able to get it quilted on there there's flowers right and all of that but otherwise it's this echoing of the grass sort of idea so my quilting became a very literal translation right? The piecing is all improvised and it's it gives you the idea of what was there but there's the quilting brings it home into a very, very literal translation and I just get to show the back on this one because it's so much fun um I like a high contrast back but sometimes that's in theme not necessarily color and so this is a fabric I think it's actually called los angeles like it's very urban inspired so it was kind of fun to have it on the back there plus that all of green thread that I used it completely disappears, right? I have texture, but I'm not seeing all of my stitches, which is really, really nice there's your random little tab they're ever in doubt about what color to use to quilt olive green for threat and I never would have guessed either and someone told me that a few years ago and I and it's probably one of my least favorite colors in the world is an olive green but it works so well um for quilting like it on purples and pinks and blues it just it blends nicely and you get texture more than anything. So there's your random tip all right um improv it's not scary it really is scary for a lot of people but trust me, it's not is so freeing it's so much fun to go in there and you know with me I have three kids I sometimes don't even see the door to my sewing room until ten o'clock at night if I'm lucky right? Because I also have a husband who doesn't necessarily want me to see the door of my son's room at ten o'clock at night and but if I've had one of those days and I can just feel the tension growing and I'm antsy and I'm sick of laundry and I don't want to make a lunch and and all that, and I could just feel that that I'm about to burst. All I have to do is go in my sewing room and spend ten minutes improvising and it all goes away. I'm completely calm because it was sewing for the sake of sewing, there was I didn't have to go in and go, I want to so but I have to cut the fabric first and but but that quote leads binding and but I'm set up for machine quilting. No, I'm just going to go in and I'm going to improv and seriously, ten minutes later, everything is gone and I feel so calm and so it's a wonderful, wonderful tool, you know, for therapy and and stress management and and all that, and then you also get really cool blocks out of it, right? And you do it because you don't have a destination in mind, you're just doing it, and you can figure out what it's going to be. At another time, when you have more time and you have the ability to play and puzzle it out and everything. But for the sake of selling, you can just sit there and so and see what happens. And then tomorrow, you do a little bit more. And maybe next week, you do a little bit more. And then one day, you have all the makings for a quilt top without even having tried.

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!