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Improv Quilting Basics

Lesson 7 of 7

Puzzle Play


Improv Quilting Basics

Lesson 7 of 7

Puzzle Play


Lesson Info

Puzzle Play

So the question was asked earlier for blocks but it's also boat quilt where do you end? Right? Where do you go? Well, how excited are you working on it? Right? Do you want to turn that into a king size quilt? A queen size quilt, a lap quilt? Is it great the way it is? You know, do you want to? Is that the background for something now, right? Are you gonna applicator something on top of that? Are you going to make blocks that are mostly white and add to it like theirs? You know, you still don't know what your destination iss you're still enjoying the process with that entirely and the same goes with our other blocks, right? Even though we have a great id structure, we don't know how big they want this, right? It can go many, many ways. So now let's, think about our squares here are strips so we've got lots when I started this quote, I started with a selection of stripes or blue fabrics I have, you know, it's weird. So in our stashes you can look in your stash and get a pretty good refle...

ction of your personality and your favorite colors and all of that what's interesting to me is my absolute favorite color is red, probably one of the smallest selections of fabric that I have and there's. Two reasons for it is one of made a couple of red quilts, so it's dwindled down and I'm not terribly excited to make more red quelled, but I also have a hard time finding reds red fabrics that I like so there's not a lot of reds it's the same I love yellow would probably be my second favorite color. Smallest selection in my stash. I would never say blue is one of my favorite colors, but whereas I have one we know bin for all of my colors. I have three from lou. I am clearly drawn to buying blue fabric, yet I don't use it all that much. So when I was preparing for this, I'm like, well, look, pull out some of my favorite blue fabrics and see what happens when we put them all together. So you'll remember I was sewing, you know, random strips together. This is where I started, right? Let's, just so a bunch of strips together. Sometimes they had little gentle curves in them. Sometimes they don't necessarily end up at the same place, but I just had it in my idea. I was using blue and I was sewing strips ray, I love my blue fabric, I bought it all. Right, so how can I show it off in some ways? So I just this is what I started with this is where I went so then I went well, ok, well, how can I cut it? Well, this one's obviously going to have to be cut that short sometimes the strips weren't necessarily longer so then I just started sewing more and more together and then squaring things off right? You can see a little bit more of the curves in there this block needs to be searched remember when I was talking about those little pieces look at that little piece kind of useless what I will probably dio is cut this and so a bigger strip on and then squared up again because that's, you don't want that because that's going to be caught in a seam allowance and now I'm sewing on a seam allowance already right? Some ended up being smaller, right? And I can go the route like we've done with our low volume blocks off, cutting everything to the same size I can cut some smaller right and do some interesting things with that I can do what we had on before where it's proportional, right? So I don't remember I'm going to guess this is I've done sixteen and a half inches because that's what my hurler is right so and they made these are eight and a half inches, so now I've got that proportional thing right? I start doing this and putting it together, but maybe I go well, maybe one goes this way and no, look look at that little line that kind of formed so even though I've put order on what I randomly started with, I still have decision making to do that gives me a very improvisational look along the way, and it was entirely just because I wanted to use blue fabric, I could have cut it up like we did the other stuff, but I thought, well, let's, let's show it often strips so you can pick different shapes when you're improvising, right? You can do so many different things you can take very conventional blocks, even take star blocks you, khun take a very traditional block like a turn dash that can be improvised as well. No one says that it has to be the perfectly straight lines and perfect corners and everything there's so many different options, and once you bring improv into your life, you have the option to do so many different things. It opens up ah, world of possibilities for all the things that you khun d'oh with fabric and we've done some very, very different things here, okay, so we're almost done here any more questions from here in the class go ahead. So is this kind of quilting acceptable? Like if you're going to enter in some kind of quilting content that contest but like a something to show, what would it be acceptable? Or would it not be except like is it accepted in them? I think that's a great question, so a lot of times improv quoting is not new, right? We talked about geez bend earlier, this isn't new it's, not revolutionary. I think what is new and exciting is that there you see so much more of it and you are seeing an acceptance of it in the traditional quote world so you are seeing it in in quilt shows, not just modern quilt shows, but in traditional quote shows you are seeing it as well, but your construction just like anything show quilts are a whole different world right there there's a lot more expectation on workmanship and quality of it, and that needs to be there even when we're improv ing that's why I was saying we still live and die by a quarter inch seam, we're still pressing, we're still squaring up at the end because we're still wanting to make a quilt that's functional, right? And and to me those things are required to have it all come together properly now in the modern quilt world, there are categories just for improv right? And you see it all of the time there's so much more in the line up a certain way because it's in providence not going to it's not going teo and they're not and they're not expecting it and they're celebrating okay it right? And you'll do it one of the things that's interesting and you don't see a lot of you don't see a lot of improv in publication because it's very hard to write a pattern for improv, right and and as I'm sure you've seen here and has everybody has seen at home that's watching the class until you really see it demonstrated and you get a chance to play for it yourself it's not something that if you were reading the instructions is intuitive, right? But as soon as you start sewing all of you like you guys were someone within minutes and and really getting into it and going for it that way eso in publications you don't see it because it's something that you really need to experience for yourself and it's hard to translate that to the written word lots of people try myself included but it's some thing that really needs to be done and experienced and just dive right in and do it to really really get it um the other thing that you will see is that in the modern quote world it's very celebrated but there's also no right or better way to do it you can improvise with shapes I have a quilt that sewing machines that's completely improvised because I've chosen a shape and I call it sort of you know improv with intent because I've chosen a shape tio to go through the quote that I showed earlier this one right there's intent in this and where does the intent come in my fabric selection there was intent and every single one of these quilts right so you can take your scrap baskets and just gratton mix them all up or if they're already mixed up because not everyone has described sort of um but you can just take them and just whatever to pieces you get so together and that's the same thing we've done but there was intent and every single project we started today right there was intent in this there was intent with my letters in in that so in and that intent comes from the decisions that you make very very early on what colors are you going to use how are you going to try to do it together, right? Yeah there's another way another version of that that quilt right when we talked about all along when you guys were asking well should be used this fabric that has the gold dots in it because it's a little bit different and I said I chose that with intention because I liked the little bit of sparkle that popped out there I chose to not have gray the you know, my our calligraphy inspired prince you know that came via spoon flower and upper case magazine that's what inspired that quill and I wanted the rest of it to be in key and and to match with it I didn't want the other great pres it's to compete with it. I have a million I love gray in favor colors red, then yellow but favorite fabric color gray hands down. S o I have tons of gray, so I could have pulled out a million prince, but he didn't want to because I wanted my inspiration to shine there. You know, we look at the little white well what's more intentional than on ly picking low volume fabrics, right? And that bit of red is very intentional, right? Because now where I is dancing around all over the place because we have it but it's also looking for that red right? And it just really looks me if you were to finish this quote and put a red binding on it like, how awesome would that look like? Absolutely incredible in there you could you could switch this up and make mostly red blocks with one little bit of low volume in there and mix them up right there's the we don't have a destination for these quotes yet my there's intent with my blue here, my intent, was to just cut strips and show off the blue hat broke, that was it. That was where my intent was. I still don't know where this colt is going to end up, right? But I have lots of strips cut and I can do lots of different things and go from there, but we'll see where it goes the cotton and steal along, you know, fabrics that we use. We have these gorgeous fabrics that we were playing with, and I didn't want to have them be lots of little pieces because there's some glorious, large scale prince, and if I cut them all up, you would lose it, right? If I had cut them all up, I wouldn't see my little tigers, right? They've looked like this when now they don't really look like tigers because you got see miles, you're lucky if ahead gets in there. Ah, full one in that s o I wanted to keep bigger pieces, right? Don't hesitate even if you're going in that random world, too fussy cut right? This is where intent comes, because you're starting with the intention of doing things a certain way and that's all totally fine, right? If you want complete random, complete improv, literally, just take your scraps. Put him in a paper bag and don't even look at what you're picking out and you know maybe you're on ly limiting factor is that you don't so two of the same pieces together and that's it um that's a way to really embrace improv ah and it's fantastic and it's freeing and I guarantee you the quit will look cool aa lot of people are afraid that well I'm mixing different kinds of fabrics and is going to look really ugly some of those are the best quotes when I was doing the just one slab charity drive that I was telling you guys about I mean I got everything in my two twenty two hundred twenty three hundred blocks we got everything you know blocks that were all batiks you know, some fabrics that were probably older than me um you know and some some combinations that made you kind of go I don't know but you would start to put things together and you could get such really interesting things and when it's this big of a piece of fabric it doesn't matter if it's making you know or tractors next to flowers or something like that like that whole work they all really worked together and so if you took your scrap bin and mix it all together there is so much fun to be had in doing that and then part of your challenge can become of how can I add order to this or how can I make this completely work what's the right binding to put on to make it all come together right on down all of those things are part of what takes you to the destination right? But we didn't have a destination when we started we just wanted to see where we were going a couple little tips to help you with all of this when you go to quilt the's quotes because we're quilters we don't just make quote tops right? We're making quells when you go to quote these quells a couple of things number one you have a lot of scenes so if you go to free motion quilt on these if you are very confident in your skills and your sewing machine you will have no problems if you have trouble keeping a consistent speed or your sewing machine has a tendency to skip stitches already you will skip a lot of stitches every time you cross over seems okay so that's it's just something to keep in mind that maybe you want to do straight line quilting on that or go to a long arm or make sure your machine is tuned up or just keep your you know watch your speed it's not that that's a bad thing it's just that it happens likewise because you have so much piecing on the front this is not the time for a heavily pieced black back don't put one of these blocks on the back as well so that you have that layer of all of those seams, right? This is the time to use a wide back or something with only just a couple of seems in it just to make your life easier because I don't want you to have been so excited by doing this and then be so frustrated when it comes to the quilting. Another thing is that quilting doesn't show very much, especially if you've used prince, right. If you've used a lot of prints in similar ways, even on this low volume, your quilting is not very visible. You're piecing is what is visible, so your quilting adds texture, so don't stress and spend a lot of time worrying and obsessing about what quilting pattern to use, right? Go for the all over stippled go for straight lines, go for loops, you know if you're taking it to a long armor, you know, just let them pick whatever panto you know that that's in it don't freak out and like, because I've done this in the past all like obsessed I've. Deadbolts at long armor's for months because I can't decide how I want them to quilt it but I wanted in the q right? So I've there haven't decided yet so put the next one on and and things like that it was frustrating for those long armors and then I like obsess and I get it back and I was like huh well they did a good job but I can't really see it because I was obsessing on a quilt that I would never see the quilting on right this one you see the quilting because it's solids right solids you see the quilting that inkwells you will see the quilting so now we have a choice what are we going to quote that quote with how were we going to quote that quilt right there's another way that you can go and attack not attack but address quilting in all of these is start thinking of those big sections and the little sections as many quilts right? So on the swaths of large gray or the swaths of white do you switch thread color and do a design that's only on the whites that's not anywhere else right? Do you dooz straight line in some sections and other sections not this's calligraphy inspired our reading feathers all over teo mimic the feathers on there or feathers and only certain parts where we're really going to see the feathers right your thread color we have a lot of high contrast between the white and the black and all the shades of gray. What thread color are you going to use all of it earlier so that it could work? Because I was initially thinking something in the gold world right now they love the gold and that I thought right or you know do you get different and put gold on some and great you know, if you don't want the gray sections to stand out right you can leave some sections unq wilted so then it it gives you like a photo a panto kind of effect rights you have a lot of options to do this you can go all over or you can ingo very focused on things and have things in a different way but it's too remember not tohave a heavily pieced back on things and teo give yourself the leeway between your skills and your machine to do something that's manageable. All right, when you make a large quote one of these in a very large way breaking it up like that may be a very easy way to get to it you have a lot of stops starts and if you want to bury your threat is opposed to tying and on that adds another layer of work but then that quilting becomes improvisational as well right it's not just part of it and I love doing that we talk about geez bend again aa lot the vast majority of their quilts, if not all, are hand quilted, but most of them are hand quilted improvisational e and I had mary ann pettway, who was one of my hosts when I was there. I asked her about that, she said, we just put it in there don't look there's a line so let's parallel that line a couple of times and let's start going this way, and so that its hand quilted improvisation on ly two, and it looks so cool because they just, you know, some of them are following the pattern and some of them are just and all over kind of thing, and it looks you've got such really interesting things going on in that, so think about whether you're quoting is going to be obvious or not, and then decide your level of effort on it. There's absolutely no way on our in conspired, quote, forget the quilting to not to be obvious, because it's going to show up on one of the lights or the darks either way, so then you're going to want to be much more intentional about how your quilting it on your low volume you could pick practically any thread color. Right, whether it's white all the way through to a color probably the one it would be the most obvious is if you went with a red right, it would be a lot more obvious, but it would also be really interesting because you're adding that red element two it somewhere else whenever I have quotes that are predominantly white, I almost never quit with a white or cream threat. I pick a color yellow being very popular from in my world blues greens, right? Because you won't see until you're up close that that's a color eso it's just another little element because remember quilts live on our laps, right? They live on our beds, they live around her shoulders there unless it's a show quote or a wall quelled, they live with us so it's also about how it feels right? One of the other things you can do this is a little tip is when you're doing these, sometimes we pop seems right, which means a little bit of the stitching comes because we haven't backs that should never mention that. But we've haven't back stitched in this at all and the reason we don't back stitches because we'd cut it off anyways, right? So you may go by the time you get to put this together, you've got a little seem that's popped if you don't notice it until you're basing you know, I'm basting, I don't want to take it all apart and do that if you're free, motioning your quilting can just hold that seem down in place, right? And that leads me to one of our final tips is when we get to the point where we have things kind of in a much larger section or in our slabs sort of construct here, I really recommend going around each block with a stay stitch, right? So I'm just going to quickly demonstrate what I mean by that so that our audience watching, understands, take one block, you're going to go to your machine with a straight stitch just so we're not having too much bulk, and you're going to go roughly, um an eighth of an inch. I just want to get this out of the way because I actually like to start in the middle because you're going so cool most of the edge that if you start in the corner, he run the risk of pulling the corner into the machine. Um in there you're gonna wear. However you've pressed, you want to make sure you keep your seems pressed in that direction, but I'm going out with just a straight stitch, whatever I have my machine set up to two and a half, whatever it isthe. You're just going to go all the way around the block on that means when you're laying it out and you're trying to handle it or let's say you make a bunch of blocks when you get to the corner get to the corner I'm going to go by hand on this just because I have a little less control and pivot okay, you're going to really want to hold on there so that you're kind of really guiding it through so again the corner doesn't get there but this way if you've made your blocks and you have to put them aside or if you're doing it in a charity sort of situation, you aren't going to get those pop seems right everything will stay together and I've been known myself too short cut and go I'm not going to bother doing that because I know I'm putting it together and inevitably I still get even though like I could literally have put them on the wall and then sit down here there's just enough handling that will do it so it's worth that little bit of effort to go all the way around I won't go all the way around here but I'll just lift it up and we can put it on the main monitor so that everybody can see right just it's it's tiny do it in a neutral thread whatever you've been doing to peace really, really simple all the way around the block and that will just keep it in place I do that actually with all michael tops regardless of whether it was improvised or otherwise as soon as I finish a quilt top it's so exciting to hold it up ago yea and then you do that it guild and you're like crap look at that same coming undone and everything's to do it before you even hold it up once just go around and do that it was save you so much time and effort okay so just before we finish here I want to show you and this is our discussion we were talking about sort of rhythm and personal style in everything so let's take my blue blocks oh I made up some of these a swell ok so I'm going to show you what I did and then you're probably going to notice that you really can't tell the difference right I did minds not as big as your guys is over there right but there is my in conspired one right I'm looking at the two of them here we can even will put them side by side we'll line is a lot more squared off and I have a much more powerful iron at home that's all so let me get over here grab it spend I'll take the pins with me look at that we could practically sew them together at this point and get something right add to mind there on the bottom and we'd get ourselves you look at that but they absolutely work right? So different people different styles but because we came at it with the same intent and we started with roughly the same size of fabrics completely works together, right? And if we were going to put this together because we have this nice long scene we might think about lining something up like that so suddenly you're questioning well, is that where it was pieced as opposed to this long theme or do we have fabrics on this side that match with something here there's this gray so if we flipped it around and had that gray, they're not something different entirely too if we did something like that another kind of different look or do I flip that side around? I have a little bit more black in mind on ours yeah actually there is and so you know, if we just left it like this, it doesn't matter right now, but if we decided we wanted to make it bigger, we might go ok well in this section we're going to put over here let's add a little bit more white so we're balancing things out a little bit maybe a little bit more black over here, but now we basically have two big chunks and we could keep going with this, you know quite easily there so I think it's great it's beautiful absolutely beautiful you guys did a great job e think and do ok, so let's take that down and we'll look at this you guys got six blocks made right cause I took one good eye not take one so it is I thought I'd grab something else so you guys made six blocks I made six blocks well let's see, I'm not even putting this up the way it was before but now look at that with their I'm gonna go back over here thanks while with bad groups when those pens go and there I made six blocks and I did some of the same things that I was talking about right to try tio break up intersecting lines of this maze long line but look at this right there kind of it's not side by side but it changes things ah little bit I have this little l here as well so it's another sort of different little design element but again my don't look dissimilar the's could play together be put this all together we would have a forty five by sixty inch quilt, right which is, you know, a great kid size lap quilt we could have this together in twenty minutes you know all of us working together eso fantastic fantastic work this all this morning yeah that's just bottling my mind depending on how fast or how slow you work this is just awesome yeah in a few hours we have made all of this work so imagine now when I was talking about how improv can just it's your therapy right and if you only have fifteen minutes at the end of the day you can practically make one of those slabs in fifteen minutes right if that's all you've got if you have an hour think about how much you khun dio right if you have a day with your friend you will have a quilt top done without a lot of effort with a lot of fun in there and having enjoyed the process along the way right? We've done so much in such a short period of time so I'm going to ask you guys making I'm going to go to you first because you were the one who was having a harder time with this this morning how do you feel now I want to go home and do this like I'm I'm thinking about what's in the boxes of home yeah so I could just spend an hour when I get home tonight and that initial stress of not having the control and not knowing where we were going does that bother you anymore? Yeah I don't know if it was that so much is just thinking about each piece next to each other I really wasn't worried about the big picture yeah, I was I was just looking at the trees, I just couldn't get past looking at the trees and and it's really a forest project, and and it helped when she and I were working and we, like, switched kind of like what you guys did or they were working, and then they switched, and then it was like, you see something in a different light, so if I was going to do this at home, I could see making up a bunch of stuff and kind of setting it aside and then maybe pulling out something else and making that up and then throwing the pile on the table and doing it a different way? Absolutely. And I think that's a great point because one of the things that let's say, you're doing this kind of stuff where you make just one block don't work on one block at a time, just start exactly how you guys did today. You made a whole bunch of things, right? You just kept sewing together and you got to the point where you had some, you know, reasonable size chunks, and then you started thinking about combining those and turning them into blocks, but if you're only making one block at a time, you don't get any rhythm, right chain piecing gets you rhythm standing up, impressing in a batch gives you rhythm you think that it's breaking your rhythm but if you're constantly so one same press cut so press cut there's no rhythm to that it sounds like it musically but from a functional point of view with you at the machine because they didn't give you the time to stop and think about what comes next as opposed to just doing yes now yeah karen what about you how are you feeling at the because you're not much of an improv person yourself are you now but I'm wondering like do they all end up kind of looking alike with different colors I think yes and no I think that's a very fair question absolutely but the intent is what changes it is the colors and how you put it together right? We've got over four different ways on how to put improv together there's also nothing to stop you from putting precision with this rite are you making adding solids in terms of am I doing a improv section in a swath of solids right doesn't improv doesn't have to be the whole quilt okay can be part of the quilt right? You can work on improv on a very large scale to make a quote back right? We're using very big pieces so you don't have a lot of seems with it you can think of this you already made the comment a little while ago nikki that were really making fabric that's exactly what this is so use that like fabric cut that up and put it in a traditional block right? Use it as the background for application right there so many more options for what this could be that keeps everything from looking the same right? Right, right absolutely. Tracy would about you I'm sold I mean that's so tonight but I'm definitely gonna go through all my scraps and exactly and we can do like when you go through the scraps you can go random but you could also go oh here's all my red scraps because it recommends so just like hand precedent to go on I mean, I used to press everything I like to press before I'm cutting big off of the things if there's like a very obvious fold or craze, you know, but again that's set up right? If you just grab a few years ago this has increase, just press it and then so right you'll you'll really get into it that way and you can choose to go by color right like this spell being all greens but you can mix it up there's a quilt thie original stop quote that's in sunday morning quilts we've done this but each block is its own color I've okay, I probably have seen your quote found that right? And when I even got more intentional, their dark pink blocks and a light pink block and a really bright turquoise like almost like a mom great kind of like a light to a darker just, you know, like a whole block okay is chosen and so my intention was in sorting my fabrics before I even sold right? So there's there's so many different ways t kind of tackle it, especially when you're dealing with your scraps in that regard, michelle, you're very much a precision p sir, in your regular life. Well, just this weekend I was working on a project with six inch blocks with sort of an improv, and I got to say I really like putting together larger blocks on an improv scale. I was doing some of the chain piecing and yet I would have to keep stopping because my blocks were so small this way, I just kind of kept putting them together and oh, how does this look? And who wears that go it's a lot more fun and less thought I mean, I'm still thinking yeah, way are that this isn't like completely random you're not sewing with your eyes closed, right? But there's still it's about the process of what you're doing right and it's it's taking away the obsession on some of the decision making we dio on dh when you do that, you know, I've on lee ever had one student's and for those of you watching at home, hopefully it will stay that way. But I've only ever had one student hate this, right? And I've, you know, taught hundreds and hundreds by now, and only one student has ever absolutely hated this. She wanted her control, and she wanted to think, and that was what she enjoyed was the thinking part and the being particular and everything, and I took that up away from her, so she didn't enjoy it anymore. It fair enough, but she tried it right, she she for that we can embrace the process and tried it, and it wasn't anything against me, and she was very nice about it. But she's, like I will never do this again. But now I know you know, now she knows. So I really encourage you guys and everybody at home to try this pullout the scrap in pull oats and favorite fabrics and just have at her and see what happens both to yourself and in terms of a final quote that you finish along the way.

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!