Friday, April 29, 2016

Thoughts on Improv

I don't have what I would consider any particular quilting style.  But if I'm going to go hook up with a bunch of improv quilters I feel compelled to explain why my post covers improv. 

I have not been doing much of what I think is improv.  And that's because I think improv quilting requires more thinking than I'm willing to give it right now.  I am dealing with a great deal of job-related stress right now and sew primarily to relieve that stress. I'm a zombie chain piecer. 

I think improv requires somewhere to lay out blocks; somewhere where you can keep them laid out; somewhere where you can arrange, rearrange and rearrange again.  I don't have a design wall. I don't have a big space to leave blocks laid out for any period of time.  That makes it difficult to see how the parts fit into the big picture. Of course I could sketch something out. But, I'm not a sketcher...even my stick figures stink. 

I think my improv requires a seam ripper a lot of the time. 

And I think that's why I have a lot of improv UFOs. 

Case in point above. I started a tea towel challenge a few years ago and I have gone nowhere with it. I made up some letters for some words last year and this month put them together. I don't like how I assembled them. There's too much space between letters. I used the same fabric between letters and rows and wish I hadn't.  Time to rip...I hate ripping. 

I think free-piecing (like the letters) is improv. 


I have a lot of different elements made for my tea towel quilt.  I just don't have much room to lay everything out that I want to add to...

...the middle tea towel, etc section. 

I think Crazy Quilting is improv quilting. 
This is my Valentine bed runner UFO.  I haven't worked on it in ages. I wanted to make it to go over the bottom of a ...

...Valentine Hanky quilt I made ages ago. 

I used to participate in a lot of crazy quilt round robins and several times chose valentines as my theme. I have a lot of blocks embellished and lots waiting to be embellished. I couldn't figure out what size to make a bed runner or how I wanted to assemble all of the blocks so everything has been collecting dust since about 2010. 

I've gotten the blocks out several times to work on them again but each time put them back away because how to embellish each seam of each block will require too much thinking from me right now. 

Meanwhile Valentines are always on my mind. When I find embellishments I think will be perfect for a Valentine bed runner on sale or at the thrift store...into the box they go for whenever I'm able to spend a lot of time thinking while I'm stitching.  (No, that's not where I hide my drugs...I've found prescription containers make a good place to store tiny beads). 

Another crazy quilt/improv UFO I pulled out of the fairy garden at midnight glow in the dark wall hanging.  First of all...I have a LOT of fairies from coloring books saved for use in this wall hanging but found it difficult to transfer to the black background so decided difficult was not something I wanted to deal with anymore.  I have a bunch of glow in the dark threads and black background fabrics in the box with 7 12 inch blocks. I don't even know how many blocks I want to make.   But, you know, I sure love whimsy so this looks pretty inviting to me right now. Maybe this summer when I'm not hand quilting (because I don't have A/C and hate sweating under a big quilt while hand quilting) I will pick this up and start working on it again. Otherwise I think it will stay in its box a little longer...until I retire next year. 

And here's even more craziness...Crazy Farm blocks.  I started making a third Crazy quilt (first was Crazy Basket Case and second was Crazy Cravings) called Crazy Farm but, again, I haven't worked on it in a long time.  I just don't feel like thinking when I get home from work.  Like I said...improv/crazy quilting takes a lot of brain energy I don't have right now. 

BUT...I came up with a brilliant idea (brilliant for me anyway)...I will combine improv/crazy quilting with some improv/free-piecing and Build-A-Barn as the center for my Crazy Farm.  I know I can do that since I already made one following tips from Julie.  (And I didn't rip a single seam or have to think too darned much to make it...I used the barn in my own backyard for inspiration). 

(To order your own copy of Build-A-Barn see Build-A-Barn, the blog). 

Ok. So now that you know that I think crazy quilting and free-piecing can also be considered improv I'll tell you what I don't consider an improv project although others might think so. 

I've seen these types of units that are actually, to me, a form of "stack and whack" blocks laid out in various ways to make a quilt. 

It doesn't take much thought to make these...they are pretty mindless and one of my projects these days to use up fabrics left over from Pickle Dish and Petunias that I've been too lazy to put back on the shelf. 

So, since they involve no thinking...doesn't follow my definitions of improv. 

But then of the blocks did involve a little improv (as in improvise) when I found out I didn't have enough fabric for all nine units. 

Other than that...if I make a blocks A,B,C,D (no matter how cut or sewn together)...

...and I follow the author's layout (Fractured, by Kathy Doughty) to make the quilt then I don't think I actually did any improv. 

Just my 2 cents about my improv style. 
Like I said...who needs labels? (except the kind you put on the back of the quilt).  
Crazy Quilting, Free-Piecing, Wonky, Stack and Whack, Traditional, Modern, Improv (your definition, my definition)'s all good. 

AdHoc  Improv Quilting with Kaja and Ann and others. 


Browndirtcottage said...

Ditto to all of the above. LOVE your build a barn fabrics! That red is yummy!

Julierose said...

I feel Improv takes a LOT of thought---strangely enough-- at least for me...and I don't do it because this is my "fun" "easy" & "no hard thinking" year....the life I want to enjoy right now deadlines, no "shoulds" and for years those ruled me. And so it "drawer of shame" is chock full of "shoulds"....I may just toss them's that for freeing up??? Hugs Julierose

gayle said...

Aw, I wish I lived next door to you and could come play with some of those blocks!
Love your fractured blocks soooo much! Those colors just knock me out!

cityquilter grace said...

I love the fractured with anything, a kitchen sink kind of pattern...

Cathy said...

First of all, I love your summer barn and don’t remember having seen that before. I have Julie’s book on order, so will be studying up on that. I agree with your definition of improv. My April orange scrap blocks (slabs) were different this month because I put some thinking into them. What a difference from the blue blocks of January! And like you, I think CQ is improv; all my CQ projects are on the back burners now because I want to sew instead of embroider and think of seam treatments, etc. Perhaps we can revisit CQ next year after you retire. :-)

Sharon said...

I agree with you on all counts! Improv is fun, but it does require some concentration and focus. It can be hard, esp. when it comes to putting all the pieces together. I love to do free-piecing and improv, but I need a block of time when I won't be interrupted to do it. And it can be frustrating at times too.

I think your letters look good! I think when you get it put together, it will be just fine. I've found that to be true, most of the time, with my own free-piecing. Don't rip anything until you really, really have to!

Congratulations on your barn! It's wonderful! I love the stories you have for the elements you added...that makes it more special. And hooray that you didn't have to rip or agonize about anything! You must have a great fabric collection. :)

Try not to stress about all the WIPs, etc. We all have them. Sometimes we just need to think about maybe they don't all have to get done. I know I'm going through that process now. And besides, isn't quilting supposed to be fun?

Mystic Quilter said...

A very well said 2 cents worth!! I definitely agree with the "who needs labels" statement but I think that Kaja and Ann have come up with a great idea with their AdHoc Improv Quilting.

Kaja said...

Hear hear to all of the above! I think improv quilting does take thinking time, though I often make a stack of blocks in a liberated style before I start and then play around with those. It is fun to see some of your WIPs that have been tucked away, and I really like the idea of a free pieced barn for your Crazy Farm. Thanks for linking up with AHIQ (which I hope is a label only in the broadest, most relaxed possible sense of the word!)

Quilter Kathy said...

I know exactly what you mean about needing mindless piecing to zone out with.
I find improve piecing requires me to use a different part of my brain that can only be accessed at certain times.... the conditions have to be right :)

Quiltdivajulie said...

MARVELOUS post -- and you are so right about work-related stress stealing any creative mojo that we might need during the off-work hours. Your barn-related thoughts tickled me no end - and I am thrilled that you want to make another barn! Hang in there - one day at a time.

Jill Fisher said...

I think there's been a takeover of the word improv and a certain aesthetic attached to it. Keep on matter what you call it.

Stephie said...

I completely agree - improv does take brain power! I find I don't need too much space, just some floor space in the kitchen (which does mean I have to put it away again), but I have to have peace and quiet so that I can think. I think we all need to do what we need to do - if you get home form a stressful day at work and want some quiet 'mindless' quilting then that's what you need and that's what you should do :)

Sue said...

My take on it is that successful making of any kind requires some thought put into it, whether one is following a pattern, or blazing a new trail into the unknown. I'll even go so far as to say that one can do improv WITH rulers and using "regular" shapes. In my opinion, improv is about the way we use our skills to make something original and not so much about achieving a particular look, as Jill points out. Any time we are not following certain instructions, or someone else's pattern, or a even method, we are improvising, and I've tended to sew like that since I first started sewing, because for many of my first years, I had no training per se. I like your letters, and I really like your crazy quilting. That is something that I'm drawn to visually, but have not actually attempted. Thanks for a very thought-provoking post.

Ann said...

A thoughtful post, Cathy. You struck a chord with many readers including Kaja and me. We spent a very long time coming up with a name (label) and now find it doesn't include the utility aspect. Sue made good points that improv should include heading in your own direction. That does take thought and we don't always have time for it. Hopefully, we all create quilts that make us happy and quit worrying about the labels so much.
Good luck with your finally year working. That's a hard year. Thanks for linking with AHIQ.

PaulaB quilts said...

Belatedly, thanks for such a thought provoking post. I agree with Sue also, that whatever approach we take, when we put our own stamp of creativity oni it, is improvisation. It's not a movement, but the best part of quilting where each no two quilts are identical. The mindless sewing is a chance to deal with stress, but the fun times are when we do put thought and effort into something and are ultimately satisfied with it.