“Improvisation is terribly haphazard.” -Leo Ornstein
2020 seems to be proceeding quite haphazardly along the timeline with no definitive end in sight. What better time than now to explore the boundary-less art of improvisational quilting?
When surrounded by circumstances you cannot control, welding a bit of control over fabric can bring a sense of peace and stability during uncertain times. Taming the random with a somewhat chaotic form of improv is, counterintuitively, gratifying.
In her article, ‘Improv: The Transformative and Intuitive Act of Spontaneous Invention’ Jen Broemel says about improvisation quilting, “There are literally no rules unless YOU want to set them.”
Improv quilting requires little preparation. All you need is scraps of fabric and an impulse to jump in with a sense of adventure and explore where the color and thread will take you.
Though they are not required some rules can come in handy while improv quilting. These could include limiting your fabric color palette or picking a particular pattern and then pushing its boundaries. You may have an intended destination, but it is not necessary and sometimes best to let the process lead you. The best improv quilting usually manifests itself as a version of organized chaos, emerging as part of the process, not from a predesigned pattern or plan.
Improv requires confidence because it relies on the maker’s ability to make their own choices. It is through trusting oneself that you are able to fully develop your creative voice.
The freedom found in getting lost in the moment and moving into a state of flow while quilting is one of the great rewards of improv. Overthinking things can inhibit flow and make the process one of torture.
Broemel says, “Improv is a great way to experiment with a new technique, and it is a great way to just play with fabric, pattern, and color.”
Broemel recommends a few tactics to help you as you explore the transformative process of improvisational quilting:
- Start with a stack of 2-5 fabrics and randomly cut through the layers. Pick two fabrics from the pile and sew until the pile is gone.
- Cut your fabrics into strips. Cut strips with a variety of widths, lengths, and colorways. Sew together.
- Randomly pull scraps together and sew. Let your intuition rule.
There is no dearth of improv inspiration that can be found to guide you in your journey. We recommend studying the work of some of the great improv quilters: Gwen Marston, Chawne Kimber, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Sherri Lynn Wood, Annie Mae Young, Nancy Crow, Denyse Schmidt, Rosie Lee Tomkins, Maria Shell, and Anna Williams to name a few.
Improv may require you to step out of your comfort zone, but it can be an incredibly empowering and freeing technique to employ in your quilting.
You can find Jen Broemel’s article, ‘Improv: The Transformative and Intuitive Act of Spontaneous Invention’ in Curated Quilts, Issue No 5: ‘Improv’. Supply is limited, but back-copies of Curated Quilts: ‘Improv’ are still available!
Jen Broemel enjoys working mainly with cloth for its tactility, responsiveness, and abundance. She was originally drawn in by the process, history, and tradition of women’s sewing and the community that surrounds it. She is especially interested in taking cast-off or everyday fabrics and working them into something unexpected. She works intuitively, letting her senses guide their placement and the stitches place upon them. Jen can be found on Instagram at @highfivesandsilverlines and at www.jenbroemel.com
By Brittany Bowen Burton