This week I had the pleasure of attending a class from Cheryl Arkison on Improv With Intent. As well as being an enjoyable class, it was interesting and full of learning – even if I’ve been doing improv in quilting since the late 90’s.
What is improv anyway? Well, turns out there’s a LOT of definitions out there, including Cheryl’s take on what really counts as improv and Sheri Lynn Wood’s What is Improv Quilting? Wikipedia mostly says about improv (for anything) that it is making do with what you have. My own definition is is closer to just winging it. These are not all contradictory and what I can tell you the only thing improv is not is follow the pattern exactly as written. That leaves a TON of room for individual interpretation.
Improv quilt can have wonky elements, uneven or non straight seams, be cut without measuring, be planned or unplanned or loosely sort of planned, have lots of negative space or none at all, be done in even blocks or not.
Many people feel that in quilting, improv is distinctly modern, and it can be! But it can also be done within traditional quilts. It is not always wonky and one thing we learned in class is you are still using accurate seams and careful piecing. Improv doesn’t mean sloppy construction.
Improv quilting has been around for a long long time, even before it had a name and before modern quilting really came into play. Earlier leaders include people like Nancy Crow and the Gee’s Bend quilters. I have even seen in books some early turn of the (19th) century Amish quilts that I would consider improv quilts.
For me, improv quilt are all about artistic freedom and expression. It’s about no restraints and expectation of perfections, but celebrating those wonky edges and the subtle curves. Sometimes you can plan an improv quilt, and sometime it just happens. There’s no one way to do improv “right”.
All in all, I’m pretty sure improv quilts are here to stay.
Quilting Modern: Techniques and Projects for Improvisational Quilts Paperback –
by Jacquie Gering & Katie Pedersen
The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood
Sunday Morning Quilts: 16 Modern Scrap Projects by Amanda Jean Nyberg & Cheryl Arkison
Improvising Tradition by Alexandra Ledgerwood
(Disclaimer: these are all Amazon affiliate links, but I do own copies of each of these and recommend them.)