Pat Sloan, host of Creative Talk Radio, joins us to talk about improvisational quilting. Pat interviewed Victoria Findlay Wolfe of Bumble Beans about her work to illustrate the creative, improvisational quilting process. Pat will be back later this year to share more about quilting with us… You can learn more about Pat and her love of sewing and creativity in general via her website, blog and her quilt forum.

From Pat: Waving “Hello”… I’m designer and quilting radio show host Pat Sloan! I’m delighted to be writing several exclusive quilt articles this year for Sew,Mama,Sew! readers… That’s you!

First you must know, I’m a geek and I totally love the internet. It’s my home court, it’s my go to place for information and it’s my community of quilty friends.

When the blogosphere started to explode with quilt blocks it was exciting. As the bloggers grew their creative voices started to shine with quilts being made and shared with wild abandon. The eye candy was and is extraordinary!

A trend I’ve seen over the last year are quilts created to show off the fabulous fabrics available to us. This is a new way to quilt, as traditional quilts often have started with a pattern and then you use fabric you love. Many recent quilts are being created using a fabric collection as the inspiration, then the quilter cuts and sews to show off the fabric, often with squares and rectangles.

Here are some great examples from the first Quilting Month in 2008 on the Sew,Mama,Sew! blog:

Disappearing Nine Patch by Jody, Because I’m Me

(More info about the quilt here.)

Doll Quilt by Ashley

(More info about the quilt here.)

Jeweled Squares in Blue by Cassie, Cassieblanca

(More info about the quilt here.)

…And last but not least here at the Sew,Mama,Sew! Flickr pool.

So why is this exciting? Because you are creating! And many of you are cutting without patterns and creating work that excites you. And then you do it again, and again and again. You rock!

I see a progression for quilters to take their new love of ‘going for it’ to create more complex work. To explore the color ranges and ideas in more detail. To work in an improvisational style; many improv quilts are based on squares and rectangles with an attitude!

My my good friend Victoria Findlay Wolfe of Bumble Beans works in an improvisational style I asked her to answer a few questions about how quilters can explore the world of improvisational quilting. (Improv for short!) Victoria has a site called 15 Minutes Play with some great challenges and ideas. This will give you a feel for the type of quilts.

Victoria shares some advice on how you can start to “Improv.” All of the photos below feature Victoria’s quilts:

Pat: How do you define improvisational?
Victoria: I like to think that the term improvisational is something you achieve after you know how to sew. A little background in sewing/quilting is good to know, when you begin venturing off into free form piecing… Improvisational is following your gut, listening to your instinct and really observing the fabrics for colors, texture, and depth.

Pat: For a quilter who is interested in taking their work to a more improvisational format and who want to break out of a traditional quilt block construction, what would you suggest they do first?
Victoria: PLAY. I always suggest starting with a blank slate. Work with scraps that are not predetermined for you.

If you always use strips, cut them to bits; work in a form that is not your usual style. Don’t be choosy with your colors, just grab and sew build something that is abstract with no clear destination, and allow the fabrics, patterns and colors tell you the next move.

Pat: When creating super scrappy improv blocks, the ones with tons of different colors, how do you look at those blocks to pull them together into a cohesive unit?
Victoria: Many have heard the terms mediums, lights, and darks to give depth but I think taking it one step further is important. When photographers shoot in black and white and they develop their shots, their goal in printing is to get the brightest white, and blackest black, and then you have a whole sliding scale of “mediums.” In terms of quilting, using this process, I think the trick is to not literally always have a WHITE or BLACK… Your white can be the BRIGHTEST VALUE of a color, something that POPS beyond everything else in the quilt, and then also having a DARKEST VALUE also in the mix that will hold its ground in the balance of your quilt… You can have a whole quilt built on mediums, and if you throw in 3-4 BRIGHTS and DARKS, it gives movement and depth to your quilt. Somewhere for you eye to guide you, or even just to for your eye to rest upon.

Pat: What tip can you give quilters who are not sure if the quilt is ‘done?’
Victoria: The more you play, the more confident you will be in your choices. You will begin to trust– Judging what works for you, and trust knowing what you think is a successful quilt, therefor more confident in knowing when a quilt is done.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; embrace the mistake and make it work in your quilt. Often what you think is a mistake will become the highlight of the quilt. There are always more quilts to make.

Don’t be afraid to try new things, make and embrace mistakes, explore new colors you tend to avoid, try building a quilt without a predetermined plan… PLAY!

You can hear my March 7 radio interview with Victoria on my Creative Talk Radio show.

And do you know you can start by creating improv within structure? I like this quilt as those centers are perfect for an improv block.

Maybe try out Victoria’s Wave Runner quilt tutorial.

Now check out this article about the Modern Quilters in Kansas City.

I’m excited to share this exploration of improvisational style quilts with you. I myself worked in this style for a few years and plan to get back to making some quilts this way in the very near future.

Be sure you sign up for my email newsletter (right side bar) so you get info when I send it out.

In the comments let me know if you have explored this style, if you plan to and what you’ll do first. I want to know!