Happy New Year! We hope it’s a year full of new beginnings and the best sewing ever.

Sherri Lynn Wood kicks off 2016 in our ongoing series of reflections and predictions with sewing industry leaders. Sherri Lynn is the author of The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting, and Living Courageously. (She told us all about the Top 10 Reasons to Sew Ruler Free!)

You can find Sherri Lynn at Daintytime, on Instagram and via her Tumblr portfolio. You might even meet Sherri Lynn in one of the many events she has scheduled for the year ahead!

Don’t forget: We’d love to hear from you too. Just answer any or all of our questions on your site and add the URL to the comments. Here are all of the interviews in the series thus far: Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness, Mandy Leins of Mandalei Quilts, Jenny Rushmore of Cashmerette, Sandi Sawa Hazlewood of Crafty Planner, Alex Veronelli of Aurifil and Heather Jones of Heather Jones Studio.

Image of Sherri from The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood,
Published by STC Craft | An Imprint of Abrams, Photo by Sara Remington

Sew Mama Sew: Looking back on the sewing scene in 2015, what trends stand out?
Sherri Lynn: The excitement over improvisational patchwork, or what I like to call flexible patterns, was and continues to be one of the major trends in quilting. The largest growing category in the QuiltCon 2015 exhibition was the Improv category.

Flying Geese Flexible Pattern, Score for Modern Block Improv from The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood, Published by STC Craft | An Imprint of Abrams, Photo by Sara Remington

Entire Modern Quilt Guilds are exploring flexible patterns as they create improvised quilts for the QuiltCon 2016 Member Charity Quilt Challenge. Improv is making its way into more traditional guilds as well. The traditional guilds are more familiar with fixed patterns, however during my cross country book tour last year I encountered a lot of traditional quilt makers who had never improvised, but were VERY curious about knowing more.

Book Tour at International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, NE, Photos by Charlie Franco

SMS: Who knocked your socks off and why?
Sherri Lynn: Quilt makers across this country who are embracing improv and running away with it are knocking my socks off! There were over 250 people who test quilted the flexible pattern scores featured in The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. Eighteen of these test quilts made it into the QuiltCon 2015 quilt show! Some of them even won awards.

The 1400+ members of the Improv Handbook Facebook Group are knocking my socks off. There are posts every day in that group knocking my socks off. I can’t even keep up with the discussion. People are on fire with improv, doing their own thing, supporting each other through the sharing of their process.

It’s very exciting to watch this tradition of flexible patterning most commonly associated with African-American quilting communities– but also present in Amish and pre-media frontier quilts– being explored and embraced again by quilters all over the country. For example, here is a quilt by the Pittsburgh Modern Quilt Guild for the QuiltCon 2016 charity quilt challenge, made only a few weeks after I facilitated a basic improv workshop for their guild. This is what I call “picking up the ball and running with it!”

Pittsburgh Modern Quilt Guild Quilt, 70″ x 90″

SMS: Favorite things? (Fabric collections, patterns, books, thread, tools, podcasts, classes, websites, events, etc.)
Sherri Lynn: Thrift shops and found materials, especially men’s shirts! I also want to highlight some of the wonderful sewing and quilting industry podcasts out there. It’s perfect listening while I’m hand quilting. I love listening to other makers talk about their process and passion, while each interviewer has a unique focus of questions.

SMS: What do you think 2016 has in store?
Sherri Lynn: The community’s interest in improv and flexible patterning will continue because there is so much territory still to be explored. I hope to see more bimodal quilting– fixed and flexible patterned mash-ups. Not too many folks have braved this territory yet.

I notice a trend towards slowness, meaning, simplicity and quilting with what we have on hand. Improv is a great stash busting activity. Perhaps the predominant practice of consuming and hording new fabrics will give way, at least some territory, to the practice of making do with what we already have in our closets. The Gee’s Bend quilters taught workshops at QuiltCon this past year with a materials list that included two items, old clothes and a pair of scissors. This certainly caught my attention! Other happenings in 2015 influencing this trend included the Found/Made exhibition curated by Roderick Kiracofe at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. It featured the work of several leading quilt makers and artists, including Joe Cunningham, Ben Venom, Sarah Nishiura and Luke Haynes, who each use a predominance of clothing and found materials to make their quilts.

Passage Quilt “For Sailor & Quinn,” Two Quilts Made from their Father’s Clothing

In 2001 I began facilitating Passage Quilting, improv patchwork as a bereavement and transformation process. It utilizes the clothing of the deceased or materials that mark transitions and celebration, such as empty nest, retirement, menopause, divorce, anniversaries and weddings, because I became tired of quilting as primarily a consumer/product based endeavor, and had a desire to envision quilting as a meaningful, service-based practice. I think this yearning for meaning, service and self-discovery, will continue to grow in others as well. At least I hope so.

Quilt by Minna Kennison from The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood,
Published by STC Craft | An Imprint of Abrams, Photo by Sara Remington

SMS: Who do you think are rising stars in the industry?
Sherri Lynn: Again, I see the whole community of improvisors as rising stars, but to highlight a few of my favorites check out:

The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood,
Published by STC Craft | An Imprint of Abrams, Photo by Sara Remington

SMS: What did you do this year that you’re most proud of?
Sherri Lynn: The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting, and Living Courageously was released by STC Craft/Abrams in late April, and has already sold 9000 copies and is going into its second printing. I’m thrilled to see how it is resonating throughout the quilting community.

Sherri Lynn on her book tour.

One of the highlights of my year was a cross-country book tour. I simply loved meeting with quilters from coast to coast, and on the road, to talk about improv and patchwork. It was a delight! I also had an opportunity to introduce some of the concepts in my book to the art world community, through an interactive patchwork installation, a lá Sew LeWitt; that was also a lot of fun!

Sew LeWitt Installation

SMS: What can we expect from you in 2016? Any big projects, life changes or goals you can share?
Sherri Lynn: My big exciting news for 2016: I just found out that I was chosen to be one of six artists in residence at Recology, the San Francisco dump, next year! I will be exploring the imaginative practice of “making do” from June through September, making a new body of sculptural work and quilts from materials found in the trash stream. San Francisco has some of the best trash on the planet! I can’t wait to see what presents itself. The residency will culminate with an exhibition at the end of September. I will also begin work on a second book!

Quilts from The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood,
Published by STC Craft | An Imprint of Abrams, Photo by Sara Remington