The Plan Without a Plan, an Improv Quilt

Last winter, it was gray and gross for a really long time. Or at least it felt like a really long time. Mostly because it’s always gray and gross all winter here so I can get kind of cranky.

Since petting fabric always makes me feel better, I started pulling springy fabrics out of my stash to try to break the mood. Then I decided to try some improv, but rather than just haphazardly making cuts, I gave myself a few rules… I had been watching Cheryl Arkison’s “Improv With Intention” classes on Creative Live, after all. Here were my rules:

  • 3 colors (poppy red, citron, spring green) and a background (white/off-white)
  • Cuts had to be straight and square cuts, and all measurements had to be in 1/4″ increments
  • Skinny (1/2″ finished) strips had to be solid or tonal prints.

After one night of playing, here’s what was up on my wall.


I was having a blast, so I kept going, pulling more and more fabrics from my stash that worked in this colorway.


Already, the winter doldrums started to feel a bit better and my sewing room looked springy!


Of course, since I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided that I might want a sparing scattering of diagonal lines to give the piece some extra motion. I made a few to see how they worked with the rest of the composition, and liked the result, especially since there weren’t very many of them.


A few more evenings of work and rearranging, and it was starting to find some structure and cohesiveness, but I was finding the color palette to be a little too limiting.


My solution was to add some skinny strips of aqua fabric to break things up, but again, I didn’t want to add too many because I didn’t want them to take over. I liked the result much better.


Then it was just a puzzle of partial-seam constructions and careful measuring to keep everything squared up as I assembled the pieces together. There’s only one bizarre Frankenseam in there where I had to pretty much make ritual sacrifices to get it all put together, but I couldn’t even tell you where it was now.


Once I had the middle of it all assembled, I left town for a school trip. When I got back, I added some more of the background color and extended a few of the blue strips into the border to give some visual relief to the piece.


I wanted to quilt it densely in such a way that the piecing was featured, but the quilting was an extra treat if the viewer got close to it. So I made rules for the quilting, too — just so I wouldn’t be paralyzed by indecision when I was ready to quilt.

  • Prints were quilted with matching solid threads (exception: darker green prints were quilted with variegated thread because I didn’t have the right color solid thread)
  • Solids were quilted with matching variegated threads
  • Aqua strips were left unquilted
  • I also limited myself to a handful of free-motion fillers: hook swirls, pebbles, wavy lines, ribbon candy, and headbands
  • Adjacent sections wouldn’t have the same quilting design if it could be avoided

I bound the whole quilt in an aqua print to match the skinny solid strips, which framed the finished composition nicely.

Here are a few closeups of the quilting process as I was going along. The hook-swirl filler is one of my very favorites, because I’m able to keep the swirls a consistent size and I’ve gotten pretty good about self-correcting my path so I don’t get trapped in corners. I buried all threads at the edges of the sections rather than traveling to the same color along seamlines. I also didn’t stitch in the ditch anywhere (and actually, when I’m quilting densely like this I usually don’t bother since I’ll be hitting the ditch about every 1/4″ anyway).

I pin-basted the quilt a lot, so I was able to jump around and quilt different sections without changing thread colors until I was ready. Each night I’d fold it back up on my quilting table, and it was fun to watch it get thinner as the batting compressed under the quilting stitches.

I even experimented with my tried-and-true Ribbon Candy fill in a few places, just to combat boredom or fill in a too-large-scale section. I loved how this triple ribbon looked on the back of the quilt in a variegated cream/beige thread.

Because of the density of the quilting, it became very obvious which sections remained to be quilted as I got further and further along.

Matching the bobbin thread to the top thread meant that the back of the quilt was just as interesting to look at as the front, for different reasons. It also helped me check for density changes that I might want to fix.

I like the back almost as much as the front.

I love this quilt, even though the whiteness makes it totally impractical for use as a throw. But it sure is pretty — on both sides!

Here’s a look at the front again…

Sue and Brian’s quilt

I have been friends with Sue for over 15 years, which kinds of makes my head explode. We didn’t actually meet face-to-face for the first 8 years of that, even though I knew her voice and absolutely knew her writing style. We met on an online message board for scrapbookers back in 1999.  We have chatted through that, through emails, AOL IM, Yahoo IM, Google chat, Facebook chat, and through almost daily text messages. She’s one of those people who I know will be there to laugh at the inappropriate things that I find amusing, and she’ll share equally amusing inappropriate things back.

2012 was a tough year for both of us — for me because of the fire and Jerry’s shoulder and some other unpleasantness that I won’t detail, and for Sue because of a painful divorce. I hope that I was there for her as much as she was for me that year, but I do know that I thought about her often and kept her in my prayers as she as working through all of it.

But I know I was there when she met Brian, because I remember the way her entire world view shifted. She went from being sad and angry and broken to being the woman I had known and adored for so long, but even better. This man was a treasure to her, and I couldn’t be happier.

She and Brian decided to get married in July of this year, and I wanted to make a quilt for them to celebrate. Sue is very tasteful and classic in her decorating style, so she sent photos of her living spaces and the colors that she would be decorating with, and my heart sank when they were all cranberry and dark wood.

“Can I add a little… um… jazzy colors? Just to… uh…”

She said to go for it. This is why I love this woman, seriously.

So when Jerry and I went to Spool in early July, we picked out fabrics. Initially I was trying to behave and go for cranberry and brown, but then teals and purples and salmons wandered in, and when I added the acid green (which actually I had picked out for Escapade and not for this at all), the collection suddenly came alive for me.

Sew Kind of Wonderful was having a quilt-along in August for their new Twisted Blossom tutorial, which is a modification of the Metro Twist pattern. Since I loved working with the Quick Cut Ruler making Escapade, I decided to join up and participate. These were the first group of Metro Twist parts that I made, to see if I really liked the concept before I fully committed and used up all of the fabrics.

Yep. I liked it.

So I made up a block, using all of the same background color even though the blossom parts were scrappy.

And then two more.

And then I numbercrunched, and realized that I only had enough background fabrics for 10 blocks if I made them all one color like those shown above…. Or I could do seventeen if I allowed scrappy backgrounds and pulled from more of my stash to complete the backgrounds. So I took apart those three blocks, scrambled them, and went fully scrappy. SO much better and more interesting to look at, and actually easier to lay out the final quilt because I wasn’t as concerned about color-balancing the backgrounds. Because they were all scrappy, they were balanced as long as I did my best to keep the same color from ever being sewn to itself. I didn’t always succeed, but I did pretty well.

The trimmings as I squared up the Metro Twist pieces were really pretty too, and not my usual color palette so I enjoyed the process and the exploration a lot.

16 for the front, plus a bonus block for the back. I used up every single bit of these fabrics, and had to go back to Spool (gosh darn) to get backing fabrics and binding that would complement, since I didn’t have anything left in my stash that would work.

Then I decided to do ruler work and really have a good time with the quilting again, since I had enjoyed that so much with Escapade and I think that the Quick Curve Ruler patterns really lend themselves to this quilting style. I quilted the blossoms in a sand color, the large squares in a teal color, and the diamonds and triangles in brown. There was a tremendous amount of marking and thread burying, but I think the finished result was definitely worth it.

Friday and Ella liked it too, since they were on it within 5 seconds of my spreading it out after putting the last stitch in the binding.

It took several days for the weather to cooperate so I could get Fence Photos in natural light, since the scrappy nature of the quilt concealed the stitching when I tried to take photos inside.

I love how the sand-colored thread looked on the brown. I’ll have to remember that. So crisp.

I’m very proud of how absolutely centered the quilting motif is on the backside block — I’m not sure what deities I bribed to get that to work out, but I’m not complaining.


I took the quilt top with me when I went to AQS Grand Rapids in August, so that they could see it before I quilted it (and I could make sure it would be OK in their home — and it really did look nice in that room, at least to my eye)… So the first time I met Brian, I introduced myself and said that I had added acid green to their quilt because I’m an ass and want to be remembered every time they look at it. Poor Brian. I think that he may have been a bit overwhelmed to have me and Sue and Rene all in the same place at the same time because I’m not sure he realized that there were three of us with the same quick wit and questionable humor.


I held on to the quilt for a while and finally sent it early this past week. It actually arrived in Michigan on Christmas Eve, and once the holiday settles down I hope that they are able to snuggle under it and remember me every time they see my acid green editorial comments.


This Year’s HQH Fanfare Show

I’m a member of the Heritage Quilters of Huntsville, a large guild of talented quilters from multiple styles and genres. We have very traditional quilters, art quilters, a few modern quilters, and everything in between. Because of the demographic of our city, there are a lot of engineers, which makes what we do… meticulous. Our biannual quilt show is always a treat, because our guild has so much breadth of talent that there are always a lot of fantastic quilts to admire.

This year, our show was during my Fall Break. Because of circumstances outside of my control I was unable to commit to volunteering until the last minute, but I pushed all summer to have quilts to submit. We are encouraged to enter 4 quilts, with a “fifth quilt” as an optional entry should there be space.
I entered five, and Fibonacci Squared was my “fifth quilt.”

Escapade was my most recent finish.
Big Bang was my first pattern and I wanted it to have some exposure.
A Semma Tree and Natalia are (in my opinion) the biggest skill-stretches and the best pieces I’ve ever made.
And Fibonacci Squared? It makes me happy. And it’s another of my patterns, so I chose that over other possibilities because marketing = good, right?
I was very very excited to see them hang amongst other quilts and be viewed by other people who love quilts. What could be better for an attention whore of the quilter variety?
Since I entered my first quilt in 2007, I’ve been blessed to get a nod (i.e. a ribbon at some level) from every judge that we have had. Honorable mentions, third, second, first in category, and even a Best in Show (!) and Viewer’s Choice the same year— but not for the same piece. When I saw my competition in each of those cases, I’ve always been amazed and humbled to do as well as I have.
The comments that I have gotten on my quilts have always been constructive, and have never told me something that I didn’t already know about my work… My tension needed work, my quilt would have been better had the borders been mitered instead of straight cuts, etc. I don’t get my feelings hurt by the judges’ comments because it’s just one person’s opinion on one day, and we all have varying tastes in quilts.
Mostly, I just like seeing all the quilts hanging up. And since these are five of my best-ever quilts, I was especially excited.
The morning the show opened, Jerry and I were getting ready and I turned off my phone and my iPad so that I wouldn’t get advance notice on how any of my pieces had done. When I won Best of Show, a well-intentioned friend “spoiled” it for me by sending a congratulations text (not really– how could you spoil a Best of Show win?!)… And I wanted to be able to discover myself how each of my pieces had done.

I did tell Jerry that while I don’t do this for the ribbons, I would be hurt if I didn’t get at least one. And I really hoped that if there was only one, that it was on Natalia.
When we got there, I paid for my ticket and bought the program, and immediately put the program in my bag. I knew that an insert that was inside the program listed all of the winners. I didn’t want to see anything before I saw all of the quilts hanging up.
The first one I saw was Escapade.

It was in the “Large Pieced, One Maker” category, which is always a big category with steep competition. Escapade hung facing the first place winner and next to the second place winner. I was thrilled to have gotten a ribbon, especially since it wasn’t my original design.
From there we turned to the “Extra Large Pieced, One Maker” category, and I found Big Bang. SO EXCITED.

And then “Medium Pieced, One Maker,” had Fibonacci Squared. Things just kept getting better!

Down the next row to the Art Quilts category and I found A Semma Tree.

Judge’s Choice! At this point I was feeling like I was living in an alternate universe because WOW. Never in a million years would I have anticipated this much approval from a judge. My quilts aren’t similar (aside from bright colors), so I never expect someone to love all of the things I make.

And finally, in the very back corner of the “Other” category, I found Natalia, wearing the ribbon I am most proud of, of all of the ribbons I have ever won.

Best Machine Quilting on a Stationary Machine, y’all.
Over the moon. Incredible weekend that was, and amazing affirmation. I’m not foolish enough to think I’ll ever get to experience something like that again.

Do I look excited to you?! BECAUSE I WAS SO EXCITED, INTERNET.

Pepper Cory was our judge. Her comments, like others I’ve gotten before, were constructive and informative and helpful. And I’m still over the moon, 8 weeks later.

More things happened that weekend, but I’ll share those for another post. Just reliving the Cinderella feels, I am…