About quilt making

June 27, 2011

Rules or improvisation ?

After reading Sherri Lynn Wood’s post in http://daintytime.net/2011/06/20/a-quilt-makers-memoir-of-rules/ , I thought a lot about rules or improvisation in the way I have been quilting for many years.  Sherri is a wonderful textile artist and a great source of inspiration. Her “Improv Mondays series” particularly is a forum where quilters can exchange their experiences and learn from one another with Sherri’s encouragement and teaching. I started looking at pictures of my previous quilts and see how my own quilting has evolved over the  years from rules to improvisation.

 This is one of my first quilts. It is sewn and quilted by hand since I had no sewing machine yet.  The materials are leftovers of curtains (silk-like) found in an interior design shop. I cut the nine-patch patterns  around templates I was taught how to make. This warm blanket that has been mended countless times and I am still so happy with it. At that time I decided to name each quilt I sewed, adding a small fancy label at the back. Since I had very little knowlege about sewing, another rule was to start with easy patterns and move on slowly until I felt more or less confident with  what I was doing.


When I joined a patchwork group later, we were proposed to sew a sampler of the colours of our choice. I bought the large turquoise fabric but used only scraps for the different patterns.  No improvision yet for this quilt apart from the “crazy squares”; it was  fun to learn new designs and techniques, like  paper piecing for instance.

“Demi-teintes” (Halftones)

Later I ventured into curves. Controlled curves, mind you ! Four different shapes of curves cut with the cutter and assembled together according to colours and forms. I enjoyed this immensely for the surprise it created and the many variations. Not endless though, I knew there was more to learn and improvise about it. Another rule was : explore, try new techniques for a wider form of expression, even if it is not “perfect” according to some rules. Letting go of definite shapes and lines whenever I felt like it.

“Enchanted Forest”

One of my all time favourites is this light quilt made in a very thin and sheer material, organza. There were also leftovers given by a friend who sewed the most beautiful little handbags.

“Brilliance of Pearls and Eucalypts”

I very soon realised that, wanted or not, there would be curves ! And folds and bumps and total “un-evenness” (if such a word exists in English;) The organza kept sliding under my fingers, there are  few straight lines in this quilt. And guess what ? I simply loved it ! This quilt was and still is very alive, moving like a feather in its lightness and irregular folds.  Another lesson I learned there : accept the fabric as it is, play with it and follow its weaving or movement while sewing. It gives more “character” to one’s quilt, I find.

Just a detail to show you how transparent this organza was. The “pearls” and the leaves are the only pieces of coton/muslin  I inserted in the quilt; the pearls are covered with organza.

Of course I have continued sewing with African fabrics since I came back home from a five years stay there. Improvisation came naturally, just by assembling colours and designs the way I thought they would complement one another.

“Un peu de tout”  or “A little bit of everything”, a common expression and name for shops or restaurants in West Africa…

“Africa in red and black”

Now I am trying to improvise in creating quilts that I sew for a particular person or occasion, in memory of someone or to remember a moment, a place, anything that I want to keep alive. Some quilts take time and much thinking, chosing the materials  and design that will best show what I feel. I started this particular quilt over a year ago. It could be a “passage quilt” although no personal materials/clothes were available. This picture shows just a part of it, the correspondance that brings sunshine when one’s life is confined. I keep adding stitches and patches here and there as I remember events.

“R. quilt, letters”

Nowadays my quilts vary. I may sew some traditional pattern like the Seminole quilt I made a while back which was a real challenge for me. I may also follow my inspiration and put together scraps or carefully chosen fabrics and try to materialize an image, a thought, a memory.  A way of expressing myself. Those are the quilts I especially love. No real “rules” as such, apart from some  basic techniques but a lot of improvisation as I move along with pieces of fabrics and thoughts. For the pleasure of quilting.

“Reading in the Woods”

Detail of a quilt where I joined the watercolour technique – learned in a great book by Gai Perry, “Impressionist Quilts”  and my improvisation. I made books with selvages of various materials. A wonderful project based on a challenge about a French philosopher and writer,  Michel de Montaigne.

Books and quilting, two of my favourite hobbies.  Thanks Sherri Lynn for having brought up these thoughts about one’s  way of quilting and expressing it.

31 Responses to “About quilt making”

  1. Marie said

    Your quilts are lovely. Each one unique and so expressive. You are a true Artist. I am inspired : )
    It is fun to look at the progression in your work. Each quilt telling a different story. I love just expressing myself with no rules attached in quilting.
    Fabulous ❤

    • I have to thank you, Marie, for all I learn looking at your own quilts and embroidery. I see and feel how you love expressing yourself through your art, just following your inspiration and improvisation.

  2. sartenada said

    All those are masterpieces! Well, most of all I love the first – Baroque. It has good colors and in its “simplicity” it pleases my eye.

    My wife started by making a three-dimensional cubes quilt. We have it yet on our wall.

    If You are interested, I could send a photo from it.

    • Thank you Matti. I am glad you like Baroque, it is still a favourite of mine too. I know this pattern “Tumbling Blocks”, I have sewn one of those for a friend. I would love to see your wife’s quilt, please.

  3. Janice said

    They are all beautiful, and for different reasons. I really enjoyed this brief history of your quilts and quiltmaking and agree – once you know the rules you can decide to break them. I really appreciate how you outline the lessons you learned along the way. I adore quilts but have yet to make a full size one. I still find the exactness required for cutting the pieces daunting!

    • Hi Janice, thanks for your words. For a long time, I sewed according to strict rules but was never the most precise quilter in my patch group 😦 Then I tried to improvise around and outside traditional patterns and the exactness was no longer so daunting ! I still like both but for expressing myself liberated quilting is really what I enjoy. Try it, Janice !

  4. Cindy said

    I’m very impressed Isa 🙂

  5. Karma said

    These are beautiful. It is obvious that you put a lot of yourself into your quilts. I especially love the shots of your detail work. I’ve never hand-sewn any of my quilts; I can’t imagine having the patience for it.
    Thinking about the word “quilt” makes me wonder if it is similar in French how quilt means the final product, but also specifically refers to the process of sewing the three layers (quilt top, batting & backing fabric) together.
    My latest quilt is shown in my newest blog post if you would like to have a look: http://karmardav.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/my-june-photo-hunt-shots/
    I have only been quilting for about 7 years now, but I, too, can see how I’ve allowed myself to do more improvising as I’ve learned over the years.

    • Thanks a lot for this interesting comment, Karen. When I love doing something, patience is no problem. In French we also use the word “quilt” for the final product (top, batting and backing). The correct name would be “couette” or “courtepointe”. We use the word “quilting” for sewing together the three parts mentioned. We may also say “broder” for quilting. I looked at your quilt for Brianna; I love your creativity and how you sewed it in such a short lapse of time. I am more slow these days.

  6. Tammy said

    Oh my goodness. I love these. It makes me want to take up this hobby. Your fabric art is gorgeous. I love the improvising too.

  7. montucky said

    Your quilts are all beautiful! I admired each one in its uniqueness: you are an artist.

  8. Gerry said

    It was such a joy to take a “gallery tour” of the Isa Quilting Retrospective! I would never take up this particular art, yet everything you say about it resonates for me. I think the river of human creativity is deep and wide, with room for all our little boats to have adventures of the spirit. The best part is that the stories we bring back from our adventures can be shared and shared without ever being used up.

    • Gerry, I love your expression about “the depth and width of human creativity, those little boats having adventures of the spirit”. So true and wonderful how everyone can find one’s way of expressing it. You certainly are an artist embroidering thoughts and words. Thank you very much.

  9. Kathy said

    You are very talented–and creative, Isa. I know very little about quilt-making but truly admire those who create in this way.

  10. truels said

    I have told you before how much I enjoy your post about quilt! But this is something special and extraordinary! An great experience to see your history and development in quilt perspective. And which masterpieces you are displaying! Amazing!

  11. I am so glad you enjoyed this post, truels. Sherri’s blog is a great place to think more deeply about our hobby, quilting, and share it. We learn so much from one another on any issue really. Her improv’ series are a wonderful opportunity to express it. Thanks a lot, truels. I am so moved by all the comments received by this post, yours too.

  12. Amazing work Isabelle. I have to admit that once I have taken the time to look at your quilts more closely I have discovered the whole new universe I did not existed. You do invest so much of yourself into creating them and no wonder they are all masterpieces. You are blessed that you can express yourself on so many different levels…

    • Thanks a lot Robert; true, I invest a lot of myself in my quilts just like you do in your amazing pictures of Queensland. Don´t we all do this when we really love what we are able to create ? I really appreciate your visit and words.

  13. These are incredible – I can’t believe you hand-sew the first!
    I am in awe of your patience and your eye for detail.

    • Isabelle said

      Hello JP ! Nice so read you again, thank you. Sewing by hand the first quilt (nine-patch) is not as difficult as it may seem… just a bit long 😉 I try to express in my quilts the details and mood you show so well in your pictures.

  14. lola said

    Isabelle, you know i love your quilts and photos and that i find inspiration in them.
    Now i am a fan of your writing too!!
    Sweetly and gently you take us on a journey to beauty in each post and we go delighted through it until landed safe and enchanted.
    You see? You inspire my writing too : )

    • Hola Lola ! How nice to find you here too 🙂 thanks for your touching words because writing in English is far from easy for me. I too often write in English while thinking in French. Does it happen to you in Spanish ? The result may sound strange but I am happy you enjoyed this post. I always loved writing.

      • lola said

        Not strange at all. Sound rhythmic and beautiful…as a gentle music.
        It was funny to read your comment “if such a word (un-evenness) exists in english”. I thought: well, sound beautiful, it must exists. The spanish word for that doesn’t sound so well: Irregularidades. Try and you’ll see.

        It seems to me that writing and reading in a different language makes us very aware of its spirit and beauty.
        I read so much in english that i think in english when writing, although, sometimes, i ask myself the same question as you: Does such word exist?

      • “Irregularidades”, it sounds as beautiful as an untamed mountain stream 🙂 With a rolling of the “r” of course. Definitely not “even”. It is true lola, writing, thinking in a foreign language makes us more conscious of its nuances and beauty. I love comparing languages, finding correspondances between Spanish and French, German and English, Italian and Spanish. Languages are fascinating in their spirit and for the culture they represent, I find. Thanks Lola.

  15. Heather said

    “Un-evenness” is certainly a word in English. Although I like the Japanese term “wabi sabi” even better. Your quilts are astonishing. I like how much they reflect your life experience.

    • Hello Heather 🙂 “wabi-sabi” is a new word for me. I like the lovely way it suggests this un-evenness I was trying to describe. I appreciate your comment about life experience and quilting. I feel good expressing part of myself through my quilts. As you most certainly do too. Thanks Heather.

  16. I’m really enjoying looking at your exquisite artwork! I’m so used to staying within my own little “box” and not venturing out and trying new things, like unusual fabrics (organza!) and different colors and themes. I need to think outside the box!

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