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.

“Baroque”

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.