Quilt Improv - Well, Sort Of

Since I have been sworn to secrecy about the quilts I have made to test Sherri Lynn Wood's improv "scores" for her forthcoming book, but I'm dying to talk about the experience, I'll take another path. I picked up a couple of books from the library that also use an improvisational approach, just to compare. The first one is Quilt Improv by British designer Lucie Summers.
I returned it to the library after a quick browse. What does that tell you? Well, it's a perfectly lovely book, but not for me. Her methods are still way too controlled - there is nothing here that made me feel like dancing on the edge of wild abandon. Instead, it's very structured and safe, and as you can see from the image on the front, very tidy. Summers apparently has a line of fabrics with Moda, and although she doesn't say if that's what she used here, the sample fabrics are contemporary and colour co-ordinated. She does suggest using scraps, and most quilters have huge stashes so one could follow her templates and be more adventurous in fabric selection. I'm not keen on her suggestion of tiny 12" square sample quilts and the "larger" quilts she shows in the second half of the book would barely cover my knees. Her design boards, while very photogenic, aren't really that helpful. For example, if you want to create a quilt based on a grid, she suggests seeking inspiration by finding images of things that are square, like tiles and lattices. And the text is low contrast and hard to read. But, who knows? If you have good eyes and have never designed your own quilt before, this book is non-intimidating and just might give you a few ideas.

I had a somewhat less lukewarm reaction to Yoko Saito's Japanese Quilting Piece by Piece, also from Interweave Press. She doesn't claim to use an improvisational approach, but indeed states that her quilting became much more free and fun once she stopped following patterns and worrying about cutting things perfectly. She too has a line of fabrics in her distinctive earthy palette of taupes, browns and greys. I have long admired her work and have a couple of her books in the original Japanese, but the text isn't really essential as the diagrams are so well drawn and the method clear. Most of the projects are bags - not simple ones either. Many require intermediate to advanced sewing skills in spite of their organic look. As much as I like Saiko's style, I probably wouldn't make anything from this book, but would enjoy it just for the beautiful images and inspiring techniques.

The main problem I have with both these books is that there is no real foundation for HOW to improvise - which for me means trusting your instincts, being responsive to the materials at hand, working from your core, creating space for spontaneity, testing your boundaries, being in the moment. This isn't easy if you haven't had much practise, but certainly can be developed with the right encouragement. I am very hopeful that Sherri Lynn's book will offer just such a nurturing and inspiring voice.


  1. well, thank goodness you were only lukewarm to these 2 books cause based on your previous post, i just today received the gail marsh books i ordered. (yes, i had to get all 3, and though i've just had time to leaf through them, i'm quite sure there'll be no buyer's remorse in this neck of the woods.)


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