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Book Chat: The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

Quick note: this post contains affiliate links. All this means is if you buy a product I recommend, the seller shares a small percentage of the sale with me, without affecting your price. I only recommend things I use and love myself. 

Most quilters begin by choosing a pattern and a set of fabrics, follow some instructions, resulting in a lovely and functional piece. I did this for many years and in so doing built a strong foundation of skill and taste. But in working through the works of others, I did not build a voice.

Enter improvisational work. I don’t know why this style has drawn my attention at this time when it’s never resonated before. It’s fascinating actually. So I’ve been reading up on what makes improv work and I’m excited to tell you about The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood {affiliate link}. Improv Handbook

My friends: this is a book for every quilter. Even if you think improv isn’t your thing, there’s much to learn from the author’s approach to creative quilt making.

“At the least it requires a willingness to take risks and make mistakes”

The Score

One of the first concepts she presents is the score. This is the set of parameters the artist determines at the outset of a work and can range from colors and materials, to size, tools, scale, process, time, and more. The myriad possibilities are in themselves inspiring, and the challenge of working within a prescribed framework is both freeing and supportive. She talks about pushing limits and breaking rules as the way to innovation.  Make a list of the facets of your project and then challenge yourself with a new score.

I’m looking forward to working up a piece with a score that involves only scraps from my past projects, using scissors, and working up to 60″x 60″…stay tuned!

I realized that, like the author, I’ve seen my quilting evolve from my earliest works which were perfectly lovely, but prescribed and relatively uninspired. I played carefully to the patterns and choices of someone else, never testing my own footing, building a repertoire of technique and a strong foundation. But “as I became more skilled and familiar with techniques, materials, and process, my quilts often became static and self-conscious. Once I figure things out I’m tempted to strive for perfection”…yes! In that pursuit of perfection I lost sight of my own creative process. I’m not sure I ever even saw it, actually. I was too busy reinterpreting the work of others to have my own ideas. I lost my way and stopped quilting.

Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind

Since I’ve rediscovered my connection to making quilts, I’ve gotten to see with what Wood calls “beginner’s eyes”. Unintentionally at first, but now it’s an intentional part of my practice. I set out, on purpose, with openness and eagerness. She encourages makers to focus on questions rather than answers and to respond with an attitude of not knowing. How easy is it, after so many years of making a particular thing, to think we have the answers?

She writes about working with a spirit of willingness and curiosity. It’s easy to settle into a particular style. A groove. A rut. This can be a fine thing when we’ve determined a specialty or a niche. But if we’re settled in a complacent place, then we ought to accept the challenge to willingly explore and experiment in new and unfamiliar territory, letting go of self-consciousness and working within a comfort zone.

Most important is her advice to cling to awe, wonder, and gratitude and celebrate mistakes. This book has definitely changed the way I quilt.

Buy this book

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Planning a Year

Quilting is in, my friends. I have rearranged the family room to permanently accommodate a miniature studio, I’ve taken up with a guild, I’ve taken a significant commission, and I’ve got several classes scheduled in coming weeks. What a change from a year ago.

I’m on fire.

Not to sing my own accolades, by any means. I’m just little old me. But I’ve been intentional to practice the art that makes my heart sing. And my soul is lit. How fun is that?!

2017 readingThis year I embrace my calling to create. I’m a quilter. It’s what I do. It makes me a better version of myself – my bucket is filled, my energy is renewed, and my mind races with beautiful things yet to be made, rather than trivial worries that used to drive me batty. It’s glorious, actually.

I have a stack of books at the ready. There’s been so much good publishing done in the five years I’ve looked away. Wow! All those yellow “E” stickers at the top of the stack? They’re actually “New” stickers, designating books that have been added to circulation in the last 90 days. Yep, I took them all! I do love my library so I suppose I’ll give them back someday. I can’t wait to get through these books and share the highlights in future posts!

I’m declaring this the year of paper piecing and wonky stars. I’ve dabbled in both so they’re not new techniques, but I am diving in this year, to add depth to my repertoire. I have several project ideas stashed away. I will (WILL!) finish a New York Beauty before too long. Soon, my precious. And all the wonky stars?! Oh yes.

Also, can we talk about Instagram swaps? I think I’ve signed myself up for five in the last few weeks. Somebody stop me! But really2017 goals, how fun is it to be a part of a vibrant community, each of us tackling the challenge of making something for which someone else set the boundaries. And then I get to receive something that was lovingly made according to my own preferences? So fun!

Seriously, if you haven’t joined a swap, you must find join in. It’s like the twenty-first century version of a quilting bee and an important part in the evolution of our common thread.

I’m setting my sites on conferences, maybe Quilt Fest here in Chicago in April, and Sew Pro in the fall? Quilt Con? Sadly it’s too far away and right around the corner, but it’s high on my list for next year! I’m anxious to get out and experience this new, modern quilty community for myself. It’s so different than the one I thought I knew so well.

Goals are good, but life happens. So much life. I hold goals loosely and like to take a broad. Mainly, in the coming year, I’ll be working to deeply inset a daily practice of creativity. It’s more and more obvious as I’ve been working and creating these past months that a creative practice is every bit as critical as daily exercise and brushing teeth. So I’ll add #15minutesofcreative to each day and work on a few neglected skills like free motion quilting, applique, and curves (knowing I won’t likely be able to stop after just 15 minutes!).

Keep me accountable, will you? Another goal I have is to use this site as a weekly record of what I’m learning, what’s working for me, what I’m working on, and maybe if I get my act together I’ll dip my toes into tutorials. I look forward to sharing this adventure!