Improv Process Step-by-Step

Today I finished my latest quilt, Citrus Sherbert. Luckily, I took photos along the way. I’ve been wanting to write about my process. It’s time to document it, afterall.
I generally pull fabrics based on the colors I’ve decided on. For this quilt, I thought I’d work with yellows and oranges. Of course, I am always trying to use up some scraps, so I like to begin there. The pieces above are several of my first smaller sections. I made several of them and then began putting them together. Once I had a few of these larger sections put together, I realized it needed something.
To that end, I added navy. I’ve had a navy thing going for a while now. I think it’s the depth and contrast. Anyway, I started making different blocks, just to see what would happen. For the block on the left, I just kept adding stripes until I had a large enough piece. (Later, I cut it in two because it felt too big. That’s how it goes with improv.) The other two pieces were originally one in orange; the other in peachy pink, but I sliced and sewed them together to create some drama. I think it worked.
I also wanted to play with circles. Yes, again. Practice makes perfect. Or it just makes something. For me, practice means figuring out a few more tricks and techniques. I have a class coming up in Lake Charles in July, and this is part of preparing.
I’m funny about not losing my hard-earned pieces. I just keep adding until I can make the pieces come together. It’s improv. Something will happen! Of course, I may do a little slicing to get there.
As I sew pieces or small blocks, I put them on the design wall. Sometimes I’ll sew a few together but often those end up back into small pieces. I like to play, which can include cutting and slicing. Mixing two seemingly unrelated pieces can add drama or tone down a piece. Quick side note: if I want to take out a seam, I often just cut it out using the rotary cutter.
And, speaking of rotary cutters, I square up pieces. I’ve discovered that I can sit and sew for just so long. Maybe 30 minutes when I first get started. After I have several pieces on the design wall, I sew for shorter bits of time so that I can press and square up the pieces. I like pieces to fit together well. I know some improv quilters say to toss the rulers, but I’m definitely not one. Why? Because it saves me time and I have less puckering. Sure I can fix those problems, but fixing is not the same as making. And I like making.
Follow the numbers in the text below for details about my process for making pieces fit.
This particular block gave me fits. I wanted a large piece with lots of neutral and curves. I started with the large white background and the sewn half circle (1). My first mistake is that I didn’t line up the half circle, so that left a large gap on the left side. To which I added another piece (2). I still had to finagle it quite a bit to get it to lie flat. Sort of. Then I decided I wanted to add the line (3 and 4). This was originally one line. But it just wouldn’t cooperate.
I cut the pieces but kept getting an ugly bulge when I tried to put it back together because the stripe didn’t fit correctly. The background needed this triangular (5) piece to resolve that. Once I had it in, I liked the look too much to cut, so I added the white triangles just above it to straighten the block. Finally, I added the top and bottom (6) pieces so I could square it up without losing any of the “original” piece.
After I had a few half-circle pieces, I realized that they had a flow to them, if I placed them just right. So that took a minute. Then I wanted it to be larger, because, well, it needed to be. In the end, this is the top. By now I’ve finished the entire quilt, except to take pictures. They are coming but the next post won’t be as long since my process writing is done!
Want to read more about my “process”? Here’s one on happenstance. And here’s a Pinterest page of my quilts.
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