Category Archives: Improvisation

Improv Therapy

Improv.HeartBeat.Front00012015 is gradually coming to a close. It has, perhaps, been the most difficult year of my life. Earlier this year I lost my sister, Paula, and her death rocked my world. Everything changed. The world looked completely different to me.

Grief has many faces – anger, profound sadness, loneliness, confusion. It is complicated. It does not have a linear path. Through this difficult journey I have been turning toward my creative side, playing with color and fabric. Relaxing in the “zen” which is quilting.

I have often longed to make an improvisational quilt, but I think I was always a little scared to start. There are no rules, no patterns, no right or wrong choices. There is imperfection and indecision. It felt like stepping off a cliff.

And then I discovered Sherri Lynn Wood’s fabulous book: The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters, A Guide to Creating, Quilting & Living Courageously. Exactly what I needed – a little push towards courage! You will not find patterns in Wood’s book – instead you will find “scores” – a framework for flexible patterning that supports “improvisatory exploration.” Because I can’t quite get rid of the organizational self which sits on my shoulder, I decided to start with Score #1 in the book: Floating Squares. Wood suggests setting limitations such as amount of fabrics and sizes of squares. She also encourages the sewist to put aside rulers and cut freehand. Scary indeed!

The palette was an easy one for me to choose – I love orange and I thought that might best express my story. I also was thinking of Paula and knew I would include pink (her favorite quilting color). I have quite a collection of peppered cottons and other textural solids that I thought would be perfect. I decided on a “background” of low volumes as well. Here was the initial fabric I pulled:

Improv.MyHeart.Selectingfabric0001You notice that green and purple at the top? Initially I thought I would use it, but as my piece came together, I pushed it aside. I also decided to throw in a little yellow – the light that has to be inside oneself when traveling a difficult road. The low volumes included a text which was like a story, and also one that had sewing words on it. I decided that the orange pieces would be larger than the pink because they represented ME, and I wanted this to be an exploration of myself. Things got messy very quickly…

Improv.MyHeart.scrappymess0001And then it started to take shape…

Improv.MyHeart.StartingOut0001As I worked, I decided I wanted to add some red and charcoal to the piece. I didn’t consciously know why, I just decided to follow my gut…

Improv.MyHeart.heartevolution0001I was surprised when I realized I was making an improv heart! I had no intention to do this, but I think I unconsciously knew that the center of my quilt should be my heart.

As this quilt came together, I began to see and feel some of the themes that were being created. The quilt was bright and bold, colors that represent the external me that everyone sees, and then I decided to bring in some quiet colors, and some low volumes that represented trees and nature…that felt like the internal part of myself that needs alone time to contemplate. It felt right to have those lighter fabrics wrapping around the more bold colors.

Improv.HeartBeat.Label0001The pink is everywhere in this quilt – small pops of it that connect the yellows and oranges, and even some in the center of the heart. Paula is a big part of who I am today, and she will always walk beside me.

I decided to quilt this one with one giant spiral circle which is best seen on the back as I used a wonderful silver gray Minky (we all need comfort and softness sometimes).

Improv.HeartBeat.BackReveal0001Life is circular (at least it is to me). As I began the quilting, I discovered my circle was less than perfect, it wove around a bit, it got wonky in places. All okay because isn’t that the nature of life?

Improv.HeartBeat.BackQuiltDetail0001I’ve named this one “Heart Beat…”

Improv.HeartBeat.Label.CloseUp0001Because I am listening to my heart these days, flying by the seat of my pants, letting go of the “small” things and finding new meaning in a life that is changed.




Sherri Lynn Wood encourages readers to evaluate their process when working on improvisational pieces. She asks some basic questions to think about…and here are my responses:

What Surprised Me?

I did not start out to make this a “story,” but unconsciously, I did just that. Many of my choices throughout were impulsive or instinctual…and it wasn’t until later that I began to see how they all worked together. This is perhaps the most personal quilt I have ever made.

What Did I Discover or Learn?

Don’t be afraid. And perfection is not all it is cracked up to be. Let go of fear and perfection and allow yourself to be led by the process.

What Was Satisfying about the Process or Outcome?

There was a lot of freedom and joy in creating this piece. I loved the surprises that evolved as the piece came together. I found that I really enjoyed cutting without a ruler! I loved using a variety of solids, some quite textural, as it gave the piece a different feel. This turned out to be a really warm, drapey quilt that I can’t wait to wrap up in.

What was Dissatisfying?

I chose to make “sections” of the quilt and then connected them together – but I didn’t like how there were two long lines of low volume across the quilt – it felt too obvious and not enough improv. I wanted it to be unclear where things were joined, but I ended up being too methodical and the quilt captured that…

What Can I do Next Time to be more Satisfied?

I think if I worked with different size sections, or if I pieced sections as I went (instead of waiting until the end to join them) that the connections would be less abrupt.

Where Do I want To Go From Here?

I want to keep doing some improvisational work and see where it takes me.