Saturday, August 22, 2020

Improvisational Quilt Challenge










(Above:  The scraps in the box I was sent for the GA/SC SAQA scrap challenge.)

I've never really been one to go in for quilt challenges. Perhaps this is because I've never been a member of a quilt guild where challenges are popular, but perhaps it stems from the fact that I don't generally make the sort of work expected. So, I wasn't really sure what to do when my region of SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) decided to have a scrap challenge.  I wanted to be supportive but I worried that whatever I might do would look foreign when compared to the others in the group. 

(Above: Improvisational Quilt Challenge I.  13" x 10".)

Had the pandemic not forced my region to turn to Zoom meetings, I might not have participated at all.  Before COVID-19, the regional meetings were held in a venue four-and-a-half hours from home.  I never went.  I didn't feel connected to the group and wouldn't have felt compelled to be supportive.  (Please note, I'm not feeling sorry for myself regarding the distance or the disconnect.  I've been a member of SAQA for over a decade. During the first several years, my region didn't do much of anything. It never made a difference to me.  Meetings and challenges and "show-and-tell" were never part of my reason for being a member!)

(Above:  Improvisation Quilt Challenge II.  19" x 15".)

Since the pandemic, however, meetings were virtual.  I could log on easily. Suddenly, there was an opportunity to participate, and there was also a demonstration during the last Zoom meeting.  The demonstration was on improvisational quilting.  Unfortunately, the recorded Facebook Live session didn't sync with the Zoom platform. I can honestly say that I really didn't understand most of the process, especially something called a "wallpaper cut" (which I never did), but I think I got the gist of it (or at least I got the notion of stitching and whacking apart material almost randomly in an attempt to get a pleasing arrangement of colors and shapes.)  To me, it looked a lot like paper piecing (something I did about seventeen years ago for about a month) except without the paper. So, I signed up for the scrap box challenge in order to "try improvisational quilting."

(Above:  Our new kitten, Ernie, who helped with every bit of the stitching whether I needed help or not!)

The challenge was to "make something" out of a box of scraps donated to our region.  Nothing was to be smaller than 12" x 12" and nothing longer than 36".  I vowed to use every scrap in the four-pound box before it actually arrived.  I might not have done this had I seen the Crayola-colored creatures, the pirates with eye patches, the one-inch strips of batik, tiny pink floral prints, purple chicks on the brightest lime green background, black-and-white and multi-colored checkered fabrics, and pieces of blue and silver lamé.  Had I not promised to use every piece, I might have kept the 1961 Marimekko piece for something else.  (I did keep the salvage!  When in Finland in 2005, I couldn't afford any of this fabulous material!)  Thankfully, I had help with this entire challenge.  Our new kitten Ernie watched every one of the nine resulting pieces come into existence!

(Above:  Improvisational Quilt Challenge III.  19" x 17".)

I did not create these pieces one at a time.  I tried to simply stitch pleasant colors together until several seemed to "go together".  Because I was only using the scraps from the box, I ran out of many of the prints I preferred and had to figure out how to use the pieces I would have preferred not to use.  The lamé was decidedly NOT a fabric I'd select.  It is also not particularly good on the reverse ... but putting it there meant it didn't have to go on the front!

(Above: Improvisational Quilt Challenge IV: For Love of Electric Blue. 19 1/2" x 16".)

The Zoom meeting demonstration also included something about finishing each piece as a pillowcase.  I did that but I also turned the reverse into binding on the front.  Still, I much prefer blanket stitching the edges.  That's "my thing".  I never did figure out how to "piece a curve" but I like dense zigzag stitching better.  The paisley styled fabric on the reverse of Improvisational IV is from my stash but it seemed like a nice place to put the scrap of five materials already stitched together.

(Above: Improvisational Quilt Challenge V. 15 1/2" x 15 1/2".)

The demonstration also included a tip about using black and white to make other colors "pop". Frankly, I had problems with the white, especially the piece featuring script text.  Again, my blanket stitch edge pleases me best and I also like putting vintage pieces on the reverse side.  

(Above:  Improvisational Quilting VI. 27" x 11".)

Yet, I really did try to use black and white in high contrast ways.  The demonstration included making "crosses".  So, I tried that too.  I'm considering this piece a table runner even though I don't have a table for it! LOL!

(Above:  Improvisational Quilt Challenge VII and VIII, a baby's changing pad and quilt.)

Making something functional is a rather new idea for me, but this challenge also resulted in a baby changing pad and quilt for my nephew Tony and his wife Mara who are expecting their first child in early October.  This became a great way to use all the fabrics that truly shocked me.  

(Above:  Improvisational Quilt Challenge VI, a baby's changing pad. 24" x 16 1/2".)

For these two pieces, I used a piece of upholstery fabric from my stash (all materials acquired at auction or yard sales) for the reverse.  Steve gave me a piece of thin plastic for the inside.  It came between two panes of museum glass, a regular supply from our custom picture framing shop.

(Above: Improvisational Quilt Challenge VIII, a baby quilt. 26" x 30".)

Most of the planning for these quilts was done according to the size of the scraps.  The red inner border was selected simply because that piece of fabric was big enough to be cut into four strips.  The same goes for the four corners.  Most of the other scraps weren't this large.




















(Above:  Improvisational Quilt IX. 30 3/4" x 20 1/2".)

The last piece finished was actually the first one started.  It has the Merimekko, bright orange fabric in it.  I can honestly say that I learned quite a lot during this challenge, mostly what I like to do and what I'd prefer never to do again.  Although the demonstration didn't suggest free-motion quilting, I already knew that was the only way I'd complete any of the work.  I learned, however, to be much, much looser with the stitching. Improvisational quilting will not be something I'll do regularly but I'm glad I spent much of last week doing it.  Learning something new is always worth the effort!


irene macwilliam said...

I really like the baby changing mat, lots for the eyes to wander round and mind wonder over. I often do scrap log cabin just to use up scraps, do them mindlessly no decisions re light dark, does this go with that. Blocks just cut to constant height the width is immaterial. Have great pile of them and every so often when lacking "textile go" I just join the blocks together. So very interested in reading your post

Ann Scott said...

You have such a good eye for composition and balance. I'd say you proved to be up to the challenge! Improvisational Quilting VI is my favorite but I don't know why, maybe just easier on the my eyes and brain, lol. Oh, actually the photo of Ernie is my favorite.

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

Using up scraps that do not coordinate is always interesting. Recently I've been saving the "material" scraps and then reformatting them into another collage. Many of the scraps don't even seem to match but somehow it looks coordinated when I'm done machine stitching them all down. Mostly paper scraps but occasionally a cloth will somehow find itself in the mix.

And I love that you had decided, you would "use everything that arrived" and you have, even the pieces you thought you never would be able to use. I hope that each time you went outside of your usual stance - you rewarded yourself for using xyz fabric.

And yes I love Ernie ... he doesn't appear to be afraid of anything in your work space...

Shasta Matova said...

I really enjoy making improvisional quilts. They are freeing and there is a surprise at the end of what the quilt will look like. But that is also problematic since it may not be as aesthetically pleasing as you would like. Your pieces are all great. I especially like the blue ones - 4 and 5. That lame -- why did they even send it to you!

Margaret said...

I enjoyed reading about your improv adventure. I know that trying it has challenged me because of the free-form approach, but I've had some fun with it in the last few months too. Great idea for a baby changing pad, and the parents-to-be will love it -- and the baby quilt. The colours are great fun for kids! As for the 'table runner' -- given the trio of crosses I was thinking it would make a lovely altar cloth or church hanging. Just a thought. :-)

Linda Laird said...

Ernie is the most appealing and photogenic kitten I have ever seen. He needs to become a "Spokes-Cat" for Bernina, and bring in a little dough to cover his cat-crunchie costs. I'm serious!

Susan Lenz said...

Thanks so everyone who read and left a comment! These improvisational quilts are so far outside my normal approach that your feedback is doubly significant! Much love, Susan