Last spring I signed up to be a test quilter for The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters.
I was assigned one of the scores in the book, and secret instructions arrived. The score was based on the flying geese block.
I made many geese, and put them together in different ways. They became familiar. Composing on the scale of the block without thinking of the larger design kept me focused on finding something appealing in each block, rather than producing units for a larger design. I made nine small, lovely improv blocks and thought I was almost done. I just needed to frame them.
Except that looked quite boring when I laid it out. Maybe jam them together in the middle of a field? Nope. I wrote to Sherri:
“Putting them together directly feels like crowding them and de-emphasizing the individual compositions. Setting them in a grid of sashing feels too conventional, like it would take the spirit out of them. So now what? How to bring them together into a larger whole? I feel like I need a recipe to guide me through larger scale composition choices.”
Sherri wrote back with some insightful suggestions: look for relationships between blocks, create rhythm, commit one step at a time.
Right: the improv process isn’t finished until the quilt is finished.
When I got stuck, I used my off-cuts to make tiny blocks until I found something interesting.
I started to get an inkling that the “geese” could create an offset, spiral diamond. That was pretty interesting. I used a lot of linen, which I love, but I struggled with warp and wooble, particularly because of all the bias edges on the triangles. I used a dart technique suggested in the recipe, and I took out a lot of seams along the way. Improvising, rather than choosing a direction and powering through, takes time but is never boring. I knew where I was headed now, but I didn’t know how close to an Amish center diamond I wanted to go. I tried a LOT of variations before I got there.
It took me quite a while to arrive at the right slightly wonky center diamond.
The main block style I ended up using is a single “goose” made of many smaller triangles, which I spiraled out from the middle. The border is oriented “with” the diamond, instead of against it, as is typical of those Amish center diamond quilts. And then there’s that square, off center and breaking away.
As I said, I only used a few of my original blocks in the final quilt top, so I had lots of great orphan blocks left over. I made a second quilt right away with the extra pieces (see if you can spot the original blocks!)
See my previous post, What quilting does, about hand-quilting this top.
I don’t tend do the exercises in books, but following this score built new skills and generated a quilt I never otherwise would have come up with, and am really happy with. That process was so valuable that I look forward to trying the other scores in the book.
The Improv Hand Book for Modern Quilters will be available at QuiltCon next weekend, and everywhere else in mid-March. Enjoy!
Edit: Here’s another account of working with the same score. Comment below if you have more!