Improv Piecing with Cheryl Arkison

cheryl arkison_improv 1In early November, I attended two Cheryl Arkison workshops in St Mary’s with my friend Megan. One was called Values, which I’ll write about in the next post, and the other was Improv Piecing. Neither Megan nor I had done anything Improv-like, so we expected to try something out of our comfort zones.

Our first bit of the class was meant to be an ice-breaker: we were sitting in groups of four, and were given a random handful of scraps. We played some “games” where we passed blocks around, randomly adding to or cutting the blocks as we went. Finally, all groups brought their blocks to Cheryl, and she put them on the design board.cheryl arkison - improv 2

Here’s a closer view of the class’s pieces. Not even sure which one belonged to our group! Later in the class, Cheryl talked about finding ways to join these random pieces, gradually squaring things off to make a quilt top.

It was an interesting exercise, but the result was not a quilt top I’d be interested in making myself — a little too random for me. I’ve always been a classifier and an organizer (as a child, I alphabetized the books on my shelf), and I need a degree of order to be happy. Fortunately, “improv” is a spectrum, and I think everyone can find their happy place if they try.

cheryl arkison _ improv 4Cheryl then showed some of her own “improv” pieces. They were much less random than the ice-breaker exercise result.

One was “sewing machines” — as you can see, each block has the general shape of a sewing machine. But no two blocks are exactly the same.

cheryl arkison - improv 3Another one was “triangles” — can’t remember what they were supposed to represent, if anything.

cheryl arkison improv 5Finally, the one I liked the best was called something like “mountain wild flowers”. It may have been randomly pieced, but unlike our opening exercise blocks, had an harmonious colour scheme, straight edges, and the choice to use greens for the larger areas, with “dots” of colour. Yes, I can see it would have unplanned piecing… but I think it wasn’t totally improvisational, in that she went into it with a rough idea of what she was trying to achieve.

We students had been asked to come with an “idea” and some fabric that might go with our idea. I decided my idea would be “goldfish pond” and I brought a lot of browny-greeny-beiges and some bright orange. The piece I made that day is somewhat reminiscent of Cheryl’s mountain wildflower quilt.

goldfish pondI wanted to capture the play of light and breezes on the surface of the summer pond in front of our house, and thought the randomly pieced browns and greens would do that. I added it some dimensional “fish” — sewn half circles of orange fabric, tucked into seams, and then folded over. I wanted to add the idea of a splash of orange as a fish darts into view.

On the whole, I was pleased with my attempt, especially as a first piece completed in an afternoon. It was definitely an exercise in expanding one’s boundaries.

back of goldfish pondMy friend Renske is helping coordinate the 2016 International Plowing Match quilt competition, and the competition began with a call for challenge blocks. She had been asking me for some time about making a block, and I finally decided to enter this one. It had to be quilted but not bound (she plans to join the entries into a QAYG style quilt), and she asked the entries include something “interesting” on the back. Thus, for the back, I cut in a skinny strip of fabrics used in the front. I quilted the piece in whorls and swirls, to represent ripples in the pond. I hope I can eventually get a photo of the final quilt my block is used in (I hear there will be a couple of quilts, plus a wall hanging — she received something like 85 blocks!).

So that was my first experience with Improv Piecing. I’m not sure I would ever be a true Improv piecer… but I can certainly see myself doing more “liberated” piecing in the future!




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