Make Your Quilt Art More Spontaneous

As a woman with a job, teens and pre-teens living under my roof, a husband I like to spend time with, a large extended family, and a long commute, I don't have much opportunity to be spontaneous. I enjoy my life, but, by necessity, most of my waking hours are scheduled well in advance. I'm sure many of you can relate.

'A Minute on the Lips' quilt wall hanging
by Bethan Ash.

Even my art quilting is often pre-determined, as I try to complete long-promised gifts or projects for Quilting Arts deadlines.

When I do have some studio time where I can work on quilt art as the spirit moves me, I often feel under pressure to "make it count." But if I were giving advice to other quilt artists, I'd tell them that studio time is never wasted. Even if you make something you don't like, you can learn from your experience.

So how do you encourage yourself to be spontaneous, try new things, and not worry so much about the results?

One way is to keep portfolios of your experimental work.

In her new book, Vibrant Quilt Collage: A Spontaneous Approach to Fused Art Quilts, Bethan Ash suggests you divide your art quilting experiments into separate boxes or portfolios: Like, Dislike, and TBC (To Be Continued).

Here is how Bethan describes the purpose of portfolios:

  • The purpose of the Like and Dislike portfolios is to keep examples of work you consider to be your best and worst attempts at a particular exercise for the valuable knowledge you can gain by comparing these two extremes. They will give you a critical perspective on your work that is lost when you only keep those things that you like. It's also true that you stand to learn more from the pieces that you don't like.
  • The TBC portfolio contains examples of sketches, drawings, or samples that you may want to continue developing at another time or use to inspire other work.
  • Another possibility for this portfolio is to use portions of these works (interesting sections) in future collages and assemblage artworks.
  • The portfolios are a record of your ideas and development as an artist. All the work you keep there–the good, the bad, and the ugly–is an important part of your creative expression. Don't underestimate your abilities, or be quick to throw away potentially valuable resources that might feed your imagination and provide ideas for future work.
  • A portfolio can also help you answer the oft-asked question, "What do I want to work on today?"
  • The size of the box or portfolio should be large enough to hold 20-30 examples of your work. You can construct a portfolio yourself by getting two pieces of 8½" × 11" (21.5 × 28 cm) cardboard and using duct tape to put them together; or buy the cheapest ones you can find at an art shop.


'Daisy Quilt' (detail) by Bethan Ash, made from free-cut fused fabrics.

like this way of organizing my art quilt experiments. Having a portfolio gives me permission to be spontaneous and explore new ideas without feeling like I have to complete a project-or even be happy with my results.

When I find a few spare moments to slip into my studio, I can easily pull something out of the TBC box and make good use of my limited time.

I'm feeling more spontaneous already.  

Vibrant Quilt Collage has many ideas and exercises for approaching quilt art with spontaneity and freedom. Learn more about Vibrant Quilt Collage in the Quilting Daily Shop.

P.S. What do you think of this portfolio idea? Would it work for you? Have you tried something similar? Let me know in the comments section below.

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One thought on “Make Your Quilt Art More Spontaneous

  1. Learning from mistakes seems to make those lessons ‘take’ I have been doing this with all my crafts for years, learned how while in collegeas an art student. These were all critiqued on a regular basis – really helped to clarify where you were going with your art. One more step would be to take photo of anything you gift or sell or whatever. Put a copy of it in your portfolio – this way you have a record of your growth.