I love the new modern patchwork quilt designs with improvisational piecing and simple, clean lines. And I’m not alone: these graphic, contemporary quilts with off-kilter blocks and wide expanses of solid colors appeal to a wide range of quilt artists.
But while the look of these quilts is simple (and stunning), the improvisational piecing can intimidate some quilters—from those who’ve never pieced before to experienced patchwork quilting piecers who have long relied on tried-and-true mathematical formats.
In their new book Quilting Modern: Techniques and Projects for Improvisational Quilts, authors Jacquie Gering and Katie Pedersen encourage readers to embrace the rules of traditional quilting so they can bend them with more confidence.
The authors also encourage would-be improvisational quilters to ask “what if?”, embrace happy accidents, and prepare to fail—it’s the only way to grow.
But if the thought of improvisational piecing makes you feel like you’re walking the high wire without a net, Jacquie and Katie have you covered. They recommend establishing parameters for your improvisational patchwork blocks. Parameters provide freedom within structure, they say.
Here is an excerpt of some of their tips:
Use Magic Numbers. Perhaps you want to use different-sized blocks in your quilt, but you’re not ready to move to anything-goes block sizes, or no blocks at all. Try this system of using block sizes that will fit together automatically for flexibility in design.
For example, the combination of 3″ (7.5 cm), 6″ (15 cm), and 12″ (30.5 cm) finished sizes is an example of what we call magic numbers. Blocks with sides in those three sizes, even rectangular blocks, will fit together without alteration and allow for many possible arrangements (fig. 1). Use block sizes that fit together without alteration.
Choose a Block Size Visually. Tape a block’s area on your design wall and work within the taped perimeter. Sometimes it’s easier to visualize a design in a confined area.
Work Outside of the Block Structure. Quilts don’t have to have blocks of the same size or even have blocks at all. Tape out the estimated finished size of the quilt you want to make and work within that area.
Paneling. Blocks of different sizes are fun to make, but putting them together may present a dilemma. What we call paneling is one solution. With paneling, blocks look randomly placed when sewn together, but have an underlying structure. The first step in paneling is to tape out a structure on the design wall and then place the blocks into the taped panels. The size of the panels can be adjusted to accommodate the blocks as long as the panels ultimately form squares and rectangles that can be sewn together easily.
Begin by placing blocks along the panel edges, then move the blocks until you are satisfied. In fig. 2, we grouped seven blocks of varying sizes into panels, then assembled the panels to make the larger patchwork piece.
After you’ve placed the blocks, look to see where you need to add background fabric to create sections that can be sewn together. Assemble the blocks into squares and rectangles that fit together like a puzzle. The tape acts as a boundary for measuring and calculating background additions. Be aware of loss from seam allowances; multi-block layouts will shrink significantly as you sew them together. Construct the panel a bit larger than necessary and trim it to the finished size plus ¼” (6 mm) seam allowance all around. If your piece is too small, add to it; too large, trim to size.
There are so many patchwork projects and quilt patterns in Quilting Modern that I want to try. Quilters of all skill levels will find something to suit them, and Jacquie and Katie are there to guide you at every step.
P.S. Have you tried improvisational piecing? How has it worked out for you? Leave any tips or suggestions in the comment section below.