In September 2018 I taped my first three online classes with Creativebug. My hope is that makers all over the world will have an opportunity to explore, and practice improvisational process as applied to the craft of patchwork. Patchwork Improv asks us to experience patterns and the relationships we make in the world and with others as flexible, responsive, and always evolving.
Patchwork improv has different aesthetic rules from the fixed pattern paradigm and requires a radical new way of creating and thus engaging with the world. Flexible patterns ask us to receive, listen, respond and engage, rather than to plan, direct, control or consume. The ways in which we craft flexible patterns —being present within, while in response to what is— serves as a reflective model. As a creative life practice it has the power to shift the living human systems in which we participate —from the relationship patterns we form with ourselves, our partners, families, communities, government, environment and world.
This series of online patchwork improv classes are a great place to start if you are a beginner. For more experienced improvisors and readers of The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters these online video classes perfectly supplement and reinforce the basic teachings in my book. They serve as great refreshers for those who have studied with me in person.
September 23-27, 2016, Recology AIR
100% of the materials for this body of work was scavenged from Public Disposal and Recycle Area at Recology San Francisco, from June-September 2016.
During my four month residency at Recology I explored the concept of “making do” as a receptive creative strategy for life after system collapse. In a series of quilts and other sculptural objects, I allow the shapes of garments to be expressed, resulting in works of unusual geometric abstraction that are simultaneously suggestive of the human body.
6 x 4, 98” x 115”, (vertical or horizontal orientation) six pairs of military uniform pants, comforter, hand quilted with cotton thread.
a f t e r l i f e, 128” x 69”sun faded curtains, mattress pads, sheet, tied with wool thread.
s a f e t y n e t w o r k, 91” x 81”, Recology safety vests and uniforms, wool batting.
b u s i n e s s a t t i r e, 57” x 72”, stripe and oxford shirts, silk ties, fleece, hand quilted.
p i t s, 66” x 74”, shirt sleeves, silk ties, wool batting, sheet, hand quilted with cotton thread.
f i e l d, 76” x 85”, denim, wool, cotton scavenged the first day of the residency, comforter, hand quilted with embroidery floss,
f i e l d, 76” x 85”, installation dimension variable, sculptural view
s i n g u l a r i t y, 62.5’ x 10” – 33” circumference, installation dimensions variablejeans, polystyrene foam from stuffed animals,
o g d, 23” x 43” flattened furry, wool blanket, thread,
l a e p e t h n, 46” x 60”, flattened furry, wool blanket, thread,
e r b a, 76 x 100 inches, flattened furry, felt, carpet pad, thread
p o r t a l, 80 x 80 x 60 inches, installation dimensions variable; sheer and beaded curtains, hand quilted with wool thread, wood, rope
Three-week installation and drop-in sewing clinic at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery, San Francisco.
Participants invited to interpret and execute a patchwork score for floating squares based on the mathematical algorithm, the sum of the difference. #sewlewitt
Special thanks to Robert Kaufman Fabrics for providing over 60 yards of vibrant Kona Cottons in 80 different colors and to Fairfield World for providing a roll of their luscious Nature-fil wool batting to line the gallery walls.
A Guide to Creating, Quilting & Living Courageously (2015 Abrams)
The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters breaks free from the copy-this-pattern structure and introduces an innovative approach to patchwork not found in other books. It is the first comprehensive guide to the process of improvisational quilting.
The Improv Handbook presents a flexible approach to quilt making that breaks free of old rules and expectations in a fun, accessible way. It’s a comprehensive guide to improvisational patchwork featuring:
- over 15 innovative ruler-free sewing techniques
- tips for accessing intuitive color
- mind tools that cultivate presence, spontaneity, and risk taking
- experiential design exercises on scale, line, borders and more
- 10 “scores” for improvisation that free quilters to create quilts unlike anyone else’s
The “scores” are not step-by-step instructions like a traditional quilt pattern, but parameters, leads and limits that allow improvisation to occur—much in the way a lead sheet provides a jazz musician parameters for improvising during a performance.
The book features my quilts and a gallery of 22 quilts chosen from among the hundreds submitted by volunteers who tested the scores before publication.
STC Craft | A Melanie Falick Book
U.S. $27.50 | Can. $31.50
Paperback with flaps | 176 pages, 9″ x 10″
If you have a copy join The Improv Handbook Facebook Group for support as you work through the techniques and project scores.
Check out the quilts I made for the book in more detail.
Visit the test quilt galleries to see what others made following the same scores.
I improvise from a score, a loose set of parameters, to explore variations of pattern, shape, and line. The rhythm of attention unfolds in patchwork through relationships made in the moment. These quilts evolve without a plan and often without a sketch or image in mind. Narratives take shape one commitment at a time.
The bright colors, complexity, lines, and unexpected juxtapositions are influenced by the industrial, graffiti rich, urban neighborhood in East Oakland, CA, where I currently live and work.
2009-present; embroidery, ultrasound; dimensions variable
During meditative group sessions held in cultural and clinical venues, each participant embroiders a prayer flag by focusing on mudra/movement, as they stitch their mandala/vision, while simultaneously vocalizing one word of their mantra/voice each time their needle pierces the cloth.
The prayer flags are later exhibited with an ultrasound broadcast of the recorded chants.
The Mantra Trailer is a new media tool, documenting the people's prayers, petitions and aspirations for self and society. Parked at the intersection of imagination, evangelism and propaganda, it is a traveling mediation space, recording studio and site of mysterious broadcast in the form of a 1972 breadbox trailer.
Over 500 mantra’s were recorded on the streets during a five month tour of north to south and east to west in the winter and spring of 2008. The interactive archive is part of the creative commons and can accessed at www.mantratrailer.com
In the summer of 2001...
I began helping people navigate loss through the embodied process of making quilts from the clothing and materials of every day life.
Starting with the architecture of the clothing, these quilts are pieced without a predetermined pattern. This improvisational process is a score that models the transition, reorientation, and acceptance of the bereavement process, as our relationship to the beloved is transformed. The resulting quilts retain a sense of the body, and in the case of bereavement, carry the consoling essence of the beloved.
Visit my archive of posts on previous Passage Quilting projects.
I am available to facilitate the hands on bereavement and transition process of Passage Quilting through collaboration, consultation, commission, and/or workshops.
You do not have to be experienced at making a quilt to participate in the Passage Quilting process. It's an improvisational, ruler-free process that welcomes beginners and makers at any skill level, who are interested in touching the emotions of loss and transition through the hands-on, embodied practice of making a quilt.
flat fee for commissions
$1500 for a lap quilt, 3x4 feet with up to six personal items
$3000 for a throw quilt, 5x6 feet with up to twelve personal items
Fully hand-quilted, the flat fee includes backing, batting and thread. Shipping not included. Active participation in any part of the commission process is welcome.
collaboration & consultation
Individual rate: $60/hr. Group rate: $150/hr.
$1000/6-hour workshop, max 20 participants
professional consultation and training for health care and bereavement support providers and organizations. Rates negotiable.
Contact me if you are interested in a workshop, commission or finding out more about participating in the Passage Quilting process.
tissue paper flowers, papier-mâché, wild-flower seeds, my mother's ashes, soil, gravity feed drip irrigation
a geo-psychic, public art project for the City of Durham, NC
On April 15, 2005, an eight-foot piñata in the shape of an anchor was covered with tissue paper flowers, filled with wild-flower seeds mixed with the ashes of my mother, and thrown off a three story building in downtown, Durham.
video/animation, with Ignacio Alcantara
Sewing For Jesus examines the relationship between the handwork of sewing and animation. It simultaneously makes a sincere and ironic statement about faith and loss on the home front, within the context of war.
The result of a 48-hour collaboration between Ignacio Alcantara and myself during a residency at the MacDowell Colony, Sewing For Jesus features work on Prayer Banner: REPENT, a communal mourning project in which people gather to stitch the names of American and Iraqi citizens who have died in the war onto cloth coffins.
Ignacio Alcantara is an award winning animator and filmmaker from the Dominican Republic. He currently lives in Santo Domingo.
2003 - ongoing
social practice, blankets, clothing scraps, wood, string, safety pins, hand stitched
Prayer Banners: REPENT/MERCY/GLORY is a communal vehicle for mourning the losses of war.
Made through a series of sewing circles in homes, on the street and in the gallery, people stitch the names of American and Iraqi citizens who have died in the war onto cloth coffins as an act of prayer and/or petition. The coffins are arranged on banners to spell the words REPENT, MERCY, GLORY and so on. Begun as a response to the war in Iraq and the death of my mother from cancer on Christmas Eve 2003, it is inspired by the Kentucky Graveyard Quilt of 1843 and the Buddhist practice of tonglen.
The essence of tonglen is to breathe in the suffering of another person and to breathe out loving-kindness, compassion, and healing. The act of stitching a name is a meditative act, bringing the participant into a relationship of resonance and compassion with the families of the dead.
Each coffin stitched bears witness to a single life (Iraqi citizens as well as allied forces) lost to war with 30+ minutes of handwork devoted to stitching a coffin in acknowledgement of each sacrifice. With 1200+ names, Prayer Banner: REPENT took 600+ hours to complete. Prayer Banner: MERCY is in progress. Over 1200 people have participated in the project so far.
The words REPENT, MERCY, GLORY are subtly spelled out via the flow of the hand stitched coffins. The words are invisible to the eye on close inspections and difficult to read from a distance. Prayer Banners: REPENT/MERCY/GLORY attempts to reclaim the sacred truth of these words, from the distortions of fundamentalist and nationalist ideologies fueling a "religious" war.
This has become an ongoing project in response to continued war in the middle east. The third banner in the series, Prayer Banner: GLORY, will be made of white coffins on a deep burgundy blanket.
a series of "scrap quilts" or assemblages utilizing discarded home decor items, that are decidedly middle class, such as crocheted doilies and afghans, blankets, tablecloths, toilet seat cozies and bath mats
found dolls, embroidery; a collaboration with female tattoo artists
The inspiration for The Tattoo Baby Doll Project came from reading The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine by Rozika Parker and wondering what kind of imagery women were embroidering at the turn of the end of the 20th Century, while attending an artist residency in 1998 at the Headlands Center for the Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area and noticing that there were a lot of women with tattoos that reminded me of some of the historical embroidery images in Parker's book. On top of these two influences I had been collecting cloth bodied baby dolls during my cross country trip from NC to CA without any particular project in mind but just because I liked them.
Eventually the three influences converged and the idea formed. I researched female tattoo artists and at the time found only one source book on the topic, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, by Margo Mifflin, which profiled many of the prominent women tattoo artists at that time. I began to contact some of the artists featured in Mifflin's book. Some agreed to participate in the project and they also led me to other female tattoo artists eventually included in this project.
The tattoo artists were each sent a couple of dolls to choose from. They then inked the dolls, named them, and wrote a statement or a narrative about their tattoos, and sent them back to me.
I embroidered the inked dolls to make it permanent, doing my best to emulate the style of each tattoo artist in thread. It takes about the same amount of time to embroider a back-piece of similar intricacy as it does to tattoo it. Many of these dolls took over a hundred hours to stitch by hand.
found afghans, crochet, clock, chair, yarn, super-8 documentation
installed at the Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, CA