Scrap Doodling is a playful improvisational patchwork process utilizing fabric scraps without concern over the outcome. It's like drawing but better!
Finding and trusting one’s own authority is essential to developing authenticity in improvisational process.
Position and momentum can not be known simultaneously when you are dealing with modern improv curved piecing!
It was uncomfortable sewing TEN unbroken dark lines in a row. I wanted to CHEAT and control the random process, but continued with integrity!
It's been a while since I've posted on Improv Monday but I received an email from a reader that prompted me to consider my relationship to expectation, satisfaction (or dissatisfaction), and improvisation. I was pleased to hear that someone reading my blog decided to interpret my Score for Floating Squares. Suschna wrote an email to me saying:
Hi, this is to just to let you know that I tried your tutorial, wrote about it here (in German). I basically say that I like your work very much and wanted to try one of your tutorials. In the end I think my floating squares didn't float too much (I guess my yellow squares were too big and I didn't take enough time to find a good composition).
So I visited Sushna's blog to see what she came up with:
I think Suschna is too critical of her outcome. The squares are floating very well. I love the boldness of the color. To my eye her result looks fantastic! Her quilt is a unique interpretation of the original score. Success!
Improvising is like drawing something real in the world. Drawing is an interpretation. It never looks exactly like the thing being drawn. It often takes the mind time to let go of the expectation of a perfect or exact rendering. I'm often dissatisfied with my drawings right after I draw them. But if I come across one of them after some time has passed, when the object of the drawing is no longer in front of me, I'm impressed. I think, "Did I draw that? It looks really good!"
My suggestion to Suschna, is to put the improvised piece away for a while. After a month or so she may see it differently, and judge it more kindly.
In the past I often looked for external causes for my feeling of dissatisfaction. Now when I identify dissatisfaction I ask myself what can I do differently next time that will lead to a more satisfying result? This applies to my improvisational quilt making process.
If I was in Suschna's shoes and continued to feel dissatisfied with the outcome, I would ask myself what could I do differently the next time I created this piece. Maybe I'll use three different fabrics for the floating squares instead of two. Maybe I'll make my squares smaller next time, etc... In other words I would alter the score, experiment, and see what came from it.
We live in a culture rife with choice. So many choices lead to greater expectations of achieving the perfect outcome. For myself I find it very helpful to be aware of this fallacious frame of mind and to keep it in check. Improvisation is about the process not the outcome. It's about learning from experience and recognizing what's good enough, not achieving perfection.
My advise to Suschna and any quilter engaging in improvisation: Continue to be present as you create and you WILL discover your own voice. Pay attention when you are very critical and you may discover something important about yourself.
Welcome to Improv Monday! View the archive and please join the conversation! After a bang of initial energy, the linen quilt on my wall has remained untouched for almost three weeks... but finally PROGRESS!
Many hours of pausing to look at this quilt were required before I could commit to sewing the pieces together. Pauses are a necessary part of seeing.
Sometimes I find it helpful to pause before falling automatically into the next step of the process. Pausing helps me see what is actually present before responding. Pausing allows the essence of... the created object, painting, quilt, sculpture... relationships to emerge. Do you have any experience or insights to share on the role of pausing in your work or life?
Even though this pattern is simple, what I can now SEE emerging are the patterns and colors of the flowing fog and landscape in the Sunset district of San Francisco. How fitting since the quilt is a commission for a couple who live in the Sunset. They helped me fine tune the pallet. I love that it subtly describes the natural environment where it will eventual live.
I overlaid the two sides of the top half of this quilt in photoshop just for fun. Very fog like don't you think? View the process slideshow of this quilt in reverse progression.
BTW - This concept of pausing, comes from the I Ching. Stay tuned for my next modern quilt-along which will be exploring pattern making, and creative flow through random and synchronistic processes using the I Ching... coming soon!
Welcome to Improv Monday! View the archive and please join the conversation!
This week I'm caught up in actually doing impov instead of blogging about it. So enjoy the WIP pics! Click on the slide show to rotate the images faster.
[slickr-flickr tag="linenimprov" type="slideshow" size="m640" captions="off" align="center"]
Because this is a very simple linear pattern, I'm laying it all out on the wall before sewing. I'm paying close attention to negative space. It will be interesting to see how the pattern changes as the pieces are sewn together.
I've been working on this quilt since mid June and the progress is SLOW... I'm really stuck. It takes me a week to sew on three strips! Where is my flow? What's holding me back? I have no idea where I'm going! I guess it's okay to be slow - think of the pioneers crossing uncharted terrain. They were slow too.
But slow is slow - this is just dragging out. What do you think? I'm thinking I should make myself sew three strips a day somewhere on the piece - no matter what - and just forge ahead. Make it a limit, part of the score. Easier said than done!
By the way... Welcome to Improv Monday!
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. Traditional quilt making involves a lot of repetition - from the cutting of shape-after-shape out of the cloth, to sewing the pieces together block-after-block, to the in-and-out of the thousands of stitches it takes to hold a quilt together.
Although repetition is only one of an infinite number of ways to approach improvisation, it can also be understood as a cause for improvisation. When I finally get bored at repeating something long enough my mind yearns for a change and I make a mistake, oops I mean improvise, or go into a trance! One way to explore repetition through improv quilt making is through a score I call Modern Block Improv:
- Choose any traditional block pattern as the beginning score.
- Alter the block pattern as desired through multiple repetitions.
- Alterations may include, scale, size, order, color, value, etc.
- Alterations may result in more complex or simplified iterations of the pattern.
- Not every block has to be used in the finished quilt.
I improvised the piece shown above using the Hole In The Barn Door as my beginning score. Can you identify my first block? Can you follow the order of my iterations?
I heard the Mattie Bye Ensemble do live TRANCE IMPROV at a club in Oakland a couple of weeks ago. It was a fantastic! Here's a taste of what it was like.
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. Last week I introduced the concept of improv quilting from a score, and the Mod Mood Quilt Along that I posted last summer is a score. So this week I am highlighting a few Mod Mood Quilt "performances" by other quilt makers. I love how each of these quilts are unique interpretations of the same score. They are unique because the score allows ample room for each maker to communicate his or her essence, attention, touch of hand, and pleasure in the performance.
I've been asked to London in September to kick off a 10 week class on the Mod Mood Quilt at the Old School Club. According to Inma Civera, the owner, it's a baby-friendly studio where mothers can come together and learn how to make things for the home. More quaintly put in an email I received from Inma, "It's a craft's club for mums." I'm honored that Inma choose the Mod Mood Quilt to teach to her community of young mothers, and I can't wait to meet them and see their interpretations.
BUT back to the variations above. What makes each quilt unique? Can you identify how these Mod Mood quilters improvised on the score I presented in the quilt along? When you make a quilt from a pattern you see online or in a book, or magazine, how do you make it your own?
You can see more variations of the Mod Mood Quilt on Flickr.
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. On the last Improv Monday, over a month ago, the discussion was about Rules vs. Limits. To refresh your memory, I use limits to set parameters for my improv quilts. Often these limits will sound like a recipe or a musical score. For example...
"Floating Squares" performed by my Penland students, Bev Kates, Mackenzie Bullard, and Lori Solymosi.
A Score for Floating Squares:
- 2/3 yard of a solid
- 1/3 yard of either a stripe or a plaid
- String pieced fabric
- One square of wild card fabric, of any size, given to you by a friend
- Cut all of the solid & the plaid fabric into squares
- Wild card square can be cut into smaller squares
- All squares must be used in the quilt
- Use string pieced fabric as filler to piece the squares together
- Avoid inset seams
In music, a score can be used as a record of, a guide to, or a means to perform, a piece of music. The score documents a musical composition. However each performance of a score is unique and will result in variances.
A full score gives exact directions for each instrument, so there will be less variance in subsequent performances of a Beethoven concerto, for example.
In jazz and improv music, the score is usually a lead sheet providing direction only on the melody, or a chord chart which provides directions on rhythm and harmony, so there is a lot more room for variation within each performance.
I invite you to try performing A Score for Floating Squares. To find you own voice within the score, pay attention to the areas where the limits haven't been defined. For example the SIZE of the squares are open to interpretation. Also where might you deviate from the score, or build on it, to change the composition entirely?
Do you ever think about your quilt process as a performance? Any insights on the concept of viewing a quilt pattern as a score?
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. The last two weeks I've posted about THE RULES. This week I want to talk about limits. Is there a difference between rules and limits in improv quilting? According to the dictionary, the word "rule" is defined as:
An authoritative regulation or direction concerning method or procedure
The word "limit" is defined as:
To confine or restrict within a boundary or bounds
In my practice I have found it helpful to differentiate between these two words. Whereas the word "rule" implies an authoritative power or force that dictates my decisions, the word "limit" implies a boundary that I can set which affects the range of decisions I will make while improvising.
Limits define the parameters of a piece so that decisions are easier to make. If you are feeling overwhelmed by improvisation. Where do I start? What’s next? Set narrower limits and see what happens. Limits that are too restrictive can kill creativity, or induce boredom. The right balance of limits will nurture creative flow during improvisation.
Limits work to guide the improvisation in an open way, but without a set determination. Limits can also challenge us to break free from predictable patterns. Like Sujata’s, self imposed limit to only use scissors and not work on a wall. Limits provide a safe container for freedom and risk taking.
For example I may decide to only use five different fabrics, a 1/2 yard of fabrics A, B & C, and a yard of fabrics D and E. I may have a limit that says I have to use up all of the yardage. I may limit my shapes. I’ll only use squares and strips. If I’m strip piecing I may set a limit that requires my strips to be between 1/2” and 2” or between 2” and 5". I may set a time limit to complete the pieced top in one sitting.
Brainstorm on the ways you can set limits when you improvise, quantity, color, shape, size, time, procedures, use of tools or technique, etc. Do you set limits when you improvise? What kind? With what results?
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. I began as a self-taught quilt maker after years of sewing clothes. I learned the techniques and internalized the proper rules of sewing sturdy and professional looking garments, so it was easy for me to sew a straight line, and carry sound techniques into my quilt making.
When I began quilting about 20 years ago, I attended guild meetings so that I could learn from more experienced quilt makers. I consumed books on folk quilts, Amish quilts, and art quilting. In 1991 I saw my first African-American improvisational quilt exhibition, Who'd A Thought It. I was blown away as many of you were by the Gee's Bend exhibition. Previous to seeing these magnificent living quilts, I had a yearning to improvise my own patterns, but my attempts were stiff and awkward. The precision sewing rules that had served me so well, held me back.
In 1992 I attended one of Nancy Crow's first improv quilting workshops at Arrowmont School of Crafts. On the first day of the workshop she told us was that we didn't need a ruler, or a pattern to cut and sew two pieces of fabric together.
This was my light bulb moment! After that my work changed forever. I had the freedom not only to measure without a ruler but to question every single internalized rule of sewing and quilt making.
I began experimenting with all kinds of materials, incorporating layers of organza, netting and dyed batting into my quilts. I began quilting with pearl cotton. I questioned the ways I used my tools. I even questioned the way quilts were assembled and created a new way of putting my quilts together, (published in Threads, 1996, The Quilt Reinvented).
I incorporated found objects into my work, barbed wire, mirrors, old quilt tops made by other people, afghans, doilies, blankets... I created three-dimensional patchwork (above, 20th Century Comfort Room, ceiling view, 1998). I began questioning the lonely and consumptive aspects of studio craft and moved away from an object based art practice towards a social-service based practice and began Passage Quilting™ in 2001. All of this led to a career as an artist and an MFA in sculpture from Bard College in 2005.
Consistently along this path, I ran, and continue to run into moments of self-consciousness in my work. Whenever I become skilled in a certain way of doing things, the predictable seeps in. Discovery disappears as polished technique takes over. The result is a certain kind of stasis, boredom and dullness in the work, even though it is perfectly executed.
My current challenge is to accept mastery while cultivating a beginner's mind. It's HARD working as a beginner with so much experience under my belt.
Two weeks ago we discussed the role of beginner's mind in improv quilting, interestingly the Wikipedia definition of beginner's mind continues...
Shoshin also means “correct truth” and is used to denote a genuine signature on art works or to refer to any thing or person that is genuine.
Listening for your intuition and taking authentic, or natural actions is something many of you commented on in earlier posts, as being essential to improv.
When I was a beginner my natural authentic voice flowed through my mistakes. With mastery there are fewer mistakes. As skills and processes are mastered, awareness and presence become necessary for cultivating beginner's mind.
This is my theory. I'm curious to know what you think!
I hope that by examining my history with THE RULES, the path of shoshin, will be easier to follow as I improvise in life and work. As others have wisely commented, THE RULES only have power because they are the rules that we settle on, or impose from the inside.
Last week's conversation on THE RULES was eye-opening. Several people posted rule memoirs and manifestos that are worth checking out: quiltdivajulie, True Stitches, Quilts Improvisados. If you have blogged on your history with THE RULES, please share your link or your observations in the comments below.
Starting next Monday I will be blogging, while teaching improv quilting from Penland School of Crafts. Either I will be too busy, and IT challenged to publish any more than once a week, or hopefully there will be two weeks of posts documenting the improv process as it unfolds at Penland!
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. The topic of rules is HUGE. Traditional sewing epitomizes feminine obedience. When I was growing up, home economic was required and there were rules that had to be followed. As quilt makers we face sewing rules, pressing rules, rules of technique, design rules, color rules, the rules of improv, internalized & socialized rules, rules on how to use our tools... in other words RULES RULE!
As modern quilters we are ready to redefine the role of rules in our work. So let's break it down and start. List THE RULES you hate, you love, you ignore, or can't avoid, that block you, release you, or drive you crazy.
- Do I care which direction my seams are pressed? NO!
- Do my quilts have to hang flat? YES!
- Adding neutrals will pop the bright colors. I'm afraid to let go of that one.
- Avoid inset seams. I give this one to students all the time but I break it frequently.
I came across this wonderful post by Sujata Shah @ the Root Connection describing her personal navigation through the huge sea of rules she faced as a quilt maker and a creative human being. The image above is a detail of Sujata's quilt.
It occurs to me that writing a "rules memoir", putting my list of rules into a personal historical context, is a good next step for negotiating the rules that I quilt by.
What are the highlights, bottoms, and turning points of my development as a quilt maker? What rules do I follow? Where and how did I learn them? When do I break them? Discard them? Keep them? Reinvent them? What are the consequences? Where is it all leading?
This week I will write my memoir of rules. This isn't going to be easy, but I challenge you to do the same. If you have a blog I encourage you to post your rules memoir and we can share links next week.
Study modern improv quilting with me at Penland School of Craft this summer.
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. Your comments on improv and courage last week were out-of-this-world fantastic - thank you! Some of you are new to improv, and some more experienced, but all of your insights add significantly to the discussion, which leads me to ask... Is improv quilting for beginners? Not according to this post on How To Quilt:
You won’t find many new quilters who are into improv quilting, but it is a term you might run across. Improv quilting is freeform in many ways.
It’s a tough one for beginning quilters to start with unless they are heavily geared toward art. Beginners tend to work best with straight lines and straight seams – few of which exist in improv quilting.
What's wrong with this statement?
Everything! It may be true that the more we improvise the easier it is to trust the process, as many of you pointed out last week, but improv is definitely for beginners. There can be no denying that cultivating the Buddhist concept of "beginner's mind" is essential for modern improv quilting. According to Wikipedia...
Shoshin, or beginner's mind, refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and a lack of preconceptions.
So when you are improvising, try your best to let go of any preconceived outcomes. Often we judge our results as failures, only because they don't match our expectations.
If you are predicting a negative outcome, or any outcome before you even begin, first remind yourself that you can not predict the future. Then sit down at your sewing machine and get comfortable with being at the edge of the unknown by getting curious. Ask yourself, “I wonder what will happen if I do this? or this?” and so on. A beginner's mind is a curious mind. Here's an outstanding talk on beginner's mind if you want more!
It is often the people who have never made a quilt who are the most open to the process of improvisation, because they don't have to fight down THE RULES.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few. ~ Shunryu Suzuki
Being an expert quilt maker, or sewer can be an asset, but only when we can separate skills and techniques from THE RULES and expectations of ourselves and others. More about THE RULES next week!
What's your experience as a beginner or as an expert? How do you cultivate beginner's mind when you quilt or create? Can you let go of preconceived outcomes? What happens when you do?
Study modern improv quilting with me at Penland School of Craft this summer.
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. This weekend I experienced improv comedy at the Pan Theater in Oakland, CA. The main show consisted of two actors doing a series of short sketches. Limits or rules framed each sketch or game to create a safe container for taking risks.
After the main performance the audience participated in Free Improv. Teams of six improvisors were created on the spot from audience volunteers. They got twenty minutes to explore an idea, theme or word. Usually two or three of the team members would start, and the timed session would roll from there with others joining in at will. When a scene played out, stalled, or climaxed someone on the team would walk across the stage to clear the slate and another scene would start. This continued until the timer went off.
By the third round the willing volunteers encouraged the remaining shy people in the audience to play. So I got up on stage and joined the improv. Filled with anxiety, I literally jumped in as a rabbit, being practice whipped by slave owners on a plantation in the 1830's.
It was a thrill joining in. I committed to my part, but I also felt awkward. To stay safe, I automatically played into expected roles. I did great as the cute rabbit but once the slave owner started hacking off my feet, why didn't I rise up and become an atomic bunny from the 21st century, and enslave the slaver? Instead I curled up and died.
The way I chose to play my role was perfectly ok, but it made me think...
Being present to improvise, change, and play or move beyond my habitual expectations and anxiety requires a lot of courage.
The other thing blowing my mind is the fact that I COULD have become an atomic rabbit. Why not? Anything goes in improv as long as it flows. Imagine what an atomic rabbit quilt flowing out of a sweet fluffy rabbit quilt might look like!
Probably not what you expected?
Improv theater is like improv quilt making on speed and in multiple dimensions. I see plenty of parallels between the two. My experience in one informs the other and vice versa. I'll go back to the Pan Theater for more.
Anyone else with parallel improv experience - such as dance, cooking, conversation? What are your thoughts on courage and risk taking in improv?
... asks the atomic rabbit :)
Study improv quilting with me at Penland School of Craft this summer.
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. Great comments last week on the Myth of Randomness in Improv, so let's look at another common, and perhaps misunderstood, approach to improv.
Just play! This is the advise often given to beginners embarking on their first improv quilt. See Pat Sloan's interview of Victoria of Bumble Beans.
This isn't bad advise, play is great. I'm all for fun and play, but to what end? How many improv quilts have you seen that remind you of nothing more than a messy toy chest? What is the role of play in your improv process? Is it just about having fun? Or do you take it to the next level?
Learning Space has this to say on the role of play in children's leaning:
play is important to a child's development and learning... It is the main way most children express their impulse to explore, experiment and understand. Children of all ages play.
A while back a friend was teaching me how to drum. I was randomly beating the drum, exploring the feel of it and the sounds that it could make. I was playing with the drum and having fun, but I wasn't playing, if you know what I mean. Then my friend told me to explore the drum with the goal of finding a beat. Ahh!
When you improvise, play with a goal to discover. It will make all the difference.
Discover what happens when you choose simplicity over complexity, or vise versa... for example. Discover what happens when you work with small shapes, and what happens when you increase the scale... for example. Play to discover whatever is important to you to understand. Play to discover your beat... Play to discover your rhythm of attention.
Study improv quilting with me at Penland School of Craft this summer.
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. One of the better posts I found on topic was from The Quilt Engineer on Measured Improv. Latifa talks about "allowing for improvisation within specified constraints or parameters". Her definition when read in context refers to using a ruler to make her improv blocks, but actually improv is about working within limits, regardless of whether rulers are used or not.
At first glance the term "measured improv" may seem like an oxymoron but actually it is closer to a tautology. Using measured as a descriptive term for improv helps us understand that improv isn't random. Improv is about rhythm.
Also according to Latifa,
...the process of Improv is much more time consuming than a planned deliberate quilt. Instead of following a specific design, you have to cut, sew, iron, make a decision, and then repeat. Sometime the “make a decision” step takes a lot longer than I anticipate.
Latifa is right on. Improv is making a series of decisions one step at a time, each in response to the previous.
According to Wikipedia, the Oxford English Dictionary defines "random" thus:
Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard.
So is improv quilting a random process? Or does improv produce randomness? I don't think so, but randomness can play a role in improv.
Do you incorporate randomness in your improv process? How and to what effect? Does randomness guide your improv process? If not, what does? How do you balance randomness with decision making? Do you see randomness when you look at improv quilts? Or can you sense an order of some kind?
The history and theory of randomness is BIG so this is at least a two parter. If you want a little more stimulation read the Wikipedia entry on Randomness.
Study improv quilting with me at Penland School of Craft this summer.
Welcome to Improv Mondays, a weekly series exploring improvisation in quilt making. So I've been doing a search on the internet and have discovered a real lack of conversation about the nature of improvisational quilting.
In 2009 Tallgrass Prairie Studio started Project Improv:
The purpose of 'project improv', to support each other in our goal to quilt improvisationally, to quilt outside the lines and to find our own voice as quilters.
I applaud the effort, but with what results? If you participated in 'project improv' have you found your voice? Two years later I'm mostly seeing posts on 'wonky' log cabins.
Improv is not random, or off the cuff quilting. There is more to it than just grabbing pieces blindly and sewing them willy-nilly. It's a practice of being present.
Others talk about an 'improv style'. Improv isn't a style of quilting. I believe improv is a process of discovery. More specifically self discovery.
Are there quilters out there who are discovering themselves through their craft? Or are you simply making pretty things for your home and following the crowd? If the latter is the case then making a wonky log cabin is a lovely, and perhaps fashionable thing to do. AND that's ok.
But if quilt making is about finding your voice, discovering who you are and expressing it through your craft, then I encourage you to join me in considering what improv quilt making is really about. Let's take 'project improv' to the next level.
So what IS improvisation? It can be lots of things! Let's start by brainstorming the definition and see if we can move the conversation a little further.