Intentional Improv Quilting — A Fresh Perspective

improv quilting

Improvise: Ad-lib; unplanned; extemporaneous; instinctive.
Intentional: Deliberate; planned; purposeful; premeditated.

The term intentional improv may sound like an oxymoron, but if you are a jazz lover, you are probably aware that good improvisation takes some planning. Each great performance requires a strategy. A jazz ensemble doesn’t leave the soloist unsupported during a riff: tempo is maintained, measures are counted, keys and chord changes are specified, and the background musicians support the solo. In other words, there is a coordinated plan, even if the audience doesn’t see it.

Many improv quilters follow that same strategy. They may design a quilt improvisationally, but the implementation follows specific parameters that keep the design on track and cohesive. Improvisation does not mean “slap-dash”, but it does result in loosening many of the rules of traditional quilting.

improv quilting

Improv Trees features three different improv blocks: a star, tree, and house.

Contemporary quilt artist Candy Glendening is one of those quilters who makes quilts using improv piecing techniques. “As I define it, true improv piecing leaves many of the decisions made during the piecing process to chance.” But that is just the beginning. Candy also sets simple rules to guide her piecing. For the quilt Improv Trees, found in the November/December issue of Modern Patchwork, Candy’s pre-set rules for her trees were:

  • Make triangular trees
  • Each side of the triangle is a different length
  • Very few were parallel to the bottom of the block
  • Tree colors were blue, gray, and chartreuse
  • Background was shades of navy blue

These rules led to a variety of cohesive repeating blocks that anchored the quilt design and made all of the elements sing together.

improv quilting

Repetition is the key to making these blocks work together.

The repetition of color was predictable, yet varied. The repetition of shape was essential in providing unity to the design. In essence, the rules provided a structure, just like the rules of jazz provide structure for a musician to shine– and the audience to appreciate.

improv quilting

Here’s how Candy created her improv tree blocks.

Want to learn how to make the other two improvisational blocks for this quilt today? Download a digital copy of the magazine today. In addition to Candy’s article, you’ll find 13 quilt patterns plus lots of great articles about for the creative modern quilt enthusiast.



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