Saturday, March 4, 2017

De-stress with a little improv... and some tips

Lately, when I need a break from too much paperwork and computer work, I de-stress and clear my mind with a little improv piecing. Still inspired by the Choo Choo Quilters program last month, I've been "making do" and making quilt blocks with scraps and discontinued fabric swatches.
Scrappy improv patchwork blocks.
Doing research and preparing my part of the program prompted another look at improv and working with random fabric bits. I also gleaned several great ideas from my fellow presenters to fuel this rekindled fire. My guild is also getting ready to host my lovely friend, Mary Kerr, for a vintage-turned-modern workshop in April, so a little practice working with "what you have" is a good thing.

Why improv?
It takes only a few minutes to whip out a pile of scrappy improv blocks... and you (and your over-saturated brain) will enjoy the process. Here's why:
  • the strips don't have to be the same length or width—so no precise cutting required
  • points don't have to match
  • you can mix any and all the prints together in a single block
  • blocks don't even have to be trimmed or squared up
  • you don't have to think hard, just enjoy the sewing
  • you can even disregard that 1/4-inch seam allowance—embrace the randomness!
  • the more fabrics, the merrier the block. Yippee!

Chain piecing.
Improv. No stress. Gotta like it.

Helpful things I've discovered while making scrappy improv patchwork:
  • prep your scraps first: ironing the wrinkly ones and sorting by size or shape—like pulling out "logs" that can be used for log cabin blocks.
  • use a neutral thread—gray or beige—so the thread blends in with the myriad of colors in the fabrics.
  • dial down the stitch length, especially for those smaller pieces.
  • chain piecing is your friend!
  • keep a garbage bag or can close because you'll generate a lot of trimmings.
  • simple, classic quilt blocks work great for scraps because the variation in the prints and colors are the focal point, not the precise or intricate piecing.
Examples of quilt blocks that lend themselves to improv with scraps: Log cabin.
Scrappy log cabin blocks. You can start with any size unit for the center.
4-patch blocks... with improv butterflies.
Butterfly 4-patch blocks.
Another 4-patch variation. 
4-patches with diamonds.
Sashing strips can enlarge a block or compensate for variations in block sizes. 
Sashing strips enlarge the blocks.
Eat up scraps quickly with Chinese coin blocks or strips. Trim the patchwork when necessary to make sewing easier.
Scrappy improv Chinese coin blocks and strips.
Finished quilt top made entirely of fabric swatches and scraps. Sew 'em up and move 'em out!
Quilt top: 31" x 37"
Good workmanship still applies.
Just because you work with scraps or are doing improv patchwork does not mean that good workmanship gets neglected. These 4-patches illustrate spinning the seam allowances. This reduces bulk at the intersection and makes the blocks lie flat. A good habit to get into which will make the quilting step less troublesome. Here's a post from Scrap Queen, Bonnie Hunter, on spinning seams. Or view this YouTube video.
Spin the seam allowances to reduce bulk.
Give improv a try! You'll go back to computer and paperwork drudgery with a clearer head.
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