Monday, March 20, 2017

Improv Alliance

Whenever a quilt comes together really slowly - such as a block-of-the-month like the one I'm sharing today - the satisfaction at its completion is usually quite high, for obvious reasons. But this time, there are a couple of extra reasons why I am simply over the moon, and I think you'll see why as we go along.

It all started when my guild-mate, Matt/odditease, presented the 2016 BOM plan for Seattle MQG. In his words, we were going to "exercise our improvisation muscles. We will be exploring nine different shapes/techniques, creating a slab of improv patchwork each month that will come together to become a one-of-a-kind quilt. Ruler free, ruler assisted, wild and crazy, simple and controlled…you get to decide and set your limits and comfort level for each technique." Oh yeah! Matt even had a sample quilt top all ready to show us (yes, go look real quick!), and I was so excited for it all to begin!

But as BOMs go, there's always that lag-time when you need to choose your fabric, right? Wanting to somehow incorporate the Kona Color of the Year into my sewing, Highlight seemed a perfect choice as my focus fabric; Kona neutrals Natural, Bone, and Oyster were chosen for the 'background'; and then Pickle and Wasabi as accents, and Fog for some random pops of color. I loved the mix right off, and throughout the year of sewing, with my only complaint being that the neutrals really were too close, and I doubt you'll be able to pick them out in the finished quilt.

So each month, Matt presented us with an improv technique to try, and a suggested "slab" size. It could really go any direction we took it, and in the end, the indicated sizes were helpful, but as you'll see, non-standard blocks allowed for some more personalization as the blocks were all assembled. Come about September, we were thrown a curve ball and told to make an improv adaptation of a traditional block of our choice! Decisions, decisions. Stay tuned, and I'll share a follow-up post with all the block types I used and links to helpful tutorials.

So month by month, I kept up, and creating my newest improv slab was about my favorite thing. And then..... It came time to put all nine of the slabs together. Yikes. Obviously, there were some holes to fill in (see above), and I mulled that over for days, looking through my books on improv to get some ideas. And lo and behold, it was in Gwen Marston's Liberated Quiltmaking II that I found my solution: Improv Spikes.

I loved that Gwen has unknowingly led me forward, and the spike segments were fun to make. Between trimming blocks and adding in three rows of spikes, my top measured 58" x 82" and surely could have been called complete. But something didn't feel right to me.

What it needed was more width and the logical way to achieve that was with more spikes. I tried adding a narrow column to each side, but no, that didn't suit me. I kept making more and playing with the placement until I was satisfied. And then, boy was I.

For a backing, I opted to purchase my very first wide-back, thinking surely there were already enough seams in this crazy quilt. I found a fun design in the perfect color in Starlight, a Rhoda Ruth Wide Back by Elizabeth Hartman for Robert Kaufman.

OK then. The top was done and I was thrilled. The backing had been an easy decision. Now what about the quilting? What design? What color? Goodness, at 68" x 82", it felt big and overwhelming. How in the world would I do it justice? Was this one I should even do myself?

And in a spark of what I consider brilliance, it dawned on me that I should ask Matt himself if he'd consider quilting it for me. He had designed our BOM, led us through the process, and once I thought of it, he was the only logical choice. I didn't even know if he quilted for hire .... so the next time I saw him, I trepidatiously broached the subject. And he agreed!

Now I had been at the guild retreat in 2014 when Matt first dabbled with free-motion quilting. He was a new quilter then, and we were in awe of his obvious gift for every aspect of it. As I handed over my quilt top several weeks ago, we chatted briefly about our ideas for quilting. But I gave him free reign, and never doubted for a moment that whatever he chose to do would be perfect.

So fast forward to last weekend, when he delivered the quilt and we pored over every inch of it, admiring our joint workmanship. 

Quilted on his Juki 2200QVP-S, Matt used Aurifil 50wt in three colors: 2886 (Light Avocado) was used in the upper right-hand block, but he wasn't thrilled with the look, so that's the only area that has it. The majority of the quilt was then quilted with 2000 (Light Sand) with occasional accents of 2715 (Robin's Egg Blue) - see the blue triangle in the left of the photo above, for example.

The use of the neutral thread definitely lets the piecing shine, though Matt's beautiful quilting is in no way hidden. I think it melds them together beautifully, and the bits of blue are just plain fun.

I like how Matt quilted around the spikes, letting them stand out a bit. And one of my favorite details is how he used those large 'pebbles' to create continuity throughout the quilt. You can very nearly follow a trail of them from the top of the quilt down to the bottom, weaving to and fro along the way.

The last detail was up to me, and I added a simple binding in Kona Natural.

And with that, an improv escapade is complete. Begun as a simple exploration of technique, it became so much more, and I gotta say I love the collaboration it represents. From puzzling my own blocks together with Gwen-inspired spikes to finishing off with Matt's quilting artistry, this one has become a cherished piece. Many of the blocks were inspired by age-old designs but as a whole, they became something new and speak to a happening time where working together only made things better.

Quilting by Matt Macomber/[odditease]

This quilt was on my 2017 Finish-A-Long list!


  1. What a perfect idea to ask Matt to quilt this one for you. The quilting adds fantastic detail and this is a quilt I keep finding new shapes and details to admire. Congratulations on the wonderful finish!

  2. this is so amazing. thanks for sharing your story. Matt did an awesome job, both in his leadership of your BOM construction and his amazing quilting of your quilt. So glad your first experience having someone else quilt one of your masterpieces was a huge success!

  3. This has turned out beautiful. I enjoyed the story of its growth. I like that you added width. Matt's quilting is beautiful and a great compliment to your quilt. Wonderful job.

  4. stunning - wouldn't it be fun to do this using the grunge fabric line? All that added movement!

  5. This is gorgeous! I wish there was a way for others to do Matt's monthly challenges.

  6. I love it!! You both did an amazing job!! ❤❤❤

  7. Oh this turned out great! Awesomely quilted too.

  8. Oh this turned out great! Awesomely quilted too.

  9. So happy to have been a follower of yours from beginning to end of this magnificent journey. Just amazing!

  10. Wow, what a great finish! This is gorgeous!! Love the whole fabric color combo you used for this quilt - and the quilting - amazing :)!


    looking forward to you posting hints and tips!!!!
    i think i may just have to do this challenge!!!!

  12. Wow! Your color palette shines and the spikes were the perfect addition to add more depth to the quilt. I'd love to see the other finishes from your guild - did many participate? The quilting totally tops it off. What a great partnership!

  13. I could pour over this quilt for hours. From the blocks to the quilting...OMG! It is fantastic. It has been amazing watching this come together. You should be over the moon!

  14. Wow, the quilt is just amazing. AND great Pictures :) Very lovely and inspiring story to read. Hope you use and thus enjoy the quilt a lot!

  15. Fantastic quilt! Such a great story behind this quilt. You are so fortunate to have Matt and the active guild you create with!

  16. I think I say this about every quilt you make, but wow - this is just stunning! I loved reading about the story behind this quilt and all the decisions you made along the way. The quilting adds such fun details to the design too - I could stare at it for hours!! This is definitely going on my list of all-time favourites.

  17. More than saying that I think this quilt is fabulous, I want to say thank you for the whole review and process for making this quilt. The BOM concept by Matt is inspired! (We had Sherri Lynn come to our chapter too, and we didn't have an idea as great as this.) It's great how he made it a challenge for all of you, and it's obvious you worked through it well. You've really "graduated" with an improv degree! Love the colors you picked, and how you processed making the quilt larger. I've heard of that Gwen Marston book, but never seen it. As for the quilting... Matt did it right. It's a great collaborative effort, and I completely understand how much you appreciate having this quilt. It's perfect. And something I aspire to be able to create... someday.

  18. Once again a perfect photo shoot!