teaching sewing confidence, tip by tip

Monday, 6 June 2016

Improv: Beyond The Bee - May 2016 (NYC Metro MOD Quilt Guild)

Most of you know I'm a member of the NYC Metro MOD Quilt Guild and from 2012-15 I was in our Guild's first Bee and I shared how I made each block with you here on this page.  I've taken a year off from being in a Bee but when Guild members Jenny and Jessica announced they were starting a brand new Guild Bee I couldn't resist joining so today I'm introducing

Improv: Beyond The Bee

As a Bee, we'll be using many of the ideas in The Improv Handbook For Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood and working with scores (rules open to self-interpretation) set by that month's Guild Queen Bee.

Queen Bee for May 2016 is Jenny and she sent me 2 strips of each of these 3 fabrics.

Jennifer's Score:
One given fabric in each of 3 blocks,
Use up to 5 fabrics in each block and 1 contrast fabric to change direction of composition and create juxtaposition,
No novelty fabrics.
Don't use same fabric more than once across 3 blocks.
Create 3 blocks:
1 x low volume light range of values - contrast should also be low volume
1 x high contrast wide range of values
1 x low impact dark range of values

Cut strips without a ruler to create 3 distinct string sheets that read as colour study compositions with an accent colour to add a jolt of movement to the design.  
Cut/join strips however you like but must read as stripes.  
Block size optional - don't trim blocks.

Making My 3 Blocks - The Process
I pulled fabrics to go with the 3 given fabrics and fitting the 3 range values.  I took a photo of each fabric range and removed the colour so I could see the colour range more accurately in grey scale.

I was happy that I had a light, medium and dark colour range for the fabric sets so I pulled some yellow and orange fabrics to trial for the contrast fabric.  Again I removed colour from each photo so I could assess the values more accurately.

I chose the orange in the bottom photo as the contrast as it was a strong contrast to each of the fabrics across all 3 colour ways.  

Fortunately, at this stage I reread Jenny's score to be sure I had made correct choices in my fabric pull - I hadn't!!!  

The first bit to rethink was the contrast for the Low Volume Light Range as it should also be in the low volume range - I picked a beige instead, you'll see it below when I make that block.  The second issue was with the medium colour range I had pulled - it wasn't supposed to be a medium colour range, instead, I should have chosen a high contrast wide range of colour fabrics.

Below is my next fabric pull for this high contrast wide range.  You'll see I've pulled six fabrics plus contrast fabric in the top photo though I need only five plus contrast.  In the middle set of photos (Choice A) below I've removed one fabric and you'll see in the grey scale version of the second photo that each of the colours is a different shade on the 'grey' scale.  In the bottom set of photos (Choice B) I've swapped out the blue floral and replaced it with a pale green and brown floral.  In the grey scale photo, you'll see that the green/brown floral fabric reads as almost exactly the same shade of grey as the pale blue print at the bottom of the pic - this selection, therefore, isn't successful and I'll go with Choice A instead.

Fabrics chosen, it's time to make the blocks.  I cut strips from the pulled fabrics - without a ruler.  I purposely cut some of the strips slightly on the diagonal but was surprised to discover that I can cut an incredibly accurate and straight line without using a ruler at all.  I'd no idea I could do this and I've thought about why I'm so good at it - I'm guessing it's because I worked the shop floor at The City Quilter for several years and I'm incredibly experienced and confident when making my fabric cuts.  I think it's muscle memory too from years of practice - ruler no longer necessary, who knew it!!!

I put all the cut strips in a bag so I couldn't see what I was pulling and sewed them together piece by piece regardless of what order they came out of that bag.

It felt strange to sew some strips of the same fabrics together but I went with it if that was the way they came out of the bag.  You'll see in the photo collage below how I made the rest of the block.

And then I made the other 2 blocks in the same way.

This is how the final three blocks look together - in colour and in grey scale


I glanced at the blocks later from the other side of my room (about 20 feet away) and realised that the orange fabric appears to be different colours in the two far blocks.  It looks slightly darker in the High Contrast Wide Range block and a little brighter in the Low Impact Dark Range block - it's actually the same orange fabric in both blocks.  I took the pic from that distance, zooming in as much as I could so I could capture the visible colour difference and share it with you.  It's always interesting to see how the colour relationships of neighbouring fabrics affect each other (juxtaposition) 

Assessing My Work Against The Score
Looking at my finished blocks there are a couple of areas where I feel I've not met Jenny's score brief - I've used a very limited blue through green colour palette for all the fabrics and this is hardly the colour study composition Jenny was looking for. I've also used similar widths and numbers of strips across the three blocks so they are very similar apart from how I've used the contrast fabric in each. I wish I'd sliced some of the strips narrower to create more stripes in at least one of the blocks or even cut them further after slicing through the sewn strips to add the contrast.  That way the stripes on either side of the contrast fabric would also be visually contrasting.

I feel I've succeeded in creating 3 blocks that read as stripes in the given values and in my choice of contrast colour providing the requested juxtaposition.

Surprises & Discoveries
I can make straight fabric cuts without using a ruler.

My Thoughts
It's an interesting process - it didn't push boundaries but did take me out of my comfort zone. I think this is because although it's improv it feels incredibly rule driven and I had to keep referring to the book and the score to make sure I was doing everything correctly.  I'm familiar with and love to work with improv, my own improv that is but I was conscious this time that I should follow Sherri Lynn Wood's improv method and the Queen Bee Jenny's chosen score too.  This felt to me like it was detracting from the possibilities usually open to us when we work in an improv nature.  I'm hoping this will change as we get further into the Bee year and the book's techniques become more second nature to me.  

I've also been wondering about how similar quilts will look if they are created using the book's methods - I know I've seen quite a number on the internet already and though each is different it's easy to spot at a glance quilts made from 'scores' described in the book.  I'm open and ready to being proved wrong.

Have you made a quilt using scores from The Improv Handbook For Quilters?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too.

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  1. Gosh Chris, what a complicated process you went through to produce these blocks, my brain is reeling. I don't think that I would have the patience for these rules/scores! I haven't read this book although I have seen posts on it from several bloggers and had thought it might be interesting but now I am not so sure :)

  2. I'm sure doing this would give me a better understanding of high / low volumes, but I don't know that I would have the patience. Very interesting to read the process, though.

  3. I'm in the other half of this bee & we had the same assignment without the contrast fabric! I, too, took many b/w
    pictures - more than ever before to study my choices & found that part of the process enlightening!!! Now I want to go back to see if I followed the value directions. (It's on my IG) But one thing to remember about this bee is, & I quote from my directives sheet: The finished blocks will never be literal representations of the Queen's concept; the concept will merely be the jumping off point for you to explore the technique or inspiration. Thank you for your analysis of your own blocks, Chris!

  4. This is wonderful!!! Please continue ......this makes me think of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco !!!

  5. I'm unclear if you were supposed to stick to just one hue, i.e blue, in this score. Your final choices in the second and third pieces showed clear design, which the photos did not show for me in the first one. The strips at that distance seemed too similar. Good going on such a demanding project.

  6. Very interesting post Chrissie ! I'd be afraid to make wrong choices with so much rules ... I'm working with Sherri Lynn Wood book too. I've finished Scores #1 and #2 so far and I'm now piecing #4. Definitely easier than working for your Queen Bee ;-)

  7. You put a lot of thought into the process Chrissie, it was interesting to follow. I have just finished score 1, and I have never had so much fun making a quilt. I will definitely be making score 2 in a couple of months.

  8. I like your improv! Your blocks look related to me because they all have slashes through them. I've made the floating squares and now I'm starting something stringy. I'm with you, having to go back and follow the rules from the book can be a little stifling. But for someone who is new to improv, I'm happy to have some direction! Thanks for showing your process, I found it interesting.

  9. Sounds interesting, but a bit complicated, I so admire your patience! Thank you for sharing at The Really Crafty Link Party! Pinned!


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Chris Dodsley

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