Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters - a Review & Giveaway

Now here's a book I can get behind. And beside, and into. Sherri Lynn Wood's Improv Handbook is just that: a handbook. This is the most inspiring, informative and useful book I have in my quilting library. Honestly. I'm going to try and explain why without writing a novel (because I could, but I know you probably have other things to do today).

Regular readers of Poppyprint know that I've been quilting for 15 years. I learned in workshops at my LQS and later, through my guilds.  I have taken, and taught, many, many workshops.  In the past, I have described myself as a 'schooled' quilter, meaning I learned from experienced sewists/quilters who taught me technique and skills towards making a defined pattern/block/quilt in a prescribed way.  Over the past two years, I've moved towards exploring creative ideas beyond simply selecting fabrics for a pattern. I really feel like my technical confidence has come far enough to let me explore creating in a new way instead of just following a checklist of instructions and measurements to achieve someone else's idea.  It is unlikely I'll ever stop using patterns altogether, but I'm ready to venture out and see what happens.



Sherri's book is a guide for this exact moment in my creative life. I was lucky enough to purchase one of the limited copies at QuiltCon and have her sign it during the full day workshop that I took with her. She advised me to "be my own ruler". In the book, she discusses this more and encourages quilters to add their own voice to their work by free cutting, thereby creating a personal 'line' or signature. It is an interesting concept that I like - sort of like your own signature line or angle that could appear again and again throughout your work. As a practised "squaring upper", I've never actually built a large quilt from oddball shaped hunks of piecing or blocks that don't have squared edges....you know, the jigsaw puzzle approach. In our "Floating Squares Score" class, this is how the quilt came together. Sherri refers to this as "finding the natural fit" between two pieces of fabric and explains the concept with illustrative photos in the book.

Class work from Floating Squares workshop with Sherri Lynn Wood at QuiltCon2015
My piecing work from the workshop (I am itching to get back to this!)

Class work from Floating Squares workshop with Sherri Lynn Wood at QuiltCon2015
Classmate work  

The book is a collection of 'scores', not patterns. The scores are like recipes for improv concepts that are often related to shape, like squares, strips or curves.  You can explore each score using your own fabric that you love, but sometimes limits are put on the number of colours you can choose, or the sizes you cut. The score gives you parameters, but also permission to adjust, add, subtract or abandon certain elements as you progress.  Almost 250 volunteers accepted Sherri's call to test her scores and possibly have their quilts included in the book. In the final edit, 22 contributor quilts are shared alongside Sherri's own work to give you plenty of inspiration. I found a certain comfort in seeing the subtle similarities in the quilts (thanks to the score), while also recognizing the unique results of each maker's work. Here are a few of the excellent examples of the Patchwork Doodle score made by some of the volunteer testers for the book (click on the photos to read the makers' feedback on the process of working from the score):

"curve" / 37" x 39" / Lucie Summers
Curve, by Lucie Summers (a star improv quiltmaker and author of  Quilt Improv)

Maria Shell - 36" x 33"

"you are here" / 40" x 52" / Sharon O'Brien
You Are Here, by Sharon O'Brien

Returning to the idea that this book truly is a handbook, Sherri not only provides parameters, encouragement and permission to explore, she also includes a lot of practical advice.  When you create without patterns and you sew oddly shaped hunks of fabric together (many with stretchy, bias edges), sometimes crazy stuff happens.  Detailed photos and diagrams show you what to do when your quilt ends up with a pucker or wobble that your iron can't tame.  I know I will have to give these techniques a try. It is such a different approach to squaring everything; I like the idea of not having ruler-cut straight angled seams between the patchwork sections.

There's also a lot of new-to-me quilting and creative vocabulary in the book.  Phrases like "bimodal construction", "flexible patterning", "cutting from your core" and the concept of improv quilting as storytelling referencing African American quiltmakers.  There's just so much great stuff!  The book is 175 pages long and it is packed with quality text and gorgeous photography. It is possible I'm unable to be objective about it at this point, because it really is a game-changer of a book for me.

You know how children are often the creators of the most beautiful, free and colourful artwork because they just make what they like without self-restraint or critique?  I wish I could make quilts in this same way, without censoring my choices or demanding more perfect results.  Reading The Improv Handbook really gave me the confidence to try, and I have big plans to stretch myself creatively in the coming months and years.   The work I'm doing with my Improv Under the Influence piecing technique is still ongoing, but I foresee expanding my improv skills with Sherri's guidance. I'm definitely ready to move in this direction and I'll be referring to Sherri's book, and those of my other improv mentor Gwen Marston, along the way.  I'm also trying to adopt Sherri's method of evaluation by looking at my work and, instead of immediately identifying everything I'm not happy about, asking the following questions (we did this as a group in our workshop):

What surprised you?
What did you learn?
Are you satisfied or dissatisfied?
What would you change?

We all love to be our own worst critic. Try using Sherri's evaluation questions and I bet you'll immediately feel better about your amazing quilting skills! The maker of the quilt below did just that.

"Primary" / 65" x 51" / Elisa Albury
Primary by Elisa Albury is one of  my fav quilts from the score testers. I really enjoyed Elisa's evaluation of her work, which is super honest and insightful (click photo to read it in the Flickr comment).

I could go on, but it's time for the giveaway before I lose you altogether. Are you eager to try something new and make your own original work, or further explore your creativity in an improvisational way? Leave one comment for your chance to win a copy of The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters.  At the request of the publisher, this giveaway is open to North American addresses only.  I request that your email MUST be linked to your comment (or appear in your comment) to win. A random winner will be selected on May 23 at 5:00 p.m. PST.


EDITED TO ANNOUNCE THAT THE WINNER IS COMMENT #36: Congratulations Barbara Woods!

Disclosure: STC Craft provided me with a review copy of this book (which, like 90% of the free stuff I get through my blog, I'm passing along as a door prize in one of my future workshops/retreats since I already had my own copy!).  Some of the quilts shown in this post do not appear in the book, however they were made by volunteer testers who have given their permission for images to be shared for promotional purposes. They're amazing, so I'm sharing them.

Have a look at the other stops on the blog tour as I'm sure each post will offer more inspirational photos and more chances to win your own copy!

82 comments:

LynneP said...

Thanks for the chance to win!
jlpfeffer@gmail.com

Lynn said...

Great review! The book looks like it will be inspiring. Thanks for a chance to win it!

Karen said...

I'd love to give improv a try using this approach. Thanks for the chance to win.

babiesdoc said...

I have been wanting to try improv quilting
I like the quilt with the little stripes of fabrc

sharongalli@gmail.com

Dody said...

This look like it would be sew much fun. Thank you.
Dmac5958@aol.com

Arita said...

Thanks for the giveaway and like what you started in your class.

chrissie wunderlich said...

i would love a copy of this book!!! thanks for the chance to win!!

hiyacinth said...

Thanks for an insightful review!

Adrienne said...

this book looks amazing!

Martina said...

Sounds very interesting, wow!

Heather @ Quilts Actually said...

I'm a very controlled quilter, so I'm very interested in the concept of this book. Maybe I could do improv when there is a framework for it.

Kathy S. said...

I love improv! Free and fun and a great place for my scraps. Thanks for the inspiration.

Chantal Thibodeau said...

That's the kind of concept that I'll be thrilled to give a try.

Linda said...

HELLO,just beginning to try "Improv">really like it! It's a long way from my 'traditional habits' though-LOL!
msstitcher1214@gmail.com

Elizabeth V Kelbaugh said...

I love improv piecing and would like to do more creative quilts. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to trying out some of Sherri's scores.

kris said...

I've recently done some improv piecing and love it. It really calls to me and touches me when I see it.

Sharon T said...

I n.e.e.d this book! Thank you for the opportunity!

floribunda said...

it sounds like the perfect book for me... thanks for the giveaway and the informative review!

DianeY said...

This looks so interesting, and maybe a bit scary!

Liz said...

Looks like a great book, I'd love to try out some of these techniques. Thanks for sharing!

Aliceart said...

I'd love to win this book! I have wanted to try improv for some time, but feel I need a little guidance. This book sounds perfect for that. Thank you for the chance to win a copy.

Nicole said...

Hey Krista! I too pattern tested for the book and I'm looking forward to actually seeing it.

Gloria said...

I am interested in the techniques used in successful improv quilting as when I have tried it on my own, I always seem to end up with a wonky log cabin block that looks just plain odd.

Tamie said...

Great review. This is so outside of my comfort zone but I want to give it a try.

meli B said...

The pictures you put up are so inspirational. Love playing with improv quilting. This book looks fabulous.

Elisa said...

Hey Krista--incorrect link ;) www.stitchoutsidetheditch.com

PJ said...

looks like it takes Kiracofe's book one step further. Inspiring to see this attitude take hold!!!

Bohemian Mimi said...

I tried for years to get my daughter to make a quilt. When she saw one that was improv she was hooked. Four bed size quilts later, she has plans for two more on the agenda for her summer break!

StanleyBeagle said...

That looks like so much fun!

LynAnne Smucker said...

I so want to try her techniques especially for the curved piecing.
lsmucker@hotmail.com

Deal.licious Real Food Debby said...

I love how fun this looks. Thanks for the giveaway.
determineddebby at gmail dot com

Brenda said...

I'd love to win a copy! thanks for the chance.

Pamela said...

Looks like a great book, I'd love to win!

Carmen Dickinson said...

Exciting process to create beautiful quilts. Would love to have the book.
Carmend2010@gmail.com

Kathy E. said...

Finally! An author that gives us permission to create something that's not perfectly centered, or lined up, or on point! I love the idea of moving my creations into the improvisational arena. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

barbara woods said...

would love to have that , thanks bewtjwatoutlookdotcom

Julie said...

What a fun, playful book....lots of inspiration.

Mina said...

I am totally going to work through all of the scores in this book!

Mary Jo said...

I would love to own a copy of this book. --even if I end up buying it ! --really

Naomi Raimon said...

Thanks for the inspiring review/post and the beautiful sample pics! and thanks for the chance to win this fab book. -Naomi

Cassandra said...

This looks like a wonderful, inspiring book!

Kathy Davis said...

What fun quilts! Always need new inspiration.
Kathy Davis
kdavis1@centurytel.net

Ellee said...

This book would be just the thing to guide me in a new creative direction. -- soparkaveataoldotcom

Anne / Springleaf Studios said...

This is one book I'd really really love to win. I would like to try this approach to improv and could use all the help I can get.

GranChris said...

I could get into this kind of freedom for a change of pace.

sisylyn2 said...

I love the colors and would enjoy trying something different
Nancy
gandn74@ymail.com

Growing Old Fast said...

Thanks for a chance to win. I have wanted to have a book that would guide me thru the process like this one. It might give me the courage I need to succeed. Thanks for the great review.

Audrey said...

This book is at the top of my wish list. I love improv so far and need to learn how to move in more directions. I'm inspired by all the work of Sherri and her students. Thank you for sharing your impression and for the chance.

Kelley said...

Wow! Impressive review-enough for me to want to buy a copy if I don't win this one! Thanks for sharing this resources with us!

Shine on!
Kelley
kelleyfewer@yahoo.ca

Anna said...

Not for the giveaway (I am thrilled to have the book already and am not in Nth America) but had to say thanks so much for your review - I feel the same way after reading the book that it's a game changer for me and is such an amazing guide to the improv road without being prescriptive - just enough guidance to "get into trouble" - which is the best place to be with improv! Look forward to seeing where your squares take you :)

patty a. said...

I was a tester and I guess my pieces were too tame. I have been improv piecing for a number of years and it is just about the only method I use anymore.

Chiska said...

What a fun review! I've done a little bit of improv and it was so fun.

aus_chick said...

This book looks great! I'd love to use the ideas in it for downsizing into purses/tote bags.

Unknown said...

I love improv and think this book looks so helpful for trying new to me ways of improv piecing!!

rachel.parker27@gmail.com

Theglasdiva said...

This looks like a very exciting book. Thanks for the review.

Jenny said...

i loved Elisa's quilt too! so happy to see you showcase it in your blog post. i adore this book...would love to own it and not just constantly check it out from the library!

Alice Ronne said...

I'd love to WIN this book! For so long I've tried to "adhere" to the exact measurements, intersections matching, etc. This may liberate me and also urge me to expand my skills. Thanks for the awesome giveaway! akronne17@gmail.com

ritasiav said...

ritasiav@hotmail.com
I am practicing more improv quilts and am lovingthe freedom.Iwoudl love this book

Crickets Corner said...

From your review it looks like a book that everyone who even thinks about improv should have a copy of. edrin1932@gmail.com

Joy said...

I don't often follow a pattern, but I do often use inspirations too literally. I want my quilt to look more different than my inspiration, but yet not, if you know what I mean. I think this book may give me some techniques to achieve this. Thank you so much for the chance to win!

Patti said...

I'm always tripping over my own feet when it comes to improv! This sounds like the perfect book for me! Thanks for the giveaway, Krista, and I love the start of your quilt from the class!

Sarah Terry said...

I really really want to win this bo

Lisa J. said...

I'm really interested in this book as well as I would like to move towards a more free approach in my quilting. Thanks for the opportunity.

Judy Cooper Textile Images said...

Looks like an interesting book. Thanks for the giveaway.

Cathy said...

I definitely need a push to try improv more often, thanks for the chance! cjcwatkins@gmail.com

Jenny M said...

Even thou I can't be in the draw, as I live in Australia. I wanted to say thank you for such an in-depth review of the book.
It sounds like just want I need to read & absorb, so I can challenge myself to take a different path with my quilt making.

Farm Quilter said...

I love the look of improv quilts, but they are intimidating when I have spent my entire quilting life following someone's directions to make a quilt. I've experimented with a few improv quilts and they were so much harder then I thought! This book would be so much fun and helpful in continuing to explore being creative on my own!!

Fiberquilt said...

Would love to have this book

Beth said...

I am so excited about this book. The longer I quilt, the more I realize and embrace the truth that for me, the joy in quilting is when there is discovery in every step of the process. If I follow a pattern and know what the end will be once I've chosen the fabric, then it really is not fun once the fabric is pulled, and the rest is just drudgery except for the suspense of whether my 1/4 seams were accurate and it all comes together. So I love the glimpse into this book and its concepts and can't wait to dive in.

Britt-Inger said...

I have bought this book and have made a review in our next issue in the magazine of the Swedish Quilt Rikst├Ącket. It is a very inspiring book and I will of course make some of the scores. Sherri is a very creative and inspiring quilter and I hope there will be several Swedish quilters that will be interested of this type of quilting. And I suppose that you will inform of this when you have your classes in Sweden. I would love to meet you then.

Deborah said...

Thanks for the giveaway! Love those questions!

AngieSue said...

I'm eager to try improv because it's so against-the-grain for me. I love the results, though!

Pam said...

awesome book to have thanks for the chance to win

heavenbound6784@yahoo.com

Amy's Crafty Shenanigans said...

Yay I have a North American address :) amycav at hotmail dot com

Katherine Chapman said...

I have trouble with straight lines and formal directions, but still love quilting! This seems like a good book for me!

Lisa Marie said...

I would like to expand my limited improv experience and this book looks like a great tool. I'm in the US, thanks for the chance to win!

Laura said...

Thanks so much for the complete review of this book. Looks like a "must have" reference.

Barb said...

Loved your post. One day I'll get up the courage to try this!

Teresa Stanulis said...

This book looks so intriguing. I'm a square-it-up kind of quilter, but I'm ready to expand my horizons!
tstanulis@verizon.net

Kat said...

What a great book, would love a chance to win it.

Sarah ACP said...

these quilts are amazing. I'm sure the book is even better. slp.acp@gmail.com

Kathy H said...

I have always used patterns to make my quilts. But after seeing all those pretty quilts, I will have to try the improv quilts.