31 Mar 2017 • • by Heather Lou

Black & White Free Motion Improv Quilt

Improv wedge Free Motion Quilt // Black and white quilt // Closet Core Patterns

Making stuff has started to feel like a real addiction. I'm not exactly slapping at veins looking for a good place to stick my handsewing needles, but I definitely feel compelled to always have a few projects on the go, for those moments when my idle hands are twitching nervously by my sides. I've realized it's a good idea to break up garment sewing with different sorts of projects for a few reasons: one, a girl only needs so many clothes, and two, breaking up your routine with a new challenge is great for getting the creative blood moving.  If you're not constantly moving forward you're dead, like a shark, or a relationship, or that train from Snowpiercer*.

It's with all that in mind that I started work on my first "real" quilt last year. I made a super simple baby quilt for my sister a while back, but it wasn't anything to write home about and I decided to try something a little more involved for my second go-round. While I was teaching at Fabrications in Ottawa, I picked up a number of options for a graphic monochromatic quilt. I think one of the most intimidating things about quilting is choosing all those coordinating fabrics; there is a real art to it, and I have profound admiration for all you quilters who just have that magic eye for picking disparate patterns and colours and making it work. I was feeling wimpy, so I went black and white since it takes all the guess-work out of it.

I can't remember where I saw the idea for the pattern itself, but it's super simple and it's a great introduction to improv quilting. Basically you cut your yardage into strips (mine were about 15" wide) and then cut random wedges out of that strip in varying thicknesses; some skinny, some fat, some in between. For this reason I think it's probably more efficient to buy actual yardage rather than working from fat quarters. As you start piecing everything together, you want to alternate wide side to skinny side, trying to keep the long strip you're building as straight as possible. Once your strip is the desired length, you'll use a quilting ruler and a rotary cutter to even out the sides.

Once I had all my strips finished, I spent a lot of time mildly freaking out about how to quilt it all together. I considered having it done professionally on a long arm machine, but since it's just a small lap quilt for tv time it kinda seemed like overkill. I thought about doing simple vertical lines, but after making my quilted Tamarack jacket, I wanted to explore more complicated quilting techniques. This is when I  decided to teach myself free motion quilting,

My new/vintage Bernina had a free motion quilting foot, and at this point I consider myself a fairly advanced seamstress; how hard could it be? I watched lots of videos and got myself all psyched up and then sat down with some practice swatches.

Humbled. Dead humbled. Hubris, plain and simple.

If you don't know what free motion quilting is, let me explain: you are essentially freestyle drawing on your quilt with your needle. To do this, you lower the feed dogs on your machine, use a special foot, and then go to town. In order for it to look like anything other than a dog's breakfast (ie. have a steady stitch length and smooth, graceful line without any jagged corners) you must use  consistent pressure on your foot while simultaneously moving the fabric at a consistent speed. You need to be able to see a few steps ahead since it goes fairly quickly, and you need to be able to smoothly manipulate a huge piece of fabric around on your machine while everything else is going on. It's basically ninja level sewing. Or sewing alchemy. And it's not something you'll master after a few practice swatches.

I get down on my knees and kiss the feet of all you free motion masters who draw the most beautiful designs on these cumbersome, annoying to manipulate beasts. And I listened to you and took your advice: I put on rhythmic music, had a glass of wine, tried to tap into the calm, zen part of my brain. I wore kitchen gloves so I could get a better grip on the fabric. And let's just say, it was not the most refined sewing experience of my life. There was sweating, swearing, and boozing; I was really upending patriarchal ideas about what a woman sewing really looks like.

That said, for my first attempt, I'm quite pleased. It's certainly not perfect, and there are about a squillion wonky corners and bits where the stitch length goes from like, 1-6mm in length, but it was fun. I get the appeal. And hopefully I haven't discouraged any of you interested in this from trying it; it's probably the most creative and "free" you'll ever feel sewing. Even if you're panicking about the freedom while it's happening.

My deep apologies, but I have no idea what the fabrics are since I started this way back last year and didn't keep any of the printed selvedges. I started to find the black a little too dark and oppressive so tried to minimize its use as the quilt progressed; I actually wish I hadn't used the solid black at all, since it reminds me a little too much of A Beautiful Mess circa 2012.

I ended up bias binding off the edges with some pretty striped cotton I found locally at Effilioche, and I pieced the back together from stash scraps; the darker fabric is a dark grey chambray, and the middle part is some striped shirting. I used a classic cotton batting in the sandwich, and did the safety pin game to get it all together, but wish I had used spray adhesive instead since the pins were really annoying to quilt around.

It's the perfect size for keeping warm on the couch, although it's currently covered in dog hair and I am terrified about washing it since I am fairly convinced all my weird stitching is going to become unravelled.

I've already started scheming my next quilt and I am feeling really inspired by the Best in Show winner at Quilt Con. Obviously that pattern is wayyyyy too complicated for me (I just don't have the patience), but I love the palette, so I am going to do a simple freestyle triangle quilt using solid colours in that style. I'm dreaming of a linen quilt so I ordered a bunch of samples of Kaufman Essex linen and am trying to figure out a more specific palette.

Have you ever made a quilt before? Have you mastered freestyle quilting? Tell me your quilting stories!

* Seriously, the most perfect action/sci-fi movie ever made. It's so weird and awesome. I am going to rewatch it now that I'm thinking about it.

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