Modern Improv Block Quilt

This was FUNNNNNNN!  Totally spontaneous, no measurements to speak of, busting that perfectionist tendency into pieces and blowing it away in the breeze.

IMG_4517 2

If you can handle not knowing what your quilt is going to look like when it’s all done, or even your individual blocks for that matter, then give this a try.  You can use up all kinds of scraps in various sizes and shapes and piece rather mindlessly while watching your favourite Netflix shows.


Yes, you can see that at some points along the way I did try to incorporate similar strips into each bock only because I had some darker fabric that I wanted to use up completely and I didn’t want it to bunch up in one area.  So you can do a teeny bit of planning as you go but you don’t have to; it’s your choice.  Just start with a couple of scraps and stitch them together; they don’t even have to line up.  Trim them if you want to have a straight edge for the next addition but you don’t have to because you can just put that next piece on at any angle you like and stitch it into place.

Eventually you will have a lovely modern wonky block with tails and jagged edges everywhere that you can trim down to whatever size you want for your quilt and when they all go together they look so cool!  I know there’s likely several ways of doing this and many ideas to choose from.  I was inspired by a photo shared by Ingrid from Quiltessential in St. Albert, and it caught my attention because of the way she used the low volume fabrics for most of her block and then added a pop of bright color here and there.

I was attracted to the fresh crisp look and I used those ideas for my own blocks, knowing I would want to focus on the whites and add a white border so that certain blocks blended into the border and it wouldn’t be obvious where they actually ended. I love the effect that has on the whole quilt when you stand back and look at it!

The idea is to just piece and piece until you get something big enough to call a block for your chosen quilt size.

#194 May:18

Because of the darker piece and a few brights that I wanted to use up, I ended up with 24 blocks.  I don’t really like a 4 X 6 long and skinny configuration unless it’s for a bed; I prefer 4 x 5, 6 x 7 etc. for throws, and sometimes square is OK if it HAS to be square to make it work!  So this one needed one extra block to get it to 5 x 5.  I didn’t want to make a wonky block that would just stand out because it was an afterthought – yes this is improv but I also wanted it to look properly finished – so I decided to make a block with words on it.  I didn’t centre that block because that just seemed too typical  LOL  I wanted it to fit in with the theme of keeping things off centre and unexpected.


This particular phrase has become a favourite of mine so I printed it out, set the ink, gave it a scrappy border with a few pieces I had left to coordinate with the rest of the quilt and I LOVE how it turned out!  (I’m actually using it at as an inspirational line on the bottom of all my custom labels now)


There will definitely be another one of these mod improv block quilts in my future!  And I suspect there will be more words appearing here and there as well 🙂



More from the Woodlands …

I feel like there should be music playing as you read this, like the theme song from Hinterland Who’s Who? … if you don’t know what that is, you’re either not from Canada  or you’re still a young pup.  It’s a classic.  In our house it’s more of a long standing joke, but let’s say “classic” just to be nice 🙂  I’m including a youtube link here because I can’t add background music to this post and I want you to get the full effect.  When we make a joke, we pretty much just hum those first few notes and there’s no explanation needed …

It won’t be funny though if you’re hearing it for the first time.  You’ll be like “What’s the joke?” To qualify for standing joke status, you’d have had to hear it interrupt every CBC program of your childhood for a one minute trip down Canada Goose lane or some other nature walk …

… but seriously …

I have a few more woodland animal/outdoor themed quilts to share with you; one is another panel from Spoonflower, one was designed and pieced by me (OK, full disclosure: the idea was sent to me by my niece who wanted to custom order something similar and I figured out how to make it by throwing some some deer heads into her color scheme.) The third will be gifted to a young man who loves everything outdoorsy along with John Deere tractors.  I found a layer cake precut package that fit the bill and got lucky when I added in the John Deere because I was ordering online and those greens actually went together when I got it all! #winning

They’ve all been quilted with one of my favourite hand guided edge to edge designs, the woodgrain, and you can see how this stitching pattern works on just about anything.


I think another Spoonflower order will be necessary soon;  their site is so much fun!

#191 May:18 - Jessica#191b

“Never have I ever …” Yellow, grey, black, and white.  Until I saw it, it wouldn’t have occurred to me.  And apparently those deer heads make it “perfect”, according to sources other than myself.  So I’m being educated!

#193 May:18 - Thomas#193b

An outdoor person I’m not.  (understatement of the year …) But I am told that this one looks really cool and will be very suitable for its recipient and that’s what counts!

That’s it for today’s walk in the woods. (more music here …)

Stay tuned for my newly finished modern improv block quilt which is sucking me into keeping it for myself.  Yes, I know, we’ve been down this road before LOL

It all Started With a Jelly Roll …

I am often asked by students, customers, and other quilters about how I got “into” quilting myself and I launch into my story.  I did write about it three years ago on a personal blog when the whole journey started, and have linked to that old post a couple of times along the way on this quilting blog.  But I finally decided to move it over here so it would have a permanent place among my other quilting related posts, to make it easier for me and others to find, and just in case the personal blog gets moved or comes to an end one day in the future.

So if you’ve already seen it, excuse the repeat.  If you haven’t, then here it is – the post below was from 2015, so as you read references to months or time frames, remember that it was three years ago!  The original post included some photos of my early quilts, so I’ve tried to copy them here for reference, because beginners are usually comforted to see that even those of us now comfortable taking on more intense projects and teaching classes started out with the basics 🙂  You will notice that my first quilts were “print heavy” while I practiced my free motion stitching – great way to hide glitches and mistakes learning moments 🙂  Now, as you know from following this blog, I will choose solids every chance I get because I want the quilting to show up!  That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes anymore; I’ve just made a lot of progress in my recovery from perfectionism …

June 2015

Mom taught me to sew when I was about nine years old, and I sewed my own clothes all the way through high school and into adulthood when I also sewed for my own family until fabric finally became more expensive than buying the ready made clothes.  At the same time, the landscape of fabric stores was changing: it became harder to find dress goods as shelves began filling up with quilting supplies and I was happily moving from sewing to other crafts.  I kept my machine, of course, because there were always mending jobs to do and an occasional curtain that needed to be sewn (and it was a monumental purchase from my youth that was going to last a lifetime, but that was covered in an earlier post!) but in general, after over 25 years of making everything from tailored blazers to a wedding dress to baby clothes to home decor, I did very little sewing at all for almost 15 years.

My mom has been an avid quilter for a long time now and it was never something I was interested in doing myself – I didn’t see the point of buying fabric only to cut it up into little pieces to sew it all back together again, even though I eventually spent many days doing just that with paper after I became immersed in stamping and card making.  I pieced a couple of simple quilt tops together a number of years ago, but only so that my mom could quilt them for me because I had no desire to do all that work!  I liked having quilts, I just had no interest in making them.

Then one day last February I decided I needed a new floor mat for my kitchen and I wanted to make a braided rug like the ones people made in the olden days.  I went to my trusty idea site – Pinterest – to look for patterns, and came across a woven fabric mat that caught my attention.  It looked like a lot less work than a braided one; yes, I’m usually attracted to great ideas requiring little effort because I like to start and finish projects quickly.  Even in my youth, if a garment took longer than a day to make from cutting out the pattern to sewing up the hem, I lost interest and it sat unfinished on a shelf.

So I clicked on the woven mat and saw that the pattern called for a jelly roll.  I had no idea what this referred to but I knew they weren’t talking about a dessert (although I’ve since learned that many of the fabric precuts are named after bakery items, which makes me wonder if all quilters enjoy donuts as much as I do) so of course I then had to Google “jelly roll fabric”.  I could say at this point that the rest is history, but that wouldn’t make much of a blog post!

I browsed the many, many, MANY jelly rolls available and of course entered the world of jelly roll quilt ideas along my way.  People were sharing pictures of quilt tops made in less than an hour and I was enthralled – I could do that!  It was right up my start-to-finish in a day alley – at that rate I could do more than one a day – and I knew exactly where I could take them to be quilted at a store on a long arm machine, so I dove in and ordered a couple of rolls, along with the batting and backing I would need to complete the projects, and happily waited for my package to arrive.

In the meantime I decided that with all the ideas and tutorials out there for machine quilting, I really should at least try it myself to see how it worked and find out if I could actually enjoy doing it myself – this is important because knowing how to do something and enjoying doing it are two different things.  My crafts are therapy for me, and if something becomes frustrating or it isn’t fulfilling my need for relaxation and fun, I’m not going to do it.  So I put together some small pieces of fabric and batting, got my trusty old Pfaff onto the table, set it up for free motion quilting and off I went.

I’m not sure I have an addictive personality, at least not for dangerous things (unless you count frequent fabric orders and excitement over the lovely scents of Best Press spray as dangerous…) but I do believe that as soon as I started to free motion quilt on that sample piece I knew I was going to love it and I just wanted to keep going, which is pretty much what happened once my box arrived and I got those first two tops made.

I should also mention here the wonder of spray basting adhesive.  It must have landed here from heaven.  I would NOT be quilting if I had to thread baste or pin every quilt sandwich I make.  It takes too long (thus it doesn’t fit into the start-to-finish quickly plan) and those nasty pins would interfere with my free motion rhythm and I would get frustrated (which means I wouldn’t finish and while putting a half finished blouse on a shelf once or twice might not have been serious, quilting fabric and supplies aren’t cheap so I’m darn well finishing every single quilt I start!).  This stuff is seriously amazing and once my sandwich is made I can fold it and flop it around as much as I need to while I’m working on it and it all stays together just the way I need it to.  But I digress …

I had a plan.  I didn’t want to calculate and plan quilt blocks, I just wanted to somewhat mindlessly sew tops easily and quilt them. Jelly rolls worked well because they sewed up quickly and left no scraps, so I didn’t have to worry about a pile of leftovers accumulating in my cupboard making me feel pressured to find ways to use them.  I wasn’t going to stash fabric; I was going to buy specific amounts for planned projects only and even at that I wouldn’t have extra project piles waiting, I would buy in small amounts that I could use up quickly before buying more.  My quilting friend with many years experience listened and smiled.

And then I discovered layer cakes (there are also honey buns, maple cakes, and dessert rolls, oh my!) and how easy it was to make blocks that could be arranged into lovely designs with just a cut here and there and I could still sew a top easily in a day and have time leftover to build something out of wood (one of my other hobbies).  I was using what I had almost as soon as I got it home from wherever I found it, so I placed another fabric order to include a layer cake.  I had specific quilts in mind, sticking with the plan.

The list of quilts I wanted to make grew quickly and I needed to visit some fabric stores to see what was out there beyond my online source – and to actually feel the fabric before I bought it – so I picked up mom and made a couple of spontaneous trips to find pieces that I knew would be just right for certain people.  My ideas were expanding beyond the strips into various other configurations, and I came home with enough for a few more specific projects.  I was teased for calculating my yardage down to the tenth of a metre because I didn’t need leftovers, and it worked out well for me to use any possible scraps as part of the backings so they were decorative but also used up!  My quilting friend laughed and warned me that it was only a matter of time before I fell into the black hole.

Then it happened.  Just a little bit, but it happened.  I saw a piece of fabric in a store that was so beautiful I just had to buy some of it, even though it wasn’t for a particular quilt. In my own defense, it was neutral and usable for pretty much anything so it wasn’t really like stashing something just because I wanted it as it would match lots of stuff and already had embroidery all over it so would make really good borders and sashing … My quilting friend smiled and assured me that is how a stash starts: even just one piece of fabric not designated for a specific project but purchased because I had to have it does a stash make (just in case you weren’t aware of the rules).

The more I sewed and quilted, the more I started noticing ideas that went beyond the precuts I was finding so convenient to work with and before I knew it I was buying fat quarters and half metres and cutting them into pieces of various sizes so that I could put together my own quilt tops based on designs I liked.  I started watching tutorials and taking my free motion quilting to new levels, discovering my own favourite stitching patterns and combining them at will.  And then one day when I was about to throw away a scrap and found myself thinking “I might be able to use that for something”, I knew the plan had changed.  And I knew my quilting friend would shake her head because she knew all along that I wouldn’t be able to resist, but she patiently waited for me to succumb and admit that I was no different than any other quilter, and then she welcomed me to the “dark side”.  I think she even said “I told you so” – (are friends really supposed to say that??)

My first pieced quilt, no precuts!
My first pieced quilt, no precuts!

So now, three and a half months and fifteen quilts later (FIFTEEN? I had to go back and count…) I’m getting bold enough to try more challenging free motion designs and my favorite online fabric store in Chilliwack, B.C. knows me by name.  (I’ve filled at least two super stitcher cards…)  I have a small stash of really cool fabric and I’m on the verge of sharing an entire roll of batting so I don’t have to keep re-ordering it.  I’m always looking for new ideas and sometimes I’m actually giddy when I get my quilt sandwich all rolled up and sit down at my machine to start the fun part.

May 2015 - Kate
for my daughter
May 2015 - Michael
for my son
May 2015 - mom
for my mom

I used to be able to justify spending money on my craft supplies by reminding myself that my hobbies were cheaper therapy than drinking, smoking, or taking drugs.  When it comes to quilting, I’m not so sure that’s true!  But I’m not sure I care either because  there’s really no price to be put on something that keeps my brain active and provides me with so much enjoyment, especially given that I can share what I make with friends and family who are happy to receive handmade gifts from my heart (at least that’s what they tell me), and with others who might need a special quilt to comfort them in a time of need.

Needless to say my mom is happy about my new interest in quilting; I can now participate in and chat happily about the hobby that she found long ago, and whenever I finish a new quilt top I have to take it and show her what I’ve done so she can ooh and ahh and give me the mom-likes-everything-you-make stuff that starts to build our ego from the first time she put a crayon art piece on the fridge!  She even lets me dig into her stash once in a while too.

And if you’re wondering whatever happened with my kitchen mat, I’d be happy to post a picture but I haven’t actually made one yet!

UPDATE 2018 –  Just finished quilt #194 and still no kitchen rug! LOL

Improv Composition 1 – and Pinterest Adventure Days 17 thru 24

I’m giving myself permission to use this quilt post to make up for several Pinterest Adventure days!  It was time for me to stitch something wide open and I’ve been wanting to incorporate various ideas I’ve seen into a modern whole cloth quilt so I knocked off a few saved pins in this one, along with a bunch of spontaneity in planning on the fly.

I’m not sure how many hours of stitching there are in this quilt;  I always think I’m going to keep track and then I don’t.  The funny thing is that my machine actually has a timer I could use if I wanted to check it out and learn how to set it.  But I’m always more interested in digging in and getting started and then I forget all about it!  I’m going to “guess” at about fifteen hours as it was over the course of (I think) three days and an evening when I first loaded it and couldn’t wait for morning to start stitching.

Every once in a while I need to do something like this.  Part of it is because I love negative space and wild quilting and blending designs together to make them look like they’re going in front of and behind each other all over the place.  Part of it is because I need to do an occasional “idea dump” to satisfy the part of my brain that is storing up all kinds of inspiration and eventually it just needs to come out all over the place! LOL Most of my pieced quilt tops and customer quilts don’t allow for this kind of thing to happen so  eventually I just have to plan for the opportunity 🙂

Here are a few photos (and by “a few” I mean far too many but they’re all so cool I couldn’t choose!) to show you my process.  Of course I can’t “show” you my thinking process, just my stitching one, but hopefully you get the idea … well, OK, the idea is that I hardly plan this out at all.  Which isn’t much help to you, I know, but in person I could totally keep you posted as to my thoughts along the way if you were standing right beside me while I’m quilting!  Of course that would mean a lot of hours, many of which would be completely boring to anyone else … which is why I didn’t try to capture it on video …

I did start out with a few lines on a piece of paper, just to block out a kind of sort of plan, which I transferred to my fabric in a rough draft sort of way …


And that’s about it for pre-marking.  You’ll see from the end result that I followed some of those lines and ignored others!  There were a few times that I made tick marks here and there after deciding to cross hatch or do something else that I wanted at regularly spaced intervals, just before quilting a space.

There IS a video below showing the whole finished quilt though and a quick frame telling you what I do with the marked lines, which is about as much as I can put into words 🙂



Just when I think I’ve found my favourite section, I change my mind 🙂

Whew!  Today I’m taking a break: my eyes, back, feet, and shoulders are begging for relief.  My brain is still going though and I’ve entitled this quilt “Improv Composition 1” for a reason …


Longarm Custom Baby Quilt

I don’t often do custom work on a baby quilt, but this one called for something special and I wanted to make those white triangles pop so I opted for some straight lines in the printed areas and, of course, feathers for the white!  I LOVE white on white.  I love stitching it out and watching it develop and I love looking at it when it’s done.  It’s so fresh and crisp 🙂

I used a ruler for the straight lines, just eyeballing the pivot point and using a line on the ruler for consistent spacing, and added a little swirl to the top of the feathered triangles – an idea I got from Sharon at Love Shack Quilts.  It’s such a simple element to add but gives just a bit more pizzaz than just taking the feathers all the way, and I really like it! There’s a quick video further down showing you a couple of blocks being stitched out.

I have to say this quilt was made much easier by me new HST tools: Clearly Perfect Slotted Trimmers from New Leaf Designs.  I think I might be starting to be OK with half square triangles in a kind of tolerate-them-without-cursing-sort-of-way  …


Modern Tiles Quilt

How about another modern quilt from the “Wiggling” pattern in the Modern One-Block Quilts book by Natalia Bonner and Kathleen Whiting?  This pattern is so much fun to make (I don’t even really mind the piecing on this one because it’s quick and easy and the layout gives it the wiggly look!) and if you use charm packs you can end up with a wild variety of prints pulled together with one cool solid framing each one 🙂 I used charm packs for the first one I made using the Maker’s Home collection.

On this quilt, I used the same green geometric print throughout and mixed it with a variety of prints in greys from the Drawn fabric line by Angela Walters.  This won’t be the last one I make from this pattern; I feel like it’s becoming a go to pattern when I want something quick and fun!


#185b copy#185d copy#185 Apr.:18 copy

I quilted it with a wavy line stitching pattern that includes some basic leaves on every second row for a fresh modern look, and because it’s a super quick way to fill up a quilt while giving it great texture!  The possibilities are endless with a stitching pattern like this; you can use the leaves on every line, or spread them out as much as you wish, or even add something other than leaves like pebbles in pods or little flowers or whatever you can imagine.  Draw out some lines on paper and see what you can come up with for your own style.  This particular idea was inspired by Christina Cameli who was showing examples of how to embellish straight line quilting in blocks.  I wanted wavy lines so I adapted it and voila!

#185e copy

#185c copy

The texture is also great because I used Quilter’s Dream Poly Deluxe batting, which is a slightly heavier and loftier batting than my usual Hobbs 80/20.  It’s fun to try out different battings and see what kind of results you get, so I do suggest experimenting to see which ones become your personal favourites.

I’ve included a short video below that shows how I stitched out this simple quilting design.

Woodgrain and Woodland Animals

Woodland animals are kind of a big deal right now and they’re appearing on all kinds of baby and child decor so of course I decided to jump on the bandwagon and get some quilts made!

I found some wonderful panels (read as “already digitally printed with a variety of designs so there’s lots of cool stuff to look at and NO PIECING”) on that allowed me to get in on this craze and have some fun with modern quilting.  I chose the woodgrain stitching pattern for these because it not only fit with the theme but it stitches out pretty quickly with stunning results in texture.

I have two slightly different panels left to finish, but for now, here are the first ones along with a short video showing you how I did the quilting.

(I’m too old to keep track of these trends, but I have a daughter who lets me know about the hot items.  Seriously, what is with these bears and deer heads?  People are gobbling this stuff up!)

Handi Quilter Glide Foot

Just a short post today to share a quick video I recorded while working on a very unique quilt top, heavily embellished with doilies, appliqués, embroidery, ribbons, beads and pearls in various designs.

The maker had already attached batting to the back in sections as she put each one together, and my job was to turn it into a full on quilt with backing and an additional batting layer, and to give it stability and texture without drawing attention away from the original work with a lot of noticeable free motion stitching.  Definitely a challenge, given that most of my usual work is very visible and detailed!

Enter my Handi Quilter Glide foot.  This bowl shaped foot allowed me to stitch around and on top of the thicker and ruffled edges of the shapes and doilies with no problems at all.  There was no pulling or stretching as I went, and because it is clear I could see everything I was doing without any obstacles.  It can be attached to the HQ longarm machines as well as the sit down Sweet Sixteen, with the turn of a screw.  I needed to switch back and forth between it and my regular hopping foot throughout the project in order to accomplish the mission, but it was changed easily and quickly.

I’ve also seen others use this when they have a thicker batting to work with as it doesn’t grab anything while it moves around the quilt.  Very HANDI 😉

(There are some new quilts to come – it’s been a weekend of updating my online business pages with new photos and such, so stay tuned!)