Crafty Reads: The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

After looking at the large pile of unread craft books on my shelf, I decided that I'm going to attempt to read one a month and talk about them here. One thing I'm really enjoying this year is expanding my pool of inspiration - there are so many wonderful ways to make functional and artistic objects with fiber and I want to draw on all of it.

So, for April I'm going to talk about The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting & Living Courageously by Sherri Lynn Wood (aka daintytime).

At another point in my life, this blog about my creative works would be about improvisational comedy. I performed professionally for 10 years and for a long time it was a central part of me. The focus on embracing mistakes, making your partner look good, and rolling with whatever happens was helpful, as those are skills are not my natural gifts. So, when I saw my local fabric shop was hosting a workshop on improv quilting I was intrigued, even though I didn't really know what it meant.

Sherri Lynn is a wonderful teacher. She takes gentle command - listening to your ideas and feedback and inserting her POV when guidance is helpful. I was so inspired by her approach that I couldn't wait to tear into this book. She presents improv modern quilting as setting limits for yourself - time, color palette, block size, block shape, materials - and creating within those limits. She groups these limits into 10 scores that she describes in detail with several examples at the end of each chapter. The scores really do remind me of improv games - they are similarly based on a set of rules within which you have total freedom to stretch.

After the nitty gritty of the tools needed, one of the first things she introduces you to is a mind tool for examining the results of your work without judgement. It is such a beautiful focus on process. When you improvise you aren't always going to love what you create, but that doesn't mean that time was wasted - you can learn from it and put it away for another day when it may come in handy.

Have you ever . . . battled a severe illness that kindled your sense of gratitude? . . . Sometimes limits are focused on us, and our human spirit makes something beautiful out of the hardship.
— pg 25
. . . I’m reminded that the creative process is nonlinear and even “failures” are not wasted effort but the worthy steppingstones of transformation.
— pg 108
I also like the sense of time and devotion that hand quilting visibly conveys
— pg 161

Over and over, she really spoke to me, not just as a crafter but as a person. I feel gratitude everyday for the ways that my life has been improved by cancer. I wish it hadn't happened, but I am glad that there have been positive side effects. And YES! to celebrating failure. Failures are teachers and the fertile soil for future success. And another giant YES! to choosing the slow route that gives tactile pleasure and shows your investment in this piece. 

Not just a source of instruction for techniques and design consideration of improv modern quilting, this book was also serious eye candy. Here are links to all the quilts that made me gasp, made my heart race, and made me wish I could hang them on my wall to soak up everyday.

Against the Grain by Michelle McLatchy, pg 30

Curve by Lucie Summers, pg 57

Indigo Bloom by Latifah Saafir, pg 94

Letting Go by Drew Steinbrecher, pg 102

Beginning of the Universe by Carolyn Wong, pg 103

I'm really hoping to try one of these scores for myself. While I was reading score #4 spoke to me the most, patchwork doodling based on the "Yes, and!" concept in improv. Two of my very favorite quilts in the book came from score #9, patchwork curves. Which one do you think I should try? Have you used any of these scores or created your own?