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5 Improv Quilting Myths...Debunked!


30 Days of Improv QAL - Shannon Fraser Designs 2
Shannon used Art Gallery Fabrics PURE Solids in Light Citron, Lemonade, Dark Citron, Raspberry Rose, and Plum Preserve for her #30DaysofImprovQAL quilt. Image courtesy of Shannon Fraser Designs.

Hi there, Shannon @shannonfraserdesigns and Amanda @broadclothstudio here! We’re taking over the Art Gallery Fabrics blog today to talk to you about improv quilting.


One of our favorite things about improv is its freewheeling nature: it's just such a fabulous way to jumpstart your creativity! But with that freedom, some folks get overwhelmed and don’t know where or how to start (ourselves included sometimes!). With this in mind, we created our #30DaysOfImprovQAL to serve as a creative “recharge”, tackling different shapes, different approaches, and different concepts in small daily “bite-sized” prompts throughout the month of August.

Over the 30 days, we had such a blast seeing everyone’s creativity come to life as they tried new techniques and took sewing risks. We also got lots of questions, ran into lots of assumptions, and came into contact with some verrrry interesting theories about improv. So today, we’re going to take a moment to look at these improv “myths”...and debunk them!

1. You’re good at improv’re not.

This idea that you’re “born” to be good at improv or you just don’t have it in you is one of the biggest myths we encountered and it couldn’t be further from the truth! Improv is a skill and a technique. And just like lining up your seams perfectly, mastering applique, or learning free motion quilting, it takes practice. In our own practice, we’ve found that improv can be extra hard because it goes against so many of the sewing skills we’ve learned over the years!

Our advice: be patient with yourself and give yourself the time to unlearn and relearn and learn.

2. Improv is overwhelming.

It can be...but it doesn’t have to be! For some folks when the sky is the limit, their creativity doesn’t know what to try next, but when the parameters are super narrow, their creativity shines. It can be fun to puzzle out how you’re going to work with a limited color palette, figure out how you’re going to zoom in on a shape, challenge yourself to sew a block that’s a certain size or see how wild you can make one shape be through slicing and dicing.

Our advice: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, try giving yourself a very specific task, shape, or idea to explore before throwing in the towel.

3. Improv is anarchy.

Another “it doesn’t have to be!” Just because you’re sewing off-pattern doesn’t mean you have to live on the wild side and throw all design principles out the window. We love to use improv to shake things up, to challenge our preconceived notions about how things “should” be. But at the same time, we take lots of breaks to step back and really look at what we’re making, identify the overarching themes and decide how intentional (or not!) we want to be about the final composition.

Our advice: don’t forget that you are writing this rule book and you get to decide what and how the journey unfolds!

4. There’s a Ton of Fabric Waste in Improv.

Sure, you might trim down lots of funky seam allowances and end up with some odd shaped scraps as you go. But think about the possibilities of those scraps: it’s so easy (and fun!) to do a little crumb quilting and give those scraps a second life within your work.

Our advice: when you’re starting to get horrified about the size of your scrap bin, take a moment to sort through them and challenge yourself to put as many as you can back into use.

5. Improv has to be wonky and wacky.

If you want to use a ruler, use a ruler. Or pins. Or mark your seam allowances. Or whatever else makes it fun for you to sew. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. For us, improv is not only a skill but is also a mindset. Improv doesn’t have to have X number of wonky triangles, Y number of mismatched seams or Z number of freehand-cut strips to count as improv. Improv is about the intent, about exploring and experimenting.

Our advice: if a ruler helps you do that, and perfectly pieced HSTs helps you find your creative “flow”, then who’s to say that’s wrong?

Broadcloth Studio Improv 5
Amanda used Art Gallery Fabrics PURE Solids in Vanilla Custard, Garden Fern, Tigerlily, Turmeric, and Apricot Crepe for her #30DaysofImprovQAL quilt. Image courtesy of Broadcloth Studio


At the end of the day, we both love to use improv for providing us with the time and space to try new things, to hit “reset” on our assumptions, and to challenge our instincts. If you’re looking to dive in, here our are best improv quilting tips:

  1. Remember that improv is a skill that you can practice to become more comfortable at.
  2. Think of improv as YOUR time to play, to try new things, and to explore: it can be as planned or as unplanned as you want.
  3. Break things down into bite-sized chunks: play, try, and explore just one shape or a monochrome fabric pull!
  4. Save your scraps and sort through them regularly to see what you can use (even if it means sewing a bunch together to create “new” fabric to play with).
  5. Kick your expectations to the curb: be mindful of what makes you feel free to play, to be creative. If that’s a ruler, then use your ruler!

And if you’re looking for inspiration or a place to start, make sure to check out all the amazing makes from across the quilting community in the #30DaysofImprovQAL hashtag.

Good luck on your improv journey!

Shannon & Amanda

30 Days of Improv QAL - Shannon Fraser Designs 7
Shannon used Art Gallery Fabrics PURE Solids in Light Citron, Lemonade, Dark Citron, Raspberry Rose, and Plum Preserve for her #30DaysofImprovQAL quilt. Image courtesy of Shannon Fraser Designs.
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