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6 Reasons We're Excited About Improv

5 Improv Patchwork Projects

Hi there, Shannon of Shannon Fraser Designs and Amanda of Broadcloth Studio here! We just finished up our second annual 30-Days of Improv Quilt Along (QAL). And today we’re taking over the Art Gallery Fabrics blog to talk about some of our favorite projects to showcase our improv patchwork.

If you’re not familiar with the QAL, it’s a month-long improv patchwork challenge that we’ve hosted for the past two Augusts. Every week, participants are encouraged to explore a particular shape, using daily prompts as a launching off point. We love this QAL because not only are we having fun exploring improv patchwork and making our own improv blocks, but we’re also constantly learning and being inspired by the participants' amazing makes!

One of the questions we see pop up a lot throughout the month is “how will this all work together in the end?” When you’re working without a pattern, the end result isn’t guaranteed and that can be scary! But, as Shannon likes to say “you’ll never know if you don’t try!” And we’re all about pushing ourselves to try and experiment and play…even if it means we end up with a block that might be a design outlier.

At the end of the QAL, we typically end up with about 20 improv patchwork blocks. Sometimes there are a couple blocks that just don’t work well with the others when it comes time to work on a final composition. And sometimes none of them really work together (this happened to Amanda this year). And sometimes you love one so much you don’t want it to get lost in a bigger quilt composition! So, we thought it might be helpful to share what we made for this year’s QAL as well as some of our favorite projects that would be a great way to use up some of those blocks that don’t quite fit with the rest. 

What We Made This Year

1. Wall Hanging (Shannon): There are only so many beds that I can cover in quilts, so covering my walls with quilted art is the next best thing! They also tend to be the perfect size: large enough to explore ideas without feeling too constrained, but not so large (like a bed quilt) that you feel daunted and overwhelmed. This year I loved having fun exploring how to balance that deep moody Blueberry Zest to keep the drama while allowing highlights from the lavender and peachy corals to balance out the composition. I had the best time figuring out which blocks would help me achieve that effect the best. From there, I loved adding in all the textural details with both machine and hand quilting, to help entice you to zoom in! A simple hanging sleeve (you can find a tutorial to make your own here: How to make a quilt hanging sleeve in 8 steps - Shannon Fraser Designs) and she’s ready for display! 

ShannonFraserDesigns.30DaysofImprovQAL.Week5.Composition.P52 (1)Shannon used Art Gallery Fabrics PURE Solids in Blueberry Zest, Field of Lavender, Sweet Macadamia, Peach Sherbet, and Apricot Crepe for her #30DaysofImprovQAL quilt. Image courtesy of Shannon Fraser Designs.

2. Micro Quilts (Amanda): I have a tendency to try to make order out of chaos and often provide myself with parameters to ensure success. During this year’s QAL, I decided that in order to allow myself to really explore and play with my patchwork, I would need to shift my approach and my mindset. And boy, oh boy, did I have a blast! I loved letting my expectations go and really playing with my fabrics every day. I walked away from the month with so many different ideas to explore further. But on the flip side, I didn’t walk away with a cohesive group of blocks. So for my final project year, I turned a couple of my favorite blocks into micro quilts. I loved getting to spend more time with these blocks, adding in hand quilting while I thought more about what I loved about each block’s design. Plus with the holidays just around the corner, I think these would make awesome gifts!

Broadcloth Studio - Micro Improv Quilt 2Amanda used Art Gallery Fabrics PURE Solids in Sherbet, Dried Carrot, Tigerlily, Light Grey, and Night Sea for her #30DaysofImprovQAL quilt. Image courtesy of Broadcloth Studio.

Other Projects We Love

3. Small pouch (Shannon): What is it about zip pouches that are so fun to make and use! Even better? Featuring some of your improv patchwork blocks! After pulling together your composition, you might find yourself with some orphan improv blocks and a little pouch is the perfect way to feature them. Here I used up some of the scraps leftover from my first 30 Days of Improv QAL project to create this one of a kind triangle zip pouch. I upped the intrigued with some machine quilting to highlight certain shapes within the improv composition. Just another way you sneak in new techniques you want to try! This one’s been getting lots of request to be made into a pattern - stay tuned for that!

ShannonFraserDesigns.LimeImprov.SewingBag.P37 (1)Shannon used Art Gallery Fabrics PURE Solids in Light Citron, Lemonade, Dark Citron, Raspberry Rose, and Plum Preserve for this project. Image courtesy of Shannon Fraser Designs.

4. Tote bag (Amanda): I love a good tote bag, especially because you can easily adjust the size of a tote to match the number of blocks you have on hand (within reason, of course, though I suppose a sleeping bag is a type of bag if you have a lot of blocks to use up!). For this tote bag, I used a bunch of repeating nine patch improv blocks, but you could just as easily put lots of different blocks together to use! I quilted mine with a simple zig-zag stitch and eyeballed all the dimensions, but if you’d like a pattern to follow, I know there are a ton of different options right here on the Art Gallery Fabrics blog!

Broadcloth Studio - Improv Tote Bag 1Amanda used Art Gallery Fabrics PURE Solids in Lemonade and Olive Oil  for this improv nine patch tote bag. Image courtesy of Broadcloth Studio.

5. A Larger Quilt (Amanda): really love a block? Why not continue to explore what you love about it and make some more in a similar style?! As mentioned earlier, I had quite the range of styles and designs represented in my QAL blocks this year. But at the end of Week 1, I had fallen head over heels in love with a very simple and understated stripe block. I still really wanted to explore that block further but I didn’t want to give up my “no plans” approach to my daily block making. So, I started making other blocks on the side, focusing on exploring very elemental shapes and simple lines. Turns out, these blocks were so easy to make that I quickly found myself with a large crib size quilt on my hands. I’m so glad that I pursued this idea in parallel with my more detailed blocks for the QAL as both were such a joy to make and I already have plans to make more of both!

Broadcloth Studio - Big Improv Shapes Study 1Amanda used Art Gallery Fabrics PURE Solids in Sherbet, Dried Carrot, and Tigerlily for this improv shapes study quilt. Image courtesy of Broadcloth Studio.

So, when you end up with a block or two (or twenty) that aren’t playing nice together, why not shift your frame of reference and see how many different potential projects there are out there that are perfect for those blocks? Or set aside the ones you don’t love and chalk them up as a “learning experience” (you can always use them as the inside of a quilted pillow cover). And then take the ones you do love and celebrate them!

We can’t wait to see what you make! Stay tuned for next year’s 30-Days of Improv QAL (August 2023). And make sure to follow us on Instagram (Shannon is @shannonfraserdesigns and Amanda is @broadclothstudio) as we’ve got a couple of fun improv projects on the horizon.

Shannon & Amanda

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