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Improvisational or ‘IMPROV’ quilting – Let’s get started (beginner)

by Claire Haillot

Over the past years, I really fell in love with improvisational quilting and wanted to get more into it. What better way than to log my progress by sharing my work on QUILTsocial! I don’t believe in New Year resolutions for my day-to-day life. I do, however, believe in setting goals in my quilting creativity to ensure I do get projects done. And this year is just fabulous as I have no more UFOs (thank you pandemic for that) and I have a clean slate!

I found that many quilters like seeing improvisational, or ‘improv’ for short, quilts but are afraid to try it as we’re so accustomed to following a pattern. So, my goal will be difficult as improv usually means going with your creativity and not following a pattern. But to get you started, I’ll do my best to write in detail, like a pattern, my steps to making my first improv quilt.

Small throw size improve quilt in white and blue.

Winter Sunshine – My first improvisational quilt

My Inspiration

I was inspired to make this project in January, with all the snow and the beautiful blue skies. I reminded my boyfriend, as he looked at the bright blue sky and said how beautiful it was, that a bright blue sky in the middle of winter is actually the first sign of sub-zero temperatures and that it wasn’t a good idea to stay outside too long.

And this year we’ve had quite a few of these days to make me realize that yes, the sky is a gorgeous blue color when it’s cold. That’s when I realized I wanted to capture this moment in my very first improv project.

 6 fat quarters of whites, 2 fat quarters of medium and dark blues and 2 half eights of light blues.

My choice of fabrics for the project

Choosing the perfect fabrics

I went through my fabric stash and found exactly what I needed.

  • 6 fat quarter of whites and off-whites (3 solids and 3 tone on tone) (A)
  • 1 fat quarter of solid medium blue (B)
  • 1 fat quarter of solid dark blue (C)
  • 2 scraps of batik in very light blue and off-white (D) – (I couldn’t find the color I needed in my fat quarters so I only had the equivalent of fat eights.)

Pieces of fabrics in black and white to show just the tones to ensure they blend well

Choose the right fabrics with the Sew Easy Tone Guide

This process can really be tricky. You need to audition your fabrics to ensure they blend well together. Besides the very dark blue fabric, none of the other fabrics should stick out as they need to be ‘blenders’, and blend in. This is when the Sew Easy Color & Tone Guide and Tonal Estimator comes in handy. You can take the tonal estimator and look through it to evaluate the tones of the fabric you chose. Another trick is to take a picture and play with the filters to see it in black and white. If you notice that none of the fabrics stick out, then you’re good to go.

A spray bottle of unscented Mary Ellen’s BEST PRESS Starch next to an OLISO PRO TG1600 Pro Plus Smart Iron and the UNIQUE Quilting Wool Pressing Mat with pieces of white and off-white fabric

The right tools to prepare your fabrics

Preparing the fabrics

After you choose the fabrics, there’s an important step that’s very crucial for the project we’re about to begin. You need to iron and flatten the fabrics with Mary Ellen’s Best Press Starch Alternative (I use the Scent Free). I love this product! It helps you manipulate your fabrics with more ease and it also relaxes those stubborn wrinkles you find in fat quarters. But the added benefit is that it has a special stain shield that protects your fabrics. And don’t worry, it won’t leave a white residue on your dark fabrics.

For this step, I also used my UNIQUE quilting wool pressing mat – 18″ x 24″ – Grey. The pressing mat is made of premium quality New Zealand wool that’s tightly felted and very thick (½’’), and as wool retains heat, it’s like your fabric gets ironed from both sides at the same time. I love it so much, just as much as my Oliso Pro TG1600 Pro Plus Smart Iron. For this project, I do use steam and this iron has a 12.7 oz tank which is really convenient; the iron sends a constant flow of steam and is very hot which makes the flattening of the fabrics easier.

So go through your fabrics stash and pick your color combination for this project. Prepare your fabric and I’ll see you tomorrow for the next steps.

This is part 1 of 5 in this series

Go to part 2: Strip piecing for IMPROV quilting: WHY and HOW to let go of what you know


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