This was originally posted at Bad Ass Quilter’s Society, and I am reposting here for my own readers.
Saturday, June 8, I attended the “Pure Improv” class with Denyse Schmidt, with Richard Killeaney assisting, at her studio in Bridgeport, CT. After a last-minute decision to scoop up a spot that had opened up (I was on my phone at field day, checking to see if I had gotten in), I felt like I was ready to be free and open and to loosen up and try out some less-used techniques. Improv with an improv master? Perfect. I had been working on a detailed and painstaking mini quilt, and felt the need to do something different with other makers. At my core, I’m a nerd. I make lots of quilts and quilt patterns with fiddly pieces and straight lines. I taught Latin for pete’s sake!
We began the class working with templates from Denyse’s “shoemaker” pattern in her book Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration. Cutting our pieces carefully, we pieced two complete blocks to get a feel for the pattern, and then we started riffing on the theme, making two more blocks without templates and ruler. In the following picture, it’s hard to even tell which one is which, right? There is a hint of a wonk to it, though, and that’s the point: subtle but effective over a large quilt.
Ahhhhh… lovely light and an airy space to work in. Heaven!
Then we got down to it: How far can you take the pattern and still have its essentials be recognizable?
This was what I had been anticipating the most before I arrived: the manipulation of a pattern to become a true “improv” piece. I let myself off the chain so to speak, and really threw myself into it, not using my typical skill set, and it was really freeing.
Yet as fun and free as it was, for me, the experience was also profoundly thought provoking. There are many aspects to improv, but one of the reasons I, myself, have not incorporated it into my own quilting life is that I always felt as if it lacked something vital when I did it, and I couldn’t put a finger on it. Hearing Denise talk during our last critique, I had one of those moments where thoughts from all over fell into place and led me to a revelation: She said, you don’t want your work to be inauthentic. At that moment, I realized I had never really incorporated improvisational piecing into my work because I never felt as if my improv was authentic. I was making it look like the imrpov I had seen, and to me it was mimicry, not originality. This class with Denyse, for me, provided a way to move into improvisational piecing without feeling like a fake, and being true to my own artistic vision.
Many thanks to Denyse, for a really wonderful class, and to Richard (agh, no photo!) for his solid support and thoughtfulness.
Who wouldn’t find this view inspirational?