Sunday, April 23, 2017

Curvy, Modern, Red, Improv Scrap Quilt

Here's a scrappy, wonky and smallish (34" x 42") modern-ish quilt that I finished last year. 
Yeah, that bottom edge. Ummmm....I'm not sure how that happened. Probably because the project was pure sewing therapy.

It all started with a pile of  Japanesque scraps leftover from a huge project. I cut them into strips, then freehand cut improvisational curves. Next, I sewed the strips together horizontally. Here's the basic idea from a similar project with floral prints: 
(Pretend they're Japanese-ish.) Next I cut out tall vertical rectangles from the horizontal strip sets, and surrounded them with a solid fabric, either yellow, blue, or white.  
I cut the outer edges of the frames into more improvisational curves.
And then made a larger solid blue sashing across the top and down the left hand edge of the blocks. 
If you haven't tried freehand cutting curves, it's easier than it looks, and adapts itself to many different kind of quilts - art, modern, baby, etc. It was pioneered in the early 1980s by Canadian quilter Marilyn Stewart Stoller (who wrote about it on her website, here.) She taught it to many others, including legendary quilter Nancy Crow. From there it spread, Alison Schwabe, Ricky Tims, Debbie Bowles, and the improvisational and modern quilt movements popularized it. Bowles'  book Cutting Curves from Straight Pieces was my launch pad for this quilt. (No financial affiliation, but this is a terrific book, especially for beginners).

A couple of years ago, I wrote up a tutorial about freehand curve cutting and sewing, but here is a simplified version of the highlights. First, line up your strips in the order you want them. They should be at least 2.5" high (imho), and bigger is easier.

Place the first two strips together on your cutting board....

And overlap the top of the lowest strip with the bottom of the upper strip by at least an inch. Cut a gentle wave through both layers. (If you're only cutting through one layer at any point, you're doing it wrong.)

Move them apart. Discard the narrow slivers created by the curves. Bring the main pieces to the sewing machine, offset the tops slightly, and start stitching. Go slowly, and keep adjusting the strips as you go to bring the right raw edges together. 

Your seam allowance will often be less than 1/4", and that's okay. Consistency isn't as important as it is for straight-line stitching. 
Press well to eliminate bumps. 

Once the first unit is created, add more strips the same way. 

Now you have a strip set to play with. So much fun! 
I did some improvisational quilting, with (left to right) feathers, leaf veins, different feathers, and diamond eyeballs. 
Want more detailed directions for improvisational curves?
- Brilliant Australian art quilter Alison Schwabe, who learned the technique from Nancy Crow, blogged excellent instructions here. She has a free 2-page guide on getting started which she will be happy to send to whoever asks for it. "With practice," she wrote me, "one can achieve some quite pronounced freehand curved piecing, not just gentle wavy strips." Examples are in her Colour Memories gallery, here.  Contact her at Alison(dot)schwabe(at)gmail(dot) if you want her guide,  or through her website, here.
- A helpful video from Ricky Tims, is here.
- Nina Marie Sayre's excellent tutorial is here.
-  Debbie Bowles' tutorial is here onYoutube.
- My blog post about an all-denim quilt I made this way, back in 2014, with a detailed tutorial, is  here.


  1. What a fun piece! I have done that type of curvy strip piecing quite often. Your tutorial is the best I've seen.

  2. You always inspire me to try new things and this is a new one for me. Thank you for sharing your ideas and wisdom with us!

    1. Have fun with it, and thank YOU for always being so kind!

  3. Thank you for this inspiration, just need a small wallquilt and already started cutting scraps. How large are your single segments?

    1. Anneliese, do you mean the tall narrow rectangles I cut from my curvy strip set? Those are 2"x 8" before I added the sashing. Or do you mean something else?

  4. Cathy, thank you for your answer. I actually mean the part where all the curvy-seam strips are sewn together. but without the border in blue - white or yellow (your sewn piece). I got four pieces now and have to wait till I get back to my stashes for the border (we are in the house where DH renovates the inside - so I have time to amuse myself).

    1. I can't wait to see what you come up with, Anneliese! Email me pictures when you're done, at!


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