How I Got Hooked on Quilting

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Hi! I’m Cindy Grisdela, author of Artful Improv: Explore Color Recipes, Building Blocks & Free-Motion Quilting, and I’d like to share with you how I got hooked on quilting in general and improv quilting in particular.

I started sewing when I was about ten and my mother decided I was old enough to trust with her beloved Singer. Mom made beautiful clothes for herself, my sister, and me, and I was eager to try my hand at it. I remember making my first “quilt” from scraps left over from these clothes.

There weren’t any quilters in my family that I knew of. I happened on an article about quilting in a magazine in the early 1980s, and I was immediately drawn to the picture of a traditional Trip Around the World quilt in shades of blue. Because I came from a sewing background, I assumed that putting together a queen-sized quilt would be a breeze. I carefully made a 4 1/2"-square cardboard template and cut out the squares for the quilt using pinking shears, because that’s how I’d always cut out garment patterns. Needless to say, it was a challenge to get an accurate 1/4" seam allowance given the zigzag edges from the pinking shears!

I kept at it, finished the quilt, and used it on my bed for many years until it started to fall apart. I don’t have a good photo of that one, but this is another early traditional quilt—a blue and pink Log Cabin that was started using scraps left over from the first Trip Around the World.

I fell in love with quilting and mostly gave up garment making. For years I made quilts from traditional patterns and designs, and I appreciated the connection to all the quiltmakers who had gone before me. But over time, I got bored with making someone else’s pattern. I wanted to experiment with a more contemporary style and make quilts that were uniquely mine.

One of the first quilts I made on my own without a pattern I called Jitterbug. It’s a wild design combining black and white fabrics with strong, saturated blues, reds and greens. I used a crazy nine-patch set on-point in the center, improv Log Cabin blocks as the corner triangles, and a bright nine-patch border.

Jitterbug was fun to design and stitch, but such high energy isn’t for everyone. I wondered what would happen if I created something in a more minimal style. Would it still be interesting?

Amber Harvest was one of my first attempts at improvisational design. I used a single large improv block—based on the traditional Log Cabin that I loved so much—set with wide, asymmetrical borders. The colors are more muted—pink, yellow, and gold, with a splash of blue and green. And I used just solid fabrics, with no pattern to distract the eye from the lines and shapes of the design. This piece was accepted into several juried shows and won a Juror’s Choice award at Art Quilts Lowell in 2010. It’s now in a private collection.

I’ve been designing improvisational quilts ever since. I’m excited about improv because there’s always something new to explore. All you have to do is say, “what if?” and you’re off on an adventure!

Artful Improv: Explore Color Recipes, Building Blocks & Free-Motion Quilting is a friendly guide to help you get started on your own improv adventure. “Permission to play? Granted!”

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  • Cindy Grisdela
  • Artful Improv
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