Quilting during a Global Pandemic

I’ve long struggled with whether to be a quilter or not, and if yes, what kind. This struggle has mostly looked like not quilting. Partly, this is because my mother-in-law is a prolific quilter, I’ve seriously lost count of how many quilts we own. If there’s one thing we don’t need in this house, it’s more quilts.

But gosh darn it if I’m not drawn to making collages with fabric, and that’s basically what a quilt is. But I don’t enjoy the stress of making sure the points match perfectly and fearing the quilt police (they need a warrant, right?).

Since it’s a pandemic, and I have more time available than usual, because I’m not having to drive children anywhere. Anywhere at all.. And I also lost all my freelance gigs, both teaching artist ones and everything else.

If you’ve got extra time, why not take on a big project? That was my thinking. I buy fabric, as um, a weird hobby, I guess, and to use in my paintings, textile collages and collages. I have a small collection of quilting fabric, sorted by color. I seemed to have a lot of black and white and red, so I ordered a little bit more of that — some pre-cut squares and a small bit of yardage. Shipping times have longer right now due to the pandemic, so those took a while to arrive.

I also ordered a 1/2 lb grab bag of wool scraps by Moda. I like grab bags and random things. I’ve liked grab bags since I was a kid. For art making, I like to have lots of “found objects” and things selected for me somewhat at random. It brings in an element of…something to the process. Surprise? Letting go of control? Making fewer decisions?

This picture shows one of my first thoughts on laying out this wool quilt. That was back in mid-April.

Wool Improv Quilt, first thoughts, by Elaine Luther

Last weekend I started sewing these up in twos, at first.

Wool Quilt Top Progress Shots; by Elaine Luther

Then I started testing out some layouts, on my work table.

Wool Quilt Top Progress Shots; by Elaine Luther

I moved it to the floor, on a drop cloth to get more room and tried it like this:

Wool Quilt Top Progress Shots; by Elaine Luther

That largest piece of teal-ish wool was a problem. My challenge to myself was to use the wool as I found it — I had the 1/2 lb grab bag of wool squares and a plastic shoe box with other wool pieces, sent to me by an artist friend when she moved across the country. (Thanks, friend!) Those pieces included fulled wool sweaters (the correct term for shrinking a sweater to make felt is to “full” it, not to “felt” it), and a deconstructed garment of some kind.

I ended up cutting that largest piece in half to make the composition work. I cut 2-3 other pieces to add in as “make up” pieces.

Here’s how the quilt was shaping up:

Wool Quilt Top Progress Shots; by Elaine Luther

That was the plan, but it didn’t work! As I assembled the pieces, a bit of a chasm developed between the column on the left and the one on the right! So I swapped them from side to side and that worked!

Here’s the completed quilt top:

Wool Improv Quilt by Elaine Luther

I’m told that a blanket made out of men’s suiting material is called a wagga in Australia! And while that’s not quite what I’ve done here, it’s very cool to know that that’s a thing. Plus it’s fun to say.

I think a wagga does not have a backing though. Because of the way this was assembled, it needs a backing. I asked in an online group and got a great suggestion on how to finish this: a flannel backing, iron the edges over 1/2 an inch, then stitch to attach, around the edges with a blanket stitch or similar.

This quilt includes a wide variety of types of wools, including wovens and fulled, from entirely unknown sources!  I hope that it will wash up okay in the future!

Notes on size and construction

This is a “throw” size. Squares were overlapped slightly and top stitched with light grey fabric with a decorative stitch that’s kind of a branching thing. I’ll take a detail shot, because I don’t know what that stitch is called!

What is improv quilting?

Improv quilting, as defined in the book The Improv Quilter’s Handbook, by Sherri Lynn Wood, means you don’t work from a pattern, and you don’t use rulers!  Ack!  What little cutting I did, I did free hand, with scissors.  It’s a terrific book, highly recommended, and she also has online classes, and will have in-person classes again in the future, when that’s possible again.

What I like about improv quilting is that it makes the process more creative.  You’re creating the design as you go.  The designs that emerge are different from the complex and lovely patterns you can create with traditional quilting, and that’s fine, they’re a different kind of lovely.

I thought this wool wagga would be a good first try at improv quilting — and it was!  There will be more in the future!