Sometimes there are books that come along that I just HAVE to review. I’m pretty picky about what I choose to review here on my blog. I love to help out friends of course (that’s what friends are for!) but I also just love to help a great book get more more exposure if I can. And that’s where I am with Improvising Tradition by Alexandra Ledgerwood. Though you may know her by her alter ego, Teaginny Designs.
I decided to do an interview of Alex for this review, so you can see both my thoughts and hers on some of my favorite designs from her book. I hope you enjoy it!!
Angela: You show my favorite kind of improv quilts: those that are based in traditional roots, such as the log cabin. What is your favorite “base” block to give an improv take on?
Alex: My go-to block is the strip set. I find it completely relaxing and therapeutic to make, and it is perfect for scraps, which I love use. Strips sets can be used so many different ways. I’ve been known to sit down and sew strip sets with no purpose in mind because I know I will find a use for them eventually.
Angela: I’m drawn to curves, so your falling leaves Table Runner immediately caught my eye. Have you tried making this with improv curves instead of a template?
Alex: I haven’t made the blocks in the Falling Leaves table runner with improv curves, but I think it would work well. I did cut the template improvisationally, and the pattern is designed so that the quilter can create their own template if they desire. In my version I balanced the randomness of the improv strip sets in each leaf with the symmetry of the series of leaf shapes all cut from the same template, but improv curves would create a whole different feel and would be fun to try.
Angela: I personally love your take on improv which ends up looking very peaceful and controlled due to your fabric choices and structure. Does all of your improv work look like this or did you do this for the task of teaching improv? I know how different improv styles can be but yours seems very consistent.
Alex: I’ve developed my improv style over the last couple of years with some experimentation. The subtle wonkiness and limited color palettes are really just my aesthetic in general. I always enjoy it when people’s quilts have a particular style, and the beauty of improv is that the very same pattern and techniques, like the ones in the book, can completely change based on each quilter’s voice. I’m really looking forward to seeing what different people create from the patterns in the book.
Angela: Mirrored Sunset Wallhanging (pictured above) is perhaps my favorite quilt in the book. I think it is because it is so different from other things I’ve seen. I want to see more! Do you have any more pattern ideas like this one in the works?
Alex: I don’t have any further patterns in the works like this one, but I do have some ideas of interesting variations. The main focus of this pattern in the strata section of the book is to show that strata can create a subtle but interesting background while contrasting with a bold applique. The background can be a design element of its own, rather than simply a blank, negative space.
I think it would be cute to use strata as the background for some whimsical shapes on baby quilts. I can picture blue strata with a simple, stylized dog applique or low volume scrap strata contrasting with a brown trendy mustache.
Another element of improv in the wall hanging is the applique shape itself. Because of the way it is cut from folded fabric, or freezer paper if you use my method, Hawaiian applique lends itself perfectly to improv. You could make the wall hanging even more unique by creating your own shape. Just fold the freezer paper and experiment with cutting different shapes. I was inspired by mid-century modern starburst mirrors, and their symmetry is a nice balance to the irregularity of the strata. Traditional or modern shapes will work equally well in this pattern, so quilters can make whatever they like.
Thanks so much for the invitation to chat about the book and for all the interesting questions, Angela. Thinking about it has me some new ideas to explore. Now if I could just get some sewing time.
And many thanks to Alex for all her great answers!
I think that her book is a great resource for improv quilting. She uses small manageable cuts which make piecing easy and quilts less wonky. The patterns are perfect for a beginning quilter or a beginning improv quilter. The tone on tone solides make the improv piecing give texture without creating a distraction with every seam and new fabric.