A Slice of Improv: Part 1

In the past two years, I've been having fun exploring the Slice and Insert improvisational piecing technique.  My Slice and Insert experiments began back in February 2014 when I inherited a bag full of 1" gradated hand dyed fabric strips in the first UFO exchange (Hugs & Kisses and Texture Plus).  Later that summer, I incorporated a variation of the Slice and Insert technique into my Fields of Quilted Dreams quilt.  And then earlier this year, I kicked off the Project Quilting Challenge series with my Confettucini, where I continued to explore the versatility of this technique!

"Slice of Improv" Sampler
Testing the Waters...
Just as I was finishing up my Confettucini table runner, my guild's Quilting 101 organizers approached me to see if I was available/interested in leading another Q101 demo, and so I suggested "A Slice of Improv."  Many of the Q101 demos incorporate a project pattern, and so we weren't sure how the attendees might respond to "improvisational piecing" where there was no set pattern to follow.  To help us gauge interest, I brought two of my quilts to the January Q101 meeting and as soon as the quilts were pulled out for display, members left their work spaces to come up to the front of the room for a closer viewing!  They were very curious to learn how they were pieced and where was the basic block structure!  We took this as a very good sign and I got to work preparing for my demo!!  A month or so later, the organizers then asked whether I might consider offering a second demo date, as they were afraid the demo would sell out and members be upset that they couldn't get in!  This proved to be very wise as the first session filled on the first day of sign ups!!

Planning & Preparations...
I was super excited by everyone's enthusiasm and got to work preparing for a fun and interactive demonstration.  In my own design process, I love to ask "What If...?"  This simple question has helped me discover new and exciting variations on basic techniques, color combinations, blocks, layouts and quilting designs to create some truly dynamic quilts!  I applied this "What If...?" mantra to the basic Slice and Insert technique and developed my "Slice of Improv" sampler that showcases 32 variations of Slice and Insert improvisational piecing!!  I loved every aspect of designing and creating this quilt.  Not only did it provide me the perfect opportunity to incorporate in-progress pictures, as well as jog my memory on helpful design/construction tips and suggestions for inclusion in my hand out, but it also allowed me to experiment with five new-to-me techniques!!

In fact, I posted the pictures below as a teaser on facebook, and one member was initially confused as I had only shown quilts using basic squares/rectangles!  I assured her that this block still used the slice and insert technique but was a variation on the basic square/rectangle shape!!
Preview Pics
Demo Day...
One Technique...So Many Possibilities
After much anticipation, D-Day was here!!  I was super excited to introduce my fellow guild members to the world of improvisational piecing, unveil my new sampler quilt and encourage them to ask "What If...?"  We began by discussing improvisational piecing.  After nearly half the group raised their hand indicating that they experienced some fear and anxiety about "improvisational piecing", I set out to assure them that the slice and insert technique is Fun, Freeing and Forgiving!

After demonstrating the basic technique, I unveiled my "Slice of Improv" sampler and guided them through all 32 design variations.  Along the way, I shared design opportunities, tips/tricks, words of wisdom and encouraged them to ask themselves "What If...?"  And as if the sampler quilt and all 32 variations wasn't enough inspiration, I brought additional books, patterns and images to show them how other quilt artists have incorporated the Slice and Insert technique into their work!!

Oh the Fabric Possibilities...
Hand Dyed De ja vu!
It was so much fun for me to walk around the room before and after the demonstration and check out everyone's fabric selections!!  From batiks, to solids, to ombres, black and white prints, colorful stripes and gorgeous hand dyes---oh the design possibilities!!

Fun story:  remember all those 1" strips of gradated hand dyes that first inspired me to experiment with the Slice and Insert technique?!?  Well--there were quite a few leftover that I then donated to the 2015 UFO Exchange, along with some print yardage and leftover block.  Well--a fellow UFO Exchange participant scooped them up and made a great quilt from the yardage and brought the strips to use with the demo!!!  She kept the teal strips and shared the pink strips with her table-mate!!  Those strips have certainly gotten quite a bit of mileage!!

What I love about this technique is that "everything works!"  What I don't love about this technique is that because everything works, I am revisiting my scrap management system as I am now saving smaller and smaller "schnibbles!!"

Student Work...
Proof that Improv Piecing is Fun!!
As the day progressed, I was thrilled to see so many participants really embrace improvisational piecing and then make it their own!!  Judging from all the smiles, they were quickly discovering just how fun, freeing and forgiving improvisational piecing can be!!

One member, Jenny M, approached me after the demo to share her idea of working with fabric selvages--piecing the raw edge into the seam and appliqueing the other edge on top!  I was just blown away by her creativity and could not wait to see her blocks!!  I also loved the fact that she chose such a fun robin's egg blue for her background...her blocks are just gorgeous and I cannot wait to the finished result!!

After suggesting using letters of the alphabet and other symbols to help guide initial slices, one member took this to the next level by improvisationally piecing letters into each of her blocks to spell out words/names that she plans on incorporating into a quilt project!  Ingenious!!

Caring Community...
To help alleviate any remaining fear or anxiety about improvisational piecing, we incorporated the option for participants to make a practice block.  The organizers provided budget money to purchase solid grey background yardage that was cut into squares/strips and made available to participants use.  Attendees had the option of using their own scraps and/or any of the "schnibbles" provided to make one or more squares that would be collected and turned into a lap-sized community quilt donation for the Unity Care organization, and distributed to young adults transitioning from the foster care program into independence.

I was in awe of the how many fabulous community quilt blocks were pieced during both demos:  29 blocks on Day 1 and another 47 on Day 2!!!  One member challenged her table-mates to each piece one block before breaking for lunch--love it!!  Other members made multiple blocks, and even helped fill in gaps of colors!!  And there was such variety and interest represented in terms of the scraps, techniques and layouts used in everyone's blocks!!  They really pop!!

And in case I don't say it enough--I LOVE my fellow guild members!!  They are such a positive, supportive and creative community!  As I venture into this new world of teaching, I am so appreciative for all their encouragement and support!  Special thanks to the organizers, Ileane and LaNelle, for inviting me back to lead this demo, as well going above and beyond to negotiate and schedule a second date that made it possible to accommodate 50 members in two sessions!  Many thanks to all who attended the Demo days and really embraced improvisational piecing!  Special thanks to Sandie E. and Kathleen G, who helped capture some great pictures during my demo!  And my sincere appreciation to all who made one or more Community Quilt block--they are each beautiful and together made for a wonderful Community Quilt donation!

Be sure to visit my blog later this week as I unveil the finished Community Quilt block, along with members' quilt finishes shown at our recent guild meeting!!

The follow up post can be accessed here.