For some people the idea of improvised piecing is scary. The thought of stitching bits of fabric together with no pattern or precise measurements can be overwhelming. Others find it liberating and exciting. Honestly I probably find myself somewhere in the middle. Improv quilts look really cool but how do you do it?! No measuring, no rulers, no real idea of how it will turn out? That might feel unnerving but it's also a LOT of fun. Letting go of expectations a bit, relaxing the rules and creating something completely unique. Truthfully in a world where there is a lot of pressure, where social media presents ideals and things can sometimes become a little samey; improv is like a breath of fresh air.

A while ago I might have said it's not really for me, I've had a go and enjoyed it but it didn't click. Until now. Having seen Nicholas Ball's trunk show at the Sewcial Retreat I knew a bit about his techniques and was really inspired by his quilts. When he invited me to join his Inspiring Improv Book Tour I was delighted, intrigued to discover more about his process and learn. Nicholas' new book is full of the techniques he uses presented in a way that's fun to read. It's like he's talking to you as he shares the inspiration and stories behind the amazing quilts and has great tips that teach you how to create your own improv versions of his designs. 

I chose to follow the Shoal pattern and make some fish. Above you can see Nicholas' quilt and how beautiful the photography is in the book. 

My make is not a quilt but a cushion cover. As it's going to live with us I had to steer away from using blue because it wouldn't fit our decor (though fish mad Joan will probably steal it away to her room anyway!). I picked out background fabric while at Patchfinders recently, I could not resist the shot cotton. It's a mix of purple and mint, photos can not do it justice sadly. Because I can never restrain myself I also got the stripe, text and watercolour pink fabric too. I added another pop of bright colour with the yellow woven, Chartreuse Mariner Cloth by Alison Glass

Once the fabric pull was made cutting could begin!
There is an element of 'this could go horribly wrong' when you just start randomly cutting shapes and bits of fabric to use but it was super easy to follow the instructions in the book. Each element that makes up the fish sees it looking better and better. I am fairly happy with curves and they were quick to sew.

I made quite long pieces and then realised that I wanted smaller fish so I just cut a piece in half before adding background. 

There is some 'waste', as you aren't cutting accurate pieces there is plenty of trimming but those pieces can be reincorporated back into the project very easily. Here's one part of a fish, looking pretty messy!

Add a tail section and it's coming together. Still uneven and in need of a good press (or iron!).

On this block you can see how I've added a 'waste' curved piece to make it bigger.

Of course the blocks then get trimmed and pieced together with other background pieces. I decided to randomly add in bits of the stripe to add more interest and break up the background a bit. As I was trimming I couldn't stop thinking about the textured selvedge of the shot cotton. The mint thread is so pretty and I contemplated adding it as strips to make seaweed but then the little pieces reminded me of sand, pebbles and a pretty sea bed.

A night time shot (as I usually quilt at night) gives an underwater effect quite nicely: 

Sadly it then got me thinking about plastic pieces in the ocean and it took on a whole different meaning. It doesn't hurt to be conscious of that though and I still think it's very pretty. Maybe instead... a fish party with pieces of confetti or coral. However it's viewed, I am pleased with what I've created. The wavy walking foot quilting adds movement and holds down the fabric confetti.

Quilted with Aurifil 50wt thread in #2625, a darker colour than I was originally planning to use but when I laid it over the panel it blended so nicely and didn't detract from the colours of the fabric.

Each step of making this was so fun, I even decided to give one fish tail some extra treatment with a folded corner of fabric - one partly sewn seam appliqued and the other edge held down with quilting.

The fabric combination works I think and the watercolour pink is probably my favourite. Obviously this isn't a finished project, I will be making this panel into a cushion - just need to find the right binding fabric. Or maybe a scrappy binding?

If you are inspired to try a different technique or even if you already love improv, I would highly recommend Nicholas Ball's book as a way to spark your creativity. It's fascinating reading and I have learnt so much. Check out the other stops on the tour #inspiringimprov to see more techniques from the book and what the other talented makers have created!

credit to Lucky Spool for the book cover and image from the book used in this post.