Improv Low Volume Quilting with Batiks
My absolute favorite style of quilting is improv quilting. Improv low volume quilting with batiks creates an especially beautiful quilt. The freedom to create a completely individual quilt my way is totally liberating. Bright, bold colors with lots of contrast fill each of my improv quilts. Sometimes I use blocks and sometimes not. There are no rules and no two quilt tops ever look alike.
All About Color
Starting an improv quilt is all about the color for me. With my stash pile and scrap bag strewn about, a vision comes together, and the fun begins. Initially I considered my style of quilting as stash quilting. What started as a challenge to use my 1,000+ fat quarters to make quilts without buying any new fabric kept me busy for a few years.
Stash quilting easily evolved into improv quilting before I even knew it. Fabric was sliced and diced, sewn and crosscut, then resewn into blocks. Using block sizes from 6” to 24”, these quilts always attracted attention. There is so much going on visually that they become quite captivating. What better compliment than for someone to simply enjoy looking at your quilt as much as you do.
Improv Quilt Building Blocks
A dramatic quilt needs plenty of contrast. Start with some brightly pieced batik blocks for your focal block centers. They can be as easy as a single square, to an intricate patchwork with a multitude of fabric bits to create a more colorful block. Keeping each batik block within a color family will make that area of your quilt color specific. Or totally mix up your color placement for splashes of color throughout your quilt top.
Batik Improv Blocks add Contrast
This quilt combined a bit of both. The primary color blocks each focused on a single-color group. Using batiks, the fabrics also brought in some nice contrast and design with the additional patterns and colors. Try varying the sizes of these blocks so they are not all the same. Orient them differently with some tall and others wide.
Get really wild and add some uneven blocks with angled sides. This is a fun way to use up varying sizes of scraps. Just keep sewing pieces together until you have a usable size for a block. It’s a quick method to get a pile of blocks started.
Low Volume & Batik Transition Blocks
The second group of blocks alternated small low volume squares mixed with lots of bright color squares. These blocks are great transitions for your eye to follow where the design leads.
There are two other components to this quilt layout that also play a very important role in the design. The 9-patch low volume blocks are also an opportunity for a bit more color. By adding a square of one color, or a mini 4-patch, the path of color continues from block to block.
Additionally, strips between the blocks are an opportunity for more fun. Sometimes a simple low volume strip is adequate, but in other places adding some unexpected spots of bright color can add a lot of interest.
Adding the Contrasts
Try a few different layouts to get a feel for where you like your prominent colors to be. Place the batik blocks in a random pattern and balance your colors. Then start adding your additional blocks to round out you quilt design.
Keep mixing it up. Add low volume fabric around the batik blocks, and bright fabrics around the low volume blocks. The batik blocks are the stars of the show therefore the surrounding low volume blocks separate these bold batiks for more emphasis. Adding some splashes of bright colors in random low volume blocks keeps your eye moving and adds so much more interest. Where a space needs to be filled, use some narrow, bright strips between blocks. With so many choices for color placement, you’ll be using up that extra fabric in no time!
How to Layout an Improv Quilt Top
Improv Quilt Block Sizes
When using blocks, be sure to change up the sizes to create a feeling of colors floating across your quilt top
Remember this is an improv design. So, don’t get stuck on block placement in even rows. Let your blocks look like they are randomly placed across your quilt top. Fill in the open areas with secondary pattern blocks or background fabric. Mix up the sizes of the filler strips to keep your design random.
Adding improv narrow strips to the sides of some blocks will offset them, giving your design a more modern feel. Where there’s background space to be filled, use some larger squares of low volume fabric to break up the repeating patterns.
How to Sew an Improv Quilt Top
When assembling this quilt top, I started in the middle. Just grab two blocks next to each other and sew them together. Then sew a couple more together and add them to your first pair. You now have the beginning of you top started. This top is assembled much like a large log cabin block. Starting in the center, more blocks are sewn together to create longer strips to sew along the side of the starter block.
As each side is built up, you will not end up with even ends. You may choose to either trim them up to be even with the blocks, or leave them longer and incorporate them into the next row. I did some of both in this quilt top and each method looks great.
Keep working and adding more strips of blocks. When working with asymmetrical blocks that have uneven sides, add some extra narrow strips to the outer edge. Then trim it to make the block square. This strip creates a separation in between the blocks and enhances the improvisational look of the assembled quilt top.
Finalizing Your Improv Quilt Design
As you’re piecing your quilt top, keep your eye on how your design is developing. While most modern quilts don’t have borders, adding some long strips of fabric within your quilt top can really make a bold statement. Since I want this quilt to be a bit larger, I will add some chevron fabric strips to emphasize the vertical line of the quilt top. It will also ‘hold’ the color blocks within the quilt rather than floating along the edge.
Improv quilting is your opportunity to personalize your quilting. Try a simple block to get started. The best advice to improvisational quilting is not to over think the process. Let your fabrics lead you to a beautiful design of your own making. Most importantly, have fun!