Category Archives: improvisational quilting

Summer’s End: A Workshop, Lecture and an Exhibit Visit

Summer has ended with a return to warm temperatures and a big sigh of relief. I love the last few weeks when you have fully sunk into sleeping in and reading lots of useless novels. Haha-that didn’t happen round here and August has kept me busy and happy.

Highlights from the month:

1. After moving home from VT in early August, I packed my bags and went to a Nancy Crow workshop sponsored by the Muskegon Museum of Art. I had taken it before but signed up knowing that a little refresher is always good for you. The title of the class was Sets and Variables and the intention was to manipulate a “motif” you have made into various assignments.

Peek to the left and you can see the beautiful workspace!

Peek to the left and you can see the beautiful workspace!

The workshop was given in a recently renovated building in downtown Muskegon and I fell in love with the high ceilings and great lighting we had.


Motifs under construction

I greatly missed Margaret’s cooking as we ate out for lunch/dinner which really disrupts your process. I struggled with staying focused for the exercises. I learned quite  a bit about my working habits that are getting in my way.

Alwasy listen to directions :they needed to be smaller

Always listen to directions -they needed to be smaller

2. Nancy  Crow gave a lecture on Thursday night in conjunction with the opening of her solo show titled “Transformational Quilts“. It was a treat to here her speak about her work, her career and inspirations. The exhibit was breathtaking and included older work and some very new pieced work. ( No photos allowed. ) I have never had the opportunity to see more than one or two of her pieces in the past. She is definitely the master of color and composition and this exhibit reveals that so clearly.  It took my breath away to see such a variety of styles of her work in one space. The two events were a treasure for me. If you are in the area, you definitely need to see this exhibit. If you aren’t in the area, think about making a visit there before it closes in mid- October.

3. I went back to fabric dyeing last week. I am in love with full immersion of really dark pieces.

full immersion of  2 yard pieces

full immersion of 2 yard pieces

4. I assisted in the hanging of the AQS show here in Grand Rapids. It was amazing to see what goes on behind the scenes in a show. I signed up for a shift to help hang the quilts and enjoyed seeing both sides of the quilt.  I also appreciate what the vendors do to get their merchandise ready for all those crazy buyers.

large pallets being moved in to the vendor region

large pallets being moved in to the vendor region

And now my son is  back in school and my daughter is at college so I am back to regular studio hours and the  fabric is flying.  I am on to the next season of work and play . What are you working on?


The Empty Drawer Mirage

Improvisational quilt scraps

Not an empty drawer…


It was truly a mirage, a delusion, an outright lie I told myself. I really, truly believed that by making this piece, I would have a new, empty drawer to fill up with 2014 scraps. It took me the entire week of my design/ piecing  time that I had allotted for the week. ( A new goal for 2014 -divide studio time into design and finishing time).

The quilt is pieced but I made little headway in my quest to use the scraps. The drawer remains really full but the top is pieced. And my irrational obsession of using up curvy strip sets has been temporarily  taken care of.

The WIld Side

The WIld Side, in process -Colleen Kole 2014

It turned out to be about 40 x 52 without the facings on it yet. I will baste it tomorrow and have it in line for machine quilting.  I think I will back it with flannel , use on it my couch. and go back to my list of what I should be working on!

More about what I have planned for 2014 in the next post.

It Became an Obsession

I have to admit it started awhile ago. I opened one of the drawers next to my sewing machine and I found a whole boatload of curvy fabrics from a workshop. I know it was a Nancy Crow workshop but I am not sure which one. I quickly shut the drawer knowing I was deep in holiday mania making mode.

But I didn’t forget it. In fact, that drawer became this little niggling thought in my head.  What could I make with those strips? It needed to be cut up. What am I waiting for?

No it doesn’t need to be cut up. It’s ugly.

Yes it does. Don’t you see how much of it there is?

Then began the era of procrastination purging. If I use it up, then I would have a whole empty drawer. Ok, Ok. Normal sane people would just dump the drawer in the trash and move on. Nope not me. It needs to be used. It can be beautiful . I know it can.

Now, I am going on day 4 of trying to make something wonderful with some not so wonderful strips. It has become more of an obsession to make something wonderful .  Up and down and cut and sew some more. It was four times as large as you see in this last photo. Crazy piecing  with strips in colors that I would never choose to sew together today. And finally, tonight, I have given myself a deadline.

If it isn’t sewn together by tomorrow night, it will not be done. Ever . The obsession has become very irrational which is why they call it an obsession.

And there is good reason why I do much better with a set of goals at the beginning of the week and stick to it. Otherwise I waste time with ill thought out projects.  Ugh.

(PS- I keep trying to fix my blogroll  on the right but can’t get it to work properly. I will call in the experts and see how to get this done or removed. )

The Never Ending One

     I thought I would be showing you a finished piece at the end of this week.  It always takes longer than I think it will. When I went to put the binding on tonight, I realized that I had a huge spot of machine oil on my piece.

     I took a really deep breath . I didn’t hyperventilate but went back and read the directions on the wool batting I used. ( For the first time)  No hot water and no agitation.

     Ok then. Mmm…. I shoved it in the washing machine with cold water setting and some synthrapol. I was worried that the fuschia would run like crazy.  It didn’t.

Colleen Kole, 2013,  “Set Free” blocking 

     Blocked, fans on and waiting for it’s binding.

     These are the days that I think I may be a bit crazy for estimating could finish 20 total by December .
 But, I always love challenge.

Evolution of a Piece

    It was a slow moving process with this piece. It began as a small little idea and  a small portion of this design was pinned on my wall for many months.  I kept taking it down and putting it back up again and it was assuming this grandiose design idea in my head. It was taking up too much space on my wall and in my head. SO, I gave myself two weeks in January to get it done as I was very sick of this great visionary piece. Haha.

     This was not your typical strip piecing. I cut each piece separately after I sewed each seam which became very time-consuming. But I really wanted to work on my line work.

Rooflines # 8 under construction

Slow progress…
Machine quilting finally

©Colleen Kole 2013, Rooflines # 8, 45x 35

What a good word: finished. This piece didn’t turn out like I envisioned ( maybe over thought it too much )  but there is always the next piece. And no longer than two weeks per piece seems like a really good idea!

And The Winner Is

      When I get to a certain point making these improvisational quilts, I ask myself the same question. Who is going to win: the quilt or I? Now, being a fairly determined person, I hate to lose.

     So, the story of this little quilt began when I purchased a group of fat quarters from another hand dyer, Sue Cortese. I usually dye solids so all these luscious little pieces of multicolored fabrics were calling to me. I even dragged them with me to the last class and occasionally petted them thinking of what could be made. They just said the colors of fall to me. And I wanted to make a ribbon quilt so it seemed a perfect thing to make that would be quick.

    My first mistake was making a prediction that anything involving quilting would be quick. Twenty some years later you would think I know that  making a quilt is anything but quick. A month ago I started this very simple piece.

   This was about the 57th revision. I have totally removed another section which had no relevance and wasn’t even the same color. (Just temporary color blindness I have reminded myself. ) A loving child asked me  what kind of chaos was I trying to crate at that point so that portion was removed. She said it was only slightly better after that portion was removed… I asked for no more comments please. ( Ok, she said it was no less ugly is the real truth.)

Falling Leaves
34×36, 2011

   I also ignored the fact that some long strips were looking very skewed. Now, sometimes skewed is good. But obviously some are very straight and one are skewed. So, skewed here is not ok. It should have been randomly skewed.

   But after many re-sews and cuts, I have declared myself the winner and the quilt the winner as well. A tie. The quilt wants to be crooked in spot where I don’t want it to be.  But I finally just let it be what it wanted to be.

    And I win because I actually finished piecing this thing and enjoy some of the fabrics. The top is done where a year ago I would have given up. Crooked but done. I will eventually quilt it. I just need a teensy break from it.

    So, I remind myself not to make predictions of how long it will take to complete a piece. If stuck, move on. And, sometimes, it’s ok to let the quilt win. Or tie. 🙂 I am more than ready to move on to the next thing.

    Be creative, my fiends.

The Colors of Fall

     Back and better. I just had reached my quota of “mean” for the week I guess. 🙂  I would miss my friends if I quit  blogging is the bottom line. Yes, I would. You put up with me in all my wonderful moods….

     I have kept sewing the past week.Usually after one of those intensive workshops, I am no good for a few weeks. But the machine has been put to good use , although no spectacular artistic output.  I cut apart and re-purposed a piece from my workbasket. That felt good. ( I’ll show you next time before and after. ) I pieced two charity baby quilts from the little charm packs.  Seems I always get behind with that around the holidays.

      I have taken lots of pictures outdoors. What a great fall we are having.


     I am trying to incorporate some of these colors in the next piece. And stay away from my typical blues and greens.

These are really beautiful hand dyed fabrics from a friend of mine here locally. I have been anxious to use them.

    Be nice while you are being creative, my friends. Thanks for cheering me on.

Soaking It All Up and Inspired

     I did. I just soaked up every minute of the Barn last week for the Improvisations class given by Nancy Crow. It was a tough class for me-quick paced and some of the art concepts were obviously things I hadn’t really thought of fully before I design a quilt. Or even knew.

   Nancy divides the class into a series of exercises which need to be completed in a specific amount of time. Some of the exercises are done in black and white and some in color. I was really worried about this class but went into it with this attitude:  each exercise given to us to- was just an exercise. Not a wonderful quilt that I would produce but an exercise I would learn from. I did complete most of the exercises but failed miserably at the middle one. Obviously one I need to re-do here at home. I won’t tell you  more about these specific exercises but I will tell you this:

1. I learn more at my one week workshops at the Barn than I ever did in a semester of college. Ask others and they will say the same.

2. It is absolutely wonderful to share time with others who have the same goals and interests. And laugh with them. Making art is lonely and a sharp contrast to what I did before with people every minute I was working.  I didn’t realize how lonely I was!

3. Nancy, her family and Margaret Wolf work together and give above and beyond to make this a great learning experience. Nancy spent a considerable amount of time with us and for that I am truly grateful.

4. Yes, I did sew spending from 7:30 am -10pm  there working away. Uninterrupted time except for meals. Wonderful meals.

Working on a black and white composition
another  work in process 

5. Carol Soderlund was teaching a surface design class there at the same time. It was a treat to see what that class did and see Carol’s happy face. I think one of Carol’s classes will be next in line for me.

6. Set aside comparing yourself to others and what they are doing. You can’t be at any other place than where you are currently are at in your artmaking.

     I am grateful to have had this opportunity. If you have a chance to go to the Barn, don’t hesitate to go. The experience will exceed your expectations. And that expectation should be about learning as much as you can and not about producing the miracle piece.

     Be inspired, my friends- I am over the top inspired. And a little tired.

Trying Again With Natural Dyeing

     I was rattling around in a cupboard and I found a lovely blue enamel pot. I looked inside of it and not a speck of rust or chip inside of it. Perfect for bundles I thought to myself. I forgot I had bought it last year at a yard sale.  So, I scrounged around in one of my boxes I am packing up to send home and there was a perfect piece of white fabric. I chop it up into about six pieces-and went on a hunt.

    “She is looking for things to wrap up in fabric. She is going to boil it and it will smell,”says one daughter.

     “For real?” says the other daughter.

      “Yes, for real,”says the mom.” It is called eco-dyeing. ” Lots of eye-rolling.

      And after I wrapped and boiled some birch leaves, coreopsis, hydrangea leaves and flowers, onion skins and some alum, I ended up with this:

    I was really hoping for some brighter leaf imprints but, of course, couldn’t find the book I needed. I think I already sent that home.

   I really have trouble remembering where I leave things. And which light switches turn on which lights. No wonder they think I am crazy. But I ended up with some pretty yellow fabric which they thought was pretty as well but involved too much work. Buying it at a store was mentioned….but then it wouldn’t be mine, would it?

    I like the marks the coreopsis made-nice and gentle. I thought I was all done with dyeing but I guess it wasn’t done with me.

    Be creative, my friends!


A Better Meadow

     I am trying in some small way trying to redeem myself from my last small piece. It didn’t really portray what I wanted it too. So I tried again- I just wanted a simple abstract piece which reflected the colors of my Vermont meadow. This is too simple for me so I guess I need to try again until I get it right.

Vermont Meadows
about 24×55 unquilted

     I always resort to this simple design of strip piecing to jumpstart my design process again. Sure wish I didn’t have to. But , I do and I did. It bugs me to slide backwards.  Kind of a warm-up? I don’t know but I just did it. But the best part about this piece-I am on my way back again to sewing. And it felt really good to sew again.  I will take it home next week when we go back to Michigan and start quilting it. Ever onward.

      Now that I see it here -I feel like it needs to be twice as wide and it’s missing the other half….Sometimes they just keep getting bigger.

     I have another piece on my design wall which I would love to get pieced before I leave…. don’t know if that will be realistic but it is a good stretch goal.

    Enjoy summer, my friends.