Last week I attended a quilt retreat at Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg, CA. One of the projects I brought to work on was a wool quilt for a friend. I had no pattern, just a dark plaid wool skirt that I had washed and felted and a slew of wool scraps in solid colors that I thought might work well with the plaid….. I knew I wanted the quilt to be “lap” size, somewhere between 48-50″ wide and 52-54″ long and I wanted to include at least one pocket. That was the extent of my plan.
This is my favorite way to make quilts – just pick out a few fabrics and/or a bunch of scraps and start sewing. Gwen Marston calls this style “liberated quilting.” It is also called improvisational or freeform. Whatever the name, it is very much a “use what you have” type of quiltmaking.
Aaron’s Freedom Quilt – 74″x77″ – a multi-year long project, started by sewing random wool scraps together.
The quilt starts to come together after the extra pockets are removed.
One thing it’s not is a “quilt in a day” kind of project. It’s a process. For me it begins with an inspiration: a fabric, a person, a colorway or with random scraps sewn together until a pattern or order appears. I have been known to work on quilts like these for weeks, months, even years. I’ve also made a few magical quilts that came together overnight, almost like they made themselves – I was just driving the sewing machine.
Gwen Marston describes this technique in detail in her Liberated Quiltmaking II book. If you have never seen this book, check it out, especially the part she calls The Non-Rules of Design. As my quilting retreat buddies learned, Gwen is my “go-to” reference for all things quilty.
A favorite liberated quilting phrase of Gwen’s is: “Don’t commit too soon.” My friend Lynne has a similar phrase: “Too early to tell.” I keep both of those phrases in mind as I am work in this style so that I remember to concentrate on where I am at that moment and don’t worry about the next step – the borders, the back, etc.
This particular quilt took most of the 4 day retreat to emerge. On the first day, I laid out my fabrics on the floor, moving 3 pockets and the tiny bits of bright colors around. I sewed a few strips together but something just wasn’t right.
This, Dear Reader, is why I always bring more than one project on a retreat.
Barb’s Floor Scraps Quilt – 12″x12″
On the 2nd day I worked on a floor scrap quilt made from the scraps given to me by my friend, Barb, at Gwen Marston’s final Beaver Island Quilt Retreat last September.
The “process” continues.
I worked on my little quilt most of that day, “visiting” my wool quilt layout off and on, moving the pocket squares, shifting a few fabrics here and there, waiting for the quilt to “talk” to me. Nothing. However, years of working this way have taught me to be patient, to wait it out.
Lo and behold, on the 3rd day I woke up with the realization that I had too many pockets in the layout! I only wanted to make a lap quilt. I only needed 1 pocket – 3 pockets were two too many. (Unfortunately, I am still new to documenting my process and I didn’t take a picture of the lay-out with the 3 pockets.)
The finished quilt top – 51″ x 58″
Once I took the extra pockets out, the quilt started to make itself. By the end of the retreat I had one panel finished and the second pinned on my design cloth. The quilt was “talking” to me and I was “listening.” What a process!
Next up: pictures of the work of my fellow Bishop’s Ranch Retreat quilters. I must apologize in advance however, as again, I was so in the moment that I forgot to take pictures until the final day so I don’t have pictures of all the quilts/quilters.