On Cutting Loose

Last week I mentioned the influence Jan Mullen’s book Cut-Loose Quilts (C&T Publishing, 2000) had on my early quilting adventures. Then I started thinking about the quilts I had made, using her cut-loose (stack and slash) method, and remembered the fun I had. It all started 20 years ago (gulp) with the making of a Jan Mullen sampler quilt in the convivial company of our local group, Quilters of Grahamstown (Quogs). We worked our way through the book and made skewed (improv?) versions of traditional blocks, like she had done.

A sideways view of “Dotty Delight”, a sampler quilt, 214 x 147 cm (84 x 58″)

This quilt was made for a child’s bed and is so old that I do not have a digital photograph of it on file. It also does not have a hanging sleeve, so had to be photographed sideways. (I did try to crop and rotate it, but that didn’t work.)

The quilt was made from polycotton dotty fabric. I bought all the colours available at our local fabric store and brashly stacked and slashed the different blocks in various combinations of the brightly dotted fabrics. Perhaps it is just as well that the quilt has faded over the years!

After this I toned down my colour palette a little and made four quilts, following the patterns that Jan Mullen called Roman Stripez (p. 24), Log Flowerz (p. 65) Squarez-in-Squarez (p. 67), and Grannies’z Fanz (p.80). Her pattern of flowers using the log cabin method (Log Flowerz) resulted in my favourite quilt, which appears on the opening page of my blog and which I named A Full Bed of Roses (I previously posted a poem about the making of this quilt.)

Paging through Cut-Loose Quilts has stimulated new ideas for quilts and I am now playing with making rings and circles, which might turn into an improv Drunkard’s Path. As noted last week, it was learning how to make Diana Vandeyer’s Improv Wedding Ring that led me back to Jan Mullen’s book. Just for fun, here are examples of their take on the traditional wedding ring block.

Should I confess that I am a little perplexed about the term “improv”? I had noticed it out of the corner of my eye and was aware that it is connected to the modern quilting movement, but had not paid it much attention until recently. To fill in the gaps in my knowledge I did a bit of research and came across a very good article, “The Beautiful Chaos of Improvisation”, by Lisa Hix that conclusively attributes improvisation to the Afro American quilting tradition.

I was surprised that the word “improv” is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, as slang for “an improvisation in performance”. Although the dictionary does not say this, it would be nice to think that verb improvise is closely connected to the word improve. Improvisation is described as “something done on the spur of the moment” (OED).

18 thoughts on “On Cutting Loose

  1. Loved this post. I think “improv” in modern quilting is getting a bit overused (I am guilty of it myself). I mean a lot of early quilting/historic quilting (think Gees Bend, etc) from poorer communities was improv/improvisational as you “made do” with what you had. The same thing with the log-jam quilting (free form log cabin blocks) which was originally from Africa (do not know where) using the scraps/fabrics available. I would like to call your pieces – From the Heart – that seems where your inspiration comes from. And speaking of your pieces – the Sunshine and Shadow is breathtaking to me (do you need my address to mail it to me?!?!) 🙂


    1. I am bowled over by your assessment of my work. What a warm and huge compliment. Thank you from my heart.
      Alas, I no longer own Sunshine and Shadow. If I still had it I would send it to you.
      Yes, the Gees Bend quilts are truly improvisational and inspirational

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your ‘Dotty Delight’ seems to be a foundational piece for the development of your style…in other words, I look at it and see ‘from whence you came’…
    Lucky kiddo who slept under this 20 years ago!


  3. I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts on improv, as well as seeing your work. Also glad that you are playing with those circles and drunkard’s path. Will be fun to see where you go with them.


  4. As a non-quilter this is all rather eye-opening. I can understand improvisation as making do with what one has and making a plan, but I can’t imagine quilting as a spur of the moment thing as it appears to require careful planning, but I suppose one can improvise the design before one commits to stitching. Lovely quilts!
    Sorry I am a bit behind with reading blog posts and load shedding doesn’t help does it? Need to get back into the routine of that.


    1. Thanks for following along Carol. I too am perplexed by the use of the word improvisation in modern quilting. I think it’s about variations or loose interpretations of traditional quilt patterns or blocks, as opposed to improvising through necessity, as in the African American tradition. Oops, didn’t mean to write an essay.
      Thanks for the compliment and, yes, these power cuts are a nuisance. Thank heavens for solar powered lamps

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Somehow I missed this post. I love seeing all your past work and thank you for explaining ‘improv’. I’d been wondering about that word.


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