“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This is the heart of what Sherri does in The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. She doesn’t offer patterns. She doesn’t give strict cutting or sewing instructions. She doesn’t give us a fish. She gives us guidelines that provide just enough instruction to light a fire fueling our creativity. She prepares us to release our own unique perspective in the joining of fabrics and the construction of quilts.
The closest Sherri comes to offering a pattern is in the largest section of the book which talks about scores, an approach to piecing quilt tops that is similar to the approach jazz musicians us to improvise during performances. Each score is made up of flexible limitations that contribute to the specific look or style.
The brilliant part about this section on scores is that there is a gallery with each score showing various interpretations from people who tested the scores before the book was published. At QuiltCon 2015, Sherri mentioned that she sent descriptions but no pictures to her testers. The results are fascinating, and you can check out all 165 quilts submitted for consideration in the Flickr gallery.
The Improv Handbook contains lots of cross-referencing which reinforces Sherri’s framework and makes it easy to pick up the book and fully enjoy it no matter which page you turn to. These references weave together the scores and the techniques and many of the mind tools (to develop inner skills for improvisation) and design considerations (to develop your personal aesthetic).
One of those cross-referencing moments sent me to the back of the book to see the patchwork techniques. I’ve taken classes and read quilting/sewing tutorials, but nothing I’ve learned before comes close to what I found in that technique section. There were so many new things I haven’t tried: putting darts in your quilt top?!? pressing seams in the direction they prefer??!?!! I couldn’t stop myself from reading the technique section completely before coming back to the introduction and continuing through the book.
This is my interpretation of Score #2 Strings. I worked way outside my comfort zone on this and have mixed feelings about it. I limited my fabric choices and the time I allowed myself to debate what fabrics I would include. I cut without a ruler (cutting from the core kind of made my stomach hurt – it was that hard to go rulerless!). I also let my seams go where they wanted when I pressed and randomly sewed the pieces cut from my strip sheets. Random is a challenge for me.
My bookshelf is growing slowly in my sewing studio. I don’t want to acquire too many books with patterns or books that I’ll lose interest in, but I’m quick to hold onto a book like this that can continue to offer me something new each time I pick it up. Even if I were to become proficient at all those techniques that are so new to me right now, Sherri’s scores will be invaluable for jogging my creativity during those moments when I need to trigger some new ideas and “fish” for myself.
Be sure to check out Sandi at Crafty Planner’s podcast interview with Sherri Lynn Wood as well as Sandi’s review of Sherri’s class on Floating Squares!