curve improv quilting and the uncertainty principle

Here are some photos from the Get Your Curve On workshop organized by Alison of the East Bay Modern Quilt Guild, held at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church on Saturday. I was so impressed by the level of work of the participants. These folks jumped in without looking back. This is not an easy workshop for several reasons.

Curve piecing without a predetermined pattern requires skill and a lot of practice. The techniques require improvisation to master.  Sure I can give an outline of how I do it but each person has to master the material through exploration. There are plenty of ways to piece a curve.

Mastering and improvising the technique is challenging, but the deeper challenge is improvising a curvy composition. No matter how well I compose and sew my curves, as soon as I sew one section into place, I alter the composition. There is absolutely no way to set the design in stone before I piece it together. It’s kind of like the Heisenburg uncertainty principle:

In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, such as position x and momentum p, can be known simultaneously.

It is impossible to know the precise position and momentum simultaneously of a composition when piecing curves!  And this is what came clear to me on Saturday: The only way to succeed is to commit one step at a time without any expectation of a final outcome. With each commitment the landscape shifts. BTW – this is the way trusting and enduring relationships between people unfold as well. It’s as hard to do in quilting as in life!

Always changing Blue Wedge at Saturday’s workshop. See an earlier variation.

It’s easy to fudge and bypass a true experience of improvisation with wonky log cabins or pulling random strips of fabric out of a bag, but Modern improv curve piecing forces one to work on the edge of the unknown. THIS is improvisation. It’s inescapable and it’s a big pill to swallow. Some of the students said they kind of hit the wall with it but I assured them that the big pill is a time release capsule. The lessons of improvisation will sink in with practice.

I invite anyone who has studied improv curve piecing with me this Saturday or this summer at the OCMQG workshop to comment below on the one thing big thing they took away from their experience of the workshop.

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10 Responses to curve improv quilting and the uncertainty principle

  1. Amanda Orich says:

    Sherri,
    Thank you for your words here on the uncertainty and the demands of the true nature of creative improvisation. I am working on my own quilt inspired by your curved piecing and improvisational designs.

    I had no idea of the emotional impact of the improvisational work, and how much it would demand of me in terms of exploring new territory and letting go of preconceived ideas. It has been very interesting- an aspect of the process I appreciate now after experiencing it. Since I have reached this point in my own work, and have just seen this post- let me tell you I appreciate your words and the comments of everyone here!

  2. Jennifer says:

    I was at the workshop and it was a moving experience for me. I appreciated the centering exercise at the beginning of class. It helped me mentally prepare for ‘not preparing’ if you know what I mean. It was a little scary to just let go of the things I usually rely on… like a guiding idea or plan and the patterns in a fabric for inspiration. I have never used all solids before so I forced myself to give it a try for this exercise. That day, I think I really was using my mood to guide my color choices. Usually I fret and wrestle over my fabric choices and although I have enjoyed that part of the process I can see that it has been a little stressful… like I am following some unwritten rules about what works and what won’t work. One of the most valuable aspects of this class for me what to practice tuning in and letting my intuition guide me without hesitating. It really felt like quilting from my heart instead of quilting from my mind which is what I have mostly done to date. I am using this as a turning point in my quilting… making a promise to be more of a risk-taker as I quilt and let go of the outcome. So many possibilities when you approach it that way! I really enjoyed the day and have thought about it often since. Thank you Sherri!

  3. blandina says:

    Wow, so inspiring.

  4. shannon says:

    oh how i wish i could be there taking the workshop! *sigh* i love the blog post and the whole process resonates with me…it’s so alluring!

    hopefully i can plan a bay area trip one day that coincides with one of your workshops! :)

  5. Michelle says:

    I am really excited to be taking two of your classes at QuiltCon. The improve of the curve facinates me!

  6. Kristin L says:

    Wonderful inspiration. I particularly like the restraint of the guy’s red white blue and grey fabric choices — it makes the curved technique sing.

  7. Ann Babillis says:

    Hi Sherri,

    I loved this post on so many levels. I took a similar class last winter and blogged about it here. http://orange-crumpled-napkin.blogspot.com/2012/02/learning-to-live-with-chaos-theory.html. Breaking through the uncertainty in constructing that quilt was almost a spiritual experience which took me by surprise. I found so many applications to the idea of the chaos theory since then, so I greatly value the experience. I can see by the expressions on your students’ faces how deep in concentration this whole journey took them. What a great class it must have been.

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