Improv Patchwork Road Tales ~ Flow

I serendipitously came across this embroidery in the bathroom of the Bed & Breakfast I stayed at while traveling through southern Illinois on my way from Cincinnati to Lincoln.

Finding Flow Setting Limits

I’ve taught the workshop, Improvising From A Score, six times since introducing it at QuiltCon in February, including A Gathering of Stitches, LAMQG, San Diego MQG, and the Triangle MQG and Front Range MQG while on the road tour.

This workshop begins with brainstorming the limits of patchwork –size, fabric amounts, time, shapes, colors, tools, techniques, procedures, scale, complexity, etc. The idea is to pick any combination of limits to create a “score” for flexible patterning.  You might decide to make a baby quilt for a friend, with triangles and strips out of pastel fabrics. That’s the starting place. The set of limits you begin with are size (crib) shapes (triangle & strips), colors (pastels) and then you go from there. BUT oh you say, don’t I need a plan?

Many people feel restricted by having to stick to a plan yet they are scared or anxious without one. A plan gives us a sense – a false sense perhaps – of security and control. With pure improv there is no plan. There may be a loose seed of an idea or image in our minds, but it’s important not to hold on to this seed or to control it’s growth.

Improvising From A Score workshop with Front Range MQG

The limits we set for flexible patterning, replace the plans we depend on for fixed patterns. Setting limits “between too little and not enough” so that we are not overwhelmed by too many choices or restricted by not enough choices is the key to finding flow or “happiness.” Flow replaces the security that we cling to when following a plan. FLOW is sweet and restorative, free and surprising. Whereas security may be comforting it can also be restrictive, tedious and rife with judgement if we dare to deviate from the plan that guarantees it.

When I outline the limits for the first score featured in The Improv Handbook, the Score for Floating Squares, participants are always welcome to push beyond the limits introduced – and many do. The point is to first clearly see the container for the improv in order to clearly see our choices, preferences, and habits in relationship to the container.

Improvising From A Score workshop with LAMQG

The challenge is to TRUST the limits we set, even as we question and push beyond them. There are many obstacles to overcome; learning to be more restrictive with fabrics – most of us suffer in our over abundant culture from too many choices than not enough; yes butting – many of us prefer to judge and doubt rather than affirm and build – I include myself.

Once I begin trusting to the limits I set by affirming and building on all that I choose, the sweet surrender of being in the flow restores and delivers me to new territory almost effortlessly.

Seeing my students struggle and find their flow reminds me to seek this place between to much and too little in my life and my relationships with others. I’m reminded to trust and affirm the decisions I make for myself each day, and allow life to unfold as it happens.

BTW – There are still spaces left in my 2-day Improvising From A Score workshop, July 27 & 28, 2015 at Quilting By The Lake.

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11 Responses to Improv Patchwork Road Tales ~ Flow

  1. John Wiercioch says:

    Sherri Lynn,
    Even though I am not currently quilting or sewing, I still very much appreciate your insightful posts. I recently returned to making paintings, which I do in my own “improvisational” way. Last spring I dug in and produced a few dozen new works. Just as you describe, I established parameters by preparing many panels to paint upon in advance, and a general idea of materials I would use, and then tried to allow the work to grow organically. Even so, sometimes my own reworking (my version of “yes butting”) stagnated my efforts, and left me with work that was unsatisfying after many days or even weeks of labor. Occasionally, a work would almost paint itself. Yet such a smooth occurrence didn’t just happen. I feel all the challenging struggles were part of the successful ones; they allowed me to grow, to get to know the materials and myself and habits. That then enabled me to get into the right frame of mind and “get out of the way”, be present yet not overthink; to be less a director and more a vehicle for the emerging work. One of my favorite paintings (which sold in the show for which I’d been working so hard) happened just in this way. And I had titled it “Flow”! Thanks much for the affirming essay and continuing inspiration.

  2. I would love to spend the week at QBL! unfortunately my budget was limited and I have to work on the monday before i leave. Looking forward to meeting you too!

    BTW, i am reading a great book on flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (Flow: the psychology of optimal experience). he writes about how to achieve flow in many aspects of life: in work, relationships, leisure, etc. There are many parallels to the way you talk about how to achieve flow in improv quilting.

    • sherrilynn says:

      Thanks for that reference. I have to get that book. I just watched his TED talk. He looks so restricted for someone who’s writing and presenting about flow but that’s the irony sometimes. People so often explore and make the best discoveries of the things they lack and yearn for most deeply in their own lives. I liked his charts on flow. See you soon!

  3. Pam says:

    I’m going to start my 2nd improv quilt, with my own score…. A little scary and exciting…. I love what you said, “…the choices, preferences and habits in relationship to the container”. So helpful reading this post.

  4. Janet says:

    I finished one quilt and I’m currently working on another following the “score” concept. I am very pleased with the results. I love the improv process and your suggestions have been most helpful. I feel like I’m absorbing the ideas you talk about in your book and find inspiration just by skimming through looking at the photos and reading a few paragraphs…..this is working for me. The book is a masterpiece.

  5. Great post Sherri Lynn. When you say, “A plan gives us a sense – a false sense perhaps – of security and control”, you are right on. It is a false sense of control. When we follow a plan, especially someone else’s plan or quilt pattern, we give up control. We become slaves to that plan. I like improv because I control how the quilt progresses. And by accepting limits (chosen by me) I am removing distractions from the path I have set out for myself and my quilt. I am creating freely within a “safe zone”. The safe zone acts as a safety net.

    • sherrilynn says:

      Yes indeed. I agree Cinzia. We give up control when we follow someone else’s plan, and yes I like the way you point out that the limits remove distractions from the path. You are spot on. Looking forward to having you in the curves class at QBL. Why not sign up for both and spend the week?!

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