Improv Patchwork Road Tales ~ Honesty

I love sharing my thoughts and ideas with an audience because so often their curiosity and insights  enrich my understanding of the topic at hand.

IQSCM in Lincoln NE

At The International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln Nebraska I spoke to an audience of over 120 people about improvisation and patchwork. At the beginning of one of these talks I typically ask the audience if they have seen the Gee’s Bend Quilts and if so what they experienced standing in front of one of them, “What did you notice? What makes the Gee’s Bend Quilts so great?”


Often people answer by saying things about color or design, but typically people give me the deeper answer I’m hoping for… a sense of presence, an essence of freedom, the delight of the unexpected, an energy or power in the “making do.” At IQSCM one of the audience members, the husband of a quilt maker, took it a step further.

IQSCM & Sherri Lynn Wood

He had heard the Gee’s Bend Quilters speak about their quilts as something honest. Indeed when he stood in front of the Gee’s Bend quilts he was moved by the sense of honesty they conveyed.

Sherri Lynn Wood presenting at IQSCM

The quilts weren’t striving to compete, or copy, or teach, or impress, or be anything more than the truthful, authentic expression and honest engagement of the makers with themselves and the materials.


I am thankful that he introduced this simple word into the discussion. In The Improv Handbook I talk about the difference between seeking to be authentic vs original, but the idea of being honest in your work takes it home to a deeper level –don’t you think!

What does it mean to be honest when I create? What am I being honest about? Who am I being honest to?

I would be remiss if I didn’t credit the warm hospitality and flexibility of the staff at IQSCM. It truly was a pleasure to work with such a professional, and passionate institution dedicated to quilting and quilt makers across the world; AND the efforts of Lori and Kris, and  the members of the Omaha and Lincoln MQG for getting the word out about my talk, and for showing up! It was an incredible turnout and a highlight of my book tour. THANK YOU!

Posted in Community, Events and Workshops, Modern Improv, The Modern Quilt | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Improv Patchwork Road Tales ~ Sweet Surrender

impov handbook for modern quilters road trip book tour

A road trip is a score, a set a of limits in which an unknown adventure can unfold, as quilt maker and improvisor Cinzia Allocca commented on my last post about flow:

…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.

The beauty of traveling across country on a performance/book tour is that all other distractions of daily life are removed and the primary goal is to arrive safely and on time, do your thing, and repeat. Often there wasn’t much time to spend in the actual cities I visited. Most of the time was spent on the road.

on the roadWithin these narrow limits however, there was a sweet surrender to the score of the ROAD itself and it’s adventures. My traveling partner and I said YES AND to the unexpected. We took as many back roads as possible and stopped along the way when we saw something that interested us.

eating local in blue ridge

–eating local – yes those are good ole’ southern grits.

southern illinois

— enjoying the scenery as we sped by.

vintage thrift road finds

— a man with a tractor trailer of vintage thrift items on a lonesome country crossroad.


— in the small town of Havana Illinois where I was warmly welcomed by the mayor and the local quilt shop Ma’s Got’a Notion that specializes in civil war reproduction quilting.


— we were driving a rental truck so I said YES AND to this sewing machine bargain also in Havana Illinois.

— discovering the Mite Society’s quilting bee space, also in Lamoni Iowa, behind the community thrift store. Founded in 1883 the Mite Society is the oldest quilting society in the state of Iowa.

— rescuing a large snapping turtle crossing the road in rural Nebraska. Then realizing a large snapping turtle was harder to rescue than you might think! Luckily a local stopped by to help us help the turtle. He simply picked the beast up by his very tough tail and flung him back into the grass. (Sorry – no pictures of this!)


–sleeping local.

on the road

— stopping for views.


— hiking in Zion

The last stop of my cross country road tour was in St. George Utah. I arrived the afternoon and night before the event scheduled at Scrap Apple Quilts early the following morning –a rare occasion to relax and enjoy the place. Besides swimming in the hotel pool I attended a free concert in the park –a John Denver tribute performance. It was a beautiful thing  –a warm, dry evening, the lawn spacious and strewn with older people and a few families here and there– everyone enjoying the easy and uplifting message of the music.


I was hooked! And some of John Denver’s songs I can’t get out of my mind, including this one which speaks so eloquently about the unexpected flow of life and the joy of surrendering to all that happens. Please listen!

When I arrived home in Oakland things had changed, another relationship hoped for came to an end, and the words of Sweet Surrender have been ringing true more than ever:

Lost and alone on some forgotten highway, traveled by many, remembered by few.
Looking for something that I can believe in,
looking for something that I’d like to do with my life.
There’s nothing behind me and nothing that ties me to
something that might have been true yesterday.
Tomorrow is open and right now it seems to be more than enough
To just be here today, and I don’t know what the future is holding in store,
I don’t know where I’m going, I’m not sure where I’ve been.
There’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me,
my life is worth the living, I don’t need to see the end.

Bird in the air at zion national park

Sweet, sweet surrender, live, live without care,
like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air.

This song so easily applies to the process of improvisational patchwork – don’t you think? —I don’t know what the future (of this patchwork) has in store, I don’t know where I’m going and I’m not sure where I’ve been. But there is a spirit (internal cues) that guide me, a light that shines for me (the patchwork itself), this (patchwork is worth the making) and I don’t need to see the end!!!

Ps… my story telling is not linear. There are more road tales to come!

Posted in Community, Personal Heritage, The Modern Quilt | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

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.

Posted in Modern Improv, The Modern Quilt, Tools, Tips, Tutorials | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Improv Handbook Test Quilter Blog Hop

Over 250 people signed on to test quilt the ten scores for The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters – without visual references. There were 165 quilts completed and submitted for inclusion into the book.

The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood, photo by Sara Remmington

Only 22 of the test quilts were published in the book, but all 165 of the test quilts can be viewed in the online test quilt galleries linked below. I hope you agree that all of them are worthy examples of the scores, each in their own way.

  1. Score for Floating Squares
  2. Score for Strings Gallery
  3. Score for Improv Round Robin Gallery
  4. Score for Patchwork Doodle Gallery
  5. Score for Modern Block Improv Gallery
  6. Score for Rhythmic Grid Gallery
  7. Score for Layered Curves Gallery
  8. Score for Bias Strip Petals Gallery
  9. Score for Get Your Curve On Gallery
  10. Score for Showing Up Gallery

The efforts and feedback of the test quilters significantly shaped the ten scores, or flexible patterns, featured in The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters. As you view the galleries, may you feel inspired and encouraged to know that there are an infinite number of interpretations for every score.

Test Quilters’ Process July Blog Hop

The Test Quilt Galleries also include links to process posts written by many of the test quilters describing their unique improv experiences. These process posts are inspiring and I’m happy to introduce another round in July.

July 1: The Quilting Edge by Marianne Haak with giveaway!

July 3: Andrew Steinbrecher

July 6: Heather Kojan Quilts with giveaway!

July 8: Fiber Antics by Veronica

Date TBD: Latifah Saafir Studios

July 16: Marion’s Journal

I will be updating these links as the posts are published. May you enjoy and be inspired to improvise YOUR WAY!

All images from The Improv Handbook are copyrighted (c) 2015 Sara Remington unless otherwise noted, and all text and illustrations (c) 2015 Sherri Lynn Wood, and can not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher Stewart, Tabori, & Chang.
Posted in The Modern Quilt | 6 Comments

Improv Patchwork Road Tales ~ Intro

It’s been two weeks since I landed back in Oakland after a two week journey that began in North Carolina (my home state) followed by ten days crossing the country in a rental truck, while promoting The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters.

Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters Road Tour - with roadie

One thing I learned early on as an artist — when I shared my story with others, they in turn shared theirs. The development of an idea is a collaborative process. Concepts expand through the shared, resonating experiences of a community – YES AND…!

Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters Road Tour at Fancy Tiger, Denver

Growing up churched, I was always fascinated with the idea that “communion” happened whenever two or more gathered and broke bread together. The sharing of stories is the breaking bread sustenance that keeps creativity and meaningful connection growing and expanding.

Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters - Fancy Tiger, Denver

Between driving over 4000 miles, performing eight times, teaching two workshops, and meeting hundreds of people and signing hundreds of books in a dozen different cities and towns in 14 days, there was little energy left for blogging. BUT there was plenty of bread broken and shared (even some banana pudding) as I took the concepts contained in The Improv Handbook to meet the curiosity and enthusiasm of quilt lovers and makers across the country.

Banana Pudding - Allen & Son's BBQ - Chapel Hill, NC

Many of you already have copies in hand of The Improv Handbook. At the time I did my best to pour all my knowledge of the topic onto its pages. Even as I wrote I was learning and developing my ideas further. Writing a book is great for expanding the horizon of one’s ideas.

Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters Road Tour - Book Signing

Even so, many of the concepts barely introduced in The Improv Handbook —such as flexible patterning, authenticity, setting limits, working without a plan, finding flow, and harnessing emotional energy have evolved further through the fruitful exchange with the quilting communities I had the good fortune to meet in New England, San Diego, Los Angeles, and on the road in Durham, Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem, Asheville, Cincinnati, Lincoln, Denver, St. George, and unexpected places in between.

Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters Road Tour - Thimble Pleasures, Chapel Hill

Over the next several weeks I will pass along some of the surprises, discoveries, satisfactions, tall tales, patchwork stories and life lessons learned through the people I met on the road with The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters.

Stay Tuned!

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Quilting By The Lake ~ July 27-31

I’m touring and I have a new book out. I’m teaching at guilds as I’m invited, and every where I go people ask me where else are you teaching? Where can I take one of your workshops? Are you going to be teaching here…or there… (insert your favorite quilting retreat or conference)?

So the short answer is I will be teaching improv for five days at Quilting By The Lake in Syracuse NY, July 27-31, 2015 — this summer!

Score to Get Your Curve On from The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood

I’m teaching a two-day intensive workshop on quilting from a score. In this workshop you will explore the FUNDAMENTAL concept to flexible patterning and improvisational process: How to set limits that best support your creative flow. This is the KEY principle that will allow you to progress in creating and following your own patterns. Finding your flow not only feels super good, it actually replaces the need of having to work from a plan.

This two-day will be followed by a three-day intensive workshop on ruler-free curve patchwork. In this improv workshop you will learn advanced composition and ruler and template-free CURVE patchwork techniques. Improvising with curves challenges you to commit one-step-at-a-time, and to celebrate your mistakes because it ain’t easy! Yet it all works out in the end. Often our mistakes and the challenges we overcome, lead us into the most interesting territory, and result in the most dynamic quilts.

Sherri Lynn Wood teaching from The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters, photo by Sara Remmington

These two workshops build on each other. I recommend both, and there are still a few spots left in each. If you can swing a trip to Syracuse this July then by all means join me for this rare opportunity to do some intensive improv work. AND it’s a great deal cost wise. SIGN UP TODAY!  Or feel free to contact me with specific questions about the workshop content.

Unless your guild has invited me to teach, the next opportunity for a 6hr workshop will not be until QuiltCon West in February 2016.

Above are a few images from workshops I’ve taught this spring at Seacoast MQG & NHMQG. I hope to see you this July at Quilting By The Lake! It’s going to be AWESOME!

All images from The Improv Handbook are copyrighted (c) 2015 Sara Remington unless otherwise noted, and all text and illustrations (c) 2015 Sherri Lynn Wood, and can not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher Stewart, Tabori, & Chang.
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Improv Handbook Process Post ~ Kinda Quilty

One of the joys of writing The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters is watching other quilters blossom in their very unique ways.

Check out this Improv Handbook process post by Mina Kennison at Kinda Quilty. She made both of the quilts below based on scores featured in the book and they are  absolutely stunning!

Score For Modern Block Improv by Mina Kennison

Test Quilt by Mina Kennison featured in The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters Score For Get Your Curve On by Mina Kennison

Quilt by Mina Kennison Inspried by the Score for Get Your Curve On from The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters


If you are interested in delving deeper into the scores featured in The Improv Handbook, your opportunity is now! I’m teaching a two-day intensive on Improvising From A Score and a three-day intensive on Get Your Curve On, at Quilting By The Lake, JULY 27-31, in Syracuse, NY.

This is a rare opportunity to take your improv patchwork practice deeper. SIGN UP for both sessions for a full immersion experience.  It is the ONLY place and time I’m teaching these workshops publicly until I teach them as one-day workshops at QuiltCon West 2016.

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