Stitch Modern ~ Improv Round Robin Workshop

I’m pleased to announce that I will be facilitating an Improv Round Robin as part of the East Bay Modern Quilt Guild‘s 3rd annual Stitch Modern on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at the Piedmont Center for the Arts.

This is a fantastic workshop for first time quilt improvisors and for people who have never made a quilt before, as long as you can operate a sewing machine. If you are interested in attending please register here.


This workshop will be photographed for Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters which will include a marvelous chapter on the Improv Round Robin with instructions on how to organize and facilitate one with your friends or for your guild.

If you live in the Bay Area be sure to check out the Sew Modern exhibition and schedule of lectures and workshops! It’s all happening in February.

Posted in Community, Events and Workshops, Modern Improv, The Modern Quilt | Tagged | 3 Comments

Improv Handbook Test Quilters

Vintage 70's Fabric


The Improv Handbook scores are finally out to all of my test quilters! You guys are awesome. I had over 160 responses and I enjoyed reviewing your skills and preferences, reading every one of your comments, and visiting your media sites.  Thanks for all of the kind words and support.

I was so impressed with the talent and the enthusiasm – to see a range of masterful quilt makers and improvisors, along with the excitement and willingness of beginners ready to jump right in! I was happy to discover the work of some of you for the first time and to have the support of many longtime blog friends!

I can hardly wait to see what you all come up with and again I can’t thank you enough. Your questions and feedback on the scores and process are invaluable to the success of the book.

It’s not to late to participate ~ closed

If you want to be a test quilter visit the call for contributor quilts for more information and fill out the questionnaire.  I will hold the door open for test quilters until February 1st. Late comers will still have a month and a half to finish their quilts by March 25. Definitely sign up if you think you can swing that deadline.

Posted in Blogging, Community, Modern Improv, Quilt Alongs | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Happy Holy-Days!

With deadlines looming and working hard on my first publishing adventure, I wasn’t able to take the extra time to join my family in North Carolina this Christmas but they came to me in September. Any special time set aside to be really present with family or friends is a treasured holiday or “holy-day” in my book. Here’s a sweet video celebrating my family’s recent visit.

I hope your recent days have been filled with simple moments of existence and presence with friends and family.

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Announcing The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters

An Official Announcement

I’m pleased to officially announce the upcoming publication of my first book!


THE IMPROV HANDBOOK FOR MODERN QUILTERS: A Practical Guide for Creating, Quilting, and Living Courageously by Sherri Lynn Wood is a comprehensive guide on the process of improvisational patchwork quilting, which includes 10 project scores, innovative sewing techniques, tips for accessing intuitive color, and mind tools for creating with fearless spontaneity. Scheduled to be published by Abrams Books under the imprint of STC Craft / A Melanie Falick Book in Spring 2015.

How The Improv Handbook Came About

I began working with a literary agent in November 2013 on a detailed book proposal.

In March 2013 we submitted the 50 page proposal to a handful of publishers. I was thrilled to have phone interviews with a majority of the editors representing the publishing houses and received several offers. The most exciting part of this process was hearing how each editor would emphasize different aspects of my proposal to fit the publisher’s mission of reaching it’s particular audience.

Once the offers came in it was really a tough decision to choose one, but ultimately I decided to work with Melanie Falick at STC Craft. She designs some of the most beautiful craft and lifestyle books on the market today. Melanie edited my friend Sabrina Gschwandtner’s book KnitKnit, and Denyse Schmidt’s latest book Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration. In the next couple of years I know that STC Craft will be publishing books with Spoonflower, Kristine Vejar at A Verb For Keeping Warm, and Heather Jones. STC Craft creates books that highlight the unique visions of their authors.

The Improv Handbook Concept

Improvisation is a fundamental process at the heart of every great creative endeavor. Music, dance, theater, painting, drawing, design, cooking, conversation, relationships, play, life and even the discipline of science benefits, survives, grows, transforms and innovates through the flexibility of mind that improvisational process engenders.

The Improv Handbook For Modern Quilters provides a comprehensive framework for fostering improvisational skills through the discipline of patchwork quilting.

The 10 patchwork projects featured in the book are organized as “scores” or “games” rather than as patterns. A score or lead sheet, common to improvised musical traditions such as jazz, is a set of notations or parameters within which the improvisation is free to take shape. In the discipline of improv theater a game defines the set of limits in which an improvised and unscripted scene unfolds.

Each quilt score is designed holistically to illustrate a) approaches and methods from different improvisational disciplines, b) innovative sewing techniques particular to improvisational patchwork, c) design considerations and exercises, and d) mind tools for fostering fearlessness, presence and curiosity.

For instance one project asks the reader to think about doodling as a method for improvisation, by introducing the techniques for building a quilt with simple shapes, while also encouraging a mindset of acceptance. Another project will get you thinking about the design element of rhythm by posing a puzzle to be solved, while teaching skills for ruler free measurement.

My goal for the Improv Handbook is to teach improvisational patchwork in a way that encourages authentic expression. To this end, along with my interpretation of each score, the book will feature one or two quilts by other people to illustrate the infinite range of possible outcomes that improvising from a score allows.

As an example the Mod Mood Quilt is written as a score to interpret, rather than being presented as a pattern to follow, and you can see a range of interpretations of the Mod Mood Quilt score here.

Participate! A Call for Test Quilters

Here’s how to participate

  • January 1 – Register to participate as a test-quilter.
  • February 1 – Open registration to participate closes. Scores sent out to test-quilters.
  • March 1 – Information about contributor quilt submission process will be sent to test-quilters.
  • March 25 – Images of finished quilts based on the scores provided are due and will be considered for publication in the book. Submitted quilts will be reviewed and chosen for publication by me and the editorial staff based on how well they illustrate an alternative yet recognizable interpretations of the quilt score provided.
  • April 1 – Makers of the chosen entries for the book will be notified.
  • April 15 – Chosen quilts will need to be quilted, bound, shipped to and received in Oakland by this date, for photography.  The publisher will pay for round-trip shipping by USPS Priority Mail to Oakland, CA.
  • Makers of the chosen entries will be completely acknowledged in print, and will receive a complementary copy of the book.
  • The makers of non-chosen quilts will be entered in a drawing for complementary copies of the book and other thank-you prizes hand-made by me.
  • There will be an online forum showcasing ALL of the test quilts with the release of the book in Spring 2015.
  • There may be exhibition opportunities for the test quilts, but there is nothing on the calendar at this time.


Posted in Community, Modern Improv, The Modern Quilt | Tagged | 61 Comments

Talking Quilts with Eli Leon ~ Sarah Turnage

This quilt was pieced by Sarah Turnage of San Francisco and quilted by Mary Thompson and Aurelia Forester.

Quarter Log Cabin by Sarah Turnage

There is so much motion in this quilt that it borders on optical illusion!

The first thing Eli brings to my attention are the two bright reds in the center of the quilt that create a medallion of sorts. They hold the center of the quilt and are flanked by subtle borders.

Notice how the thick brown strip that runs across four blocks the top plays off the skinnier brown strip in the bottom right that runs across two blocks. These constitute a top and bottom frame, or inner border around the reds in the center.

The left border is delineated by a subtle shift of color and scale or rhythm of the blocks. The outer right border is made with strips of solids on the edge that lead to an outer bordered edge of pink on the bottom right.

Notice how there isn’t any white in the blocks bordering the quilt. All the white is contained in the center blocks. This also delineates a sense of the borders.

Eli notes the variable strip widths. Most of the strips and squares are cut evenly but there are a few that are cut wider on one end than the other, these slight irregularities add to the quilt.

The block pattern is a quarter log cabin. Eli believes that the quarter log cabin is unique to the African-American tradition of quilting. He could find no record of this block pattern originating from the Euro-American tradition. It is NOT made by making a log cabin block and cutting it into quarters. Each quarter log cabin block in this quilt was made individually — no two alike.

Not only is each block unique the way the center squares of the blocks come together is always different. Sometimes two squares meet at a seam, sometimes three, sometimes the square runs into strips.

Notice how Sarah uses solids and patterns in this quilt. In the bottom row of the quilt there is a complete mix of fabrics. Eli thinks its undefined. That part of the quilt fades compared to the rest of it. We agree that this is perhaps the weakest section of the quilt, was she trying to do something special or did she just run out of solids? What do you think?

Otherwise the interspersing of solids with prints, especially plaids and stripes add to the boldness and optical nature of the quilt. The flower prints seem like filler to Eli, but I think the pink and green and orange flower print is unexpected and works wonderfully. We both love how the plaids and stripes go in different directions.

Sarah uses all kinds of fabrics, including polyester. These textures add to the quilt. I love how all the lime green is congregated up at the top. The fact that it is not scattered everywhere is a strong design choice.

I also love the quilt’s naturally finished shape. Sarah didn’t just take a ruler and whack off the edges of the quilt to make a straight edge.

Eli insists the name of this quilt is Turkey Breast, because that is how it is listed in some of his notes and in his book, Models of the Mind. However on the tag attached to the quilt Eli listed the name as Turkey Boast.  We disputed the name of the quilt for quite a bit. I think Turkey Boast makes sense because the pattern reminds me of a turkey strutting around. Eli insists that his records record the name as Turkey Breast even though he agrees that it doesn’t make a bit of sense. We both have a good laugh about the pattern name, but whatever the name it’s a spectacular doozy of a quilt. It is unique of its kind.

Listen to our conversation

So what do you see? Please join the conversation! Check out the archive Talking Quilts with Eli Leon for more exclusive insights on improvisational quilts from Eli’s extensive African-American collection.

Posted in Modern Improv, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 25 Comments

Upcoming Events & Workshops

People have been asking me about my teaching schedule. I’m happy to announce an exhibition and upcoming improvisational patchwork classes scattered across the country. I may be teaching in your neighborhood soon!


October 10 - December 28, 2013Right now you can view Rainbow Cloud Quilt in the exhibition, Roots of Modern Quilting, at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA.


February 7-9, 2014. I will be teaching the Improv Round Robin at the Modern Quilt Guild’s SewDown: Portland. Registration is open!

North Carolina (East Coast)

July 2014 (specific dates to be determined). Spoonflower in Durham, NC. I will be speaking about Improvisational Patchwork and Process and teaching a full day improvisational quilting workshop. More details to come!

I would like to piggy back two or three more east coast gigs over a two-week period in July. If you are interested in having me teach in your east coast city at your local quilt shop, guild or art school during this time contact me and we will try to make it happen!  I’m willing to travel as far as NY and all the way down to Atlanta.


August 25-26, 2014Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association, Santa Clara, CA. I will be speaking about Improvisational Patchwork and Process and teaching a workshop.

Hello California quilters! I’m local which means minimal transportation costs. Also Bay Area quilters, I may be teaching a series of test-kitchen improvisational workshops for my book this winter or early spring. Please stay tuned!


November 14-15, 2014Camp Stitchalot, Pleasant Lake, MI. So pleased to announce that I will be one of the “camp counselors” for this cozy event! Registration is open.

Again I am hoping to piggyback an additional presentation or workshop immediately before or after Camp Stitchalot.  If you know of a guild, quilt shop, or art school in the Detroit or Lansing area who might be interested please contact me!


March 1-2, 2015, Fidalgo Island Quilters, Anacortes, WA. I will be doing two presentations for the guild and teaching a workshop.

I am available to present or teach immediately before or after my visit with FIQ.  If you know of a guild, quilt shop, or art school in the Seattle area who might be interested please contact me!

Photos are from Get Your Curve On, a workshop held at the Pajoro Valley Quilt Association, Santa Cruz, CA on September 9, 2013. A good time was had by all! If you attended this class PLEASE leave a review in the comments.

Posted in Community, Events and Workshops, Mod Mood Quilt, Modern Improv | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Talking Quilts with Eli Leon ~ Rosie Lee Tompkins

Eli Leon surprised me with this amazing quilt by Rosie Lee Tompkins. He has over a hundred quilts by Rosie Lee and considers this to be one of her best – AND it has never been published. This is an exclusive so please pass the word around to your quilting buds!

The first thing I notice and love about this bed sized quilt is the rich intensity of the velvet and the way it deeply absorbs color and reflects light. This dark quilt sparkles!

We both comment on the way light shines and pops out of the darkness. The light blue velvet combined with the pillow ticking in the top right corner is so unexpected –almost like a patch of sky peaking through the rust/purple/green triadic colors of an autum canopy.

Rosie Lee is confident in the way she patches together large expanses of dark values with only slight shifts of intensity. Personally I shy away from doing such a thing, afraid that my patterns will get lost. Yet the rich field of darkness she creates becomes a ground for her bold bright patches to stand fearlessly.

Eli points to the “huge number of changes in stuff that is very similar.” For instance, some of the triangular “half squares” as Eli calls them, vary in size tremendously. Sometimes the scale shifts from section to section, and in the light blue section, for example, there are scale shifts within the section.

Rosie Lee has created floating sections within floating sections. There is a sense that the microcosm gets bigger as the pattern of sections within sections repeats –almost spiraling. It’s simply beautiful. It’s fractal.

Rosie Lee Tomkins Quilt from Eli Leon's African-American collection - improviational patchwork

Personally I have a difficult time sewing with triangles, because they are so pointy, I don’t feel very free with them and they usually come off stiff and precise. In Rosie Lee’s hands they are fluid. Lots of times the points of her triangles are cut off by seams. They fragment like the reflected light of a jewel.

We notice that there is a single “border” at the top.  It’s clear that the quilt is made in sections but it is difficult to determine the actual construction sequence. This is due to the way Rosie Lee bleeds colors from one section to the next.

I love Eli’s enthusiasm for a beautiful quilt, “Something I just noticed for the first time…

Rosie Lee Tomkins Quilt from Eli Leon's African-American collection - improviational patchwork

I like almost a million things about the quilt. It’s that I just feel so great when I’m passing that (the dark-blue bleeds in the light blue section)– when I’m looking up there and see that, even if I don’t recognise that its both this or that, it just turns me on, and that’s been happening with a million things here.

We both agree that there are parts of this quilt that look three dimensional. Eli points out how Rosie Lee will add completely unexpected fabrics to the quilt like the leopard print at the bottom left center, or this very busy print in the top middle –one-of-a-kind elements in contrast to the mostly solid fabrics used through out, that never-the-less blend effortlessly with the whole. I declare that I would never feel free to that and Eli says, “Yes but it works beautifully!”

I ask Eli about Rosie Lee’s personality, “Was she confident?” He says she was more than confident. She never looked for help or approval with her quilts. However she was also a critic of her own work. She could pick out her best, the ones that were “perfect” and others that she thought could be better.

In the end the thing that makes this quilt so extraordinary is the sense I get that it seems chaotic yet feels completely ordered. Eli didn’t see anything chaotic about it but could see what I meant. He declares it “fabulously ordered.”

When asked about her process Rosie Lee said she could picture the outcome before she began. I’d say she was a master at communicating her rhythm of attention.

Rosie Lee Tomkins Quilt from Eli Leon's African-American collection - improviational patchwork

If you would like to hear our actual conversation here it is!


So what do you see? Please join the conversation! Check out the archive Talking Quilts with Eli Leon for more exclusive insights on improvisational quilts from Eli’s extensive African-American collection.

Posted in Modern Improv, Reviews, The Modern Quilt | Tagged , , , , , | 31 Comments