Thursday, July 11, 2019

A fine new book

I've spent the last few days reading a new book by my friend Maria Shell, "Improv Patchwork."  You probably have encountered Maria's wonderful quilts at Quilt National and many other prominent venues, mostly made from solid color fabrics pieced into intricate and dazzling patterns.

Her new book explains how she makes these patterns and assembles the "bits" into large quilts.  Although you can probably figure out how this happens by simply examining her quilts closely, it's always great fun to watch somebody else's processes and see how they go about a complex task. 

Seeing Maria's work, whether in person or in print, always makes me want to run down to the studio and do the same thing.  I share her love of obsessive piecing, of wonky blocks, of freehand cutting, of solid fabrics.  She does a great job in the book of imparting enthusiasm and excitement for this style of quiltmaking.

I consider myself an accomplished quiltmaker and machine piecer, and yet I almost always learn something new or get a fresh idea from reading somebody else's books.  I'll share three takeaways that I got from Maria's book:

1.  If your sewing machine doesn't have a needle-down setting, in which you can make the needle always stop in the down position when you take your foot off the pedal, you can have your repair guy fix it to permanently stop down.  Needle-down is an invaluable element in obsessive piecing, because it keeps your small bits of fabric from escaping or oozing out of position when you have to let go for a minute.   One of my beloved older-model Berninas lacks a needle-down setting (and also lacks a knee lift lever) and thus I rarely use it; now that I know it's possible to alter that I might just be able to bring it back into regular service!

2.  If you want to make freehand cuts on a piece of fabric too wide for your cutting board, turn it diagonally and get several inches more space.  Duh -- why didn't I think of that??

3.  Contrary to much conventional wisdom about color choice, try using equal amounts of each color in your palette, instead of one main color, one secondary color, one accent color, etc.  Maria writes:  "You will be amazed at how this ups the wow factor of your work."  I'm thinking about this and looking for an opportunity to give it a try.

So, I'm giving this book a big five stars.  If you love machine piecing I bet you would get some inspiration and helpful hints from it.  You can buy it directly from Maria -- click here.


  1. I met Marie several years ago when she was teaching at QSDS. I sat with her at the Friday night event and mini quilt auction. I didn’t win her mini quilt in the auction but I gave the winner a run for her money. Marie selected on of hand dyed scarves for her prize in the raffle. She's a lovely young person and dedicated to her quilting careen. I enjoyed meeting and talking to her.

  2. I really like seeing Maria's quilts as well. I believe I got this book from the library before, but didn't get a chance to look at it thoroughly. I have ordered it again.