Aug 26, 2015

when jazz and quilting share an idea

The world of improv is calling me. My mind keeps returning to the possibilities - use what you know but use it in a new way.
The quilt top (shown above) is my latest improv attempt. Its made using two pieces of beautiful vintage Japanese Yukata cotton and a stack of half-yard cuts of shimmering Oakshott cotton. Plus a tiny sprinkling of orange wool. 

(I'll share the back story on these gorgeous Japanese Yukata cottons soon. Please check back!)

Meanwhile, its possible that the whole purpose of my 18-year journey of quiltmaking was intended to reach this point. Or truthfully, maybe next year I will move on to something else. But hey, right now this certainly feels like a calling.

The attraction to improv makes me think of music, particularly jazz - which I love. The jazz world veers into the world of improv all the time... and to be good at improv takes a lot of skill and know-how. The best artists draw their improv inspiration from their proverbial 10,000 hours of practice and they use their knowledge of the rules and structure in music to break them.

You have to know how things are supposed to work before you can turn those rules upside down.

Teresa Duryea Wong

Same goes for sewing blocks or quilt tops. At least, that's how I interpret these ideas.

Once you master the correct method for making a nine-patch, a double wedding ring or log cabin for example, then you can use that knowledge to twist the rules and create something with traditional roots but is entirely new and unexpected.

Teresa Duryea Wong

Of course, there are many quiltmakers today and throughout history who have worked in this unstructured style without knowledge of the rules. They just made what inspired them and used techniques of their own devising. 

For me, I am just taking baby steps into this world. And now that my eyes are open, I find inspiration everywhere. 

My blogger pal Jayne at Twiggy and Opal posted this a couple weeks ago and I could not get this image out of my head. I love the gray and the tiny pops of color. Very intriguing.... and frankly, masterful!
Twiggy and Opal
Japanese quiltmaker Keiko Goke has been working in improv for 40 years. Her world is bright and color filled and her style has inspired me for many years. She is one of the artists featured in my new book!
Keiko Goke

Case in point: my improv double wedding ring inspired by Keiko Goke.

Teresa Duryea Wong.
A few years ago I started following blogger and quiltmaker Maria Shell. Her color grid series is breathtaking. She has an amazing command of line and structure - all with a wonky improv approach. 
Maria Shell. "Day" 24 x 24 inches.
Fret Not Yourself just wrote a really great review of a new exhibition of improv quilts from the Rod Kiracofe collection on view at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. Check out her photos.
Photo by Ann at Fret Not Yourself blog.
Ann also shares a link back to an interview with Rod that was written by a woman who coincidentally has also become a new blogger (and business) pal of mine, Patricia at Okan Arts, who in 2014 posted an interview with Rod Kiracofe and his book on his collection of improvisational quilts.

As for me... all of a sudden, it seems I've let go of the tedious task of lining up seams and matching up corners. No more worry about straight lines and mitered corners.

Now, wonky is good. And improv is fun!

Inspiration everywhere - especially when jazz and quilting share the same ideas.

Linking up to


  1. Aren't these improv quilts exciting? There are so many ideas floating around; it's wonderful to see how different people take a smidge from someone else and run with it.

  2. Wonderful post! I couldn't have said it better myself! Once you understand the basics, all bets are off! After quilting for a number of years, I needed to stretch myself and Improv allowed me to do that. There is no shortage of inspiration. I love your double wedding ring improv. Seeing it again is making me crazy with ideas! Thank you for sharing my 'Threads' quilt!

  3. Love, love. love this quilt!!!! those pops of orange are perfect. One of these days, you might actually convince me to attempt improv!

  4. Your quilt is wonderful and those bits of orange are perfect.! I never really called what I do improv, but I guess that's what it is. I love the gray one that you showed and went to her blog to check it out. Stunning!

  5. I'm looking forward to hearing more about those Japanese fabrics - they are so lovely! Love the analogy between jazz and quilt improv.