advanced improvisational patchwork with denyse schmidt

June 29, 2011 by mrsjennyryan

Improvisational patchwork blocks made by LA Modern Quilt Guild Members

So, I’ve totally been holding out on you guys. I don’t think I ever told you I was signed up to do an Advanced Improvisational Patchwork workshop with Denyse Schmidt herself! The LA Modern Quilt Guild flew her out to do a talk at Art Center and to teach a couple of workshops for our members. Participants were chosen by lottery and I feel so lucky to have made it in!

(I’m bottom row, 2nd from left, totally wearing my woad-dyed scarf!)

Photo by Alissa Haight Carlton

The workshop happened this past Sunday at Sew Modern, and there were 13 of us taking part. Apart from it being an amazing experience to be able to learn from and get inspired by Denyse, it was wonderful to spend the entire day sewing and creating and critiquing alongside my fellow quilt guild members. We had a lot of fun.

Improvisational quilting, as you might know from reading this blog, is totally my comfort zone. I revel in the freedom in it, but what I was hoping to get from the workshop was a better handle on how to hone my improv skills and use them in a more deliberate way, if that makes any sense at all. Denyse brought several bags of fabric scraps with her, which we all pulled from at random to create several blocks over the course of the day. We didn’t look at what we were pulling from the bags, we just went with the flow and assembled the blocks as we picked our scraps, letting them come to life bit-by-bit.

I really enjoyed the way that having our fabric choices taken out of our hands made us focus more on the aspects we could control—how to piece the scraps together. Although I really liked all the fabrics I pulled from the bags, I wouldn’t necessarily have consciously put these prints and colors together….yet I completely fell in love with what I ended up with. Trusting the process can yield really great results.

After making our first few blocks and critiquing them (What works and why? What might we have done differently?) we each made decisions on what we would focus on for the rest of the day. Did a block come out so well it inspired ideas for an entire quilt? Some folks brought up project ideas and Denyse helped them develop their concepts further. Some people just wanted to make more improv blocks and see where it took them. It was a fun free-for all. I decided I loved the color scheme of my first block so much that I’d try to create two more blocks to frame and hang as a triptych in my soon-to-be-repainted and redecorated studio (more on that later).

My challenge was to try and create blocks that were similar in feel and overall color scheme as the first, without being too matchy-matchy or replicating the layout exactly. This time I allowed myself to look at the scraps before I pulled them, of course, but I tried to mix things up. And since the scraps are all different sizes I certainly wasn’t going to be able to copy the layout of the first one anyway. This is what I love about using actual scraps to sew with instead of following a pattern using pre-cut shapes. You have to let the fabric tell you where it wants to go. You have to listen.

I also enjoyed working with more solids than prints, which I think helped make my first block so effective. Experimenting with varying shades of the same color to create depth and dimension. With so many tempting fabric lines out there, I think a lot of quilters (myself included!) become overly reliant on prints, prints, prints; or using various prints from the same fabric line all together in one project. This can be appropriate for certain projects, but to my mind, it often starts to give a look of sameness. It’s blah. I really want to challenge myself to use more solids, I think it allows the prints to really pop and contrast with the rest of the piece. This sort of quilting reminds me of modern art and it’s part of why I love it so.

Denyse is a really down to earth gal, a thoughtful critic, and an encouraging teacher. I’m also pleased to report that she was totally flattered and not creeped out by my “D.S. I Love You” project, ha ha!! I’ve now completed 2.5 of the 10 quilts in her book (yes yes, photos of the ones you haven’t seen are coming soon!) so I really need to get it together if I’m going to complete all of them this year, as I’d hoped…! I can do it. I know I can do it. Especially with this crazy renewed creative energy I’ve got after taking the workshop.

Denyse Schmidt is complimenting my work? Are you kidding me?!

photo by Alissa Haight Carlton

Of course she then had to go and scare me by telling me that her next book (coming out next Spring from STC Melanie Falick) will include twenty new quilt patterns. TWENTY. I’m preeeeetty sure she is trying to kill me, guys.

DS Quilts website

DS Quilts on Facebook

Buy Denyse Schmidt Quilts from Chronicle Books

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks


  1. anna says:

    beautiful blocks, and so amazing you got to be in her workshop!

  2. susan b. says:

    Love it, Jenny! Your blocks are awesome and I am super excited to see more of your DS I Love You project unfold. I am taking her workshop here in Portland at the end of July and I can’t wait!!!

  3. [...] for them but really, first the Woad Workshop, and now they get a day with the Denyse Schmidt? Go to Jenny’s post to see more. You may also [...]

  4. Denyse says:

    Nice post, Jenny, thank you! Can’t wait to see your blocks framed. I hope you will take a break after completing the ten quilts, before you tackle the 20 in my new book. I know they nearly killed me!

  5. jane says:

    I just love the blocks you made Jenny, it was so fun to sew with you for the day.
    I just emailed the photo you requested to your home ec acct. xo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>