“Crossing Over”: Improvising from a Score

by Stephanie on June 5, 2015

in Art Quilts & Wallhangings,My Design Process

Post image for “Crossing Over”: Improvising from a Score

This is the quilt I made last year as a tester for the “Rhythmic Grid” score from Sherri Lynn Wood’s fabulous new book, The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. “Crossing Over” 40″x43″

Crossing Over quilt

The Rhythmic Grid score begins with the instructions to select fabrics in two color sets, each with a background color and two contrasting colors. For the background, I pulled two solids from the stash (both Kona, might be “boysenberry” and “fushia”). This would be an experiment in how not-neutral a background can be and remain functional as a background.

No one familiar with this blog will be surprised that my other fabrics are not solids. Even boysenberry and fuschia aren’t enough to keep me awake through an all-solids quilt, so I gave each set one crazy Kaffe Fassett stripe-ishy thing and one bright Philip Jacobs floral exuberance in hot orange/pinks. This is what happens when I attempt to go “modern”: I set out in that general direction and then veer wildly off-course.


In the “score,” Sherri provides general guidelines for creating block-ish units from Color set A and assembling them into a row, then expanding that row in a “rhythmic grid”. Cutting and construction is all done with NO RULERS, which is fun and delightfully wonkifying.

I did not love the early rows. There were times, when this project was in the ugly duckling phase, that I came close to abandoning it.


In the Improv Handbook, Sherri Lynn includes a set of questions to ponder at the completion of a project, as part of the creative learning and exploratory process. She asked her test-quilters to respond to these questions when we submitted our photos to her. Here’s what was on my mind about this process as “Crossing Over” finished it’s transformation from ugly duckling to happy swan.

Surprises: What surprised you about the process or the outcome?

When about 30% of what became the completed top was on the design wall, a subtle “rhythm” did emerge in the process. The layout was created one row at a time, as I carefully avoiding planning ahead, and after the first few rows were done, the quilt started to speak up — that evolving subtle rhythm made where/how to build the next stage very clear. I didn’t have to spend time pondering or wondering. After some inertia in the earliest stages the design developed vigor of its own in a way I had not expected.


Discoveries: What did you learn from the process or the outcome?

1. “If you think it’s ugly, you aren’t done yet.” At the completion of the second row I was tempted to abandon this project. It was clunky and ugly and gave no indication that it would get any better as it got larger. The queue of other projects wanting my attention is a very long one, which left me questioning whether continuing with this was a good use of my creative time. But with the addition of a third row, things started to gel, and I felt inspired to continue.

2. “When in doubt, rotate.”  This top was constructed vertically, with the purple section at top constructed first, then the colorshift to fuschia added to the bottom. At the point that the purple section was done, I rotated it 180-degrees, so what I’d originally thought was the top of the purple section became the bottom edge to which the fuschia was added. Then, when the entire top was done, something about it wasn’t quite right yet… although the piecing felt complete and it did not need more added. So I had the impulse to rotate the entire piece 90-degrees counterclock-wise to put the fuschia section on the right-hand side, and that’s when it felt “done.” In this new orientation the sashing looked to me like bridges over an infinite space, and that’s what inspired the quilting.


Satisfactions: What aspects of the process or the outcome did I find most satisfying?

How much I love the finished piece! I expected this experiment to be fun and at least a little bit challenging, but I had no expectation that the result would be anything exceptional. I was in it for the process, and ended up falling deeply in love with the finished piece.

I’m also very happy with the quilting, and with the decision to use a faced edge treatment instead of added binding. Once the idea popped up to add Chinese-style clouds between the “bridges” it would not let go, and then metallic thread felt like the only option. The matching-color background quilting works better than I’d hoped as well.


Dissatisfactions: What was I dissatisfied by? What would I do differently next time to be more satisfied?
Nothing! this was a fun process and I adore the finished quilt. Couldn’t be happier. The closer this came to completion, the more it evoked contemplation of spiritual transformation both within and beyond our physical experience.


Score Adaptations: In what ways did I adapt the score to make it my own?

My color and fabric choices are very true to / representative of my style. Other than that, I chose to follow the “score” as closely as possible given it’s a loose, improvisational process. I’m very much a “do my own thing” quilter, and felt as a tester that I shouldn’t stray too many light-years away from what Sherri Lynn had provided as guidelines.

{Here I want to point out that while I was diligently following the score to the best of my ability, I was creating a quilt that looks VERY different from the other quilts made from this same score (a big reason Sherri Lynn’s book is so awesome). You can see the entire Rhythmic Grid gallery here.}

Next Steps: What aspects of the process or outcome do I want to explore in my next improvisational quilt?

I did not have time to try out the second variation that Sherry Lynn posted after we’d begun (making a whole bunch of blocks first, then arranging them to connect the lines). I think that would be interesting and fun.

If you missed the blog hop for the book, you’ll find the master list on Sherri Lynn’s website, here. If you have any interest at all in improvisational quilting, you DEEPLY WANT this book. Trust me!


1 Ami Krenzel June 5, 2015 at 8:24 am

WOW!!!!!! I love your quilt. I too love screaming bright colors. Your design is so well balance and awesome. I went to her gallery of test quilts and was drawn yet again to yours with the bright colors………..it just screams JOY!

2 Maureen June 5, 2015 at 12:40 pm

What a beauty!!! I love that you rotated the quilt to have the “bridges” across the width, and of course I love colour and pattern. I have the book but yet to begin a project – seeing your quilt has given me the extra push!

3 DianeY June 5, 2015 at 6:01 pm

I love it! It was really one of my favorites in the gallery!

4 Willa June 6, 2015 at 1:47 am

Wow!!! Again, you inspire me to move in this direction!!! Thanks!!!

5 Willa June 27, 2015 at 7:30 am

Now I have the book and am ready to jump aboard!!! Especially after taking a Denyse Schmidt workshop recently!!!! What spontaneity lays ahead!!!

6 Stephanie June 28, 2015 at 10:44 am

Look forward to seeing what you create, Willa!

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