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Advanced Improv with Denyse Schmidt

In November, I went to Denyse Schmidt's workshop and it was an a amazing experience.  Denyse just wrote about the class on the Purl Bee the other day.  You can read about my experience here and see a quilt I made using the technique I learned here.  For Christmas, Fatty gave me a gift certificate for Denyse's Advanced Improv class so the two of us took a trip to New York last weekend so I could cash it in.

The whole idea behind the advanced improv class is to take an idea and to develop it into a plan for a quilt.  I struggled for many weeks about what to actually work on in this class. What it came down to in the end was what I had on hand.  And what I have is a HUGE stack of Heather Bailey fabrics to use for Jane.  I was planning to make her a zig zag quilt, but never started it.  So, I chose the one large-scale floral that her room colors are based on and started buying solids to go with it.  I want something suit a 9 year old and a 19 year old, something she won't outgrow before it's even finished.

May 9 011_1_1

The night I made the homework blocks, they didn't seem that bad.  It was late, I was (over)tired and put them in pile, happy to have that bit of business finished.  The next day, after I took this photo, I knew it was bad.  Really bad.  And the one block that I didn't like while I was piecing them, was the one I liked the best of all.  When I say best, that is an exaggeration - it was like the least offending of all four.  I didn't have any spare time to do them over or even make another two.

At the studio on Saturday, I showed my blocks and inspiration fabric to Denyse, Richard (her teaching partner) and my two fellow classmates.  I explained why I chose these colors and who the quilt would be for.  I went through the laundry list of things I didn't like:  the proportion was off; the dark pink really, really bothered me (and everyone else!); the rest of the pink wasn't much better; I felt I needed more neutrals (maybe a brown?).  What I did like about these blocks was that there were "L" shapes made by strips of continuous colors in all of them.  The repetition of that pattern was really appealing to me.  The somewhat monochromatic blue/green/yellow block was the one I liked best and I wonder aloud if maybe I should take the pink out all together or separate it somehow. 

May 9 013_1_1

After some consultation, I started sketching a bit and playing with fabric.  Denyse and Richard pulled bolts of different solids and we compared them to the ones I had.  We picked a few more yellows to add in - a pale butter, a bright lemon and a mustard - along with a second lime green and a second ivory.  We talked about cutting up the floral fabric to use it as a solid.  Then I started sewing.

May 9 015_1_1

May 9 016_1_1

I liked my first block and used it as a starting point to make other blocks.  I made some blue blocks, some pink blocks, and per Denyse's suggestion, an ivory one.  I took Richard's suggestion and used the Heather Bailey fabric as a print in some places and as a solid in others.  I strategically cut it to get pieces that were mostly pink or green or yellow or just the background alone.  I repeated the "L" shape in all the blocks and used the ivory for continuity.  Five blocks into this project, I like where it is going.  I like the log cabin-ish centers and the small (well, small for me) scale of the blocks.  The muted yellows, especially the mustard, help ground all those easter egg pastels and tone down that dark pink.

May 9 020_1_1

I haven't worked on it any more since I have been home.  I have been letting the process and the ideas percolate a bit.  I am going to keep at it, though.  I think I will have to make at least four more blocks to see if I can make this quilt come together the way I want.  I will be pulling some other prints from my stash to see if I can add a few more bits of interest and texture. If it doesn't come together, that is ok, too.  I am learning so much about myself as an artist just through the process.  That alone is enough.

A big thank you to Denyse and Richard.  You guys are great inspiration and a lot of fun!  I appreciate your feedback and encouragement.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you come up with another class.  I'd love to come back!



I love it. What a bright and fun set of squares.


This makes me happy. So happy.


what a great experience, and a thoughtful gift from your husband.
i agree, letting things sit as you mull them over, is a good idea. i love what you have done. challenging yourself is so very healthy! have fun.


what a fantastic post! It's nice to read about working through a problem--I think it's hard to voice what we don't like about things we make AND fix it. The floral print looks awesome in the blocks! I would even throw some dark gray into the mix (not that you asked).

heather at brown robin

Wow. What a spectacular husband! It's so cool to see your "process" and I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to work with Denyse Schmidt! For the record... I think you have a wonderful sense of color and pattern. I know you'll come up with a pleasing work of art/quilt. Your daughter will treasure it for the rest of her life too.


Wow, the mustard makes all the difference! I think it's going to be gorgeous!


I love hearing about the thought process. I see it so clearly in that last photo. Its beautiful, keep going. Its feminine, but not girly.


I think it looks fantastic so far! I can't wait to see more of it.

dani@little fists

I like the turn that it is taking. The muted colors are working for sure. And I am seething with good natured jealousy over your chance to New York...with your man...AND take a quilting class with D.Schmidt. Over the top.


Nothing beats a really great, inspiring class does it? Looking good...


i love that you used the print in the end. and i love the process - but you know that already. it's like painting with fabrics. which reminds me that i need to deal with my sewing machine situation...

Lisa Clarke

I like where that's going,too. I don't think I would have much success with that "purposefully wonky" look, but you do it well. Looking forward to seeing it come together, when it's done percolating!

Sarah Jackson

I love hearing about how the process is working for you and about the use of the print as both solid and print. Large scale prints are so great for that. I'll be looking forward to seeing the progress.

Glad it was such a great experience!

Rachel Pagliarulo

I did the Improv class on that Sunday and it was fantastic! I've been needing that type of inspiration. Denise and Richard are wonderful. Now after seeing this I'm definately going to take the advanced class.


thank you for sharing erin! you have such a wonderful way of putting your experiences into words. your posts always seem to validate what i so often struggle with.

you are off to a beautiful start--jane is going to have one special quilt!!


It's looking great Erin, I love the mustard and ivory in it, too. And the use of one bold print with all the solids - fantastic. Your stories about these workshops are so interesting, what a gift to be able to learn from someone so talented. I wish DS headquarters were here in Australia!

Ana Kreutzer

It's very nice! Learning new things about yourself is a wonderful thing! And I adore Heather Bailey's fabric.


thank you for sharing your process with all of us. it's fun to live vicariously through you! your blocks are looking fantastic!


What a great post! I've been trying to 'think outside the box' for my next quilt, and might have to work on my quilting improv skills. Thank you for the inspiration!


Thank you for sharing your talent and your thoughts about quilt design. How special to travel to NY with your husband who obviously knows what kind of gifts to give such an artistic wife.


I used to teach colour theory to my design students and I would always say that if you are going to choose bright or bold colours, then limit the amount you choose. The amount depends on the format. But from the 3 or 4 main colours, then choose a tint or tone from this. you choose blue, then choose light blue etc. And always balance it out with a pale colour, white, cream. By the looks of it that is just what you have done. You've toned it down and evened it out and it still is a bright and beautiful design. Can't wait to see the end product. And how jealous am I that you got to go twice to that workshop!!!!


this just makes me smile ear to ear, erin! denyse and richard are such incredible teachers. and thank you for sharing your process, including what doesn't work... it is such a learning experience to think that through as well. it is looking amazing so far.

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