“Improvising Tradition”

The Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild seems to be a hotbed of talent that gets published.  Members Jacquie Gering, Angela Walters, and now Alexandra Ledgerwood have put out books on modern quilting. I just finished looking over “Improvising Traditions.”

This new book of modern quilting patterns (excuse me, projects) defines improv quilting as “a creative approach to piecing fabrics, working largely without a pattern but with an overall design goal in mind.”  It gives three techniques – strips, slices (laying two pieces of fabric on each other and cutting both at the same time), and strata (angular crazy quilting) – for creating 18 projects. You can treat each project as a pattern and follow the layouts given, or you can take off in your own direction.

improvisingtradition_350x350There are many aspects of this book I like. It eases the reader into improv work by providing a framework. It gives far more information about approaches to quilting than many project oriented books. Ledgerwood quilted all the projects herself. As you can see from the photos, her free motion quilting skills have been improving. Many of the projects look like they were made from a quilter’s stash, rather than a coordinated fabric line. The staging of the quilts for the photos is great. Think aspirational home furnishings catalog.


Now for the aspects I wasn’t as thrilled about. The book gives instructions at least three times for how to place one fabric piece on top of another, cut them at the same time, and then sew the pieces to each other. However, it doesn’t say to make sure both pieces are right side up before you cut. If one is right side up and the other right side down, the pieces won’t sew together correctly after you cut. I realize this isn’t a big deal when fabric has no right or wrong side, like yarn dyed solids, batiks, and hand dyes. However, it really matters with prints.

My other caveat is more of a wish. Ledgerwood’s work is effective because she uses value well. However, the book has little discussion about this aspect of fabric selection. There are two paragraphs on value under Creating Strata. I worry that quilters who sew scraps together without planning for value changes will be disappointed when their products don’t have the same impact as Ledgerwood’s.

I think this book would be especially helpful for folks who’d like to try improv quilting, but desire a clearer picture of the end result than many improv techniques books give. I view it as improv quilting with training wheels.

If you’d like to try one of Ledgerwood’s projects, Sew Mama Sew has directions for jewel box coasters.



Filed under Books

7 responses to ““Improvising Tradition”

  1. Thanks so much for your review of the book. I appreciate your thoughtful feedback, and I am thrilled to hear it is already on library shelves!

  2. Stephanie

    This review is so timely; I just got it from the library.

  3. This is a very useful review–you do a great job of providing information that would help me decide whether to spend money on this book. I think value must be a very difficult thing to write about–at least I’ve seen very little done on the subject that I think is helpful. And it may be the thing with which I’ve had the most trouble in my quilts!

    • It’s hard to disentangle value from color. The best way I know to think of it is to compare it with the gray tones in a black and white photo. I’m glad you found the review helpful. I spent a few years selecting books for a library system so I know what I looked for in reviews.

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