As I started a new quilt the other day I was thinking about the names that we assign to different techniques in quilting and how one term is rather more open to interpretation than many others.  I mean you know that with the term ‘Paper Piecing’ that there’s going to be paper involved, and that can be narrowed down further into ‘Foundation Paper Piecing’ and ‘English Paper Piecing’, so, 2 different ways of quilting with paper, other such descriptive terms include ‘Curved Piecing’ or ‘Tumbler Blocks’ .

‘Traditional’ quilt blocks are a smidge more confusing (although you probably don’t think so right now, I’ll confuse you later on ;o) ) but for the moment let’s go with what you’re probably thinking, ie a pieced block using a 1/4″ seam allowance and made up of one or more different units such as half square triangles or squares, where they all end up in a regular grid to make the top.

So let’s take a look at the subject of today’s post – ‘Improv’.  Now for the purposes of research, I looked up a couple of things, firstly the Oxford English Dictionary, and secondly, Google.

OED defines Improv as:

‘Another term for impro

So then I looked that up and got:

Mass Noun


  • Improvisation, especially as a theatrical technique.

    ‘half the skill in impro lies in second-guessing the audience’
    as modifier ‘as impro exercise’
    count noun ‘an impro of this kind’


1970s: abbreviation.

Apparently the OED didn’t get the ‘Improv’ quilting technique memo.

Google has 372,000 pages about Improv Quilting.  I didn’t read them all…  However, the general consensus was ‘quilting without a pattern’.  There is also a notion that this is a modern technique.  Images show bits of fabric at crazy angles to each other, random, unevenly cut shapes and mishmashes of blocks of shapes such as equilateral triangles next to rectangles, maybe with a pentagon, or other multi-sided shaped log cabin or two thrown in for good measure.  Some have sparse amounts of colour in their vast low volume or solid backgrounds, some are riots of colour, but they’re pretty much all shown with ‘modern fabrics’ and/or ‘solids’.

Now remember how I said that ‘Traditional’ could be a smidge confusing?  Well I’m going to put it out there that there were a heck of a lot more ‘Improv’ quilts in the olden days than there were beautifully turned out stars and dresden plates!  For those that were using bits of old clothes, feedsacks and the like, it was far more in the ‘add a bit here and add a bit there’ patchwork line.  And I mean the people that came up with what we now refer to as the ‘traditional’ blocks were improving really when they invented the patterns in the first place as by definition they weren’t working from a pattern.  Can you imagine how radical that first HST was?

So going by the definition of ‘quilting without a pattern’, then these would all be classified as Improv Quilts:

So, um, not that much in common between them then!

And then we come to what I started working on at the weekend.  I’m not following a pattern, I’m reshuffling the same components throughout the quilt in no particular order, so is it improv?

What do you reckon?  And by following the apparent definition, do you improv?