When we decided to start a game based on primary colors and black and white, we knew only part of the meanings associated with such hues. 

We could not imagine how many meanings were possible and, thanks to game participants and quilting contacts, we learnt much more on the way.

We had the pleasure of receiving comments from many quilters and also fiber artist @shinheechin wrote us, revealing a fascinating story from her culture background: 

“Black and white, yellow, red and blue are famous for Mondrian’s palette, but also those five colors were called ‘obansaek’: Korean traditional colors, that are related to five elements. Blue: wood, red: fire, yellow: earth, white: metal, black: water.”

Some obvious connections and some less expected ones emerged during the game. Such as the references mentioned by our game participants below. 

@hollygrovethreads wrote: “I improvised my two compositions based on the color requirements. I studied work by artists Piet Mondrian and also Jose Pedro Costigliolo.”

@arttextiles said: “I worked towards a mid-century look without following strictly a Mondrian influence. I chose a predominantly white background, to separate the primary colours to give them space and more impact.”

@patchbri  explained: “It was since time ago that I wanted to make a quilt based on the geometries of paseo maritimo at Santa Eulalia where my daughter lives, and I found the colors perfect to realize it now.”

@quiltergardener adopted connections among colors: “I tried to group the colors into pleasing combinations to keep the quilt from looking messy. Black looked nice with yellow, blue with white. Instead of the more obvious white background I used red — and was very pleased with the result!”

We asked participants who finished their quilt early if they improvised the composition in some different way, due to the fact that the colors required for the game had a strong contrast.

@gigi.v13 wrote: “The requirement to use the strongly contrasting primary colors plus black and white was a true challenge for me. This is not my comfort zone and I had difficulty beginning. I finally started making borders, working from the outside, without a plan. Eventually it evolved into an improv log cabin design. I did incorporate some black Essex linen homespun, which softened the contrast and I felt more comfortable with my design.”

Also @therollingcat_ was not used to such hues: “At the beginning I was not sure if primary colors were available in my stash. Then, I wanted a black background to set off the primary colors. The result, with these circles having strong colors located on black and white lines, reminds me of licorice candies, hence the title”.

@auroraa1714 made a similar experience: “It was my first time using these colors… they were a little strange at the beginning, but then as I was mixing them I started to see them in a different way. Now I could do three more quilts without problems. This is one of the things that I love more of this challenge”.

@dove_ti_porta_il_filo found her way gradually: “I started piecing one color at a time, combining it with black or white. Then, after a while, I changed my route, contrasting elements found their place, and fear disappeared”.

@hollygrovethreads solved the challenge using two solutions: she made two quilts! “In my first composition, I used block shapes with white as my line element. For my second composition, I used triangular shapes, with black as my line element.”

Other participants felt quite at ease: for @stitches_and_stanzas, “the strong contrast between the colors was perfect for improvising with lines because it allowed each piece to really stand out and it allowed lots of possible ways to combine pieces with a strong visual impact.” @georgene331 added: “I liked the parameter of the primary colors and lines to create the piece. I totally just let go and had a lot of free fun creating it!”

@aquilterstable gave different roles to colors, based on their value levels: “I did intentionally use white and yellow as ‘subtle’ accents, with black being used more as a background, to let the red and blue be the focus.”

Solving color mix was part of the challenge.

But also another design feature was to be included: the line. 

Thus, we asked our quilters: “The game requirement to focus on the line element acted as a constraint or as a starting point for ideas?”

 

@stitches_and_stanzas admitted: “I have never really explored using lines as the primary element in my quilts so I saw this as a great chance to explore and try new ways of seeing how lines could work together in a quilt”.

For @arttextiles “The lines were a ‘gift’ both in choosing the fabrics and a conscious element when constructing the smaller components within the block construction.”

@gigi.v13 added: “The requirement to focus on ‘line’ definitely created a starting point, which I found helpful. I also think it acted as a constraint for me, as I tried to limit my design mostly to lines. Other quilters seemed more or less constrained by this and maybe this can be explained by personality and experience.”

@aquilterstable started from lines too: “Line was definitely a starter point for my design. I created several striped slabs before ever knowing how I would eventually use them.”

@karen_quilts_and_makes confirmed: “My starting point was the long red check line in the middle. This became a long rectangle within a rectangle. I liked this shape, colour, contrast and effect and decided to continue in this vein using all five colours in equal measure.”

@dove_ti_porta_il_filo said “I like lines. Constraints may act as stimuli to initiate a work”.

So, has anybody found lines as a constraint too strong? “No, the line element requirement was not a constraint for me. I prefer to create lines in patchwork, find them, and follow them where they lead me!”, insisted @quiltergardener.

Moreover, @morphea80 explained how the line was helpful for her: “I wanted to soften the hard contrast of the primary colors. Therefore I went for lots of white and a curvy quilting design. To me, the required element ‘line’ was a highly welcome antidote to the bold colors.” 

And if lines are difficult to match, you still can find some solution, as @therollingcat_ said: “The pesky line that I hated at the beginning became literally the connection and the starting point for the whole quilt: only when I knew how to deal with the line did I find inspiration to get started!”

@NisaMckMaker explained how lines and stripes were at the core of her process: “I randomly cut strips of differing thicknesses and used paper to stabilize them as some were very narrow. The theme of lines acted as the starting point and continued to inspire me, driving my ideas forward moment by moment”.

@hollygrovethreads made prominent use of lines: “The use of lines was an inspiration for me. Not a challenge or a constraint. This encouraged me to explore the use of lines. I enjoyed studying different methods of inserting skinny strips into a composition. I’ll certainly incorporate this in future work”. This resulted in her “Mod Mondrian” quilt made for the current game to be selected to hang at Quiltfest Greenville SC, April 28-30. Congratulations Kim!

We extend congratulations also to other quilters who had their works, created in the occasion of earlier @quiltimprovstudio games, selected for QuiltCon2022 and aired last February in Phoenix, Arizona, such as @aquilterstable, @quiltcreation and @kathycookquilts; while @sakuraquilting was awarded at Gramado Brasil quilt festival with her quilt created during our first challenge (an early bird player, we may say!). We are learning from each other. We are honored by the attention you dedicate to exploring improvisational constructions, using design principles shared with us… with great results!

We wish to thank all our game participants, so active within a thriving quilting community we humbly try to contribute to: merit to you, for all the great fun during our games! We invite you to review all work in progress at #qisprimarycolors Instagram page, and the improv quilts completed by the participants in the @quiltimprovstudio gallery.

Our last improv game,  Monochrome dreams, is finished. Every quilter was free to choose the single color to play with, thus, the gallery of the quilts made by game participants reflects a variety of color preferences, and it reminds us of a rainbow!

For the next improv game, on the contrary, we are preparing for the pleasure of sharing the same palette of colors for all of us, leaving open the composition features: it will be defined by a poll open to participants, whether to pick a common design element, or leave all of the composition parameters free.

The first hint for a palette choice was given by Carla: she proposed the primary colors, red, yellow and blue, and we, Giovanna and Paola, added the black and white. We also wondered whether to use a common design element (and this decision will be up to you: follow @quiltimprovstudio Instagram stories, and you will find related polls in the next few days).

Step after step, some clearly recognizable elements adjoin each other: this five color receipt makes us think of the artist Piet Mondriaan; don’t you see him too, when talking of such colors? Said this, sure we are not looking for a too homogeneous gallery, with Mondriaan as the sole inspiration source. Indeed we asked ourselves: “Where else do we find this combination of colors?” 

Here you will find our replies.

 

Giovanna is a kindergarten  teacher, she is surrounded by primary colors everyday. She uses primary colors mixing them while teaching how to get secondary colors; she finds primary colors again when the dialogue with children opens up the topic of our inner emotions (yellow, red and blue may be connected respectively with joy, anger and sadness). She observes and handles the pieces used to explain logic and geometry. Many children’s books make wide use of primary colors, for example those created by French author Hervé Tullet who guides through the pages children activities and laboratories on creativity.

Carla has been a math teacher, and on the mathematics book covers she’s often found images of Mondriaan books: such figures were used to explore concepts of parallelism and orthogonality. Primary colors and black and white are also used in home decor design objects. Today, Carla is a full time grandmother, and with her nephews she uses toys where primary colors prevail, because they have strong visual impact and they are easily recognizable by pre-school kids. A typical example is found in Lego bricks: they stimulate children’s fantasy and construction skills. Another examples are play dough and kinetic sand: they can be mixed, and lead to the discovery of secondary colors. At that age, each exploration can lead to surprise!

Paola opened her memory box, and recalled artists admired during the travel in France, at Fondation Maeght, which hosts a wide permanent collection of painting, sculpture, drawing and graphic art of the twentieth century: in that period, primary colors and black and white were used a lot, for their strong graphic result. She also thought of Bauhaus school, which found in the realm of design a connection point between art and production, and explored visual communication through symbols, such as in the exercises where color and shapes were associated: yellow triangle, red square, blue circle.

Before launching this game, we have searched for works inspired by Mondriaan style, that could be interesting for you, such as the quilt by Jackie @tinwoman48 . Let us know if you find more of them, and start planning your “Beyond Mondriaan” quilt!

Now we invite you to explore your surroundings in the next few days, checking where this five colors combination appears. You may decide to use your real experience with primary colors as your inspiration source, or let creativity flow in an improvisational process and let the result bring you in unexpected territories. We can be sure that such a creation will be uniquely yours, carrying strong visual effects!

Enjoy! Carla, Giovanna and Paola

Our fourth challenge, Monochrome Dreams, is finished, and we’ve learnt a lot from this experience.

First of all, we’ve been positively surprised by the interest of our participants to play with a purely monochromatic palette, as answered by the majority of respondents to the poll offering the alternative to use a neutral too. If we’ve got to play, let’s play seriously!

Second, we’ve observed that the gallery of participants’ works, visible on @quiltimprovstudio Instagram profile, had a contemporary feel. This was unintentional, but it was a nice discovery. This experience highlighted for us that improv is applicable to any realm of patchwork: not only modern (with its bold and contrasting colors), but also contemporary patchwork (with more delicate color effects, such as in a monochrome), or other types of look.

Finally, we reflected on the amount of intentionality that can be part of an improv process, and still allow us to call it improv. This topic was raised thanks to a question from one of our participants on whether her work was too intentional to look as improv. Thus, we asked  ourselves: “How much intentionality is part of our process? Is there a line that divides intentionality from improvisation?”
Our personal opinions are elaborated below.

Giovanna says: “I usually mix the two (intentionality and improvisation). First of all, I select a color palette (which can also vary during the process), then I start cutting and gradually adding other fabrics to make blocks that can vary on shapes and dimensions. This is the quickest moment of improv: to cut and to sew pieces.
Then, the slow work starts, the arrangement on the design wall and the choice of the composition.
This part of the process is all intentional; well, sometimes it happens that two or more pieces go well together at first shot, but, most of the times they are moved, rotated, unstitched, removed or others are sewn and added till the work becomes interesting to my eyes, till I find a way to go and something with a precise meaning is born. Sometimes the result could be challenging, but I can always modify my quilt until I find a satisfactory solution.
The  most important thing is to have fun and to relax while doing it!
Nothing is by chance, not even improvising, everything that is created is influenced by the moment I did it. I understood this thing when I made some blocks and a few days later I wanted to continue the work by doing some more of such blocks… but they were different! While using the same technique! This is also for the quilting.
Am I an improv quilter? I think: yes, I don’t use patterns, I make my own quilts, I use a ruler to cut straight (when desired) but I don’t take measures. I could do two similar quilts, but they would never be the same.”

According to Paola, intentionality is not absent during improv. It is distributed all along the process, as a difference with respect to other methods when all the design is fixed at the beginning. Jazz music may be a lovely analogy: if key and rhythm are chosen at the start, and they are intentionally kept stable until the end, freedom remains always available during the play!
Paola loves the “emergence” of patterns: if something beautiful starts to appear, then it is worth repeating or reinforcing that part. The decision to reinforce a pattern is another type of intentional act, appearing in the middle of the path: another section of the design becomes fixed. Still, as long as there is room for changes during the work, the open-end typical of improv is preserved.

Carla says: “When I start a new quilt, usually my first focus is on the selection of the fabric to be used. If solids will prevail, I choose a full palette; if prints are included, I choose my favorite prints first, as a main character, and the the solids follow along as a proper match; then, I try to add some pieces from my bin of scraps… choosing the starting material can take me days! Rarely all my selection will be used, but surely this preparation phase contains some intentionality.
Then I start… and I focus on the rules of the game. How can I apply them? Sometimes I draft a sketch. But I usually don’t follow this sketch at all! My drawings are just a kid’s play, a faint trace. My result is always achieved through a mainly improvisational process full of changes.”

A new game is boiling in our minds… we still need some time to fix details. In the meanwhile, we pose the same question to you.
In your improvisation works, how much intentionality is allowed?

You can send us your thoughts and your feelings after the game by writing a direct message on this, or other improv-related topics, to our Instagram profile @quiltimprovstudio; or you can send an email to infoATquiltimprov.art. We would like to describe the variety of paths towards improv thanks to your opinion and the contribution of many of us.

Hear you soon!
Carla, Giovanna and Paola

A fourth improvisation game is coming soon: it was boiling in our minds for months, and now the time has arrived to share our ideas with you!

When talking about the elements to include in our new exercise, Carla proposed that, this time, each participant choose their favorite color, and, with that color, a monochromatic quilt be created. 

We immediately jumped on this idea, and we started to elaborate it. What does it mean to use a monochromatic palette? Will this be an occasion to play with value? Are we diving into a composition effect that will create… a “color splash”… a focal spot in the center of the work? 

Soon we realized that the outcome of a monochromatic improvised quilt is not so obvious: a rule that initially seems simple, quickly can become more challenging than expected. And this is making the game more interesting: even if the first image of a monochromatic quilt can quickly pop up in our mind, we are curious to see how different minds are capable of elaborating such a prompt! 

To quote the approach of the painter Johannes Itten, it’s always a good idea to stretch one’s creative muscles with the analysis of basic forms and colors. When we think out questions of design from first principles, the replies can often lead to abstract conclusions.

Now, how flexible can it be the definition of a monochromatic palette? What can stay in, what shall be left out? Will we have some other features in common, even if the selected colors will be different for all of us? As usual, to clarify the boundaries of our participative games, we will ask your opinion!

Starting from tomorrow, let’s follow our stories on the Instagram profile@quiltimprovstudio , where polls will be published. It is simple to participate: just tap your favorite answer, and the details of the game will be defined by all of us.

In the meantime, we have carried out research on the Internet that talks about monochromatic palettes: you can look there for inspiration, to learn or to deepen some issues. We invite you to read them!

https://shannon-brinkley.com/blogs/shannon-brinkley-studio-1/color-confidence-for-quilters-what-is-value 

https://quiltsocial.com/3-ways-to-determine-the-color-value-of-fabric/

http://poppyprintcreates.blogspot.com/2020/04/varietals-monochromatic-improv-study.html?m=1

https://quiltsbyjen.ca/monochromatic-colours-in-quilt-design/

https://shannon-brinkley.com/blogs/shannon-brinkley-studio-1/color-confidence-for-quilters-part-2-monochromatic-color-palettes

 

For an overall and quick view, instead, we recommend a Pinterest board https://pin.it/1NEaciE always useful to get a first idea.
We are waiting for you!

Carla, Giovanna and Paola

We have now reached the final part of our improv game based on the use of black and white, and we have asked the participants of our game who have recently published their completed work, if they felt that working in black and white has been different from working with other colors, and why.

The first reply we received was the one by @emmafassio, who wrote: “I think that composing with black and white is different than doing this with other colors, because their contrast is strong and we often perceive them as opposites, also when linking them to emotions and sensations. Wearing a white dress has a different meaning than wearing a black one. Colors are perceived differently in different cultures, and this is a fascinating theme to be explored. Strong contrasts may induce reverence and fear: thus working on this project has been a stimulus to face ideas and prejudices I may have on the meaning of colors and their meaning in relation to emotions”. 

@vazquezurbez agreed with a clear “Yes!”. She explained: “Working with black and white is completely different from using other colours. With B&W there are no shadows or values that you can use, it’s just two pure colours (black and white) and that forced me to work with printed fabrics. I don’t use printed fabric very often, so when I saw that my only option was using them, I felt completely out of my comfort zone. But I think that this is the main point in challenges like this one!”

Immediately after, @mari.quilt added a different opinion: “Working on my quilt using black, white and a bit of red, didn’t seem different to me with respect to doing the same with other colors. I chose my fabric with the intention to create a composition that expressed the sense of circularity, starting from squares and letting them change shape gradually. I listened to my feelings, to decide whether I needed more white or more black while progressing on the composition, until the work was completed and titled _Circular energy_. I believe that such colors express a sense of power: black and white underline the lines, and they are colors full of strength.”

@maria_dlugosch agrees with that. She wrote: “I don’t see any difference between black and white in terms of workmanship compared to other colours.”

@annscott8888_fiber_arts explained: “I very much enjoyed making my quilt _Night Lights_ for the black and white game. Typically, I use lots of colors, so working with a black and white palette challenged me to focus solely on design elements like shape, juxtapositions, and contrast without the distraction of color. I’m a _covid quilter_, having begun my journey as an improv quilter during this pandemic, so I have lots still to learn, and this challenge stretched me in lots of new ways.”

@sakura.quilting considered the role of each graphic element involved. “Improvising with black and white will always result in something graphic and bold because of the high contrast.  But by adding b&w prints, this contrast is softened. When using other colors, contrast can be soft without even including prints. So when I use b&w, the SHAPES in the composition are the most important design element. Light differences in VALUE can only be achieved by the use of prints. So that’s the reason I wanted to add prints in the poll you previously asked.”

@alsterdeeluxe focussed on two elements only: the black, and the white: “I really enjoyed improvising in black and white, I could really focus on the composition and working in such high contrast is something I like. I experimented this time with laying out the composition on a white background (my design wall), so initially I was just playing with black and black patterned pieces, and using the design wall as my _white pieces_. This allowed me to work very quickly on the composition.”

@densyendehimmel observed the impact that black and white give to the rest: “Black and white are different because they make other colors glow.”

Maria Luisa Rosatti, who pieced the top quilted by @thecultofquilt, thus participating into our game with a two-authors quilt, said: “Working in black and white gives me a sense of depth, in particular thanks to the presence of solid black, while the white parts seem popping out in the front”.   

@zehralina_quilts concluded: “Working with the black and white color palette is liberty of creating. There is no absorption of creative energy in thinking about whether the colors match or not.
It was totally freedom and the focus on shapes, angles and delimitation. I could totally concentrate on the essence of the surface. Although improvisational quilting always provides me moments of surprise, sewing with black and white exponentiates this event. The reduction of the color palette expands the possibilities of structuring.”

A second question was the following one: once you have finished an improv quilt, what do you look at, to analyse your result? 

@emmafassio explained: “When I complete an improv work, I stop and I try to listen to the perceptions and emotions that the work suggests to me. At that moment, I check if the received feelings are in line with the message or the interpretation that I wanted to convey since the beginning.”

@mari.quilt, now, fully agrees: “When I complete my work, I look at the overall effect: is it executed well? Does it express what I had in mind? but, most of all, which are the feelings that it gives to me?”

This time, a different view comes from @maria_dlugosch: “I don’t analyse my results, I like it or not. My quilts don’t have a story, I work from my intuition, I don’t think about why I make something. I patch and quilt just for the pleasure of doing it.” 

@sakura.quilting checks both design and experience done: “When I finish an improv quilt, I look at different aspects: first, if I like the overall impact and result;  second, if I experienced or learnt something new by making the quilt;  third, if it reminds me of something or if I can relate to something when I look at it (in other words, if it speaks to me);  and fourth, if I really followed the rules that I (or someone else) imposed.
There’s another aspect that’s interesting when analyzing an improv quilt. I feel an improv quilt has more _value_ when I have made mistakes while making it. I need to be conscious if I corrected it or decided to leave it as it is. Those mistakes help me to learn.”

Also @alsterdeeluxe asks herself some questions about process rules: “I evaluate how closely the piece approximates my initial vision, which probably goes against all fundamentals of improvisation! I do feel like I achieved what I had in mind though: a clean, geometric inspired piece.” 

@vazquezurbez makes sure that an overall check is done already before the end: “When I finish a quilt (it doesn’t matter if it’s an improv quilt or not) I look for balance, balance in the colours, in the shapes, in the whole quilt. Of course this balance has to be clear when I finish the top, before the quilting. If not, I keep working and changing things, until I get a balanced top.”

If you still don’t know what to look at, on a finished quilt, you can find plenty of suggestions in @annscott8888_fiber_arts list of checks: “I love the problem-solving aspect of quilting. I spend lots of time looking at a quilt on the design wall as it’s being constructed.  These are some of the questions I ask myself – both as I’m making a quilt and after it’s completed: Is the design balanced? Are there repeated motifs that refer to each other? Does the quilt design have an internal logic? Is it cohesive? Does the scale of the design work? Where does my eye go first?  Is that where I want my eye to go first? Is it pleasantly wonky or too clunky and amateurish? What design surprises are there? Have I left enough breathing room/negative space (that’s the hardest one for me)? What does the quilting add: Does it complement the piecing? Does it transform the quilt?”

For @densyendehimmel, checking her work is a jump into the future: “I always look at a finished quilt to find out if I can improve my next one.”

@zehralina_quilts agrees: “Looking at the finished work for a while, I found some very inspiring and surprising shapes, which I´d like to use in my next pieces.”

The challenge is now completed. @alsterdeeluxe revealed: “The deadline pressure helped: I finished at 23:00 on the final day of the challenge!!”
During this game, some participants ventured into piecing large quilts. We thank all the quilters who appreciated our black and white prompt, such as to use it into big projects! Some of these projects are approaching completion a bit after the deadline, and are worth being checked. We mention here a few of them: @therollingcat pieced a 60” quilt (150 cm) and @susanjgrant ended up going bigger than originally planned. You can review all the work in progress from participants at the Instagram hashtag page #improvblackandwhite, and the gallery of finalists on @quiltimprovstudio profile. 

Thank you all, it was a great learning opportunity, and we are already working on the next one: stay tuned!