Improv Round Robin Sew-In

Written by Tara McInerney the organizer and quilter extraordinare of our Improv Round Robin Sew-In !

How do you:

  • Work on 11 completely different quilts in one day…
  • Stretch your improvisational quilting skills to the next level…
  • Learn to trust 10 different ladies with your precious stash…
  • Learn to trust those same 10 ladies with your quilt…AAAAND
  • Get to go home with a finished quilt top…ALL IN A SINGLE AFTERNOON?

Why, you host an Improv Round-Robin, that’s how!


In preparation of starting our Improv Round Robin:

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The Before Pictures of the Blocks ( these are what each person prepared before the Sew-In):

Preparations started well ahead of the exciting day, when participants pulled fabrics (and yes, even shopped) to make sure there were at least three yards of fabrics that made their hearts sing. Some came in with orphan blocks, while others started from scratch. All participants arrived prepared with their pull in a basket, their starter block finished and a yard of signature fabric to incorporate into the product of each round.

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We Sure Had Fun Stitching

It was so exciting to see each participant’s personality and styles shine in their piecing. Some rocked the freehand curved piecing, others used straight edges. We found half-square triangles, slash and insert piecing and flying geese. There were appliqueed bias and pinwheels, stripes and log cabins and so much more. I couldn’t wait to see what would become of these quilt-seeds, that were literally to be sewn by the hands of so many!

Since our Round-Robin was based on Sherri Lynn Wood’s book, “The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters” page 42, we discussed the concept of quilting as a conversation: Looking at the starter block and adding to it by thinking, “yes, and…”, to create a piece of art that flows like a respectful conversation between friends. After a few brief reminders about procedure and a couple of rules to remember, everyone started their Berninas, Babylocks, Brothers and Janome’s. You could have heard a pin drop, except for the whirring of the motors, because there was seldom a word being uttered as everyone focused on their intention and raced the clock.

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The time whipped by as each round was completed, and the blocks grew in size. All our participants were challenged to try something new. For each of us, challenges were different. Some of the difficulties we faced included:

  • Trying to do our cutting with scissors
  • Cutting without a ruler
  • Quilting with no design wall
  • Working with fabrics we did not choose
  • Learning new improv piecing techniques
  • And Quilting without a final product in mind
  • Letting go of control of the outcome and rolling with the punches
  • Accepting imperfections and relishing in spontaneity of the creative process

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The Process of Sewing Improv Blocks !!!

Beyond this, a few of us faced a temporary loss of power that put four participants out of a machine and knocked out one ironing station, but we carried on nonetheless and were not dissuaded by this unfortunate circumstance.

Throughout the rounds, the energy in the room changed. There were periods of frenzied excitement as we rushed to finish a section and beat the clock which were countered by calm moments when several people finished their section early and had a chance to walk around and chat or have a snack. Of course there was plenty of lighthearted joking and teasing, and chatting. We all groaned when we would hear the dreaded “That was Easy!” of Jayne’s silly Staples button, which helped keep us laughing at ourselves throughout the adventure.

When the last “That Was Easy!” sounded, we assembled our creations across the floor in the middle of the room for all to admire. We were all amazed twice-over: Astonished at what many hands could produce with no plan, by listening to the conversation started by others before them, and astounded at what had become of the little “quilt-seed” we brought in. We debriefed, discussing what was surprising; what went well; how we would finish our quilts and what we thought we would do differently next time.

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Gotta love this selvedge edge!!
Gotta love this yummy selvedge edge!!

The After! We finished 14 Improv Quilts made by 14 awesome Improv Quilters!

Here are some pictures of our particpants and their newly prized round-robin tops. A few of us went straight home and prepped our tops, and one of us has completed her quilt already! Kelly wisely passed around a sharpie and a white block of fabric so the contributors to her quilt can have their signature on the label.

There’s no denying it, we all had fun and we grew as a guild with this exciting team-building activity. Though none of the quilts are certain to win the next Quiltcon, they are beautiful. They hold the stitches of my sisters in quilting. They hold a memory of time well-spent with my spirited friends. They will remind me of the importance of listening to others and remembering to honour another’s contribution in conversation. Thanks to this experience, I hope I remember to say, “yes, and…” more often.

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Another row as added at the bottom of this quilt.

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