Improv Churn Dash

Improv Churn DashThis past weekend, I joined a bunch of crafty ladies at Shawnee State Park in Portsmouth, Ohio, for a sewing retreat. It was a fun and well-run event (with tons of great prizes that I’ll share with you later). And I got a good bit of sewing done, too.

I had wanted for a while to make a white and orange Churn Dash quilt. I had yardage of both Kona Snow and Kaffe Fassett’s Tangerine shot cotton ready to go for whenever the muse hit. Then I edited the book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood. In it, she encourages readers to take a favorite traditional block and create it without measuring or planning too far ahead.

The idea of not using a ruler to cut my fabric didn’t bother me. But I did struggle a bit with all the pieces involved in the block. I ended up thinking about each half-square triangle and each set of strips on each block. That seemed really time-consuming when you’re used to grouping like pieces and figuring out the most efficient way to make them. There didn’t seem to be any efficient way to make these. But perhaps that wasn’t the point.

Improv Churn Dash detail

I tried to make each of the guys a little different in size and width, just to mix it up.

Improv Churn Dash detail 2

Instead of using the orange shot cotton for the blocks, I pulled from my stash of orange prints. Playing with the prints kept things more interesting for me as I worked.

I didn’t have a set number of blocks I wanted to make going in, but I hit a wall after making these twelve. I struggled with the improv process at first, and after the first day of the retreat, I wasn’t even sure I’d keep making them. But then I decided that the retreat was the perfect time to challenge myself, so I kept going and ended up enjoying the process. Once I finished these blocks, though, I couldn’t think how to change it up more, and I kind of wanted to finish as much as I could at the retreat. So with my blocks made, my next challenge was to fit them together.

Improv Churn Dash

I used the orange shot cotton and a Moss green shot cotton to make some of the blocks larger so I could sew them onto other blocks. I ended up making two long rows of the blocks and then sewed those together to arrive at this finished size of about 40 x 21 inches. As you can see above, I didn’t square up the piece—I just let it take the shape it was going to take.

For the quilting, I just did my usual thing of echoing the shapes with straight lines. Nothing too fancy to detract from the blocks themselves.

Improv Churn Dash quilting

I finished most of the quilting at the retreat and then added the binding since I’ve been home. Once I got home, I realized I have the perfect place to hang it—right behind my desk (so if you ever video conference with me, you’ll be sure to see it!).

I do like the improv idea of  just going where the process takes me, so I know I’ll try improv again. I just won’t choose such a fussy shape to make.



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  1. I shared this on my facebook page. I like this.

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