Floating the Squares Quilt

Improv Squares, patchwork quilt in blues and reds, © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Al la Sherri Lynn Wood

The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood, as I’ve mentioned before, is full of inspiration, but when I saw Ann’s exciting interpretation of the Floating Squares quilt over at Fret Not Yourself (pictured below) I decided I had to dive in there and then!  Ann’s enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and share her knowledge is infectious, so in the spirit of sharing I thought I’d explore my process here too.

Flying Squares by Ann Brooks © Ann Brooks, 2015. www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Flying Squares © Ann Brooks, 2015. Click on the image to read about Ann’s process making this quilt.

The Score

If you haven’t got a copy of Sherri Lynn’s book, first off you should know that there are no quilt patterns to follow (which is great for me because I don’t like patterns!).  Instead Sherri Lynn provides ‘scores’: a set of basic guidelines and methods that you might choose to follow to make your own interpretation of her quilts featured in the book.

Floating Squares

Her first score is for an interpretation of her quilt ‘Floating Squares’.  To begin with she suggests you choose 3 fabrics, one of which is a ‘filler’.  You cut 2 of the fabrics into squares of varying sizes, then join them together adding in filler fabric where needed in order to make a regular shaped unit (square or rectangular). This can then be joined to other units with easy straight seams.  Of course, no rulers are allowed (something else I loath!).  Sherri suggests that as you run out of fabrics you improvise with what you have.


Improv Squares, patchwork quilt in blues and reds, © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Stage 1


One of the guiding principles throughout the scores in the book is that you set yourself limits.  A limit might be that you decide you will only use 3 colours and/or a particular shape, for example. This is difficult for me: I don’t like rules! At all!  It just isn’t the way I work, but as I began to work through the Floating Squares score I could see why Sherri Lynn sets limits in this way, because

there are no other factors influencing the design other than the design itself.

This may sound strange, but coming from a fine art background (rather than design) as I do, the drive to make something is to express an idea, feeling, opinion, question, etc – and the guiding principle is to use whatever it takes to best express that idea (i.e. there are no rules in the drive to achieve the desired outcome).

My Quilt Rules

So, to get in the spirit of things I wrote myself some guidelines (well, kept them in my head rather than on paper!):

  1. You will not buy any fabric for this quilt (I decided this would be more like an edict – unbreakable!)
  2. Follow the score as best you can: use 3 fabrics, cut two of them into squares of varying sizes (different sizes for each particular fabric) and use one as a filler.  Add in other groups of three fabrics as you run out (I knew I would run out pretty quickly because of the limited nature of my stash)
  3. Cut the squares out quickly without thinking about exact sizes, using scissors
  4. Break the rules (except no. 1!) to achieve a good composition if you need to – you’re the one that has to live with the result!
Improv Squares, patchwork quilt in blues and reds, © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Stage 2

Looking at my progress you might think I broke the 3 fabric rule right from the start!  Not quite, but I did have to interpret it because of my limited fabrics.  Last year Kim gave me a charm pack of 5″ red/pink Kaffe Fassett Collective prints for my birthday, along with a couple of quarter metres in other designs.  I decided that this would be the perfect quilt to use them on (I’ve been almost a year cogitating!) – and what a great way to remember a milestone birthday (we won’t go there though).  My first 3 fabrics were the stack of 5″ squares (some of which I also cut into smaller squares), a selection of plain and textured reds (some marbled, some ‘salted’) and a teal filler.

Improv Squares, patchwork quilt in blues and reds, © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Stage 3a – Floating the Squares, a working title!

As predicted I ran out pretty quickly, which was frustrating at first because I just love the teal against the reds, so next I added the orange filler (I only had a quarter of metre, but knew the colour would be perfect), the spiral Brandon Mabley design and the pink/orange floral.  As the composition began to build I used the filler fabrics to create ‘lines’  that would draw the eye around the surface and noticed that I was able to make some of the squares really float. These became my design guides: what can I do to make some of the squares float as much as possible, and are the fillers creating movement across the surface?

As I started to add in the second set of fabrics I felt the composition was becoming ‘bitty’ and very pink (the bottom section in the picture above – note that I’m now working on it ‘upside down’ if you refer it to the first two pictures).  I know that I couldn’t live with this: it would drive me nuts, haha! It would constantly jar and my eye would be drawn to that section rather than flow naturally across the whole composition. Time to break the rules:

Improv Squares, patchwork quilt in blues and reds, © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Stage 3b – swapping in a red square

I’m considering breaking up the pink by introducing another larger red square (which floats very nicely too) and already I’m much happier with the flow.  I’ve run out of the orange and teal filler, so I’ll be adding in the green/black print that you can see at top left, which will bring the quilt top to about 45″ square.  This is quite small, but I don’t want to bring in squares in other colours as the composition works well in this restricted palette.  So what to do?!  Shall I make it into a hanging as it is, or, another possibility, add other sections or borders (using a different score) to enlarge it?  In one of the latter chapters of the book, Sherri Lynn discusses this concept too.  My instinct is to get this section completed and ‘sit on it’ for a while, until I discover the right solution.  But I’m curious, what you would you do?

More Info

Today I’m linking up for Let’s Bee Social and Work in Progress Wednesday, until next time…

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Happy improvising!

Signature: Stephie © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnchorusStudio.com

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10 replies
  1. Smiles Too Loudly
    Smiles Too Loudly says:

    This is gorgeous!! I really like where you’ve chosen to break the rules. 😀 I think I would probably sit on it for a while too. My first instinct would be to buy more of that teal and do really wide boards so the improv section is floating, but that would break the edict. And we can break rules, but not edicts!!! 😀

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Ha ha! That made me laugh out loud – edicts are not to be broken! And looking at the pennies in my purse this week it’s a good job it was an edict and not a rule!!! I’ve finished up the panel now and hope to show it sometime this week. I won’t be rushing to do anything with it yet though, as you say, sitting on it is the way to go! Well, it would be if I hadn’t blu-tacked it to the sitting room wall! Have a lovely week 🙂

  2. Ann
    Ann says:

    Fabulous, fabulous! One of my favorite tops. Love the colors. You really have created floating squares. I always enjoy reading explanations from trained artists; you have knowledge to create great designs and the words to explain what you’re doing.

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thank you Ann, you’re so kind. I love this top and I’m really looking forward to working on the next challenge. I was looking through my copy of The Quilts of Gees Bend the other day and was struck by how similar the results of this challenge are to some of the quilts made by Essie Bendolph Pettway and Missouri Pittway – pages 41 and 95 if you have the book. The whole process has been very inspiring 🙂

  3. Kaja
    Kaja says:

    This is fantastic Stephie! Love reading about your process. I always end up with self-imposed rules, but sometimes I don’t know what they are at the start, they just emerge as I go along. Yours have worked well for you here. I would sit and think before deciding what to do next.

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I love the way things develop as you go along, I think having rules at the beginning was the biggest challenge for me here. I wonder where you get your inspiration from though Kaja, you make such well thought out designs that it looks as though you always know where you’re headed! (The mark of a great designer I’m sure!)

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Haha, thank you Dina! I LOVE Ann’s colours though and the way she’s placed the separate blocks together works really well for me. I was just lucky that Kim had given me all those red Kaffe Fassett’s and happened to have some other fabrics that complimented them well. Mind you I was really struck by the similarities in colour to one of my drawings…I’ll be showing that later in the week 🙂

  4. Sue
    Sue says:

    Hi, Stephie, I am back here, again, looking at your quilt. I love it, and I agree with Ann that you have actually made those squares float. I think I missed this post last summer, but when you shared it recently on the FB page, I had to re-visit. I’ve been working on this score in a very similar color palette, but I’m not feeling the love with mine. I think the way you broke the rules (when you did) is the key to your success–the palette stayed the same but there is enough variation of pattern to make each of the squares stand out, or float. I seem to have sunk my squares for present. I like small size quilts and would love to see something like this on my wall! Good work.

  5. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I missed this as well when you first blogged about it. Happy to have found it from your FB link. What a great breakdown of how you constructed your work, and how you knew when it was time to break the rules and follow your intuition. Really well done on all counts!


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