Improv string sheets, 5 down!

Hello lovely friends! I’ve missed you over the last couple of weeks and have a lot of catching up to do, so I thought I’d start by showing you how my experimental improv ‘string sheet’ quilt is progressing. I showed my first string sheet (the purple one below) a couple of weeks ago (then disappeared off the face of the internet in a sooner-than-expected-trip-to-visit-my-parents-where-wifi-was-terrible – more on that soon!), but have made four more since then.

A string sheet (as named by Sherri Lynn Wood in her book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters) is a way of joining narrow strips of fabric together to form a larger ‘sheet’ of fabric. Once you have a selection of sheets, you can cut them up and stitch them back together again to form multiple patterns and designs.

Improvised patchwork 'strings' made using Sherri Lynn Wood's improv techniques. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

5 improv string sheets of different colours and sizes

Sherri suggests you set yourself a set of different parameters for each sheet you make.  Here are the ‘rules’ I set myself:

Guiding Principles

  1. Aim to make a selection of string sheets inspired by some drawings I did earlier in the year (of local landscapes) and use up fabrics I’d already collected (there were 5 x 1/4 – 1/2 metre pieces in total, in pinks/purples)
  2. Use up scraps from my scrap bins to build the colour scheme
  3. Repurpose any old clothes that would fit with the colour scheme

Sheet 1: purples

String quilt being made © Stephanie Boon, 2015

My first purple string sheet

This string sheet was made from two types of purple strips: the first type was a dark ‘width of fabric’ (wof) strip cut from either a Moda Grunge fabric in Eggplant or a Barbara Brackman Civil War Jubilee fabric 8253-13. The second type of strip was made from light purple fabrics from my scrap bins joined together until they were equal in length to the dark strips. I then joined all these strips together alternating a light and dark strip. I wasn’t overly concerned by the width of any of the strips, but I guess the widest wasn’t much more than 2 inches. When I finished this sheet I loved it, but as I went along it became my least favourite!

Sheet 2: deep pinks

(2nd sheet from left in the top picture.) I made this sheet with very similar parameters to the first, but with only one type of wof strip (a deep pink and purple pattern by Lewis and Irene from their Arboretum range) alternating with joined pink strips from my scrap bins.  I tried to keep the joined strips of a similar tone to the Lewis and Irene print, but added a few lighter ones for a bit of contrast.

Sheet 3: light greys and pinks

(1st sheet on the left in the top picture.) This became one of my favourite sheets. I was aiming for a sheet that was lightish in value overall. I used several repurposed fabrics: the plain light grey is from an old pair of linen trousers and there’s a grey cotton paisley print that was once the lining of a friend’s rain coat! For this sheet I decided I’d keep the grey linen a nice wide width adjacent to narrow strips of joined scraps in predominantly greys and light purples, plus a narrower pink wof (can’t remember the range it’s from though, sorry).

Sheet 4: mid greys and pinkish reds

Improvised patchwork 'strings' made using Sherri Lynn Wood's improv techniques. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

4th (and largest) string sheet

(Pictured above.) More repurposed fabrics for this one! The mid grey is another pair of old linen trousers that has a lovely texture.  There are also strips made from scraps as well as wof strips cut from more of the Barbara Brackman Civil War Jubilee and Moda Grunge in 2 colour ways. Again I kept the grey linen strips nice and wide and made all the other strips narrower by comparison.

Sheet 5: black and purple

Improvised patchwork 'strings' made using Sherri Lynn Wood's improv techniques. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Black and purple sheet (with a few of the greys from sheet 4 thrown in!)

(Pictured above.) At this stage I decided I needed a sheet that would provide a much deeper contrast.  A rummage about in my scrap bins revealed that the amount of blacks I had would make a pretty small string sheet: my rule became to use up every black scrap I had! (I’ve lightened the picture above so that you can see how many small and different types of black I  sewed together.)  There are scraps of plain black corduroy and linen as well as cotton, all interspersed with prints on black backgrounds plus some of the grey linen from sheet 4.

Finished string sheets!

Improvised patchwork 'strings' made using Sherri Lynn Wood's improv techniques. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

The finished string sheets laid out on the floor

Ready to go!

At this stage I was really pleased with the outcome and enjoyed the process enormously. Right from the beginning I had a definite idea of how I wanted the finished quilt top to look, which influenced the way I cut and assembled the string sheets throughout the process.  All my strips were cut with scissors aiming for slight curves and variances in width along each strip.  As each sheet grew they naturally distorted and bowed, so every now and then it was necessary to roughly square up a section before adding on the next strips.  These intermittent ‘checks’ made sure the fabric lay flat too.

Looking at these new pieces of fabric you might think you can run them up pretty quickly, but don’t be fooled! If you’re constantly considering the next stage (cutting them up again to make a quilt top), not only are you considering any technical issues, but also how the thing you’re creating now will contribute to the final composition. It’s this next stage I was getting really excited about, join me in my next post when I’ll show you my finished quilt top!

If you’re interested in other ways to approach making a string sheet pop over to Fret Not Yourself and check out what Ann’s been doing as she works through The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters too:

I’m linking up with Lorna at Sew Fresh Quilts for Let’s Bee Social (if you don’t know Lorna’s designs, she makes the best motif-style quilts around – perfect for kid’s quilts!)

Until next time, happy stitching!

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6 replies
  1. Ann
    Ann says:

    Wow, Stephie. What a wonderful group of sheets. I think I like the 4th sheet best although the small one with all the blacks is going to make the next step spark. I especially like how you joined different fabrics to make a long strip. I made a mistake on mine trying to keep the strips uniform. It shows up on the next cuts. So yours will have an extra dimension. Can’t wait to see more!

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Ann there are no mistakes, haha! There’re simply ‘developments’ – we learn and take that knowledge into the next one we make…ummm, hopefully!! I love your sheets and the top you made with them – they’re really ‘you’. There’s something about the way you put together the pieces that you can see in all your quilts. It’s not just because you’re drawn to a particular type of fabric, it’s much more than that. It’s like Sherri says in the book, somehow you find your own ‘line’.

  2. Kaja
    Kaja says:

    These are looking great. I love the different range of fabrics you have used – adding repurposed clothing must give you lots of texture too. I like them all, especially the one with the darker greys and pinks, and the mostly pink one, but mostly I am excited to see how it all comes together.

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      It’s been really interesting to make these separate sheets with something else in mind. I’ve been thinking of it like mixing a palette before you begin the painting! (I always love mixing paint!)

  3. Bossymamma
    Bossymamma says:

    Using scraps is definitely not a quick process! I’ve been making blocks from scraps and have been surprised by how long each one takes. You are really embracing improv – good for you!

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      It definitely takes a while Dina, but it does leave you with a sense of resourcefulness that I enjoy! Yes, I’m really loving the improv work at the moment, but I’ve still got some more traditional style quilting to be getting on with… so annoying!!!


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