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Now Touring: Artful Improv by Cindy Grisdela
teri • October 18, 2016 • 43 Comments


Artful Improv: Explore Color Recipes, Building Blocks, & Free-Motion Quilting by Cindy Grisdela
C&T Publications
96 pages; softcover book, $27.95; e-book, $19.99

Quilters often ask, “what machine do you quilt on?” as a way of getting to know the new quilter sitting next to them. The answers are always fascinating because a lot of people do great work on machines that are not high-end or expensive. That’s the truth lived by Cindy Grisdela, author of Artful Improv. At the end of the book, there is a photo of Cindy with her machine, a BERNINA 1080. It’s about 20+ years old, has a couple of bells and whistles (such as the needle down feature). The fancier, newer, higher-end machines have a lot more juice, including knee-lift and a lot more stitches, too.


A machine similar to the one used by author Cindy Grisdela.

So, while the new mid- to high-end machines are off-the-hook-amazing with space and capabilities, great work is also possible on almost any sewing machine. encourages practice. It’s practice that makes a huge difference, says Cindy.


Intersections by Cindy Grisdela

Now, Cindy’s book shows off her quilting prowess and wisdom in lovely color and detail, but being a curious sort of magazine, we wanted to know more about the quilter herself. Here’s a snippet of our conversation. (Warning: Some of the following conversation has nothing to do with quilting.)

GenQ: What’s your favorite ice cream?
Cindy: My favorite ice cream is pistachio.


Butterfly Kisses by Cindy Grisdela, which was made without a specific pattern.

One of the quilts featured in her new book was made without a specific pattern–a classic improv technique. For those who’ve been pattern-bound, that can feel a bit risky. But make the jump! Go ahead and do it…and you might end up with your own Butterfly Kisses.

What’s your favorite adult beverage?
I enjoy drinking Bass Ale.

While there is an improv look and feel to each one of Cindy’s quilts, good technique is still a necessary solid foundation. Rotary cutters and rulers are used in each quilt so that blocks are square and lines straight. Except where they curve. Then they’re curvy. With Butterfly Kisses,  she made each block without pins, then squared them up so the points would meet.


Blue Totem by Cindy Grisdela.

And…your fave shoes?
My Frye short boots.

Another one of her improv secrets is to embrace the screw-ups. Says Cindy: “It’s okay to make mistakes while you’re trying something new. In fact, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not learning as much as you could. Above all, realize that you don’t have to be perfect — you don’t have to share every piece you make with the world, but you’ll learn something even from (or especially from) the mistakes. Embrace them.”

Are you ready to read what our friends are saying about the book? Read on:
October 10: C&T Publishing
October 11: Maria Shell
October 12: Rayna Gillman 
October 13: Yvonne Fuchs
October 14: Sujata Shah
October 17: Heather Kojan
October 18: Generation Q Magazine
October 19: Cindy Grisdela 
win one
And now for an opportunity to win a copy of the book. Tell us about a quilty thing you’ve experimented with, a technique, a fabric, a tool…whatever. On or about Wednesday, Oct. 26, using the Random Number Generator, a winner will be chosen for either a softcover copy of the book (U.S.-based folk) or digital copy (outside-the-U.S. folk).
Quilt. Sew. Live. Breathe.


  • Andrea_R • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #1

    Improv piecing is my jam.

  • Gail in ontario • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #2

    I have sewn with patterns for many years but in the last 5 years, have been making more quilts without a pattern to guide me. I like to play with the fabric and see where it leads me. I love my design wall because I can put my projects up there to stare at them and think about what to do next.

  • quirksltd • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #3

    I’m all about improv–even wrote a book about it. THIS book looks like a real winner. And there are no mistakes–only alternate design decisions!

  • Christine • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #4

    I absolutely love improv piecing!

  • knittingdancer • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #5

    I am a beginner quilter and am experiencing how to mix my colors and fabrics now.

  • Marcy Lagardere • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #6

    I love that we have the same machine! Mine is my partner in crime.
    My fave improv is gathering colors I love ❤️ and creating new fabric with the
    I’d love to win this book. Thanks!

  • patty • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #7

    I was doing hand stitching and embroidery on a t-shirt quilted piece and tried out different threads to see how they would look. Going thru the interfaced t-shirt, batting, and backing well, that would cause the thread to breakdown quickly. I found that 3 strands of DMC floss gave me the look I was after. The metallic and rayon flosses didn’t hold up.

  • KrisR • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #8

    I have totally embraced rotary cutting WITHOUT a ruler and love it. Oh, I still use the ruler for the final square up in most cases – but the freedom to cut and not worry has been addicting.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book (if the random number generator doesn’t pick me I’ll be buying it). Already I’m using the photos I’ve seen as inspiration.

  • Nancy Sopp • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #9

    I have used men’s dress shirts, sometimes stenciled, in making quilted items.

  • Allison in Alabama • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #10

    Hi! I am so looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this book! Cindy’s quilts are beautiful and I really love the quilting she does on them! Lately I have been experimenting with Mod Podge Fabric on my quilts – really like the feel compared to other types of fusibles. I haven’t been really into applique but I have been experimetnign and enjoying some of the results!!! Also doing more free motion quilting with my walking foot!! churcae(at)auburn(dot)edu

  • Lois • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #11

    I’ve recently experimented with English paper piecing and foundation piecing. It sure where I’m going with either technique. Love Cindy’s quilts.

  • Diane • 6 days ago
    COMMENT #12

    Many of today’s Art and/or Modern art quilters use an overall straight line technique for their final quilting. I have tried this repeat of the continuous straight line and found that I generally do not like the end result. I really appreciate Cindy’s creative quilting techniques and I would love to know how she goes about choosing them when it comes time to finally quilt a quilt.

  • Regena • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #13

    Gosh, I’ve tried tons of stuff….free motion on my 440, straight lines with the walking foot, without the walking foot, whole cloth, pieced, big square, little squares, paper piecing, hand quilting , see, a ton

  • buntyw • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #14

    I love Cindy’s work! Blue Totem is fabulous!
    Currently I’m trying thermofax printing, trying not to stick to colours I love!!

  • Tamie • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #15

    I actually experimented with some improv this past weekend. It is so out of my box but I had a lot of fun.

  • la tulipe • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #16

    Last week, I was quilting by hand my “vintage fish” with DMC beautiful Perlé thread. I quilted five lines at the same time. Three lines were done till the end of the frame and I had the idea to make a knot with the three threads. Because it was funny, I did other knots. You can see that here : I prefer machine quilting (it’s why I would like to receive the “artful improv!) but with this quilt, I enjoy hand quilting :-)

  • Debra Dobbs • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #17

    Sateen for low immersion dying. So vibrant!

  • Ellee • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #18

    When making quilts I’ve experimented with some of the decorative stitches on my sewing machine to find out if the results are worth the extra time and thread they take up. Sometimes it works wonderfully and sometimes it’s clearly not worth the extra effort.

  • Jean • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #19

    Probably the biggest quilting experiment I’ve made is free motion quilting. Every design is something new for me, and it continues to be the biggest challenge. I know they say “muscle memory” will kick in and it will all flow, but I’m not there yet — unless I’m doing straight lines. Thank you for the giveaway opportunity.

  • Laura M • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #20

    Love to play with the sew kind of wonderful quick curve ruler, making blocks but not following a specific pattern. I also did this with a drunkards path block ruler someone gave me on loan.

  • Sharon • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #21

    I’ve experimented with improv some, and I’ve done other pattern-free quilting, which is easy and hard all at the same time. I love it. It’s exhilarating. I think I could learn a lot from Cindy’s book! Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  • Kathleen Clarke • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #22

    I love experimenting with the QCR from Sew Kind of Wonderful.

  • cprayerlady • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #23

    I am using color recipes that if colors could smell, mine would be ready to smell and taste. I call my piece SMELL AND TASTE.

  • Janie • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #24

    I am trying my hand at trapunto. I love the look. Wish me luck.

  • carol • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #25

    I just learned the serpentine stitch on my Janome. Playing with width and length. Love this stitch. Various Color threads. Not very adventurous. ha.

  • springleafstudios • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #26

    Improv isn’t my comfort zone but I do love to play with combining different sorts of fabrics that others might not put together.

  • Kathy E. • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #27

    On the last project I finished, I wanted to have skinny green curvy stems for flowers. Fabric didn’t seems to work, so I cut long lengths of green yarn and zig zagged over them and got the perfect look I wanted! I was happy that I took the time to think out of the box.

  • Beth T. • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #28

    I’m quilting with shot cottons for the first time. I love them, but I’m still trying to get the hang of them.

  • Chris • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #29

    I am learning to use rulers with my Midarm so every quilt is an experiment. Practice, practice, practice.

  • Anita • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #30

    I really have to work more with improv piecing, the technique looks so fulfilling!

  • Pat T. • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #31

    Thank you! Great interview, and a fun article to read!
    (Ice cream?? LOL!)

    I love experimenting! I like to tweak methods and materials, changing things up!
    (I cook that way, too, changing things up, trying to make a recipe better/different!)
    I love to free motion quilt (each project an experiment!) on my favorite sewing machine, a vintage Singer 301…
    Needing more design wall space (SO important to my “quilt designing-as-you-go”!), I experimented with a rolling height-adjustable clothes rack… It worked! I now have an extra design wall that is light-weight, moveable, and double-sided!! (Ummm… That’s embarrassing, to admit I have too many projects going on at the same time!)
    I wanted to experiment with different materials and textures on a special quilt for a dear aunt… I combined her favorite soft colors and Romantic-style of cotton prints, with lots of pieces of vintage (with a little new) cotton chenille, for a top that turned out as I had hoped! Backing it with ultra soft/plush microfleece (like Minky), I ended up with a quilt that was perfect for her!… SO soft, elegant, and full of wonderful textures!
    Right now, I’m experimenting with color and piecing, trying for a modern quilt in the traditional Korean pojagi style.
    Cindy’s book looks wonderful!! I need to get my hands on it… Her wonderful quilts are calling to me!!
    Thank you!

  • mmcgloth2 • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #32

    I am experimenting with a whole variety of free motion quilting techniques.

  • elle • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #33

    More and more I am drawn to improvisational!

  • Nann • 5 days ago
    COMMENT #34

    Earlier this year I tried the New York Beauty block–paper piecing plus curved piecing– for an important project. It turned out really well! I want to become more proficient with improv design. I look forward to the book.

  • Elaine Millar • 4 days ago
    COMMENT #35

    I refer to my sewing space as the Sewing Lab. I like to experiment a lot. My favorite tool is my computer and Photoshop for design, color exploration, printing pattern on cloth, printing my pen work….What a great time we live in!

  • Susan Zakanycz • 4 days ago
    COMMENT #36

    I love using the improvisational technique especially cutting , sewing back the pieces in a different and fun way! I also have that Bernina machine and I love it as it is a work horse!

  • Meredith • 4 days ago
    COMMENT #37

    Hmm, the biggest quilty thing I’m experimenting with right now is color…neutrals, brights, and everything in between! Some unfortunate blocks have resulted, but more often I am startled to discover a new combo that I like! Thank you for the chance to win!

  • Sarah J • 4 days ago
    COMMENT #38

    I tried improve on the front of a fabric baby book and loved it- really want to use it more!

  • Diane • 4 days ago
    COMMENT #39

    Love trying new techniques, and would love to learn more about improv.

  • DeborahGun • 4 days ago
    COMMENT #40

    I have been experimenting with FMQ a bit recently – a lot of fun!

  • Laura • 3 days ago
    COMMENT #41

    Love her quilts!

  • Donna G Geherty • 3 days ago
    COMMENT #42

    I have been trying improv quilting by cutting blocks apart, adding fabric then resewing them. I am surprised at how good it looks when you don’t worry about being perfect. My quilts are never perfect and this fits in with my style.

  • Paige • 13 hours ago
    COMMENT #43

    I’ve done a little improv, but would like to explore more! Love Cindy’s work!

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