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The Improv Bag

- - working with components - -

One of my end of year traditions is to sort through all of that year’s projects and decide what to do with them. That’s the subject of this week’s video about deconstructing and reconstructing.

This bag started with pieces left over from other projects so it’s basically garbage and scraps. Free... yummy… garbage and scraps.

When I started it, I was working through Irene Roderick’s book - Improve Quilting - in which she makes components and then uses them to build her designs.

Since I knew I was making a bag, I started at the bottom with a checkerboard that extends up both sides and a fuchsia strip to divide the bottom from the upper portion of the design. This is similar to the bag I showed last week.

After that, each side was composed of four different components. Unit one is the dotted fabric surrounded by the stripe. Unit two is the grey and white stripes alternated with the black and white stripes. Unit three is the grey and dotted checkerboard. And unit four is a quarter circle within a square using the dotted fabric and a mottled black. In the image above, it is sliced into a pie shape.

The design was built by combining the components with scraps of other fabrics. The only new yardage used was the black and grey check. The process was one of constantly adding, evaluating, sometimes editing, adding again, and evaluating again until each side was finished.

Each side had to be both wide enough and high enough to create the front, back, and sides of the bag once sewn together. On side one above, the curved piece was used twice as pie shapes rather then as a singular unit.

On side two, the curved unit remained intact. Although the black and white prints were already providing contrast in the design, adding fuchsia gave it a bit more energy… in my opinion… since I really love fuchsia!

Improvisation is a slow, almost meditative, way of working. There is no pattern to follow and each decision is made one a time responding to what happened previously. It’s a fabulous way of learning to listen to your artist and to experiment with ideas especially in bag format which is softer and less in your face than a wall piece might be. Bags are a fabulous blank canvas.

After trimming the edges, I layered the exterior with fusible batting and stitched it with horizontal rows of black thread. These are uniform and gave an evenness to the surface and - thankfully - didn’t cause any issues with the seam lines.

Above you can see some vertical rows of fuchsia stitching. If I remember correctly, there are six on each side in groups of two and four.

The lining is black and white with two zippered welt pockets, a magnetic snap, and a rope tie at the top made from fabric. The handles are 1” wide, interfaced for sturdiness, and long enough to wear the bag over your shoulder.

This was the view from my studio window on the day I made this bag. The path is part of the trails that meander all through the city. It runs along the creek that I can hear when the studio window is open. Have a comment to share? Email me at Talk soon -

Edit: This post was originally published on Substack on January 27, 2023 and has been republished here.

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