Improvisational Applique: Beach Glass

I mentioned a while ago that I’ve started teaching quilting classes, and I had the fantastic experience of teaching one at my local quilt shop, Janie Lou, this last weekend.

The class was on improvisational appliqué, and students worked on a mini-quilt that was inspired by beach glass. I’ve whipped up a couple quilt tops with my improvisational method so far, and this is the one I finished for the class sample:

Sunny Photoshop Levels

Although I’ve not done much improvisational piecing, I love the idea of it, and I can certainly see why it’s a mainstay of the modern quilting movement. Because I specialize in appliqué, though, I got to thinking about what improvisation would look like in this technique.


Henri Matisse, La Gerbe (1953)

I didn’t have to look very far, actually. Improvisational collages were made by some of the giants of art history, including Henri Matisse. Towards the end of his life, when his health no longer allowed him to paint, Matisse made collages that he called “gouaches decoupes.” To make them, he cut shapes freehand from paper that had been coated with an opaque watercolor called gouache. Then he pinned them to a wall until he was happy with his composition. (Sound familiar, fellow quilters??)


Henri Matisse, Polynesia:The Sky (1946)

Other artists also used an improvisational cut-and-collage method, including Spanish surrealist Joan Miró. It seemed to me that this technique would translate exceedingly well to fusible appliqué, so I tried it out and came up with my first Beach Glass quilt top:

CaseyYork_BeachGlassThe top took me about three hours to put together, including cutting the fabric, but not including stitching down the appliqués. The technique seemed perfect for a class, so, with the generous help of Jane and Jenny at Janie Lou, I took the plunge on Saturday.

I think the class went off fabulously, and I was really impressed with the work my students came up with. My terrible photos really don’t do justice to the unique and personal compositions that they created. I can’t speak for the students, but it seemed like a good time was had by everyone, and I really look forward to teaching this class again. (We’re tentatively scheduling another one in January, 2014, for those of you in the St. Louis area. *hint hint*)


Of course, beach glass isn’t the only inspiration for improv appliqué, and I had fun coming up with some alternative possibilities using Illustrator. I can’t wait to make some of these quilts for real!

If your business or guild would be interested in offering an improvisational appliqué class, please do contact me! I’m excited to spread the word about this fun process!


3 thoughts on “Improvisational Applique: Beach Glass

  1. Thanks for sharing your inspiration. So glad your class went well….. and the quilts made by your students look so good! Can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

  2. Fantastic post.

    Randomly, I’ve had an idea for an improvisational applique piece that I would love to work on. It may have to wait as I have quite a line up of “to-dos”. But I thought I’d share I LOVE the idea of improvisational applique.

    Also Randomly, I’ve recently rediscovered Matisse’s cut outs and purchased two books on the subject. Just for inspiration around the bookshelf. I think his collages have such an applique feel. And the older applique quilts – the primitivism looking ones. I love those.

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