GUEST 23 | The Art of Improv with Sarah Hibbert


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Sarah Hibbert

on The Art of Improv

Sarah Hibbert is our guest artist this week. Like many, Sarah is hesitant to call herself an artist, but I am not. She works her day job as a freelance bookkeeper and manages to produce beautiful quilts and collages all from her kitchen table! Sounds like The Art of Improv to me!!!! Oh and she had five quilts exhibited at QuiltCon 2019 in Nashville just a few weeks ago! (I was there and so happy to meet her!) Her Blue Collage quilt has been chosen for QuiltCon 2019’s traveling exhibit! She also recently learned that the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles has acquired her quilt Reflections for their permanent collection to start their modern archive. Well, I would say it’s official, Sarah, I hereby declare, (and nothing makes me happier), YOU. ARE. AN. ARTIST!

Happenstance   Sarah Hibbert

Happenstance Sarah Hibbert

What does working improvisationally mean to you?  How would you define the ‘Art of Improv’?

I would define the ‘Art of Improv’ as being freedom to play, I try and focus on enjoying the process of making – that way if others like my work it is simply a bonus.  It’s the unknown with improv as to which path it will take you, I sometimes have a clear view of how the piece is going to look and then a colour or unit size just does not work for me, so I remove the offending piece and start again.  Improv is a license to grow and change.

Have you always worked improvisationally?

In some ways yes, I have been quilting for over 30 years and I am so enjoying the style I am now creating.  From the beginning I mainly reconstructed traditional patterns and made a twist in the colour combinations, placing a block the wrong way or carrying a piece into the border.  I still follow this method if I work today on an old block pattern.  I recently put together a maple leaf quilt but also incorporated some ghost blocks, where I just pieced neutral linen to replicate the usual block, to break up the design. I love this combination of old and new; of the traditional and contemporary; patterns passed down through the generations and my personal contribution bringing something new.

Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally?  If so, how do you begin?  If not, how do you find yourself getting there?

I am purely a part time quilter using my kitchen table as my studio and the floor as my design wall.  Therefore, I only have brief amounts of time to snatch when working on a quilt or wall hanging, I have a very patient husband who is happy to have supper on his lap when I am working on a design.  It’s usually the fabric that draws me in to an idea, either the colour or the design of the print.  I like to let that take me on a journey.  It also dictates the direction of the piece as either an old-style block or improv piecing which can grow for a little two pieced unit.  I love using linen at present, mainly hand printed by individual designer or Japanese linen by Nani Iro or Kokka.  I have been known to buy a piece of fabric sometimes just for a 2” area in the middle of the design which then leads to marrying it up with neutrals or a spark of colour.

Blue Collage   Sarah Hibbert

Blue Collage Sarah Hibbert

How often do you work with improvisation?

Depending on the mood I feel and the fabric to hand it might be each time I sit at the machine, or I work on a traditional piece and then it alters direction and then the final piece plays no relationship to the original idea.  Last year I challenged myself to make a small 7”x 9” piece using discarded blocks from larger pieces.  I sliced the blocks up and added additional fabric and then match stick quilted each piece.  I made one a month and I so enjoyed the discipline.  I would very much like to follow this on.

Please share a bit about your process.  Do you have methods to getting started?  Do you have tricks to getting unstuck?  Do you have motivators to finishing up?

Even though I so enjoy reading various articles about quilters and love hearing their stories to where they are today, I very much like to work on a piece from my imagination and see how it grows, I have been known to stop a piece half way through as it is just not working for me.  I will put this piece aside and maybe revisit once I have found the correct colour or print to slot in.   The last couple of years I have taken part in The 100 Day Project on Instagram, creating paper collages (@cornerstonecollages ).  From these I have taken the collage as starting block for a design.  One of my current pieces was taken from an advert from well know jeans store cut up and re stuck down on card, this I blew up to a large piece on the photocopier and broke each panel down to piece in a workable size.  I then quilted as you go, a new angle for me as I usually quilt my pieces straight line on my domestic machine.  I am pleased with the overall piece and would like to use these collages in further pieces.

Where do you find inspiration?  How do you use it?

As a daughter of a Graphic Designer/typographer I grew in a house full of colour, mainly red!  I have always been drawn to type and logos especially the likes of Saul Bass and Alexander Girard together with fabric designers Marimekko and Lucien Day.  I also enjoy art galleries and abstract painters very much like Sean Scully, Mark Rothko and the blues of William Scott.  I have been interested in the Bauhaus movement with weavers Anni Albers and Gunta Stolzl for many years and it was a thrill to see the recent retrospective of Anni Albers at Tate Modern London, it was a delight to see her weaving and note books up close.  I think I find a little piece of inspiration from all types artwork, once I have visited a gallery I am always buzzing to figure out how you can adjust these ideas into fabric pieces, I always carry a sketch book for ideas from an advertising hoarding or even a pattern in the pavement blocks on the way to a gallery!  I also get inspiration of words and their meanings, and I recently came across the word ‘Haiku’, which is a Japanese poem made up of 17 words.  This word played around in my head for a while and I thought how great it would be to make those words into small pieced blocks setting them out into the 3 traditional rows of a poem.  I very much enjoyed making these tiny improv blocks, each one with a different angle or colour, different spelling.  Once I had completed 17, I played around with the concept reading the size of the block and shape to make them flow together so it would read across the quilt in a poem, including a purple full stop.

Haiku Quilt   (block details below) Sarah Hibbert

Haiku Quilt (block details below) Sarah Hibbert

What advice would you give to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally.  Can you share some good advice that you received that helped you become more comfortable this way?

Buy yourself a random selection of prints or colours together with a couple of neutral pieces.  Cut the pieces into 2”/4” squares and some various sized oblongs, throw them behind your machine, pick up two pieces and if they match size wise sew together, throw back and re pick up two pieces and again if they match sew together.  After a while you will have various working pieces to join with your neutral pieces.  Enjoy the process, there is no right or wrong way of working.  If the piece doesn’t talk to you after the exercise, re slice and start again.  This is how my quilt Serendipity was created. I constructed 5 large panels and then placed on the floor and decided where to join, sometimes re working the large piece to incorporate a colour that would link the panels.  I have repeated this method with a calmer palette even incorporating a couple of my Fathers drawings printed through my photocopier.

Serendipity   Sarah Hibbert

Serendipity Sarah Hibbert

How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if, . . .?’

I had more time….  I wish…  as quite often I have two or three ideas bouncing around, but my time allocation is so limited, something must give, usually one of the designs or maybe not cooking supper!

What are reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share?

I have several books on the go, ranging from Gwen Marston’s Minimal Quiltmaking to Carrie Bloomston’s The Little Spark.  I am always jumping back into Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert either in reading form or audio books for the car on long journeys.  I find her attitude of ‘just give it a go’ so inspiring, I was lucky enough to meet her on the book launch in London… A dream, she was gorgeous.  Another set of books I love dipping into is Austin Kleon, How to Steal like an Artist and Show your Work…. It gives you permission to just free ride your path, which I would love to be able to achieve one day.  Overall, I get excited extremely easily with ideas popping up randomly.  I have so enjoyed the Instagram quilting community who have given me such encouragement and good advice which I treasure.  Also, to have the opportunity to attend 3 Quiltcon’s has been amazing, especially travelling from London to meet like minded quilters that I have admired for many years.  With this special community it has brought me such opportunities to revalue my work for going forward, giving me chance to grow in confidence and I especially thank you Jen, for allowing me to share part of my journey. Happy Sewing!

Thank you Sarah, I agree that the IG community is amazing in the way it supports one another. I am so happy to have found you and your work there and to be able to express my support of you and your art by featuring you here and making it evident to you that you are an artist, I hope you see that clearly now. Interestingly it was The 100 Day Project that reignited my artistic journey, and led me to acknowledge that I am artist as well. I am totally inspired by many of the same books you recommend here and refer to them often to motivate me to create with confidence. So keep the book recommendations coming and keep playing with YOUR art of improv!!!

To learn more about Sarah and her quilts check out @quiltscornerstone, and to see her collage work @cornerstonecollages on Instgram.


If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.