Nichols Ball on Improv Quilting. Work by Nicholas Ball

Improv Quilting with Nicholas Ball

A self-confessed fabric addict and improv quilter, Nicholas Ball has amassed a huge following on Instagram over the years, and for good reason. Working under his self-made brand Quilts From the Attic – a nod to his humble workspace in Cardiff, South Wales – his vibrant designs and improvised methods inspire creativity.

Nicholas’ mission is to inspire improve through his books and classes. He is a champion of releasing people from their creative constraints by piecing fabric in a more improvisational manner for effective, show-stopping results.

He attributes his liberated style to his spontaneous personality and the organic lines found within leaks and cabbages, which would become the sole inspiration behind his Vegetable Patch Quilt.  In addition to authoring books he continues to teach improv quilting both nationally and internationally. Nicholas contributes to articles in leading publications and was also co-presenter on the QNNTV show ‘Quilt Monkey’.

Nicholas Ball

Liberated Quilter, Nicholas Ball joins the School of Stitched Textiles for an interview about his improv technique.

“If you take the blinkers off, raise your gaze and explore your surroundings, you’ll soon see that inspiration abounds. Take images of what you see, keep notes and make rough sketches. Though they may not become anything immediately, having a record of those things which have caught your eye will help to fuel your future creativity.”

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on two pieces, both of which will act as samples for future classes I’m teaching. The first is a further exploration fruits and vegetables which began in my original Vegetable Patch quilt, made in 2014.

I’m using improv patchwork piecing to create a quilt which highlights the lines, shapes, and colours of fruit.  I’m often inspired by the natural world and like to replicate patterns found on and inside various flora and fauna. The second piece focuses on lines and curves and was inspired by the classic boardgame Snakes & Ladders. Both pieces use cotton and cotton-linen blends to form a quilt top, which will then be layered with wadding and backing, then quilted.

Improv patchwork quilt by Nicholas Ball

How did you become interested in textiles?

My earliest memory of stitching was completing counted cross-stitch kits with my grandmother. Cross stitch wasn’t the limit of our joint exploration of textiles. She taught me to knit, embroider, and how to thread a needle.  Though not a quilter, my grandmother instilled in me a love of creating with my hands and an appreciation of textile craft. Some of my fondest memories are afternoons spent with her separating embroidery threads from their wound skeins.

Nicholas Ball viewing his quilts at an exhibition

Where do get your inspiration? What’s your advice for our students?

Inspiration is everywhere.  You need only look around to be inspired by so many different things. My top tip is, don’t apply limits to what you think you can be inspired by.

My earliest forays into improv quilting featured vegetables, which are not the first things that comes to mind when you think of quilting. Today, it’s all-too-easy to look down and become absorbed by a screen. If you take the blinkers off, raise your gaze and explore your surroundings, you’ll soon see that inspiration abounds. Take images of what you see, keep notes and make rough sketches. Though they may not become anything immediately, having a record of those things which have caught your eye will help to fuel your future creativity.

Nicholas Ball improv quilting inspiration
Improv quilting by Nicholas Ball

What is ‘Improv Quilting’?

Ask different improvisers and you will get different answers.  For me, improv quilting is about, first and foremost, working in a much more liberated way.

I work without patterns, specifics measurements, or precise cutting lists. Removing these constraints allows for a much more fluid creative process.  The pieces which make up my patchwork are cut organically, often oversized so that small changes can be made throughout the creative process. For me, this is important. Improv also allows for spontaneity; pieces can be added to or cut up. There is not a singular, linear route to take to achieve the end result. The journey often twists and turns, presenting dead ends on occasion to challenge creatively. Improv quilters must be open to the idea of change and evolution in their work.

Improv Quilting by Nicholas Ball

What was is like authoring your first book?

For me, the process of writing Inspiring Improv was simultaneously exciting, stressful, and tiring. Realising creative ideas which have been percolating in your head is one thing, but to then write instructional text to help others create their own versions is something different entirely. Unlike traditional quilting, you cannot give your readers specifics, so you must instead offer best “guestimations” and rough measurements.  It was this part that I found most challenging.

What artists inspire you?

I’m inspired by many artists, from various art media. Fellow quilters whose work I admire include Luke Haynes, Heide Parkes, and Russel Barrett. There are of course many more and I’m constantly in awe of the textile art I see in galleries and on social media. I too love the works of naïve and surrealist painters, with Dali being one of my favourites.

Butterfly patchwork quilt by improv quilter Nichola Ball

What’s next?

My second book, Use & Ornament, is due for publication very soon, so I have lots of promotion planned for that, as well as a full teaching schedule which sees me visit Pennsylvania and lots of the UK. The book is an exploration of the improv quilt and features many examples, both historical and contemporary.

Follow Nicholas Ball by visiting his website or find him on Instagram

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