I hope you are all safe and well. I’ve been at home for the last four weeks, and even though I normally work at home, it feels off now. Because I’m a traveling teacher, it’s been quite a while since I was at home for such a long stretch at a time. I’m very grateful that so far my family–both immediate and extended–are all fine. I’m also grateful that I have a well stocked home studio with a large design wall, so I can keep busy while we are sheltering at home. I spend a lot of time on the phone checking in with family and offering what support I can.

I did make some masks for the family, which felt like a small thing I can do to help. I have some more to make, but frankly I’m not all that great at it, so I’m not sure that ramping up production there would be very helpful. I applaud all those who are doing that!

Masks for my family – Cindy Grisdela

I’ve been having some trouble focusing on one project at a time during the crisis, so I gave in and set up my design wall to work on three pieces at once.

Shelter at Home Design Wall – Cindy Grisdela

These are all Improv Puzzle quilts. I pinned up two finished ones for inspiration in the middle, because my brain just isn’t firing on all cylinders most of the time and it helps to have a reference for block types and color combinations. These are block based Improv quilts using fairly controlled color combinations and block construction based mostly on log cabin design.

I have three designs in process–the warm reds and neon yellow in the lower left, a multicolor beginning in the lower center, and a project with colors and black and white on the right. Above that one are leftovers from another project which I’d like to get to next. So call it three and half projects on the wall!

The advantage of working this way is that when I get stuck on one composition–and I almost always get stuck at least once during the design process–I have something else to work on while I noodle over what needs to happen next with the first one. I tell my students that improv isn’t a quick process. You often have to let the design marinate for a few hours or a day in order to get the best outcome. Some people work out their designs on graph paper first, but I prefer to just cut into the fabric to make my lines and shapes and arrange them on the design wall as I go.

These quilts are easier to put together if the blocks are in multiples, so I like to make them in sizes like 3″, 6″, 9″, and maybe 12″ finished for a larger quilt.

Bright Neon in Process – Cindy Grisdela

For the quilt on the left with the happy reds and oranges, plus a bright neon yellow for the spark, I started making units fairly randomly–angled stripes using the 12 colors I picked to use in the quilt, plus several types of blocks–Improv with a curve, log cabin with insets, and Improv triangles.

Bright Neon beginning design – Cindy Grisdela

I made a few more blocks and then started playing with a possible layout on the design wall. They aren’t sewn together yet, so I can move them around as I work through the process. I don’t really have any idea how it will end up, and that’s one of the best things about improv design for me.

New Puzzle Quilt in process – Cindy Grisdela

I made a little more progress yesterday on the quilt in the center, adding more blocks and experimenting with using the scraps to fill in some of the spaces to give more interest to the design. As I look at the photo though, I see several areas that I’d like to change. I take lots of photos of these works in process. Many times you can see problems more clearly in the photo than you can with the piece in front of you. It’s also a good idea to use your black and white filter on the camera to look at the photo in black and white. That will give you a good idea of whether your values are working as they should.

New Puzzle with black and white filter – Cindy Grisdela

If I look at the black/white version of the quilt above, I can see that I have a mushy area in the upper left that I need to address and I need to have more light values to help the eye move around the design.

Puzzle Quilt with Black and White in process – Cindy Grisdela

The third one on the wall is one I’m pretty happy with. It incorporates black and white, so there’s a nice contrast going on, plus some interesting curves. I have to decide if it’s good this size, or if I want to make it bigger. It’s about 20″ square right now, and I have some more blocks to play with.

I call these quilts Improv Puzzles because for me putting them together is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I hope that’s not off-putting to people who aren’t puzzle fans like I am! This is one of my most popular classes, and I look forward to the day when I can get out to teach it again. Meanwhile, I’ll have more quilts for demonstrations.

What are you working on while you shelter at home? I’d love to hear in the comments.


  1. Cindy Anderson on April 10, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    I really enjoy seeing your work! Your design wall is a gem all in itself. How wonderful to have so much space. While I really like all of your pieces I am especially fond of the addition of the white and black. Those two colors have added a very intriguing design element. I look forward to seeing them when they all are complete.

    • Cindy on April 11, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      Thank you Cindy! I’ll hopefully be able to finish some of them soon and share them.