I’d like to take you through the creation of my newest quilt, Picasso’s Chickens. This one went through a number of variations, mostly because I’ve been at home and able to really sit with my designs until all of the niggling issues are resolved. This one was in process for nearly five months.

One of the most frequent questions I get from visitors to my booth is “how long did that take you to make?” The answer is often complicated.

I’m indebted to one of my Instagram followers for coming up with the name for this quilt–I’ve posted it several times in different stages of completion and the last time I asked for name suggestions–this one tickled me so I’m using it!

First Try at the Chicken Design – Cindy Grisdela

This quilt started out, as many of my Improv creations do, with a few leftover blocks and the seed of an idea. I had the central block with the improv center and the black and white border, plus some leftover curve blocks  and some colorful stripes and blocks. I used this group of blocks to demonstrate my process at a guild lecture I gave in February, one of my last events before everything stopped.

For some reason, the combination of colors in the curved blocks really speaks to me–turquoise, red, brown, and white. It’s a little bit odd, a little bit unexpected, and certainly not my usual style. The easiest thing to do for this one would have been to edit those blocks out, because they don’t really go with the rest. But I didn’t want to, because I liked the energy of them.

Chickens in Process – Cindy Grisdela

This is the first stab at a design using these elements. I liked it, and I could have sewn it up at this point and been fine. But I wanted it to be larger and make more of a statement, and honestly, I wanted to challenge myself to make it better. At this point, it was about 20″ w x 22″ h.

Chickens Process II – Cindy Grisdela

Here’s another version. It stayed this way for several weeks–I had to come to terms with the idea that it just wasn’t working.


Chickens Edited Colors – Cindy Grisdela

The breakthrough came when I realized I needed to severely edit the colors I was using to different shades and values of the turquoise, red, brown and white in the original curved blocks. As regular readers know, I’m not one who normally edits colors–the more the merrier is my usual approach!

But in this case, it was necessary–and I learned a lot from the process, giving the design time to marinate and asking tough questions about what was working and what wasn’t. I realized that I had elements from two quilts in the same design, and they were fighting each other.

You might ask, what about that colorful improv square in the center from the original design? Why did it get to stay? I thought it needed to go with the rest of the colorful blocks, so I made another similar block that used the colors from the quilt in the center. And the entire composition just went dead. I didn’t get a picture of it, sadly, but it just didn’t work. I was surprised, but maybe it just needed a hint of something unexpected to complete the design.

Chickens Partial Seams – Cindy Grisdela

Then I had to figure out how to construct it. When I teach this process, I tell my students to make the blocks and units in multiples of three, so it’s easier to sew everything together. Unfortunately I didn’t take my own advice here, so there were lots of partial seams to sew to get everything to fit. I stared at the wall for several days trying to imagine how to make it work, but ultimately I just started sewing sections together and figured it out in the end.

Picasso’s Chickens Top – Cindy Grisdela

I’m mostly happy with the way it turned out–I really like the white and how the low volume stripes look like washed out shadows of the main colors. I’m going to keep the quilting simple–just irregularly spaced vertical lines. The final size is about 39″ w x 42″h.

Thanks for reading to the end and I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk through my process. In answer to the question I posed at the beginning about how long it takes to make one of my quilts, it all depends. The actual sewing part doesn’t take that long because I’m a pretty fast sewer, but what does take time is the design part of the process. Since I don’t have a pattern to follow, I have to make lots of decisions, both big and small, about color, value, line, balance, repetition, and finally unity. Improv is not a quick process, but it can be very rewarding in the end.

Oh and I’m not sure you can actually see abstract chickens in the design, but so many people mentioned them when I posted the piece on social media that I thought there must be something to it–plus it’s fun!



  1. Cindy Anderson on June 5, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Thanks for walking me through the birth and development of this amazing work of art. I appreciated your honesty in sharing some of the frustrations. I like the color choices, even some are not your favorites. I also have to admit that I can see the abstract chickens. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Cindy on June 5, 2020 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks so much, Cindy! I’m glad you liked the post.

  2. Didi Salvatierra on June 5, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    I enjoyed seeing the deletion and paring down in your construction process. Like you, I often combine lots of color. I like seeing this softer combination….and the name is great!

    • Cindy on June 5, 2020 at 7:20 pm

      Thank you Didi!

  3. Anne on June 6, 2020 at 12:13 am

    This is so interesting. I have done some improv piecing and am glad that I’m not the only one with frustrations. I like that you don’t sew it all together until you have it the way you want it. I was sewing pieces as I went and there are parts that I don’t like now. So, I cut them off and tried something else. I need to try your approach – makes more sense. Thanks for sharing your process. It’s inspiring. Love your work!

    • Cindy on June 6, 2020 at 5:54 pm

      Anne, thanks for your comment and your kind words about my work. I’m glad you found a bit of inspiration that might help your own practice!

  4. Brenda Royal on June 6, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    Love this complex abstract design of yours. I like the addition of the black and white blocks intermingled with the colors and adding the faded color blocks was genius! Great title 🙂

    • Cindy on June 6, 2020 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks so much, Brenda!