I’m thrilled to feature author Nicholas Ball on the blog today, not only because he’s talented at everything he touches- in this case quilting, but the list really is endless- but also because he is a close friend and collaborator.
Nick and I met in Paris too many years ago to even count (Nick: we’re OLD, darling) and a beautiful friendship and artistic association was born. While working behind the bar at an Irish pub we dreamt up stories and began writing a book together. We dreamt of being published authors and now years later (okay maybe it’s only been like ten years- it didn’t take THAT long) we both are!
When the first edition of My Paris Market Cookbook was in its formative stages Nick was by my side as the official photographer and unofficial therapist as we discovered what goes in to making a book.
Now we welcome Nick’s first book baby: Inspiring Improv. The book explores a quilting technique that encourages the quilter to “explore the freeing power of improvised piecing” and created quilts that reflect the artist’s personality and creativity.
Not surprisingly, some of my favorite quilts that Nick has made gravitate towards the theme of fruits and vegetables and seasonality in the plant world. It turns out vegetables were a huge inspiration for Nick’s turning towards an improvisational style of quilting. Nick was kind enough to tell me a little more about his inspiration for these quilts, as well as the artistic process of quilting.
Emily: You’re known for your improvisational style which is featured in your recently published book, Inspiring Improv. As a longtime follower of your work on Instagram, I know that you experimented with a lot of styles, techniques, and inspirations as you found your identity as a "modern male quilter". Can you talk a little about your creative process and how it got you to where you are?
Nick: As I suppose is the case when starting anything new, I really has no idea about the fundamentals of quilting when I took up the craft some 7 years ago. I’d used a sewing machine, but had never attempted patchwork. I initially turned to books and online tutorials to learn the basics and as a result, the work I produced was mostly made from patterns designed by other quilters. Although I enjoyed the process of making quilts, I wasn’t overly enamoured with the quilts themselves. I wasn’t inspired by the same cookie-cutter results that can come from following a pattern.
Yes, I could add my own touch through fabric selection and block placement, but essentially the quilt was someone else’s idea. A few years later I was to discover improvised quilting, almost by accident. I had read a recipe for a leek tart, accompanied by a photograph of the vegetable in question. The leek had been sliced. I was so captured by the interior pattern, trying to capture that in fabric was all I could think about. That evening, I raided my fabric stash and through complete trial and error created what became the first of my vegetable patch blocks. All my quilts are made improvisationally now. I sew without the use of patterns or templates, preferring to use an arsenal of techniques acquired over many years of experimentation.
Emily: A few years ago you started featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables in your quilt designs- I'm thinking of Vegetable Patch Quilt (July, 2014) and Vegetable Patch Quilt II (March, 2015). Can you talk about what inspired you to include veggies in your quilt designs and what it was like to transform them into quilt form?
Nick: I’ve always felt a great affinity for the natural world, and many of my quilts are inspired by flora and fauna. Inspiration is at the heart of what I do, and, after my experimentation with the leek block, vegetables quickly became a rich source of inspiration. I’m drawn to the rich and saturated colours; think deep purples and vivid greens. Fabric is a great medium for showcasing the patterns found within vegetables, whose often plain skins belie the striking interiors within. I love the challenge of translating a 3D object into a flat piece of textile art. There were moments, particularly with some of the more challenging vegetable blocks, where I thought it was going to work. There was no precedent for what I was trying to achieve, so I had to power through. The rewards after so much effort if truly a great feeling!
Emily: Have you experimented with making your own dyes ? Do you know anyone who is doing that really well with vegetables and other natural resources?
Nick: Not as much as I would like. I once saved a whole crate’s worth of red onions skins to dye some calico I had, as well as using rhubarb leaves, but that is a far as my experimentation has gone. Natural dye is something I would love to explore further. I’m interest by the idea of sewing a vegetable block using fabrics coloured by those vegetables. I’ve seen a lot of activity on social media about natural dyes and reducing produce waste, so I think there is definitely a growing interest. One person I follow avidly is Rebecca Desnos, author of Botanical Colour at your Fingertips. Her Instagram feed is a wealth of inspiration.
Emily: Tell us about your new book and what it can teach readers about quilting.
Nick: Published by Lucky Spool, Inspiring Improv has, as the name suggests, inspiration at its heart. Before I wrote the book, whenever I taught or gave talks, I was always asked for patterns for my quilts. A classic example is the cabbage block. People wanted to make their own, but wanted a specific pattern that detailed what size and shape each individual piece should be. In my style of quilting, that would be impossible. I soon realised that what I needed to do was arm people with an arsenal of improvised techniques that they could use to interpret their own sources of inspiration and make individual quilts. It was then that the book idea began to take shape. The book uses a step-by-step technique based process to explore six fundamental piecing methods. Readers will practice how to stitch fabric together in an improvisational manner to create blocks or sections before using them to sew full-sized quilts. There are 12 inspirational projects included which showcase the techniques, but I whole heartily encourage self-exploration. For me, improvised sewing is about the process and not the end result. By exploring quilting in an organic and liberating way, I hope my readers ignite a creative spark that informs their patchwork for years to come.