Inspiring Improv

We’ve been in love with Nicholas Ball‘s quilty improvisation from the moment we laid eyes on his Instagram account. Colorful, unique, artistic, creative… we seriously can’t get enough.

Our first encounter with Nicholas was via Quilt Monkey, an awesome series (sponsored by Aurifil) out of the UK featuring fellow quilter Katy Jones. We were thrilled to work with him again about 2 years ago when he was starting work on a book and was in need of specific colors of his go-to Aurifil 50wt. We always love sending threads to designers for books as it’s such a delight to see how those threads contribute to the words, the projects, and the artful instruction contained within that precious binding. This past April, that book was released and we’ve been wowed once again. We’ve come to expect a certain level of elegance from Lucky Spool and Nicholas’s Inspiring Improv is no exception.

Each page more engaging than the last, the images make it look like a high end coffee table book, designed to capture a reader’s attention from the very first look. But, Inspiring Improv is much more than that. It details, from start to finish, the process that Nicholas uses to create his improv quilts. He works through stages of inspiration and planning, details go-to tools and methods of color selection, and works through his preferred techniques.

Quilt by Nicholas Ball, Image via Lucky Spool

The book truly gives the reader all the tools necessary to build an improv quilt. This isn’t a pattern book… it’s not something to follow for exact seams and a precise finish. This is a book to help readers build the skills necessary to follow their own unique quilty paths — to confidently create new works of art.

We’ve collaborated with Nicholas on a coordinating thread collection that will release to shops this August, with a launch at Festival of Quilts in the UK. We’re excited to see how well the threads partner with the book and hope that the combination will help to inspire quilters even further.

For today, we’re thrilled to share our conversation with Nicholas. We hope you leave feeling as inspired as we feel! <3

We’d love to hear a little more about you, your background, and what first drew you to this wonderful and creative industry of ours.

I owe my love of creating to my Grandmother. Although not a quilter herself, she showed me the joy that can come from crafting with your hands and was the person who taught me how to thread a needle. Growing up, I was always making things. I tried painting, decoupage and modelling. After finishing secondary school, I began a BA in photography. The department was neighbour to the textile department. After graduating, I travelled for a few years before returning home to Wales. It was then, somewhat spontaneously and likely inspired by those I’d seen in American tv shows, that I decided to make a quilt.

Quilt by Nicholas Ball, Image via Lucky Spool

Do you remember your very first quilt?
Much to my embarrassment, I do. When I began quilting, I turned to books and online tutorials to help me find my way. Half square triangles were popping up everywhere, so I decided that was a good a place as any to start. Using a toy sewing machine, fabrics of very questionable quality and sheer determination, I completed my first quilt top. With its inconsistent seams and skewed blocks, this quilt help to set me on the path to where I’ve arrived today.

Quilt by Nicholas Ball, Image via Lucky Spool

Who or what has been your greatest creative inspiration?
I lost my grandmother at the beginning of this year. She was such a constant figure in my life growing up, it was only after she died I realised how much she’d influenced me creatively. She was always encouraging me and I have such fond memories of sewing with her. I know that whatever I create in the future, her inspiration will be a part of it.

Quilts by Nicholas Ball, Image via Lucky Spool

How did Inspiring Improv come about and what did you love most about the process of putting it together?
Once I began sharing my love of improvised quilting through teaching and workshops, I found a lot of sewers would ask me for patterns and specific instructions. How I sew and the quilts I make can’t be replicated exactly. It’s about technique and using your own intuition to dictate your quilting journey. It became clear to me early on that a book would be helpful to those seeking to use inspiration and explore their own creativity. I began making a list of publishers I’d like to work with, and Lucky Spool was right up the top. After publisher Susanne Woods left a comment on a blog post I’d written, I used the opportunity to present my book idea to her. The book went through a revision process before arriving at what you see today.

The book creating process was all together exciting, exhausting and nerve wracking. I suppose my favourite part was the first six months or so, when it was just me and my machine, sewing away until the small hours in a valiant attempt to meet deadlines. At that stage, very few people knew about what I was doing. I loved the early mornings of solitary sewing, though I have to admit, it did become a little stressful as the days and weeks flew by!

Quilt by Nicholas Ball, Image via Lucky Spool

Do you have a favorite quilt included? 
That’s tough. I love them all for different reasons, but I suppose the cover quilt, How to Age a Tree, will always hold a special place in my heart. The quilt you see isn’t what I initially planned. There were many twists, turns and even dead ends in the journey of making this quilt, which I sum up in the afterword of the book. This quilt perfectly embodies the ethos of Inspiring Improv; there are no mistakes, just creative opportunities.


What do you hope readers will take away from the book? 
That the journey and process of quilt making can be even more important than the end product that comes out of it. I hope that by reading Inspiring Improv, quilters, both beginners and seasoned sewers, will learn to look around them and find that inspiration to further fuel their creativity. I hope to instil a try-it-and-see attitude, and let quilters know that rule breaking can be fun!

Is there a favorite tip that you’d like to share? 
As quilters, we’re taught to press rather than iron. Well, I confess in the book to being a vigorous ironer and I’m not ashamed! With techniques like slabs and freehand curves, ironing rather than pressing can add subtle movement to your pieced units and make them all the more unique.  With improv piecing, there can be areas of your quilt top that have a lot of seams intersecting, so a really hot iron with some Flatter spray can really help get everything nice and flat ready for quilting.

Why is using Aurifil such an important piece of the process to you?
When I began quilting some seven years ago, I had no idea about quality materials. My fabric was cheap, my thread was cheap, and the results were the the proof of such thriftiness. I received a small spool of 50wt in a goody bag when I attended my first quilting retreat. I have to admit to thinking that it was just going to be like any other thread I’d tried previously. How wrong I was! Think about it, thread is literally holding our quilts together. Why would you want to compromise on quality? For me, Aurifil is the only choice for my quilt making now. It’s strong and makes seams lie beautifully flat. The choice of colours and weights makes it perfect what ever look you’re going for.

You’ve got a coordinating thread collection releasing in August – how did you go about putting that together and is there a particular significance to the colors?
I wanted to create a collection that showcased my love of Aurifil 50wt in a range colours that represent me and my book. As well as teaching the reader six fundamental improv techniques, Inspiring Inprov has 12 quilt projects to help put those techniques into practise. My thread collection takes the inspiration behind each of those quilts and inspires my colour choices. From the deep red purple of cabbage, to the glinting gold of Japanese kintsugi, the collection is the perfect accompaniment to the the book.


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Nick is fabric addict from Cardiff, South Wales. When he’s not knee-deep in fat quarters and bias binding he’s to be found with his nose in a good fantasy yarn, walking his pug Samuel or traveling to a far-flung wedding.

* Images by Lucky Spool & Nicholas Ball


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