Monday, June 8, 2015

Denyse Schmidt's Pure Improv Workshop: the experience.

Today I want to record a very exciting experience that deserves more than a passing flash of colorful pictures and hash-tag (#) labels. My Washington DC Modern Quilt Guild hired the renowned designer Denyse Schmidt to come give us an improvisational quilt piecing workshop class. It was months in the planning for the guild to pull this off and I have to thank all those board members who made it happen so flawlessly. There were no glitches and it really was a lot of fun as well as a really memorable experience. 20 quilters and one instructor in a big long room where we each had a table to ourselves, so luxurious for a guild gathering. Rented class room was at G Street Fabrics in Seven Corners.
The project we undertook after getting introductions done see in this image where we told Denyse a little about our quilting experience and what we hoped to get out of this class. Next we got instructions how to begin a quilt block called Shoeman's Puzzle a vintage block from her last book. We made templates and cut our two tones of fabric into  the triangles and then assembled them as a traditional quilt block is made. 
Anjeanette cutting her first blocks pieces using the templates we all made. 

Then we had to do the same block free hand cut and sewn. It was done with a slightly larger square of fabric to allow for a bit of less accurate seam sewing on our hand cut blocks. It was hard to tell the difference once we all made our 4 blocks two each from the two techniques. 

with the pattern

free hand cut beside pattern cut; can you see a difference?

For fabrics I used a nice orange and a red-orange as my two colors. They are close in value and intensity of hue as well as tone. These colors were not a surprise to anyone, given the reputation I have. The next step was to begin the improvisational block making. We were allowed to cut the triangles from a slightly bigger square to allow for shortened blocks in the end but we had to take care not to anticipate what the end result would be. Denyse told us not to try to save fabric she said just cut, sew and see what came out!  Working without trying to see the end before we began or during the process of making. That was very hard for an experienced quilter wants to get the most out of each cut of precious fabric and one wants to be "in control" start to finish. This is the challenge of the day: let go and don't try to be in control of the results until you get to the finishing process. It sounds like it is all in your head and it is. To let things happen without knowing what the result will be feels uncomfortable but as Denyse tried to explain that is when some of the most delightful things happen in improvisational quilting.
You can see everyone behind me was working hard and deep in the making process time just flew by when it was time for lunch we were well on our way towards beginning. After lunch together in the room out of Panera Boxes we set back to work with about two hours left to sew and a half hour for critique and discussion. Denyse was there all through the class ready to answer any questions and I had a few. Mostly worry about how the end result was going to fit together or something like that... my felt wall fell once and she kindly helped me rehang it and put the blocks back up. 

As we got a nice selection of blocks made and began looking a little at how to assemble them on the design wall the question of came up of adding a third fabric. It was suggested we try to stick with just the two for most of the day but when we felt we needed a change we should begin to try out a third fabric. For me the beautiful colors of red and purple Melinda was using just down the row were calling out to my oranges. I was dying to get a little bit of that purple into my composition and I was getting sick of red and oranges, sick to death and I felt blinded by the colors because they were so much the same. I decided it was time to cut a nice patterned hot pink-magenta fabric square and work it in with the red-orange first. I got two made and began the second pair and the bell went off and we had to Stop for our final discussion critique. I slipped in one more before the talking really got going. 
Melinda's purple red combo behind Denyse was near my station.
Before my design wall fell for the second time it looked like this... thanks to Cathy who's work station was beside mine and took a snap of this arrangement.  

Jamie's new born came with her to this must not be missed workshop. I never heard a peep out of her and I know her mom was really glad to be there in spite of the stress and dad came came along to help hold her while mom sewed! 

Willa used high contrasting colors and therefore her layout changed to reorganize the colors in a way that appears organized. 

Gray and white gauze was Jenny's combination and she began adding a little oxford shirt blue a subtle shift in hue but the value is the same! Very nice. 

 I got an autograph on my Denyse Schmidt book! The cover is orange by the way and I was drawn to it in a bookstore in Colonial Williamsburg year before last and asked for it as a gift! It's a great inspiration and meeting Denyse and hearing her story later at the slide lecture she gave made me realize we have a lot of similar interests in the arcane crafts of past, she learned stone letter carving and I went into hand book binding and letterpress printing. She was drawn to Appalachian quilting traditions, music and folk dances are some other areas of creativity I love like she told us she does too. She even participated in NYC East Village performance which I did back in the 1980's as well so if I ever get the chance it would be fun to see who she knows I know from that era as well. Whatever I learned late was great because I could tell when I read her book we liked history and the folk culture of American Appalachian people. It's funny that she is working in the same city in Connecticut where I first saw the Yo yo coverlet that inspired me to make my own when I was twelve years old... I would love to share that story with her but a day of quilt improv block making was a real treat.

In conclusion I wanted to say that this was a good class. I felt like I was back in college again because we had a lot of time to work with our materials and there was lots of professional attention and support from our instructor. Denyse gave us just the right amount of challenge and freedom, she added a dose of confidence: she would be there to answer any and all questions. She pushed us to use this time to try something admittedly uncomfortable but that could give us a lot of exciting new possibilities if we let go of control to allow accidents to show us new ways to use patterns. 
I realized when I got home and laid on my bed which is next to my current improvised quilt design that I was seeing all these finished tumbling blocks (see 5 below) in a whole new way! I realized I was perhaps being too tight and even though I am having a blast fussing over the colors, patterned prints and symmetry there are so many possibilities I had overlooked or not allowed to happen. So there are a few more tumbling blocks to build to make a complete quilt but now with my new education and renewed excitement about the process I have permission to let some of that tightness go and see where it takes me. I also have a great new Orange quilt to work with in the coming months.
Thank you Denyse Schmidt and DC Modern Quilt Guild for introducing me too. 


Carla said...

Thanks for sharing. It sounds interesting. I thought the way DS spoke about the art of quilts was interesting. I would have liked to know more about her process though.

I also really like your new blocks!

cassandra said...

Wow! I would have freaked at the first mention of hand sewing! Heehee. Sounds like it was an incredible workshop and really pushed you out of your comfort zone. I am having a very hard time "enjoying the process." I am such a task master. I get very focused on the finish. Fussy patterns make me crazy--so much piecing--that I avoid them. As a result, I am stuck in square world and not advancing my skills. That said, I really like squares... But I would love to try this block you worked on. Maybe a vacation to triangle land is in order.