Epic Battle With the Scraps

Little Log Cabin Scrap Quilts

Victory is mine!

A month ago - after teaching multiple scrap and Values Plus workshops - I got it in my head to buckle down and hit the scraps. And I hit them hard. While I have my lovely little bins of colour sorted a blue IKEA bag kept getting filled with strips and random bits. I sorted out a bunch of little bits back in May, but otherwise the bag sat there taunting me.

Hey you! Hey! I’m talking to you. You know you won’t throw me out, you simply can’t do that. But did you know I grow when you aren’t looking. The rest of the fabric? It comes to me at night and fills me up. You will never take me down!

Oh yeah? Let the battle begin.

I spent an hour or so sorting that bag by colour. Easy enough. And usually sorting is enough for me. It gives me the calm I want and finding order makes me happy. But there were just so many scraps! So I went headlong into the fury and am happy to say I emerged victorious!

Values Plus Scrap Quilts

This morning I finished the last of the blocks for a queen size quilts based on my Values Plus class. As I sorted, sewed, and trimmed for those blocks little bits and little strings revealed themselves, like soldiers stalking me in the grass. Well, they’ve been tamed too. I have a pile of skinny strings ready to action on my side - in some little log cabins. And the little bits leftover from battle are contained in colour sorted bags, another project in mind.

All my Morning Makes and any other free time in the last month has been spent on this battlefield. I became solely focused on this. While I generally have no issue with scraps something just got in me that these needed to be dealt with. Like an itch I couldn’t scratch it became an obsession to empty, sort, and use everything in that blue bag. While not everything is used yet, it all is designated or tamed. I am winning!

Now I hope to spend some time actually finishing a quilt or two, that’s a whole other battle.

Modern Scrap Quilts

Focus

Focus means eliminating distractions, not just from other people, but the things we do to distract ourselves
— Catherine Pulsifer
patterns.jpg

My life moves in short shifts. If I was a lawyer I would book my time in 15 minute increments. It is no secret that I, like any other working mother, am being pulled in multiple directions. Kids and their activities, kids and their emotions, family business, voluntold commitments, my own writing, a teaching career, Morning Make, dog walks, attempts at a clean house, all the food, and that being a good wife thing. Not to mention extended family, some snippet of self care, and simply trying to read a book.

Maybe writing it all out wasn’t a good idea. I might make more changes.

For now, I want to let you all know that I am stepping back from selling patterns. No PDFs, no printed copies. Not until January 1, 2019 though!

I’ve come to this decision for three reasons, and they are outside of the business reality of it all.

  1. Exactly what I wrote about above. I am like Elastigirl in The Incredibles and at point, something is going to snap. Taking one thing off the list is vital to survival.

  2. Patterns require a certain hustle. I just don’t have it in me to do that particular hustle anymore.

  3. Teaching is a real passion of mine. That means teaching technique, skill, and embracing the process of improv. Written patterns rather contradict that.

To be clear, I am not leaving the industry. For all its warts and aging joints, I rather like working in the quilt industry. This is simply about focus. I have plans, big plans, and now I can truly focus on them.

Pattern Sale - now until January 1, 2019

Walk the Walk

Scrap Quilts

As a quilt teacher one of my more popular classes is all about Scraps. It is a fun class to teach because people really do embrace their scraps in new ways. They’d been ready to give up and are suddenly rejuvenated.

I’ve actually taught Little Scraps, Big Options many times this year. When I prep for the class I’ve been digging in to an IKEA bag of random strips and pieces for a heavy handful. This comes with me for demo purposes and the leftovers thrown back in the bag. After my last trip I decided that I needed to walk the walk and tackle the sorting of that bag.

To be fair, I have scrap bins for fabric and they are used as I cut fabric all the time. I dig in to them regularly too. Little bits go in a special basket, triangles in another. But this huge IKEA bag keeps getting filled in the night. Like the opposite of the Shoemaker’s Elves, adding fabric instead of making with it.

Scrap Fabric

So I poured a glass of wine one night last week and dove in to the big blue bag. In less than an hour I had piles of colours making my sewing table pretty. Yes, less than an hour. Sorting scraps is one of those overwhelming tasks that when we finally tackle it we wonder why we procrastinated. It ends up being not so bad, and in the case of scrap fabric, inspiring.

That was certainly the case for me. I immediately set to sewing some of those strips together. Okay, I might have been inspired by my Values Plus students. I taught that class a few times on this last trip too. And boom! In 4 days my orange and purple scraps are nearly gone in a stack of fun blocks.

Orange Scraps of Fabric
Orange Scraps Value Plus Quilt

Working on these blocks is a great scrap buster. As I go I am sorting out any trimmings in two piles. One is for my mini log cabins and the other for a different scrap project I’ve got in my head. It is putting so much order in to my scraps and that feels so, so good.

Scraps are a lot to deal with. Not to mention, working with them gets messy too. It can drive the organized person crazy. That’s why some folks like to cut everything to the same size and store them in neat piles. I get that. For the rest of us, sorting and using them in a planned manner gives us that same order. And 3 different scrap projects.

Confessions of an Unconventional Quilt Teacher

Quilt Teacher

I am just back from a two week teaching trip through the Maritimes. On top of the feeling of homecoming in Halifax, the exploration of new to me cities and islands, and the joy of end of the day solitude I had a glorious time teaching! Yes, we call these bizcations in my house, but the business part comes first. That is, the business of inspiring quilters to creative action.

My style of quilt teaching is not to come in to a class with a pattern and a timeline to finish a project. While I can completely appreciate that there are many students who want just that, it isn’t the kind of class I like to teach. Rather than 20 versions of the same thing at the end of the day I want to see 20 different things! My style is to come in, teach a technique or pull an idea out of you to make. The goal is for you to see what you can do with your own skill, time, and imagination. No two quilters are the same, no two projects are the same, no two classes are the same.

For sure, I concede that this isn’t for everyone. I know that a small majority of quilters want to come out of class with a thing at the end. Something to show their partner to prove the worth of their time in the class or something to share at guild to demonstrate the joy of the effort of bringing in the teacher. I get that, really. But that just isn’t the type of teacher I am.

  The work of the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild in the Improv With Intent class

The work of the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild in the Improv With Intent class

The first thing I tell my students is that what they make in class doesn’t have to be anything. Not even a mug rug or a Meals on Wheels placemat or pillow, let alone the start of a quilt. It can just be some fabric you sewed together. Ultimately, and more importantly, the class is about showing up. Just being there: embracing your own creativity, good company, and the process of quiltmaking. I want everyone to learn, but mostly, I want everyone to play.

The second thing I tell my students is that we are there to jump off a cliff. Not to worry, though, I am going to hold your hand every step of the way. Improv work, the bulk of my classes, does not come easy for most. It takes a leap. But with me in the classroom - or church hall - you have guide on the creative journey.

As a quilt teacher I see myself as three other things on top/in conjunction with quiltmaking guide: performer, playground supervisor, and therapist.

Performer

Unfortunately, I don’t get a spotlight or pyrotechnics for each class I teach. Sounds systems are nice, but not necessary (as anyone who knows me knows what I mean). Stages can sometimes be found in the room. You see, when I am in front of a group of quilters I consider myself a performer, not just a teacher.

It only took one class for me to realize that a teacher that sits at the front of the room sewing her own stuff is quite possibly the worst kind of teacher. I’ve been in those classes, as a student, and I will admit, have been that teacher at times. It is the worst. You, the student, paid money to be there, took the time to be there, hauled all your stuff to be there. If I am not going to give a thing to take home at the end of the day then I sure as hell better make the day worth it for all for you!

You can be guaranteed of stories, some bad jokes, ideas, hand holding, stunt sewing, and more. This is on top of the stellar quilting techniques we do. Hopefully no pyrotechnics though - cotton is flammable.

Playground Supervisor

At my kids’ elementary school the teachers take turns supervising recess. They walk around in reflective safety vests so everyone knows who they are. Just enough supervision to stop a fight or bandage a skinned knee. Mostly they stay out of the way and let the kids do their thing. And what are the kids doing? Playing made-up and real games, sitting in groups gossiping, tackling each other, looking for four-leaf clovers, creating yet another version of tag or grounders, or generally enjoying not having to think for a little while. Recess is the best.

I like to think of my classroom as the playground. We are there to play! To explore, to experiment, to try something new, to figure something out. It’s like taking the basic rules of tag but having a million iterations. We still use a 1/4’’ seam allowance, we still press, and squaring up happens eventually. After that? Well, we are only constricted by our fear and perceived limitations.

By no means am I the quilt police, but maybe I should wear a bright safety vest next time I teach, just so you know who I am?

Therapist

This is a stereotype. The more traditional the guild, the harder it is for most participants to relax and play. We are just so used to playing by all the rules and sitting nicely. When I say it is time to get dirty and throw some rules out many people balk. It just isn’t what they are comfortable with/used to/approve of/like. I get that. It’s normal, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean, however, I won’t encourage you to try something new just for today.

When people are struggling with what I am trying to teach or the space I am creating to play I don’t like to leave them struggling. I will sit down and have a chat. We’ll talk about the why of their quiltmaking and why this particular approach is so hard for them. I’m coming to realize that it makes me a bit of a therapist. (Minus any degrees, training, or certification.) I can’t offer any real life solutions to real life problems, but I can hold their hand as they talk about their quiltmaking journey.

What I can also do fairly well now is understand why they struggle with my approach. The response, then, is unique to each quilter. Sometimes a few personal, encouraging words is all that is needed. Other times I might literally hand them the fabric and tell them where to sew as a start. And for those running full throttle with the play and improv techniques I teach it might mean a high five or chest bump, or even a slight pull back. No matter what, I’ve got your back. I’m here for you.

Quilt Teacher Cheryl Arkison

Inspiring quilters to creative action is my biggest thrill. It is the mission of my work, as cliche as that might sound. It is a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to be in front of a crowd full of expectations. I do not take the job lightly and always try my best for the group in front of me. So you know, I appreciate every opportunity you all give me. From the big classes to the tiny guilds, from the exotic locations to the small church basements. No matter what, I am here for you.