"creativity"

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.

Tie One On Fabrics Blog Hop with Lilla Quilt Variation

Tie One On Lilla Quilt

A new version of Lilla. I just don’t get tired of this pattern. That’s because it is a guide more than a pattern. Plus, it includes 25 different block ideas! Use one or use them all! Or, in my case, use 21 plus 1 made up block.

Scott Hansen over at Blue Nickel Studios asked me a few months back if I would play with his upcoming fabric collection. Feeling motivated by the lush colours of his collection, Tie One On, and having some time in my schedule I said yes. The timing also seemed ripe to make another Lilla quilt.

My original plan was a straight remake of the pattern. Same layout, same queen size, but in different fabrics. The second version I made was random, put together from my test blocks. But I wanted a new version of the original. Best laid plans…

Tie One On Fabric.jpg
Sedona

I was sent the Sedona colourway of the Tie One On fabric. Gorgeous! These are all batiks from Banyon Batiks, a division of Northcott Fabrics. Really, they are gorgeous fabrics and wonderful to work with. I don’t shy away from batiks as many modern quilters seem to. Beautiful fabric is beautiful fabric! I will use any fabric if it is the right colour, truthfully. Getting the Sedona colourway seemed serendipitous, I always think of our trip to Arizona and the dessert three years ago. With no vacation for us this past summer I planned to live vicariously through this quilt.

Fabric in hand I made a plan. And 20 blocks in (the queen size quilt in the pattern makes 100 blocks) I realized I would run short of the Tie One On Fabric. Banyan Batiks were wonderfully generous and sent me more fabric when I asked nicely. Unfortunately, it was the wrong colourway. Well, wrong for my plan. By now I was 40 blocks in.

Tie One On Batiks Modern Batiks

This is the part where some quilters would panic. I figured I had 2 choices:

  • Throw in the towel. Finish the quilt with the blocks I had at this large baby size and move on. It would still be a good quilt, so no loss.

  • Figure out a solution that reflected, at least, my original plan.

I went with the second option. You see, when you embrace improv piecing the spirit of saying yes, of making things work permeates all your quiltmaking. It gives you creativity to figure out a new design solution to a problem. So I took the yellows and oranges and the green from the second bundle, putting the pinks and purples aside for something else, and figured it would just brighten up my dessert sunset thing I had going on.

My plan for the background of the blocks was rather formal. I sketched a colour draft to keep on track. I thought I was brilliant. Then two things happened. One, even with the new fabric I wasn’t going to have enough of the Tie One On Fabric to make 100 blocks. Okay, so it will be a 9 x 9 quilt, not 10 x 10. Easy fix. But two, it looked like utter crap when I laid it out like my sketch. Really, not good - busy and not in a good, fun, scrappy way. The block designs were completely lost.

Quilt Photo At Night

When in doubt, sleep on it.

Or, try to sleep. The idea hit me around 1 am when back pain was keeping me awake. I should have got out of bed and laid it out right then and there. I waited until 7 am and in the light of day I realized my new idea was brilliant. It gave order, but was still interesting. It respected what I’d done so far and my colour inspiration of Sedona. It shows off the fabric and the block designs. Success!

Lilla Quilt Sedona Colours
Lilla Quilt Blocks

Scott Hanson and Banyan Batiks have done a wonderful job with these fabrics. Gorgeous colours and were easy to work with for both improv work and precision piecing, as the Lilla pattern has both.

If you want a little bit of the fabric yourself leave a comment below. On October 1, around 1 pm MST, I will pick one random commenter to win a bundle of Tie One On Fabric! Please leave your email address in the comment itself so I can get a hold of you. Then the fabric will be mailed to you direct.

Tie One On Blog Hop


Visit the rest of the blogs on the tour for your chance to win more. Not to mention some great ideas with this lovely fabric.

9/22 - Teri Lucas                 https://terificreations.com/

9/23 - Robin Long               http://robinruthdesign.com/blog/

9/24 - Sue O'Very               https://sueoverydesigns.com/blog/

9/25 - Cheryl Arkison          http://www.cherylarkison.com/diningroomempire/

9/26 - Linda Sullivan           https://colourwerx.wordpress.com/

9/27 - Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill   http://blog.wholecirclestudio.com/  

9/28 - Debby Brown            http://higheredhands.blogspot.com/

9/29 - Blair Stocker             https://wisecrafthandmade.com/blog/

9/30 - Kim Niedzwiecki       http://www.gogokim.com/

Lilla Quilt Tie One On Fabric

Pattern available wholesale and retail through C&T Publishing.

Quilts Under Construction September 2018

Quilt Design Wall Improv Curves

It was time.

I counted up all my Quilts Under Construction again. I haven’t actually done it since my QuiltCon lecture a year and a half ago. A lot has come and gone, mostly come since then.

So many metaphors come to mind but I find them all negative. And I don’t see this as negative at all. Every single quilt or project on this list represents creative action. It’s all about process. If all I cared about was a finished quilt I would go to the mall and buy one. Nope, I would rather make, getting lost in the process and the mess of creativity. It’s all awesome. All positive.

I divide my list into 3 categories: Being Quilted, Quilt Tops, and Blocks. Those categories work for me. Once I have something quilted I am usually quick to bind, so it would only go on a list to get crossed off within days. (Okay, there is a certain satisfaction in that.)

Improv crosses
Drunkard's Path Quilt Blocks

Blocks

  1. Tie One On version of Lilla Quilt

  2. Gremlins (Little Log Cabins)

  3. Firefly

  4. Mighty Lucky Year of Colour

  5. Itty Bitty Curves

  6. Solid Triangle Improv

  7. Euroa Quilt

  8. Splendid Sampler

  9. Hand Pieced Diamonds

  10. Small Wonders Flying Geese

  11. Bronco’s Blocks

  12. Places I’ve Taught

  13. Desks

  14. Evil Genius Triangles

  15. Kid’s Cloths/Gee’s Bend

  16. Neutral Values

  17. Studio Slash/Edges

  18. Mid Mod

  19. X Plus Blocks

  20. Pink Pinwheels

  21. Screenprint Log Cabins

  22. Pink and Black Broken Logs

  23. Respite

  24. Meadow Quilt

  25. Water

  26. Liberty Circles

  27. Sherbet Stars

  28. Beach Grass II

  29. Morning Make III

  30. Mila’s Name

  31. Bookof Negroes quilt

  32. God’s Eyes

  33. Pastel and Grey Slab

54!

Whew! Biggest number yet. And I still love absolutely every project on this list. It just depends on the day for what I feel like doing. If I could function without sleep, tea, feeding my family, carrying on our family business, or generally anything else I could get a few of these further along. I’m good, though, making in the moments I can and doing all the other stuff too. You only ever make a quilt one stitch at a time.

Euroa Quilt Block

Little Log Cabins

Little Logs at 16.jpg

Add another project to the Quilts Under Construction List. 

I was tidying up the sewing room a few weeks ago and came across a few little log cabins I made as class samples for my Little Bits class. At that exact moment I had a little time and impulsively sat down to create a few more. And a few more.

The log cabins finish at 4.5'' x 4.5''. I was quite taken with the 4-patch layout so I started sewing them together that way. As I made more I realized this has serious potential as a quilt, not just some scrap play. That means I'm planning for at least 100 blocks, or 400 little log cabins. I try not to think of it that one. One block at a time.  

Logs and scraps.jpg

So it is now a solid Morning Make option. I can make 4 little log cabins in 20-30 minutes. Summer is still lingering here so I've been able to dedicate that much time most days. I'll play with these until I bet bored, then they can be tucked away. No rush, no rules, no pressure. Just play.

Truthfully? Hopefully these will make a dent in the big blue IKEA bag of scraps. We'll see, those scraps are like gremlins, multiplying when you aren't watching! Ooh, that gives me an idea for the name:

Little Gremlins.