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.

The Problem and Joy of Small Piecing

Itty Bitty Improv Curves

Problem: It takes forever to make anything not small when the pieces are small.

Additional Problem: I have a really, really hard time making anything small, even if the pieces are small.

Small Piecing Quilting

The Joy: It is delightfully meditative.

Additional Joy: It looks so cool. Ridiculously cool.

Super Additional Joy: It is always there for me.

Conclusion: Joy outweighs any problems. Keep sewing.

Euroa Quilt Update - October 2018

Euroa Quilt English Paper Piecing

So, it’s been what? 17 months?

I started the Euroa Quilt in May 2017. One baby block at a time. 400 of those. Four together to make 1 block. 100 of those. Four of those then together to make a mega block. 25 of those. That’s the plan.

For anyone new here and to remind you all, this is the quintessential “Quilter Inspired by a Tile Floor” quilt. I snapped a pic in a doorway in a small town in Australia. That town was Euroa. It turns out this is not an uncommon tile pattern in Australia in the Mid Century. This quilt is an homage to that trip in so many ways,

Here’s where I’m at.

Modern English Paper Piecing

7 Mega Blocks.

30 Blocks Done (and 1 in final assembly)

3 more blocks prepped for hand stitching.

That might seem slow to you, but it seems about perfect to me. I do this project in quiet moments at the summer campsite, while hanging out at the pool/ballet studio/fencing gym, sometimes while watching TV, and on the rare quiet Sunday when I feel like handstitching instead of being interrupted reading. I didn’t stitch for 3 months last year as I struggled with tennis elbow. Things are a bit slow going right now as I don’t do a lot of sitting (newsletter readers know what I am talking about - subscribe below!) and you can only stitch so much standing up.

The truth is, I am in no rush. You’ve heard me say before that quilt making is about the process for me - the making more than the quilt itself. I absolutely love having such a portable hand work project. I really don’t care how long it takes me to finish. If I did then I would have made this smaller! As it stands, the baby blocks are 4’’. Which means the quilt as I have it planned will be 80’’ x 80’’ of hand stitched goodness.

Euroa Quilt Modern Scrappy Quilts

To assemble the quilt I sew the mega blocks together then sew those together in columns. Not sure why, but in my brain I made the far right column first so I am working right to left. I usually prep one or two blocks at a time, laying out what I have so far so that my random scrappiness is somewhat controlled - no two fabrics right next to each other. It does require vacuuming the studio floor and keeping the dog out. I can do the basting and stitching of each block while in any number of places, but save the mega block assembly for home, on a large table.

Oh, and I wholeheartedly recommend the flat back stitch when it comes to English Paper Piecing.

I’ve been asked if I am bored yet. Nope. Not at all. It is highly repetitive. I think if I were working on very controlled fabric/colour placement I might be. Or maybe I would switch to foundation paper piecing for that project? But the scrappy nature of my fabric selection and my infinite patience to pick it up, put it down, and pick it up again is keeping me from getting bored. Quite the opposite, I get super excited each time I finish a block!

The printable templates are still for sale on my Etsy site, if you are interested.