Friday, March 23, 2012

Farncombe - Art Quilts by Numbers weekend retreat

 Better late than never right? I've been pretty busy since I taught at Farncome Estate but now I've got a bit of breathing room I really do want to share my pictures from the trip. The venue was recommended to me by one of my regular students. She also recommended me to them. The booking had to be made a long time in advance to get the dates they wanted so this really felt like it was a long time coming. Residential courses are one of the things I do that can be the most amazing. When people have longer to work on a given technique they achieve disproportionately more. I think a two day residential class can achieve as much as three or four day workshops. On the other hand if there are problems with the venue it can be terrible.

In this case it worked really well. Jane (my regular student) had been to this venue many times, and she is right it's amazing. They had had a staff change between quilting classes so hadn't grasped how much space we need. However, having seen us work they will be giving my classes a much bigger room in future. In fact every query, problem or request was dealt with at once with real care and concern. I was very very impressed with the staff. I've been brought up to believe that you can judge quality far better when you see how people handle things going wrong, and here any problem was handled very well indeed.

We started the class after dinner on Friday. I decided to take a risk and go straight in with theory. I wouldn't normally do this but there were several factors that made it seem like the right way to go on this course. The simplest being I was using a projector and it is much easier to black out a room at night. Also once I had used the projector I could move it out of the way, which would give us more room to work. Of course trying to talk to people in a darkened room after a good dinner (and drinks, first one free) late in the evening after they have travelled all day does have it's problems. So I let the students know that if they fell asleep I would go through it again in the morning and we got down to work. Amazingly they all managed to concentrate and got it pretty much on the first time through. Very impressive, especially for the non computer literate members of the class. By the time we had gone through the theory it was technically bed time. However I take the view that I want my students to get as much as possible out of their classes so, when I am doing a multi-day class I am happy to stay on in the class outside of official teaching hours if the students are happy for me to work on my project when they don't need me. They were, so most of them decided to get started straight away. The photographs alongside are what was achieved before bed on the first night. Impressive isn't it. When they started most students were sceptical that they would finish one piece in the weekend, I felt two were completely possible. Looks like I should be right to me :)

 Before security had a chance to throw us out we headed to bed. I think that was about 11pm. Jane being an old hand at this venue said there was no point being at breakfast first thing because there would be queue. Why queue when you could be quilting? So we agreed to meet at 7.30am and get sewing again. Strangely my alarm didn't go off, but as Jane had been going to give me a lift to our room (not really needed but rather nice) she phoned and woke me up. Just as well we had planned the early start. I guess it is also a good review of my accommodation. I slept pretty well, and my only real complaint was the heat. Both my bedroom and the classroom were very warm we had to turn off all the heating, but I'd rather have that than freeze overnight.
 It's always a surprise how much people can get done when they are focused. Not having to worry about cooking, cleaning, phones and family really does make a huge difference not just to your feeling of peace but also to the quality of your work. While my students were getting a few extra hours I started on my cow head sample. I didn't realise at the time but I was working on the scaled down pattern Tet had made as a test. Having worked on it, it's too small :) I suppose it was good to give it a proper test right?

I took this photograph on the way down to breakfast standing just outside my teaching room. Isn't it fantastic. Bear in mind this was the beginning of March, weather here was still very wintery, in fact we not only had rain but snow, but this just looks wonderful.
I offer a choice of two patterns for this course, a rose and a swan. The swan was the pattern I chose, and I feel it is a perfect starter patter, but my students asked for a choice and they wanted a flower. I took a photograph of as a rose growing in my garden right next to my bin and produced this pattern. Unfortunately it turned out to be very popular. Why unfortunate? It's trickier than the swan. The main reason I think people struggle is that the rose is bigger than life size. People are much better at judging images that are smaller than the real thing, then ones that are bigger. I've had to get used to catching students when they loose heart. They all seem to have a moment when they are sure their rose will never look like a rose. The cure? Take a photograph, and it is suddenly clear. This is why I think it is just a matter of scale.

Ah, now you might notice this project looks a bit more complex and more advanced than the others. This is Lizzie, Jane's ferret. It is an amazing photograph and will be a great quilt but it's a lot of work. It was very helpful having this quilt in the class. I used it as an example of how tricky images can become and how seductive it is to tackle these images. Jane started it a while ago in regular classes but realised it really needed a few days solid work to progress it. Rolling it up wasn't doing it any good and between sessions she was forgetting where she was in the project. There are more pictures of Lizzie further down this post. Working on this did turn out to be good for Jane as well she managed to get a little piece of fabric that was the perfect pink for a ferret nose from one of the ladies making roses.

The next few photographs are all from Saturday night (yes the pictures are pretty much in chronological order). You can see the classroom is pretty full, everyone wanted to get back to work after dinner and I think the progress is really very good. Most students had a quilted picture by this point. Despite everyone having the same pattern and in several cases the same fabrics they all come out with quite different images. I especially like to see all the different characters of swan that people produce.

 Now we have a couple of very different roses. Looks like they are both waiting to be quilted to me. So I would guess that they are peoples second quilts. Yes, by Saturday evening the students were all doing well and working on their second projects. Some chose to do the other of my patterns, some did the same pattern but in a different technique and more were working on totally unique designs from their own photographs. This is the other thing I really enjoy about teaching longer classes. When I have more time with the students we have the chance to look at images they want to work with and see if we can generate patterns from them. Some of the photographs will be great but most will be less than great. Unless I have a lot of time with a class I can't go through this sort of thing with every student.

 So about that ferret being a cautionary tale. It didn't entirely work, but I think this particular quilt will be worth the effort in the end. This is one of Jane's friends I wonder if that is where the ambition comes from?
 Ah, one of my less computer confident sticking together her patten, having processed it and enlarged it on the computer. No she didn't find it easy, but she put in the effort and has a full pattern to take home with her. I can see her using the skills again as well. Unfortunately with big patterns the easiest place to put them together is the floor. It's not good for your knees or back, but it does support large pieces very well. I generally have to work in a much smaller space than this and trust me, it's not easy, it is possible.
 Here is my project Sunday morning. As you can see my cow was coming along pretty well. I had arrived with the basic pattern and this is how far I got in the evenings and mornings while also keeping an eye on my students. I was quite pleased with that.
Here we have a swan made with the same technique as the cow I was working on. It is a different method than the one initially used, and it is a great starting pattern to get to grips with a different technique. It does give a very different look to the swan, which is also a nice illustration of why you might use the different techniques in different situations.

Here you can see this student has two completed quilts. This photograph was either taken last thing on Saturday night or just before breakfast on Sunday. She went on to work on a pattern from her photographs. I think that is pretty good going.
Ah now this is clearly Sunday morning. I liked this desk because I think it really sums up the whole course. Computer through to finished work, with tools and fabric scraps as well. Perfect.
The end of the weekend was approaching fast but no one was slowing down. New art quilt were coming together everywhere. As people had got more confident with the process they were helping each other more which I think is a very good sign. Not only does it suggest the students are confident with their new skills but it also allows them to share ideas. It's great to have more than one person to give another opinion on your projects. Jane had a lot of help with this tropical quilt. It's coming together well.
I promised you an update on Lizzie the ferret. I think her nose is now quite clean and her face is taking shape now. Yes it's slow work, those pieces are fiddly, but she looks so cute even now. Jane is talking about finding another weekend to devote to this quilt so who knows, you may get to see it if you are on one of my courses.
The horse was made by one of my new students. It is her horse and you can see even from the quilt he is a character. I am hoping she will send me a picture of it finished so I can include it in my art quilt book. He really looks great.
 Here is another picture of the tropical quilt. it's amazing how a few more pieces of fabric can make a huge difference. This is another quilt I am really hoping to see finished. There is a lot of scope for the quilting to add detail and texture in this one.
The class ends with lunch. Which is in the same building as the main reception, so it was a good time to also hand in the feedback forms. Of course we weren't that organised so I went back after the students had left to do the boring office work. As I was walking back to my car at the classroom I thought I would get some more pictures. This one is looking down over the roof of reception. As you can see there are a lot of trees on site, I think it felt rather like a university in a wood on a hill. It was far prettier than most universities but it's split into several buildings much like a university.

 This is the building the classroom was in, I think it was called the coach house. If any of my students is reading this can can remember please feel free to comment. Our room was on the ground floor on the far side of the building.

Looking further up the hill you can see some of the accommodation blocks. This is where I was staying and it was just a short walk down some steps to the classroom. I think there are also teaching rooms in these blocks.

 Finally this picture was taken on the road out of the site. Photographs never really do justice to this sort of view, but I tried. As you may have noticed, I loved teaching here and my students were great. With the slightly small room it could have been terrible but everyone was very helpful and took care of each other. I was very impressed. I am going to be teaching here again. The next class is the end of August when I will be teaching people how to make my quilt "Where is the North Star?" I think there are still a couple of places left on this if you would like to come and join us. I say us because a lot of the students from this course decided they would come back in August, for me that it is the best recommendation you can have, and I did want to leave publicising the class to give them a chance to sign up. I think they've had enough time now, and I know most of them are coming, so as well as promising you a great venue, I can tell you there will be plenty of fun people doing the class too. You will have to put up with me as a tutor, but it's only a couple of days :) After that I have two more dates booked in 2013, but we haven't made a firm decision on classes yet. I think one of them will be a wholecloth class. If you have requests for subjects for the other class let me know and I hope to see some of you there.The Farncombe web site is here.

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