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.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sitges - gallery

As well as teaching in Sitges I also had a gallery exhibition of a few of my quilts. It was in a building I am told was a fishermans house. It's on a very narrow street in what I assume is the old town.
Before going I had no idea how big this show is. Approximately 12,000 people bought tickets to see the exhibitions! The traders were in tents on the seafront. These aren't grotty tents mind you, these are quite post with proper floors and good lighting.  Entry to the vendors is free.

If you want to see the quilts, be it the galleries from the artists or the competition quilts you need to buy a ticket. I think the ticket was 10 Euros, and it is a wristband that lets you visit all the exhibitions as many times as you like during the four day show.

The exhibits are spread around the town, and I was lucky enough to be the middle of three that were close together. The first was the main building where the classes were held and where bought tickets. In the same venue was an exhibition ofBaltimore Album quilts by Elly Sienkiewicz. From there I was the next stop on the tour and boy did that mean I was busy.

The pictures apparently don't really capture it. I guess I was busier when the room was full and when we had the huge queue outside I couldn't have got out of the door.

I heard from my stewards, two lovely hard working young ladies, that Thursday was quiet. Apparently Friday and Saturday the days I was working were much busier. In fact I apparently had a 30 minute queue waiting to come in and see my work. That is an amazing ego boost so thank you very much to everyone who waited so long. We did have to restrict the number of people coming in as the gallery was quite small and an unusual shape. We really didn't need any accidents to people or quilts.
From my gallery you carried on up the road to Carol Taylors gallery. I popped in one night on the way home and I loved what I found. If you aren't familiar with her work do go and take a look on her website here. It turns out we share not only similar tastes in food and quilts but also in fabric she is another Heide Stoll-Weber fan. She even made me feel good about how much I spend on hand dyed fabric. Turns out I am a complete amateur.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sitges - class 2 Art Quilts by Numbers 3

 Well here is another picture heavy post. I just couldn't decide which ones not to put up, so there are rather a lot. Besides this is the first time I have run this specific class so I need to share more to give people a better idea of the class right? In the past this class has always been as an extended Art Quilts by Numbers 1 course where I had multiple days to cover the options I use in my art quilts.

As you can probably see this class specialised in making cows. This is a more fiddly class than the other art quilts classes, partly because the cutting is more intricate and partly because it needs more shades of fabric.

It was interesting in my first class that the students struggled more with identifying different values than I would have expected. Especially as I had a lot of very talented quilters in the class. I was concerned that this would be an even bigger problem on the second day. Fortunately that wasn't the case. There were still a few glitches but on the whole people did well with the values of their fabrics.

The hard part was actually getting the concept of the technique across to them, I suppose that's a good thing given that is what they had paid for. I did learn that the Spanish need the why of a technique before the how. In the UK I generally find people learn better by doing and then understanding the why. I guess there is some cultural difference, unless I just got a very unusual bunch of students :) I did get a fantastic class, several of my students had picked up awards in the competition, in fact some are scary good. People I don't want to come up against in competition!

After we went through the technical side of preparing the patterns and how that then translates in to the quilt I think most of the students were pretty happy with what they were trying to achieve. Most still had moments when the very soft rules of the process caused them trouble. On the other hand running into the exceptions and tricks means you get a lot more information out of the class.

I also realised how far I aim to take my students in this one day class. It covers most of what I learned over several years and 7-8 quilts. Like most of my classes you get worked hard, but you will learn a lot.

Having had a day of practice, France, my long suffering translator and I managed to start communication some of my humour. That may not sound like a big deal, but I think it's quite important. Firstly I want my students relaxed. There isn't much in quilting you will do better tense. I can't actually think of anything right now. If you are laughing or giggling or even just smiling you tend to be more relaxed, then you do better work, which makes you happier. However, translating humour is really hard, especially with a tutor who uses a lot of colloquialisms and somewhat archaic language. It's also hard to know how the students are responding. I think by the afternoon of the second day we were doing pretty well at it. Now I've started learning these skills I can't wait to put them to the test again. I would love to get another chance to teach in Spain, ideally with some of these students.

I'd also love to see if these skill transfer to other countries. I was quite nervous teaching with a translator, but it's good. It is very different but not in a bad way, and maybe it makes both sides concentrate more on the little things. I will also be interested to see if different countries want/need different ways of presenting data.

Something that did surprise me was how different the working pattern was. The Spanish students were slower to start than UK students, but boy once they get going! They settle in a work hard, fast and well. They are also still going strong at the end of the day. I'd love to get this lot on a residential course, we could move mountains

 Looking over these pictures I am still thrilled with their cows. I can't wait to see the finished quilts. Bear in mind you are only seeing two patterns here. All the students had one of them and have then used their own fabric choices. I was surprised that only two went for non cow colours. For me it was hard to work in brown, these cows clearly want to be mad punk cows,, so yes my dear difficult student, your fabrics were kinda cool as well as hard to sort ;) Maybe I will have to make a few of these beasts.  I would quite like to try out the different quilting options on them too, but it will have to wait until I have some spare time and who knows when that will be.

Now I am back home for a while I will be working very hard on catching up with my longarming orders. I am very lucky to have a lot of understanding customers, but even so I would really like to get on top of things again as soon as possible. I would also like to make a new quilt or two for the Sandown Quilt show this year. They have a charity category that I have been encouraging people to enter and I want to have a go as well. There is also a challenge category that looks fun, but that will only happen if I really get a wiggle on.

I hope you've enjoyed seeing what my students got up to. I hope they had as much fun as I did. It really was a great experience. France (translator) was amazing, without her I really couldn't have done it. Not only did she translate but she also worked as a classroom helper which made my life a lot easier.

To any of my students who are reading, please please share your finished cows with us, and do feel free to comment. Google translate isn't perfect but it works well enough.