I met Gail when she invited Jon to speak at the Library where she works in Connecticut a couple of years ago. Since then we’ve kept in touch on-line often recommending books to each other. Sometimes I donate books that I love to her library after reading them.
Gail been a quilter for a long time, but I understood what she was looking for when she asked me if I could teach her to make quilts the way I do. Not from a pattern, but in the Gee’s Bend way.
My inspiration, the quilters of Gee’s Bend Alabama don’t follow patterns when they make their quilts from discarded fabrics. Their tradition is to make each quilt different. The only gauge of its success is that the woman who made it likes it. Now their quilts, which they originally made to keep them and their families warm, hang in museums and galleries around the country.
I’ve thought about teaching for some time. And now it seems to be coming into my life. It started when I said yes to teaching women to make potholders in India.
When Gail asked me to show her what I know, I thought it the perfect opportunity to get some teaching practice. So we worked out a price and a date. Not long after Janet, another reader of my blog, suggested I teach an Intuitive Potholder Making class at the Creative Conference which happens the day before out Open House. It’s a workshop of 5 or 6 different art and writing classes that people from Jon’s Creative Group on Facebook attend.
The teaching thing seems to be happening.
Gail got to the farm late Friday morning and after introducing her to the animals, we went right to my studio and got to work.
The first thing I told her do was choose some pieces of fabric that she liked from my stash. I get most of my fabric for free from people who generously send it to me so I’m always glad to share it.
Then I told her to choose two pieces of fabric from her choices, cut them into sizes and shapes of her choice and sew them together. It’s an additive process. You start at the beginning and keep going until you’re done.
Gail told me that making quilts from someone else’s patterns has begun to feel like factory work for her. She hand quilts her pieces, and finds that to be meditative, but was yearning for something more creative when it comes to designing the quilts.
Basically what I was teaching Gail was to unlearn all she knew about piecing together a quilt. Forget about straight lines and matching corners. Forget about color theory and traditional patterns. Forget about cutting your fabric to predetermined sizes and shapes.
And that may sound easy, but if you’ve been working within the confines of a strict system of traditional quilting it can be hard to let go of.
At one point Gail stood at the table in my studio looking at all the pieces of fabric in front of her. “I don’t know what to do next” she said. I could hear the panic rising in her voice. I know that feeling of having too many choices. “Why don’t we take a break”, I said. “It’s almost time to let the animals out to graze.”
We opened the gates so the animals could graze and spent some time with the donkeys, while Fate ran circles around the sheep.
When we got back to the studio, Gail knew just what to do. And I left her alone to work for a few minutes while Jon and I did some more chores.
Gail finished one potholder then started on another.
“Oh, that looks good” I said looking at the fabric Gail had pieced together. ” Are you having fun?” “I’m kind of a serious person” Gail said, “and I want to be honest with you, this all makes me a little nervous”.
We talked as Gail worked, getting to know each other a little better. I made sure not to hover over her, but to give my opinion when it seemed she needed some help. Hoping for a good balance between the two.
“Wow”‘ I said as she was sewing the last pieces on to the second potholder. I was really excited with what she had done. We both stepped back looking at her design. “That’s really good” I said pointing out how well the diagonal lines worked and the perfect placement, shapes and sizes of the pale pink fabric.
We hung the finished piece on the wall and Gail decided she needed to cut off a strip of purple from the edge. “This is fun” she said. I don’t think I cheered and clapped my hands, but I wanted to.
As Gail was leaving she agreed to take some fabric home and do some work on her own. Then she asked if she could come again and work on a quilt. I hope she does.
Working with fabric in this way is good way to build creative confidence. There are no precious materials involved to worry about “ruining.” And making mistakes is a part of the process that often leads you to create something you might never have thought of.
The first thing I told Gail before she gathered fabric was to stop thinking. This kind of creativity doesn’t come from the brain, it comes from the gut. It’s about following your intuitions and trusting yourself.
For me working this way not only built my confidence in the creative parts of my life, but it worked its way into all parts of my life. Helping me to find my voice and inner strength.
And now, I’m beginning to bring it into the world, not just through my work and writing, but maybe through teaching too.
After Gail left I was elated at the work we did together. It gave a boost to my confidence about teaching that I needed. I found it very natural and easy. And that feeling made me want to teach some more.