When you walk into a fabric store and run into a friend who says to you “Hey, I’m about to get coffee with Denyse Schmidt, do you want to come along?” it’s pretty much the stuff that modern quilting dreams are made of.
Now I’ve chatted with Denyse before, we waited for an elevator together at QuiltCon 2013 and she was sweet and engaging, but that’s nothing compared to waiting in line at Starbucks together, you know?!? (yes I’m a total quilt geek, guilty as charged)
We chatted about sewing tank tops with knits and how hard it is to find the perfect wallet (she showed me hers, it was a gift from Heather Ross, nice!) and we swapped stories about travel and security nightmares. And before we knew it, it was time to get back to the classroom to start the workshop she was teaching that day.
The topic was improvisational quilting which is a wide open subject, but a look through a handful of popular quilting blogs yielded recaps of this exact workshop, so I knew the format. I knew that we’d be making the Shoeman’s Puzzle block, and then riffing on it from there.
We started by making the first block with a pattern and I knew right then and there I was in trouble. But it wasn’t the pattern that caused me problems, it was my fabrics.
See, we had to bring 3 yards each of two different, yet coordinating, fabrics and I kind of went the cheapskate route. I found the colors I wanted at JoAnns and got the less expensive choice, which was a cotton/polyester blend, knowing full well that any polyester is the bane of a quilter’s existence. But I saved $18 by going the cheaper route, which seemed worth it at the time (it was totally not worth it).
After sewing the first seam on my first block, my machine was moaning and wailing. It was making this ungodly rubbing/squeaking/high-pitched humming sound that I’d never heard before. Now I’ve sewn polyesters before while making clothes, but never in a quilt, and I think my machine was calling me on the transgression (or maybe I just have a guilty conscience?).
It took me a good 10 minutes to reason with my machine, talk it off the ledge, and clean out all the lint random threads jamming up the works before it would speak to me again in its usual kitteny purr. Finally, with a promise that I wouldn’t try any poly bait-and-switch in the future, I was back in business.
I sewed a couple of blocks and stuck them up on the design wall next to me. Denyse came by and I commented that I wasn’t sure if I was happy with my fabric choices. She replied with “OH! Let me press them for you!”
Really? Denyse Schmidt is doing my pressing for me? What alternate universe am I living in?
These are the question that were on my mind at that moment.
She brought back my blocks from the ironing station and put them back up on my design wall.
“So much better, right?” Denyse chirped. And she was right.
That’s what makes Denyse Schmidt, well, the one and only Denyse Schmidt.
She showed us how to alter the pattern and make up our own individual, yet related blocks.
We sewed and pressed and sewed and pressed some more.
The fact that I bought the sketchy poly blend did not help one bit though, as I melted a block or two with an iron heated up to the cotton setting. Not my finest moment as a Denyse Schmidt protégé, you know?
I solved the melting problem by using a pressing cloth on top of the poly blocks, which slowed me down a bit but it enabled me to continue. As one point I returned to my machine after pressing only to find my blocks had been rearranged on my design wall. I was confused. How did that happen?
Denyse was how it happened, of course. She’d come in to each of our design walls, size up our progress, then artfully rearrange our blocks to make them even better, sometimes when we weren’t even looking.
There’s something a little magical about that, you know?
I still wasn’t convinced that I’d made good color choices (my fabrics felt too similar, with not enough contrast between them) and I mentioned this to Denyce later in the afternoon. She proceeded to carefully arrange my blocks, one by one, moving them closer to one another and eliminating any gaps between them so the full effect of my colors and patterns could be seen.
It made all the difference in the world, again, which is why Denyse Schmidt is Denyse Schmidt, of course.
We stopped sewing with about half an hour left to the workshop, so we could have a group critique. This was my favorite part of the day, hearing about others’ thought processes, what they thought out their progress so far, what they would have done differently, and of course, getting Denyse’s take on everyone’s work in progress.
The difference in the quilts on the walls was astounding! The whole interplay between color, tone, value and shape was incredible to see, and it seeing the individual twists that people put in was very inspirational.
Even after having my blocks pressed and rearranged and compressed by Denyse herself, I still wasn’t totally sold on my color choices. I love both colors, I just wasn’t sure there was enough contrast between them.
After I presented my quilt and voiced my hesitations, one of the participants commented that she really loved my color combination – she thought it had a very soothing effect, almost mystical.
Hmm, mystical. I liked that. I really liked that. That was definitely an effect I could get behind.
I have plans to remake this quilt, but next time in 100% cotton fabrics, and maybe I’ll put just a smidge more range in between my blue and my green fabrics. And I have a plan to integrate a bit of natural tan, too.
Denyse left me with something to really think about. She talked about a quilt block needing to be “a complete thought” and a whole quilt as having a message. These are ideas that I sometimes integrate into my work, but probably not nearly enough. They’re excellent points to ponder as I try to push my work forward.
I definitely did get one complete thought, loud and clear, about staying away from cheap fabrics. Thank you quilting universe (and Denyse Schmidt, though she was too diplomatic to say a word about my crappy fabric), I will mend my ways in the future.
Because really, if you’re trying to get your quilts to communicate in beautifully complete thoughts like Denyse Schmidt does, the least you can do is start with quality fragments, right?!?