Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Quilting Workshop that wasn't....

This past Monday and Tuesday were spent in the company of some very special women. I signed up and paid for a quilting workshop. Instead, I was treated to a cultural experience rich in faith, sharing and genuine love.

My bricklayer start

China Pettway, Revil Mosley and Louisiana Bendolph all came to Vancouver from Gee's Bend, Alabama accompanied by Matt Arnett of Tinwood Media. Maiwa invited them to give lectures and workshops as part of their 2011 Textile Symposium. I've been trying to figure out a way to share these two days with you and it's sort of difficult. I could just say: 15 of us gathered in the Maiwa textile library, cut and ripped up fabric and sewed it back together again. Because that's essentially what we did.

Bricklayer progress

Or, I could describe my expectations for the workshop, which were not much more than to make a quilt in the style, and spirit, of the many, many quilts I have admired from the quiltmakers of Gee's Bend. Which would mean making something with bold lines, without a plan, out of old clothes.

Louisiana Bendolph cures Poppyprint of brown aversion
Louisiana and I, with my 'bricklayer' quilt in progress

There were several experiences I didn't count on. For one, I NEVER expected to use Brown Fabric. Those of you who've spent any time around here know that in the past, I've referred to this colour as evil brown. Well, you won't read that here again. Louisiana has cured me of my aversion and she predicts it won't be long before I'm wearing it. I told her not to push it.

Each day started with song (with plenty more throughout the day). Matt told us all gatherings start with singing and praying. China is a preacher with a preacher's singing voice. Revil sings sweet harmony. Louisiana doesn't sing, but she prayed. They filled us full up on gospel, then thanked God for waking us up that morning, for being together....and for a lot of other things. I'd only been there for 30 minutes, but already felt like anything I made that day would be the best thing I'd ever made.

End of day 1 Gee's Bend workshop

There wasn't a plan. There wasn't a schedule. No hand outs. The only instruction (and I mean the ONLY instruction given to the entire group over two days) was "start ripping fabric!". China came over to me and asked "what you gonna make?" I said, a quilt. She asked "you ever made a quilt before?" I said, yes, lots. She tilted her head to one side then, and said "well, I dunno what I'm gonna show you then." I showed her the black pants I had brought with me. She didn't believe me that they didn't fit anymore, but they don't. I asked her to show me how she'd start ripping a pair of pants so that she could use them in a quilt top. So, she did.

Each of the three workshop tables was mounded high with fabric scraps supplied by Maiwa and leftover clothing scraps from the previous day's workshops. I brought my black pants, a pair of my husband's bagged out jeans and some solid yardage & FQ's. The top of some fuschia corduroy overalls on the table caught my eye, so I salvaged the biggest bits by peeling the old interfacing off the bib part. I picked out some pleats. There were scraps of some brown jeans in the pile that looked perfect with the fuschia. A start.

Gees Bend workshop in Vancouver Oct.2011
Agatha came with me on Day 2 to help with the sewing

Some of my favourite Gee's Bend quilts are courthouse step variations that the ladies call "Bricklayer". I don't recall making a conscious decision, but this is where I headed. At one point, I heard Louisiana say, "no unpicking your sewing". So when I realized I had broken from the courthouse step and made a black log cabin around the entire centre square, I just let it be. That's what these days were all about. Just letting it be. That is, until Matt came by and told me to get some of that aqua in there to bust things up a bit.

I've never ripped fabric for quilting. I do everything with rotary equipment. There is absolutely nothing on my quilt top measured or squared up. The back is a dog's breakfast of wacky seam allowance and different coloured piecing thread from the 4 different machines that were used in it's construction. The whole thing ripples. The worn knees of the jeans pouf out. I asked Louisiana how they dealt with all that and with a wave of her hand she said "you just quilt that out". Ok.

Gees Bend workshop in Vancouver Oct.2011
Lou, me, Revil, China

I thought I was done after adding the jean borders. But China and Revil kept digging around the fabric piles and finding more pieces of that brown corduroy skirt I had cut up the day before. So I added a final border. There wasn't enough to go all the way around, so China handed me a hunk of red and said 'use this'. Who was I to say no? Besides, it went with my shoes.

Gees Bend workshop - my quilt top!

So, there it is. My Gee's Bend-inspired quilt top. In all it's wonky, ripply, unsquare, brown-bordered glory. It just might be the best thing I've ever made. And I am grateful.

There are a few more photos from the class in my flickr stream. Just click on any photo to get there and you can look around and see what some other participants made. And if you ever see that the quilter's of Gee's Bend are giving a workshop anywhere that you can get to, sign up immediately. You won't be sorry.

50 comments:

Quiltjane said...

What an experience. You will always have a wonderful quilt to remember that day.

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

Sometimes the hardest part is 'letting go' and just doing. You got thru the hardest part, and did it well.

Flying Blind... said...

My vocabulary has shrunk to 'wow'!

felicity said...

:) this post made me so happy.

twirlymama said...

I'm with the rest, happy, speechless and Wow-ful! Thank you so much for sharing your fabulous experience with these incredible artistic women. Lovely.

♥Duff said...

how liberating to give up control like that! And then to be surrounded by women whose voices leave their mouths and go directly to God's ear--I've got chills just thinkin' 'bout it!

thank you for sharing this soul-full, joy-full, heart-full experience with us!

Amy said...

What a great experience. I love the denim borders with the pocket shapes.

Marie said...

You are going to LOVE that quilt. I can see it becoming your go-to quilt, the quilt that comforts you. Even if it has 'ugly brown', brown is one of my favorites, because it's the color of the earth. Don't you think that the memories of not only the fabric you used but your memories of the people you shared this experience with will make this your favorite? I do! I really love it, especially the pockets. Great job!

I wonder if I could do that with some of my old clothes. The ones that are too worn to go to charity but too much fabric to throw away so they go into this pile of lost 'soles' to sit in my basement until I decide to put them in the land fill. I think I'm going to not plan, but just rip and see what happens.

By the way, those are some really cute shoes you have on!

Patti said...

So happy for you, that it was eveything you wanted and more! Your quilt is lovely and the brown is spectacular!

Suzanne said...

What a wonderful description of your two days. It sounds like an incredible experience. Thanks for thinking about how to write about it and share it with us.

Love your shoes!

Tamie said...

What a once in a lifetime experience. I'm glad that you just "went with it". That is so hard for me to do. The results are lovely.

soren2go said...

What a great experience in flexibility, sharing and creativity. Your quilt is fabulous. Love the pockets!

Katie B. said...

So awesome! I'm so proud that these women are from Alabama!

pinksuedeshoe said...

This is awesome. I need to do this more often, I get too caught up in "is this border 1/2" too wide? all too often. I love it, and the turquoise, fuschia and bits of red are all sorts of awesome.

P├ętra said...

That really must have been amazing and I love the quilt you made, so special!!

Elizabeth D. said...

Wow, Krista, I'm SO impressed that you were able to find the words to describe this amazing experience - and I'm so glad you did!! I love that they helped you embrace brown and that you were able to make such a stunning quilt at the workshop, this is just SO cool :)

Anne-Marie said...

What a unique experience, one to be treasured, and your quilt rocks - thanks for sharing !

Jody said...

Wow! Just, wow! Thanks so much for sharing, I'll be looking for something similar to come to Florida.

Kristie said...

What I great experience! I love that you made something our of your normal comfort zone, but it still turned out so wonderful! It looks great. I think we could all use a little less precision and just "quilt it out" from time to time, eh? Just enjoying the journey!

What Comes Next? said...

what a fabulous quilt and what fabulous memories it will invoke!

FabricandFlowers said...

Wow, your quilt has a beautiful story to go with it. I hope I can take a class from the Gees women.

Angela said...

sounds fabulous and freeing! I'm cracking up that you used brown!! And that pop of red at the end was genius. Gotta love the experts.

paulette said...

Love your post!! Love your quilt in all it's brown glory! And dang what cute shoes!! heehee
P

**nicke... said...

what a wonderful day. lucky you!

Arita said...

Gorgeous quilt; I can't wait to see it in person; at the next VMQG meeting? I'm still kicking myself for missing the workshops.

Lisa said...

Oh wow, what an amazing experience for you. And I adore your quilt!

Leanne said...

Sounds like one of those things that you will remember forever and will be telling your grandchildren about! I can't wait to see how the quilt looks when it is quilted, it looks wonderful.

randi said...

this sounds like a wonderful class! your quilt is lovely!

Jodie said...

It sounds like an amazing experience.

Mary on Lake Pulaski said...

How wonderful that you were able to immerse yourself into learning from those wonderful people Krista. I'm sure you will treasure that quilt forever.

myredbike said...

I love everything about this - the process, the product, the description of the workshop, the photos. What an amazing experience, Krista! Your quilt will always bring you back to these days with the Gee's Bend quilters.

MariQuilts said...

Thanks for sharing your amazing experience. Love the quilt.

Lynne (Lily's Quilts) said...

Oh it sounds so wonderful - maybe one day we can both go to one of those together. I love that final pic of your shoes poking out of the bottom of the quilt top. Can't wait to see this one quilted.

Nina Lise Moen said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with us! I'm curious to see the finished quilt and whether you will use this method again.

Nova said...

wonderful! so thrilled for you :) what a FANTASTIC experience. Thanks for sharing x Your quilt is just perfect.

Michele Pacey said...

Sounds like a veritable blast. I hate rules when it comes to crafting, and it sounds like this group of ladies do too. I love that you ripped everything, didn't square anything up, and just improvised as you went along. My favourite quote of the post: "...you'll just quilt it out." How funny, exciting and freeing!

Your quilt is STUNNING Krista. The brown. The awesomeness of the brown... You lucky dog!

Abbybeth said...

Those ladies just have a way of making it feel like they're the ones who are there to see you - that you're the special part of their day when really they're the special part of yours.

and Louisiana seems to always wind up being right - she has a way of seeing things so clearly that might not seem possible at all to you initially. Go buy a brown shirt ;)

PinkGranny said...

Wonderful quilts! It looks like you all had a great time!

Melissa said...

This will be an experience you'll always remember and you have an incredible quilt as a result! You make brown look wonderful :)

Chiska said...

You quilt makes me feel like I'm looking into a hallway and I really want to walk down it. So cool!

Christina said...

And it looks just like a Gee's Bend quilt! You should be very proud. It all came together beautifully. What a wonderful experience to have had. And "quilt that out" is something I say a lot. There's nothing a $h!t load of quilting can't fix! :D

Marianne said...

What an awesome experience. I love your quilt and your shoes.

Jules said...

what a great experience!, and a great quilt. i have a bag of jeans that don't fit in my closet, and i was dreaming of doing the same thing. now i really will!.

Shari said...

Wow. How lucky are you! Amazing workshop with amazing ladies. Your quilt top is so 'Gee's Bend'. Does ripping the clothing help with staight of grain? Or is it just quick. Let us know how 'quilting out' the ripples goes. The colours in this quilt really work.

Barb said...

Wow, wow, wow, Krista, what an amazing experience. Thank you for sharing your process...I love your quilt, and of course the wonderful woman who helped you. I wish I could take something similar. For now, I just have framed gees bend cards above my sofa.

Sarah Craig said...

I can only imagine how much fun you had, and what an amazing experience! I would love to go to to one of these sometime! I love your quilt, too - it's amazing - and you've got such a story to tell about it!! Thanks for sharing!!

Cynthia F said...

It's beautiful! And what a wonderful experience, once in a lifetime!

Dianne said...

That these women and this workshop touched your spirit is evident in your eloquent description of your experience. That you really got what they were teaching is evident in the end result - your beautifuly created piece of art.
Thanks so much for sharing Krista.

traceyjay said...

I like this.
I'm too sleep deprived to articulate why, but it's really special.

Ruth Anne Olson said...

Thank you so much for sharing this experience. How nice it must have been for all of you.

I like the red.