Imperfect as my finished hourglass quilt was, the experience of a college atmosphere, left me hungry for more, so I enrolled on a beginner's patchwork and quilting course. As a book designer, I have a vested interest in singing the praises of how-to books, and I still do. But I have to confess that nothing beats a classroom experience for really speeding up the learning process. Perhaps it has something to do with that feeling of camaraderie you get from your fellow students, where together you progress from total quilting darkness to beautiful light bulb moments as you all suddenly realise 'ah, that's how it's done!' Better still, I now find books more useful since they help me achieve my aims, whereas so often before they seemed to only showcase work I never thought I'd be able to do.
The course was fast-paced and just the right side of challenging. Each week we'd produce a different block and learn about the history and traditions of quilting and patchwork. I can't honestly say I loved all of the techniques covered: appliqué and curved seam patchwork leave me cold and I can take or leave English patchwork (probably a result of all the time spent making hexagon flowers for MFQ). However, a fellow student, (normally charming and easy-going) hates foundation piecing with a vehemence bordering on the obsessive. Her reason? Apparently, it's because she finds foundation piecing too wasteful and frustrating, especially when she miscalculates the amount of fabric needed to cover an area, and any extra for the seam allowance. I empathise, and can see her point!
Apart from covering basic techniques, the course helped me develop a personal aesthetic towards textiles. I've realised I'm naturally drawn to texture rather than colour and print, although the Star Quilt I'm currently working on might suggest otherwise. I love taupes and muted colours and fabrics that have a suit-like feel to them, especially Japanese woven fabrics. I first came across these on ebay, but my supply quickly ran out and I spent many fruitless hours trawling the Internet to find another source.
This meant that some of my blocks had the subtlety of tones I was after, while others were too bright and busy. When I complained of this to my teacher, she calmly told me not to worry and to go home and make a cup of tea–minus the milk. Not to drink, you understand, but in which to dunk my garish blocks! I followed her instructions, then half an hour later, as if by magic, my blocks emerged from their tea bath looking all demure and were far more in tone with those made from the Japanese woven fabrics.
Tip: Another way to tone down a fabric, is, to simply use its reverse side, face up in a design. Not only does this make a strong print less overwhelming, it also appeals to my inner Scrooge as I feel I'm getting two fabrics for the price of one!
Since completing my lap quilt I've discovered that Quilt essential stocks an impressive range of Japanese woven fabrics. If you know of any other places that sell them online, I'd love to hear from you.