Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back at the Barn

It’s been more than two years since I went to a workshop at Nancy Crow’s barn, but here I am again -- my sixteenth week at this glorious facility over the last eight years.  I’ve taken classes and workshops in many venues but none so well suited to sewing large quilts. What makes the barn super in my view is not just the nice tables, deluxe ergonomic chairs or lovely rural solitude, but the huge design walls.

Even when the room is crowded (the largest class I’ve ever been in was 22 students) each participant gets her own 8 x 8 foot design wall. But when the class is small -- this week there are only eight of us -- we can pin work up anywhere in the room.

This workshop is a “master class,” with Dorothy Caldwell, the great fiber and embroidery artist. That means you bring whatever work you want to work on. So what to bring? I have no new work in progress, having just finished a big project. And I didn’t want to start a new piece at a workshop; my work process is so tedious that I could sew 12 hours a day all week and barely make a dent in a big quilt.  It's just that tedious preliminary stitching that I can do so much better in my cramped studio at home, watching trash TV; why waste a week at the barn doing that?

But I had a brilliant idea. I would take advantage of the great wall space by bringing some large quilts from the past that were already partially complete, and see if I could finish them. And even better, I would find those large quilts in my boxes of workshop projects from previous visits to the barn.

So many times I had come home with a project that was not great enough to finish, or simply too big to wrestle with in my design-wall-challenged studio. Or I had come home with an urgent idea for a new project, which took me careening down the road with no appetite for going back and finishing the workshop quilts. Whatever the reason, I had boxes full of workshop UFOs, neatly folded and packed in plastic bags, often with their extra fabric stowed right there.

So on Monday morning I started by pinning up four works in progress. Tuesday morning I expanded to the vacant back of the room and pinned up four more. Such luxury! Some of these pieces I hadn’t laid eyes on for years, since they were packed up at the barn. Looking at all of them anew, I was able to triage and work on those with merit, and pack the losers right back in their plastic bags for subsequent life as baby quilts or placemats.

As of this morning, here’s my scorecard:

- One definite A-list keeper, which I resolved and sewed together on Monday; two hours of cleanup at home and it will be ready to quilt.

- One B-list quilt, not good enough for prime time but good enough to enter in a regional show; I sewed on it all day yesterday and it’s one hour from completion. I’ll take that one home and quilt it up.

- A second A-list keeper, which I plan to finish today, then take home and quilt.

- A second B-list quilt, which I intend to finish by Thursday afternoon; again, I plan to quilt it when I get home.

- A huge piece that I completed at my first Nancy Crow workshop but never got quilted. I hadn’t even looked at it since summer of 2003. It still looks gorgeous, but the consensus is that it’s too much a workshop exercise, clearly identifiable as the strip piecing class project. I will look for somebody to quilt it for me, and it would be stunning in somebody’s living room, but will never be in a show.

I still have several pieces that haven’t come out of their plastic bags yet for evaluation. But I’m feeling quite exhilarated at having made big progress on unfinished business.  And for a change, instead of going home from the barn with half-finished projects, I'll be going home all ready to quilt.


  1. what a great sense of accomplishment you must have....very well done

  2. Congrats on UFO-riddances! Always has a good effect on your mind's hygiene, you will be so ready and open for new stuff. Except that now you'll have a lot of quilting to do! Keep going.

  3. Not having done that sort of master class, can you tell me what part the tutor plays in the process each student is involved with? Are you having tutorial times with Dorothy? Is there time where there are teacher/class plenary sessions? or is it all about having the space?

  4. A good week's work! At Festival of Quilts in 2009(?) I was fortunate to do a three-day workshop with Dorothy, during which we did various mark-making exercises, eg stitching blindfolded! - and at the end made a book with them all. Definitely one of the best workshops, if not THE best, I've ever done.