Once upon a time I went to another city to teach a workshop. The topic was improvisational strip piecing. People were asked to bring three yards of Kona cotton solids in colors they thought would go well together: one light, one medium, one dark. The agenda was to construct five or six strip-pieced panels, then cut them apart and arrange the pieces into a composition.
As people unpacked their stuff and set up their machines, I walked around the room to get acquainted and noticed that several of them didn't bring the Kona called for in the directions. I commented on this.
One person said, "I have literally thousands of dollars worth of other fabrics in my house and I'll be damned if I was going to go buy three yards more for this workshop."
One person said, "I bought my fabric before the directions got changed." I noted that the directions had been posted wrong, and the minute people noticed the mistake they fixed it. The bad directions had only been online for five hours, and that was four months ago. "Well, that's when I bought my fabric."
One person announced, "I have a really bad attitude today." Why is that? "Because I absolutely hate Kona." Why is that? "It frays in the wash, it's flimsy, it comes apart, I have LIKE A WHOLE GARBAGE CAN FULL OF THESE NASTY THREADS -- I HATE IT!!!" She made her feelings clear by picking up her fabric and slamming it down on the table.
We started to cut and sew on the panels. The panels were to be 21 or 22 inches long (half the width of the fabric; we cut through the fold at the beginning of the workshop) and about 13 inches wide. Each panel had its own "recipe," written on the direction sheet.
A while later I came by again and noticed that her second panel was 21 inches long, but had a big horizontal seam through the center of one strip. What happened here? "Don't ask," she said. I was supportive. I sliced it apart horizontally, got rid of the seam, and said it would be just fine, she was going to slice it anyway after lunch.
The next time I came by I noticed that her third panel was full of lumps. I had previously announced that there was only one thing I was picky about and that was pressing; that if I taught them nothing else today it would be how to press their piecing as they worked. I told her this panel wasn't pressed well enough; did she need another demo? "Don't ask," she said. I said, "I'm not asking; I'm telling you to press it again." She sulked.
The guild had appointed a classroom assistant for me, and I asked her to do two things: bring me a sandwich at lunchtime, and learn how I wanted things pressed so she could teach people if I wasn't available. It became apparent that she had larger ambitions. Instead of just showing people how to press their first panel, and watching to make sure they did their second one right, she was helpfully doing the pressing for them.
I kidded her for being an enabler, and told her people had to learn to do their own unless she was planning to move in with them and press all their work forever. She promised to stop. But that left her with time on her hands. Hold that thought.
The fourth panel was supposed to have a neutral color in addition to the three colors people had brought. They were to choose a neutral from the big pile of browns and grays I had brought. Many people asked me for help in choosing the color, but some moved ahead without me. As I discovered, some were "helped" by my assistant.
I came by one person's wall and saw that she had four finished panels but no neutral in sight. What is your neutral color? She thought about that for a while and finally said, "Green?" Well, green isn't a neutral. This was news. My assistant had helped her choose it. "We thought that green looked really nice," the assistant helpfully explained, hovering about.
As the afternoon wore on, I came by and saw that one person's "13 inch wide" panels looked awfully wide -- I measured one at 20 inches. What happened here? "Oh, I guess I didn't know they were supposed to be 13 inches." It says so right here on the directions. "Oh, I didn't look at that sheet, I guess I should have."
One person hadn't made a single slice into her panels or attempted to arrange them into a composition. What's happening here? "I never finish things I do in workshops," she explained. Hmmm. We still have an hour -- you've done all the hard work of sewing these panels together, and you haven't done any of the fun stuff yet! Maybe you'd be pleasantly surprised. Well, no. At the final walkabout, when each person talked a bit about her composition, she gave a user testimonial about the brand of fabric she had brought and why it was better than Kona.
As I drove home, I worried about this workshop. I was sorry that the people who hadn't brought Kona couldn't contribute their strips to the community swap pile, and that if they took from the pile the fabrics wouldn't sew up well together. I was glad that some of the people who were following directions, doing good work and having fun were in one corner together, so they could reinforce one another's positive attitude. I was glad that Don't Ask had a table to herself. I hoped that the people who had been "helped" by the volunteer hadn't been too confused, or lost too much time on wrong turns. Most of all, I wondered whether I had been able to keep the people who seemed determined to have a bad time from passing their negativity to the others.
Fortunately, most workshops aren't anything like this one. I'll be teaching the same subject -- Improvisational Strip Piecing -- at Quilting by the Lake next summer, except in a two-day format instead of a single day, so there will be lots more time to sew and lots more time to compose. Maybe I'll have the pleasure of seeing some of my blog readers there!
For more info on the QBL workshops, click HERE.