Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflections on City and Guilds (or how I discover why it is I'm doing this)

I've mentioned here before that I've been plugging away for some time now in an online City and Guilds course with Linda and Laura Kemshall.(What's pictured above is an exercise I did for it.) At the time I signed up for it, I did so because I admire the Kemshalls' work tremendously and hoped to learn a bit more about how they achieved the effects they do.  And I figured that it would be good for me to focus more on design.

So, I've intermittently worked away at the exercises, trying techniques and making samples and playing with various new supplies.  It's all been fun and it's showed me some new things, and even made me appreciate some things I already knew in a new way, in a sense of realizing that I could use them in different ways.  Still, there have been moments when I've wondered why I'm doing this, why I'm taking my time to fuss around with little samples when I have ideas in my head for bigger projects that I haven't made yet.  And I think, maybe I should just stop.

But recently I had an epiphany about why this is good for me.  When Helen was here from England  in October and we attended PIQF together, we talked about how PIQF was different from the big quilt show she attends each year, Festival of Quilts in Birmingham.  Helen commented how she saw so many more patterns at the US vendor booths, and how there were far fewer art supplies on offer. 

And that got me thinking.  In the City and Guilds course, each section links design and technique together.  From the very first lesson, a patchwork technique is shown along with exercises designed to get you thinking about how to create designs that might use that technique.  The idea that you can create your own designs from the outset, even with the most basic techniques, is built into the program from day one.

And that strikes me as quite different from how most of us learn to quilt here in the US. I know this is not universal, but I think it's typical that people generally learn quilting here by taking a class in which the focus is making a sampler quilt or some traditional block, and the goal is to make the quilt the way it is shown at the beginning of the class.  You learn technique by making pre-designed projects, and while you might advance into more complicated projects involving more complex techniques, the goal is still to make your version of that particular project.  The idea that you design your own isn't typically introduced in the "typical" quilting path until later down the road, and it seems to me that here in the US, most quilters never move to that stage.  Designing their own quilts is not something they envision doing or want to do, and quilting is all about sewing quilt patterns and taking classes to learn someone else's quilt.  Design is considered either a) very advanced, or b) something only the "artsy" people do.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this, if indeed if my distinction is even accurate.  (I think it is, but I'm sure many others have had different paths or leapt into making their own designs from Day One.) 

But thinking about this has confirmed for me why I'm doing C&G and why it's good for me.  It reminds me over and over that the design is up to me, and I can find inspiration everywhere.  At the moment, I'm working on an assessment piece for which I'm pulling inspiration from one of my favorite places ever (Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire) and translating some aspects into fabric.  It's been fun and exciting in a whole new way. 

So, I'm realizing that this C&G course has shown me a different approach to quilting, and I like the switch.


  1. Interesting post - I agree that many classes in the US are based on projects instead of developing your own designs. I have considered taking the Kemshall's classes but haven't taken the plunge yet.

  2. Just tried to start a discussion at my quilting bee about the "Best of Show" at our guild quilt show being a COPY of a historic quilt. Doesn't that just reward technique? I asked. Lots of blank looks. Do the members of our guild care about creativity alongside of technique? Or are the majority happy with being judged mostly/wholly on the precision of their technique?

    It was a bit like pulling teeth to get them to see what I was talking about, becausae it had never occurred to them before. "Well," one said with a shrug, "most of the women only make quilts from a pattern or a book. What's wrong with that?" Not "wrong", just not the only way to look at quilts, I say.

    Thanks for YOUR thoughts!

  3. For many quilters following a pattern is all they can manage creatively and they feel good about it, but I've always been one that has to 'make it my own, tweak it, change it up or I'm not satisfied. Wish there were more C and G's out there to encourage quilters to think outside the pattern!And I love how one comment can send you on a train of contemplation...I love it when that happens!

  4. i guess that I was really lucky that I learned to quilt from Simply Quilts. A different teacher every day and no patterns to follow so I had to make up my own.

  5. I've noticed the same thing. The ladies in my guild make some lovely quilts, but most would never dream of making a quilt without a pattern and many depend on the pattern or collections of fabrics to decide their fabrics as well.

    I do wonder if it's how you learn that influences this. I'd been sewing for years when I decided to learn to quilt, and am pretty much self-taught. I hadn't taken any classes until after I joined my guild and those I take more for social activity than the pattern being taught. I'd much rather come up with my own designs.

  6. Anonymous7:20 AM

    I am here by way of our mutual blogging friend Loretta, over at artfuljournaling.typepad. I am fascinated with your tomato photo and the little squares of color beneath it. You mention pulling inspiration from Canterbury Shaker Village (I'm just down the highway in so. NH) - does the tomato photo and color squares tie in with this? I'd love to know more.
    Are you familiar with the Mood Mod Quilt project? It might have some interest for you.