Teaching Philosophy

I feel successful when I teach people:

- to see what they look at!

- that it is ok to be different!

- to open a whole new world of creativity for them....

- that there is a solution for every problem (mostly with a quick-unpick!)

- that it is a joy to be creative......

The Creative Mind Plays with the Object it Loves -
Carl Jung

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Being a quilt teacher...

I love teaching quilt related workshops, it makes me feel alive and gives me great pleasure to see how my efforts can influence the work of students.   With teaching though, comes other challenges and irritations - the dreaded situation where classes are "borrowed" by other teachers without permission.  I call this poaching or pirating, the word just not really matter as it remains unethical.  I know that I'm not the only teacher affected, it happens all over the world and not just with quilting.  Although I always share new work on this blog, this practice has been bugging me for such a long time and I felt that I needed to get this boulder out of my shoe.  No matter how often we discuss the matter at teacher forums, poaching of workshops is alive and well!   You might feel that there is nothing new, you are correct...  The thing is, when I recognize motifs almost a carbon copy of those which I drew with my own pencil, struggling to create a variety to best teach what I want to, in another teachers' sample, then I think it is time to speak up...!

I started teaching a variety of quilt related workshops in 1988.  The focus of my first teaching efforts were traditional patchwork and applique techniques, mainly from patterns available in the public domain (as just about all the quilt teachers were doing at the time).

I joined a quilters Guild for the first time in 1989 and never looked back.   Being part of the quilting family, has also brought much needed perspective in my responsibilities, vision and future as a quilt teacher in South Africa.   One of the first topics of discussion after I joined the Guild, was the issue of copyright of quilting patterns - it really made me think!   I started to feel uneasy using patterns from the public domain or books/magazines as I did not want to take money from students for work which was not entirely my own.   At this stage (about 1989) I tentatively started designing patterns for patchwork quilts as well as candle-wicking patterns for cushions and quilts for my students.   I really struggled, but persevered with the enthusiastic encouragement of my students in King William's Town.   I knew that if I wanted to be successful as a quilt teacher, I had to put in the time and effort to create and teach my own body of work.  I slowly developed my own style of quilting, firstly with Ndebele styled geometric quilts followed by the realistic themed quilts with the focus on the flora, fauna & bird life of South Africa and even historical buildings.    After that phase, I progressed to art quilts which really touched my soul.  Again the transition was difficult, but soon I lost my angst and started to enjoy the process wherever it took me. Most of my freestyle workshops were developed from quilts which I made.  I might identify an interesting aspect or technique from a quilt and develop that further into a workshop.

The very first art quilt workshop which I taught, was a direct result from my very first attempt at making an art quilt, Transformation - Glow Beyond the Scorched Edge 2010.   Making the quilt, was a process beyond difficult as I battled to let go of my very regimented way of working into a completely unplanned way into unknown territory (for me!).   This quilt is a relatively small piece, but the time, effort and skill spent on it was enormous - I had to delve very deep.   The process and success of the quilt set me free of my self imposed boundaries and brought the purest form of creative happiness and freedom.  The starting point of this quilt was to choose a shape and develop that into an art piece.  Somehow my chosen square of the main panel developed into a multi paneled wall hanging with different textures and elements.   

Transformation - Glow Beyond the Scorched Edge 2010
Won BEST ON SHOW ART QUILTS at the 2011 National Quilt Festival in Stellenbosch, South Africa

After the initial battle to get started, I developed this quilt into a very successful workshop Explore Machine Stitching & More 2010 which I taught at the 2011 National Quilt Festival in Stellenbosch.  I changed the square shape of the quilt to circles for the workshop, all drawn without any geometry tools.  The aim of the workshop was to create a study in free form and to break every quilting rule!  I always try to teach students as much as possible to give them value for money.  I included a mixture of interesting techniques in the course for the benefit of the students, this definitely has been one of my most successful and fun workshops to date.

Explore Machine Stitching & More 2011
The circle as focal shape and embellished it with a variety of hand and machine stitching/embroidery and beading.

My second major art quilt was GLOW 2012.    Making this quilt was a huge challenge as I wanted to incorporate many different elements and colours.    I battled to create unity in this quilt as the elements which I used was very diverse.  The centre mosaic panel, was originally a solid piece of fabric and it made the quilt look very flat and uninteresting.   After weeks of being frustrated, I decided to give the panel a fractured look by covering the solid piece with small squares in the same colour range creating a mosaic look - it immediately transformed the panel and created the effect which I was desperately seeking.

Glow 2012
Made for 2013 Kaleidoscope National Quilt Festival in Bloemfontein, South Africa 
Won 1st Prize Masters Freestyle Category.

Two workshops developed from GLOW - Freestyle Ways 2012 and Bag-a-Square 2012.  
The centre mosaic panel of GLOW inspired the  background of Freestyle Ways as well as the upper section of the bag of the Bag-a-Square workshop.  The fused small mosaic squares of fabric were set in a colourwash format for both workshops.  

Freestyle Ways 2012 - Teaching Sample
Small mosaic squares on background, similar to Glow, embellished with handmade braids.

Bag-a-Square 2012 - Teaching Sample
Paper cut tiles (snowflakes) combined with small mosaic squares - aspects from Glow.

I could relate to the saying that the more you do something, the easier it becomes.   Through the years, I've spent so much time auditioning fabric, designing, cutting, fusing, stitching (machine or hand) just to discard the experiment and restart with renewed energy and ideas as I don't like to give up...  I have invested lots of time and effort exploring to give students a wonderful experience in my workshops and I love the interaction with them.  It truly is a great feeling if I manage to inspire students to take up the challenge of a workshop and see how they flourish, to know that I ignited something in them and share their excitement.   For me it is a wonderful feeling of achievement if I open an email with a photograph of a finished project from a student...

I took the conscious decision to offer new workshops at every National Festival I apply to teach.  Our quilting population in South Africa who regularly attend festivals, is relatively small compared to that of other countries such as the USA, UK, Australia etc.    Since I started teaching at National Festivals, I felt that if I did not continually present new work to keep students interested, my workshops would become stale and students would simply not be interested in my classes.   Most of the workshops begin with a "light bulb" moment when I get an instant idea which I then develop further, sometimes an idea starts from doodling in my sketch book at Guild meetings!   Developing new work, remains a battle, but I never stop trying as the feeling of getting it right far outweighs the laborious path.

 As most of my workshops are intense and jam-packed, I compile notes with step by step images and instructions to assist students to finish their projects at home.  The following notice is printed on each set of notes:

This workshop was designed by Marilyn Pretorius in (year).     These images and patterns are for the use of the workshop student only and are not to be reproduced in any way whatsoever or for use by other teachers for teaching purposes.

Unfortunately some people just don't care about a decent request!  Twice now I had the unfortunate situation that some of my workshops were "poached" by people who attended my workshops...    I'm not going to "name and shame" anybody, I just need to voice my displeasure as it leaves a bad taste in the mouth!  It certainly makes me wonder why quilt teachers attend workshops offered by fellow teachers...?    Quilt teachers in South Africa cannot copyright workshops and we rely on the ethical behavior of students...  Going the legal route is just not possible as it is too expensive and income from teaching quilting cannot cover legal costs.  Teachers who love to "borrow" from other quilt teachers must remember that the quilting community in South Africa is small and word gets round.  To top it off, we have the ever popular social media - students love to post/share their latest achievements and quilts...!   And this is where teachers who poach workshops from other teachers, are exposed...! 

Tuesday, 19 June 2018


So much has happened since my last post...  I was the Chairlady for the Siyadala - We Create 2017 SA National Quilt Festival which was hosted by our Guild here in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.   It was a huge success, but due to the volume of work, I just did not have the luxury of being creative.   I sometimes think that I have a split personality - I thrive on being creative, but I also have this other side which needs to be stimulated in a more structured way...  I love it when I take charge, ideas flying and making things happen, but the "rush" can be so exhausting...!   After the Festival, I decided I've experienced enough excitement to last me for the rest of my life and retired from all committees - so lovely not to be glued to the computer anymore...!   I also realized I needed a sabbatical to restore my energy by doing different things at a much slower pace.  I again have time for a walk in the mornings and that sets the pace for the day, peaceful and relaxed.   I've also had lots of time for introspection and realized that my creative work happens in cycles of about 10 years...   After all these years of quilting and dabbling with fibre art, I know that I constantly have to shift my goalposts as I cannot do the same thing all the time - I need variety and for me, exploring is the ultimate fix....!  I have started playing in the studio again (pure joy) as being creative puts me in a different zone...  It must be the release of masses amounts of endorphins...  My own "be happy" therapy!   Hopefully I will have new work to share soon...!

Our May Guild meeting had the theme of "Gifting" and it reminded me of a few small quilts which I made as gifts last year and two others which were gifted to me!  I undertook to make small quilts for the 3 International teachers who taught at the 2017 Festival as we always like to give our teachers a handmade gift.   It was a challenge to choose a colour palette as I did not know the favourite colours of the 3 teachers, Jenny Bowker from Australia as well as Ekramy Hanafy and Hany Mahmoud, two Tentmaker teachers from Cairo, Egypt.

As time was limited, I chose to make them small mandalas as I was teaching Design a Mandala at the festival and it was the logical option for me at that stage.  Choosing a palette for Jenny, was a bit easier as she shared her new kitchen with her Facebook friends (I used her lovely new tiles as colour inspiration).   The 3 quilts below were individually designed and made for them and were all about 50cm x 50cm.    All the motifs were fused down and raw edge applique doubled up as construction and free motion quilting method.  Cords were couched onto certain sections to add texture and definition, my only regret was that I did not have enough time to add more detail...   I mainly used my own brush rags fabrics combined with Bali prints, batiks, silk, commercial printed and plain cottons.

Siyadala #1 for Jenny Bowker

Siyadala # 2 for Ekramy Hanafy

Siyadala # 3 for Hany Mahmoud

We had a wonderful time at the festival with Jenny, Ekramy and Hany and our three international teachers were extremely popular with sold out classes and lectures.   

Ekramy and Hany presented me with a beautiful wall quilt stitched by Hany, how absolutely special and much appreciated.   The participation of the Tentmakers of Cairo in our National Quilt Festival is a memory which I will always treasure and a visit to the Khan Khayamiya – The Market of the Tentmakers in the heart of Old Islamic Cairo is definitely on my wish list!  Hopefully I will be able to twist Willem's arm for a trip up to the north of Africa sometime...!

Ekramy Hanafy, yours truly and Hany Mahmoud with my beautiful gift.  
Photo taken at the Siyadala - We Create 2017 National Quilt Festival at Collegiate Girls' High School, Port Elizabeth.

To top up this lovely gift from Hany and Ekramy, I received a huge surprise at the first Guild meeting after the festival!   After I thanked the festival committee and guild members for all their hard work, support and commitment, I was given a huge parcel!   I had no idea what was in the parcel, but all the faces looking at me from the floor were beaming!  The parcel contained a lovely quilt made especially for me from my very own brush rags fabrics!  I was so gobsmacked and speechless as this was the first quilt ever made for me as a gift!   I was so busy with Siyadala that I did not even pick up any sneaky business going on behind my back!  Guild members were asked to make and donate blocks for this quilt.   So many blocks were handed in that there were enough for both front and back for a reversible quilt!   I believe the quilt was the idea of Angie Franke, the Creative Director of Siyadala.  I felt so blessed as I could feel the love and goodwill from my wonderful quilting friends and co-workers. 

Yours truly sitting in front of the beautiful quilt made by members of the Dias Quilters' Guild 
July 2017

The renowned artist added another achievement to her list when she was made an officer in the Order of Australia in Monday’s Queen’s Birthday honours list, which recognises her work on Australia-Middle East cultural relations through the preservation of traditional arts.   

It was through Jenny that we secured the attendance of Ekramy and Hany at the 2017 Festival!   It was the first appearance of the world renowned Tentmakers of Cairo at a SA National Quilt Festival!    We salute a very special lady and quilting friend!

Monday, 28 March 2016


At the moment, I don't have time to quilt which is sad...  I'm very involved in organizing the 2017 South African National Quilt Festival which will be hosted by my home guild, the Dias Quilters' Guild in Port Elizabeth.   Please visit the official festival Facebook page 2017 South African National Quilt Festival, Port Elizabeth and "like" the page...   You can also visit the festival website at http://festival.quiltsouthafrica.co.za for more news.   It will be wonderful to welcome International quilters at Siyadala - We Create NQF 3 - 8 July 2017.

I made three quilts for the Diversity Fibre Art Exhibition in 2015 and the last one I want to share with you, is Spinel.   I seldom work in red, but somehow I started buying shades of red and magenta batik fabrics which works perfectly with silk fabric.   I  had a rough sketch which I wanted to use and decided to use the red for the centre panel with purples on the sides.   I love working with round shapes as the design scope is endless.    The amazing thing is that with some quilts, everything just falls into place very easily.

Spinel consists of 5 panels, placed on a discharged background of blueish grey fabric which toned in very well with the blueish purples which I selected.   To create contrast, I prepared two panels with a mixture of silk, Bali and batik strips placed horizontally.    The stitching down of the strips was functional and I combined it with couching of cotton and silk yarns to create additional texture with the raw edges of the strips.

Rings in various sizes in bright oranges, magentas and pinks were cut for the centre panel using Bali cottons and silks.   These were placed on the centre panel and somehow, it looked great to have some of there spill over the edge of the panel.  Somehow the colouring looked a bit dead on the background...  The rings were already fused and stitched to the background when I promptly slashed some strips out of the background.    I used a darker purple behind it to take away the flatness of the purple, it immediately looked more interesting.  I then decided it lacked texture and added some hand embroidery around the insides of the rings which were filled with another colour.  This seemed to do the trick.  

Spinel 2015 - Centre Panel
Instead of using a ring motif, I decided to use rounds in two sizes for the two outside panels.  These had to be smaller than the rings of the centre panel to force it into a secondary place on the quilt.   The idea was to create variety with many different fabrics for the rounds.   The next step was to prepare backgrounds for these side panels - I decided against a solid piece of fabric as it would look too flat, I needed to avoid the problem I had with the centre panel.  I decided to cut blocks in the colour range I needed and fused it onto the background which immediately did the trick, the blocks on the one panel smaller than the other panel.    I used bigger rounds on the bigger blocks to create interest and variety.   The rounds were positioned and fused onto the background, the last panel was prepared in the same way and decorated with smaller rounds.   The rounds were stitched to the background to secure it. 

Side panels of Spinel.   The smaller rounds almost have the effect of bubbles...!

The next step was to stitch these panels to the background fabric and prepare the borders...   I chose all the colours used in the panels to prepare the borders, carefully placing colours in specific positions to complement the centre section.  Strips were prepared for the top and bottom borders similar to the two strippy panels on the quilt to complement it.   It worked well and I also added some couching to it.   A mixture of the strips and round motifs were used for the side panels to echo the rounds in the borders.

Echo quilting was used for the centre panel with pebbles quilted on the side panels between the round shapes.   Very simple quilting was done on the background of the quilt.  Cords were made using cotton yarn in various colours used in the quilt to seal the edge of the quilt.  I really loved working with these rich jewel colours which I normally don't use.    Spinel is indeed a gemstone found in this incredibel colour range...

Spinel 2015


Monday, 28 September 2015


I'm currently doing lots of administrative work regarding quilting and it actually makes one think about how fellow quilters regard creativity.    Some are ardent cyber surfers to keep informed of the latest trends, others prefer books and some find their own way...  A comment which I picked up during the week was of elements used in a specific quilt which was typical of quilts made by another well known quilt artist...  My question is where do we find inspiration?  I am always intrigued by the thought processes of quilt artists, some need to rationalize each and every thought and process of a piece, others just work intuitively without even thinking where they are going.  

I must admit, I don't really like to surf the net and I also don't study the work of others purely because I want my work to reflect my own journey without being influenced by the work of others.  It is the process with which I feel comfortable with...   I don't talk much during the day, but I'm constantly thinking about creative things.  Sometimes a thought will cross my mind, I will maybe make a note or a rough sketch of it, other times I will think of colour combinations and that will be the start of a piece.   I can also visualize ideas and concepts which is a great help.

We all have our favourite colours, mine is seagreen.   Seeing it is like recognizing something deep within my soul...   It has such a soothing effect on me, I suppose that is why I chose the colour for the walls of my studio.

While I worked on the Diversity Fibre Art Exhibition earlier this year, I made a rough sketch for a piece and decided that I would build the piece around some chamois that was given to me by a student.  The rough edges reminded me of dirty foam left on the beach after rough seas.    As the chamois would represent the foam and the sandy beach, I decided to add greens and blues to the palette to create this abstract piece of my memories of the Knysna lagune where I grew up.

This quilt consists of four panels stitched together at the top!  The bottom layer in neutral shades forms the backdrop and was machine quilted.   The second panel is pieced and embellished with couching, hand embroidery and beaded.  This panel was not quilted in the traditional way with batting, but was hand stitched onto commercial felt in a similar colour as the backdrop panel.  A beaded fringe was added to balance the textured top section.    The blue and green tiles on the third panel were appliqued using the raw edge applique technique and the bottom and side edges were sealed with cords.   Additional creative stitching was added to each tile to create texture.  The textured panel at the top was made of chamois, silk, burnt fabric, needle punching, beading and hand embroidery and lies loosely over the third panel.  .

Tranquility 2015
Standing at the lookout point at the top of the Knysna Heads while looking down at the sea going in and out of the lagoon…  My most favourite spot on earth, it grounds me, strips me to my inner core and brings peace within my soul…   The mixture of the green and blue of the water combined with the colour of the sandy beach gives a deep sense of satisfaction, of home and stirs the creative juices deep within…   I completely relate to the following quote:

"It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness - 
Thomas Jefferson 

Tranquility - Close up detail of the quote by Thomas Jefferson

Tranquility - Close up detail of top section.

I loved the process of making this quilt...   Unfortunately a photograph never does justice to textile art...