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, 29 January 2012

Avian Grace

Around 2000, my creative time was limited due to a very busy schedule.....    It appeared that I only made quilts for the National Quilt Festivals, always with deadlines looming and long, intense hours spent doing battle with my sewing machine...!   I somehow found that I really need a deadline to work to, nothing beats the adrenaline rush towards the finish line.    It provides complete focus, loads of energy despite lack of sleep, pushing away all the little mundane niggles of everyday life into the background.....  

The 2000 National Quilt Festival was held in Johannesburg.   There was a special category for South African Bird Quilts which stirred my excitement....!     Since making the first bird quilt (1993) in East London, I have experimented with various techniques and I felt confident with my progress to tackle the subject again.   I also became aware that as my skills levels improved, I somehow had the need to "revisit" previous themes to see how I could improve on the previous effort.

The first bird quilt 93/17 looked flat....!     The birds were machine appliqued and hand embroidered onto peach coloured fabric, totally lifeless.   For my second attempt, I decided that each bird had to be placed on a realistic background as found in nature.   Some birds tend to keep to trees, others prefer being on the ground. The challenge was to create settings for the birds as realistically as possible.    With much improved painting skills, I prepared the backgrounds for each panel.     I used Avalon (a plastic washaway substance on which one can sew in an embroidery hoop, leaving the stitched piece after washing the plastic away) to stitch little nests for baby chicks, ready to be placed in position.    For some trees I machine appliqued leaves using two methods:  direct machine applique using satin stitch stitching directly onto the background and another making loose leaves which I placed and stitched down to create a 3D effect for more texture.   I added shading to the appliqued leaves with fabric paint to create depth.  For another tree, I made spiky leaves like a cedar tree, also on Avalon which gave wonderful texture to the panel.       All sorts of foliage and surface techniques to create texture were added before the birds were fused into position, ready to be stitched.

The birds were machine appliqued with satin stitch - some of the birds were enhanced with machine embroidery, others with hand embroidery.    My initial idea was to do all the embroidery on the birds by machine, but for some of the birds, it just did not work and I kept unpicking.....!    I really battled with the Knysna Lourie, eventually starting from scratch after the 5th attempt reverting to hand embroidery using long and short stitch to get it right.    I was elated when it actually started looking like my favourite bird........!    Patience indeed...!   

As I was working on the bird panels, I kept on thinking of a way to avoid finishing this quilt with a butted binding.  I use a good quality calico as my background fabric which I then paint to my own requirements for a specific project - I find it carries the weight of all the textured, fused and stitched work better than finely woven fabric.   At the time, a competition rule stated that if a quilt had butted borders, the bindings had to be butted as well....!   Bindings with butted corners using calico was really a challenge to get perfect, especially when folded double.     One day while I was working on the bird panels, the solution came out of the blue....!    Instead of joining the blocks with sashings and adding borders on the outside, I would stitch the panels onto a solid piece of fabric.   The  sections around the blocks would look like borders and sashings, but there would be no seams/joins....!    I painted a piece of fabric slightly bigger than the finished size of the quilt - the idea much like a wholecloth quilt.    Putting all the different sections together was so easy and it was the perfect solution to my ongoing problem!   I finished this quilt with a continuous binding, making a huge difference to the corners.

I finished the bird panels with narrow ethnic geometric borders around the blocks.    An interesting development was that although the ethnic style borders was still part of the overall design, it was much smaller and refined.   I realised that I was moving away from the very bold designs previously evident in my work, it just somehow happened intuitively....

While I was working on this quilt, I felt in control and at ease with the process.    While stitching, I was doing mental gymnastics with possible quilting ideas to finish the quilt.   It was important that the quilting designs on the border and sashing sections had to complement the different design elements of the quilt.   I randomly quilted some geometric designs interspersed with birds and fine stipple quilting with feathers on the sashing sections.    The quilting completed the quilt, the very first time ever that I was completely satisfied with my machine quilting skills.   I used invisible thread to quilt as I did not want to detract attention from the birds using visible threads, it had to serve as a harmonious background to the focal points, the birds...

Avian Grace 2000 - Sold

Avian Grace won two awards at the 2000 National Quilt Festival in Johannesburg - Best South African Bird Quilt and 1st Prize, Innovative Large Category.    My prize was a voucher for a brand new Bernina Virtuosa 160 Plus!   To say that I was happy, would be an understatement.....!
Avian Grace was also part of a South African exhibition of 5 quilts at the World Quilt Carnival in Nagoya, Japan in 2004.    Mr Mike Takashima who organized the invitation to South Africa, sent me the following newspaper clipping - he briefly translated that Japannese people place great emphasis on nurturing and they loved the little nests with the baby chicks....    

A Visitor viewing Avian Grace at the World Quilt Carnival in Nagoya, Japan in 2004

Avian Grace was sold on its return from Japan to a bird lover living in Johannesburg........! 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

In the Chair....

Taking over the reigns from seasoned Committee workers was rather daunting.....!    We were all in awe of Jenny Whitehead, a formidable member of our Guild.   She was instrumental in starting the Guild in 1986, a Past President of the South African Quilters' Guild and extremely knowledgeable on all quilting matters.    She proved to be very supportive and only a phone call away, always offering sound advice with her no nonsense attitude.    Our Committee was inexperienced, but we rose to the challenge with a common goal - to grow the Guild into a happy and interesting place for all. 

Personally, the most terrifying was that I would be the official voice of the Guild and had to do most of the talking at the Guild meetings.   It took me straight back to my school days where I found it so difficult to participate in debating evenings - I would generally have a serious case of jitters alongside with an upset stomach.   The other was that I had to address the meetings in my second language which was not really a problem, but when in a stressful situation, sometimes the vocabulary did strange things.....!  Somehow, humour got me through tricky situations and nobody really cared when I slipped some Afrikaans words in..........

I realized a few things right from the start - the voice of the Guild had to sound positive, informative and entertaining to keep them interested enough to attend meetings regularly.   Another was that although members shared an interest of quilting, they were from all walks of life and educational levels.   It was
therefore important to listen to each and every one with respect and treat them equally.     I made the most wonderful, special friends during this time and am still blessed to have them part of my life.......

But all was not just paperwork and running  meetings.    After the 1998 National Quilt Festival, we decided to run a mini festival to coincide with the 1999 Annual Spring Show to keep the excitement levels high in the Guild!    I prepared a workshop to teach which I called Picture Perfect - students had to bring a landscape picture which I would teach them to make a pattern, enlarge it without mechnical means and to transform it from paper to fabric and stitching.   This proved quite an exciting workshop.   I made a landscape sample of the Amphitheatre at the Royal National Park in the Drakensberg with the Tugela River in the front for which I had quite a lot of photographs taken during a stay there in 1985.   

The techniques to create texture of the animal quilt, Woodville (1998) was very experimental and I took the ideas further.   I made lots of needlelace from pieces of fabric which I unravelled and cut into smaller bits, sandwiched between two layers of Avalon and stitched untill it was secured.   These I used for trees and bushes.   For the reeds, I used long threads of fabric which I also sandwiched between two layers of Avalon and stitched with a very slim zig-zag to hold the individual threads.   It worked very well and I was so excited as it looked very realistic.    I also used some fabric paint for shading on the mountain, foot hills and boulders in the river.   Doing this landscape quilt, took me right back to the exhibition in Harrismith where I learnt so much from the artist, Eduard Wium painting landscapes.....   I kept on remembering what he taught me about creating depth......!    He was a very good teacher....!

Amphitheatre - Source of the Tugela 1999
I finished the quilt with a geometric border and stipple quilting - one aspect of my work with which I was not completely satisfied yet.......     As this was a small quilt, 50cm x 63cm, I entered this at the 2000 National Quilt Festival in the Miniature Category and was amazed when I won a Second Prize.   Technically it was not a miniature quilt and I was fortunate.......   The Miniature Category is now properly defined for the National Quilt Festival Competitions......   This little quilt is still one of my favourites.     While making it, I felt in control and excited as I was creating the visual impact which I wanted - the first time since I started making realistic themed quilts.....!    
During this time, I also prepared a Protea Workshop which I taught locally, at Fynbos Quilt In in Stellenbosch and in George.   

Protea Workshop # 1

By now, I was much more comfortable with public speaking and in a routine.....   I was now also the Representative of the Dias Quilters' Guild on the South African Quilters' Guild Committee.   New territory again.    It was a huge challenge to participate at that level and I quickly learnt that the wheel could not be re-invented every time.   Reading the entire history (minutes) of the Guild since 1989, gave me a better understanding of the dynamics of the Committee and work to be done.   I was also fortunate to compile a Register of all the Prize Winning Quilts at the South African National Quilt Festivals since 1987 - it was incredible to see the growth and development of quilting in South Africa......     I was thrilled to see how the quilts slowly but surely got a very distinctive South African flavour...........

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Famous Customer.....

I hope that 2012 will be a wonderful year for all of you.    I had a lovely rest, but am now ready to tackle this year ........

Back to my story, in 1996 I joined the Organizing Committee of the 1998 National Quilt Festival which was held in Port Elizabeth.   By doing so, I made wonderful friends and learnt so many new skills.   Our Chairlady, Margaret Skinner worked at the Municipality (now the Metro) and taught me so much about organizing events, finding sponsors, to run meetings efficiently by keeping everybody to the point of discussion (and not to be sidetracked) and liaising with the corporate sector.  I will always be grateful to her for  her patience and guidance as it was this experience which enabled me to undertake leadership roles in the quilting community.   She taught me to be professional and objective, especially when one worked with volunteers with diverse personalities and skills levels.

In the meantime, I quilted and sold many beaded wallhangings to overseas tourists.    I did not really teach during this time as I did not really have time to do so.   I received an order for two similar wallhangings as the piece which I made for the FNB Vita Craft Now Exhibition, but then the client failed to collect the pieces!   That was a very big lesson learnt - in future clients had to pay a deposit!    Afterwards I received a phone call from a lady from Pretoria - Majida Ravat!   She heard of my work and was looking for somebody to teach rural ladies in the north of the country sewing and quilting skills to enable them to generate an income.   We started chatting and it turned out that she was an Afrikaans lady (who came from a similar background as mine) who married Mr Ravat, famous for his gallery selling Persian carpets in Pretoria.   She was such a delightful lady but logistically it was not possible for me to be involved in her project.   She however wanted to see what my work looked like and I told her about the two pieces of which the sale fell through. She promptly organized a courier to pick up one quilt and it left for Pretoria the same day.   This was before I even had a computer or internet - how easy life is now to send images around the globe.

Majida then phoned to tell me her friend Pat was over the moon with this piece and wanted to buy it.   It turned out Pat was none other than Patricia de Lille, firebrand politician!   I was starstruck and so excited!   A few years later, Huisgenoot magazine featured an article about Patricia at home and one of the photographs was of her standing next to her favourite wallhanging!   Between Patricia and Majida, the origin of the quilt was a bit distorted, but who really cares.....    My logo and quilt number is embroidered onto the quilt and I have the original designs as proof!


Patricia de Lille with quilt 97/07 - image from Huisgenoot

97/07 - Sold to Patricia de Lille

In the meantime, I was immersed in the preparations for the National Quilt Festival and was hoping to teach a workshop as well.    I prepared a workshop on Ethnic Borders, one of my pet topics!    The same principles for designing borders apply for any kind of quilt making.   To me a quilt is not really complete if it is not finished off with an appropriate border, it gives the same effect of a well chosen frame to a painting.   

I decided to enter a quilt in the competition as well.   After the successful protea quilt in 1994, I planned a quilt using the same format, but with animals as theme.     I painted panels to serve as the background for the animals and also played around with texture for the settings of the animals.   I also introduced free motion machine embroidery, stitching all the spots on the leopards!    Stitching the faces of the animals was quite a challenge which I enjoyed immensely, adding bits of hand embroidery as well.  I also experimented with machine quilting, but stayed clear from quilting parallel lines as my lines were a bit crooked on the Protea quilt....!     This was the first time I applied skills which I learnt at the 1994 machine embroidery workshop in East London!  It was difficult to create the texture I wanted and I had to look elsewhere to find suitable embellishing material.   One problem in particular was the coat of the Vervet Monkey - I tried all sorts of embroidery stitching, but nothing worked.....!   One day I had a flash of inspiration - steel wool used to scrub pots in the kitchen!   I promptly bought some, hand stitched it down and it was exactly the finish which I wanted (and needed)!   My friends said that it would rust once exposed to every day life, but 14 years on it is in the same condition as in 1998!     Another problem was the manes of the lions - in the end I made wigs on Avalon using threads of fabric which I unravelled, I initially used embroidery threads, but it looked too bulky and heavy.   It worked very well and I was really chuffed with the result.....

While I was busy making this quilt, my dad died unexpectedly and finishing this quilt, became rather emotional.   I decided to call it Woodville in his honour as it was his second name and also the  name of the farm where he was born between George and Knysna.   

                                                             Woodville - 1998
Second Prize in Innovative Small Category at the 1998 National Quilt Festival in Port Elizabeth.

After this festival in Port Elizabeth, I became the Chairlady of the Dias Quilters' Guild and I learnt more skills.......