5 Tips for a Good Quilt Workshop Experience

CQA workshop

5 Tips to Make the Most of it!

I’ll share with you some of my workshop experiences, some do’s and don’ts about attending workshops and conferences and give you the top 5 tips for making the most of attending a workshop or conference. Maximize the benefit so you can improve your art practice and make the connections you need.

I loved my first workshop but hated the project

My very first quilt, like many of you I expect, was a Sampler. I took a class when I was 20 years old with my mother. I only took it because I wasn’t doing anything else at the time, not because I had any idea that I wanted to quilt.  My mother had owned a quilt shop for many years while I was a teen. As far as I could tell it was for old ladies that did quilting bee’s.  She was offering classes out of her home after the move to Perth, Ontario. I was floundering between University, College and ne’erdowelling so it seemed like a good time to take up a hobby. It was hand pieced and cut with scissors from plastic and board templates.  I hated it, once I was finished I figured that was it for me, quilting took way to long.

But then I started working for her in her new store and I was exposed to the amazing world of Art Quilts.

Learning the Basics

quilted wall hanging with 3 dimensional designOnce exposed to art quilts, Quilt in a Day with Eleanor Burns, the rotary cutter and sewing machine, it was full steam ahead! I decided to take some classes since my mother was a hand-quilter primarily at that time. I went to the St. Lawerence College Fibre Arts Program and took many design classes with Jean Boyd. She taught me the foundations of good machine piecing and design. Again, inspirational and really helped give me a foundation for design and colour theory. One of my quilts from her class was the Double Attic Windows. I ended up doing many variations of this and really loved playing with value, colour, depth, and illusion. But I still didn’t know how to get the most out of a workshop. I was just taking in whatever I could and applying what I wanted. Which is fine, and there is really no rules when it comes to learning, but I wish I had known then, what I know now!

Taking Workshops

I then fell in love with landscapes. I had no art background and knew I was going to need some training on techniques and saw in one of the magazines of that time, that Joen Wolfram was teaching in Alberta. This blew my mind! We had several of her books in the store and I knew I loved her style. So as I mentioned in my post My First Art Quilt, I travelled west with my husband with $40 and a gas card in our van to learn from the best. I spent a week immersed in colour theory and design. It was the most detailed and inspiring course I had ever taken. It took me a year to process it all. I was so excited to meet her and to talk with other aspiring artists. I had found my niche.

quilted wall hanging by Ann Bird Pearson's Charm

Pearson’s Charm by Ann Bird

After taking my course in Olds, Alberta, I came back to Brockville to take a course from another leader in the quilt art world, Anne Bird. She did a glorious charm landscape Pearson’s Charm that is a permanent part of the Whyte Museum in Banff, Alberta. The class was really great, but the work was not for me.  The quilt I made was horrible, it made no sense and has been folded up in my UFOs ever since. I keep it as a reminder that not ever quilt style is for everyone.

Taking Classes Now

After 25 years of developing my own craft, you might wonder why I would take classes. There is always room to learn! I love taking workshops. I’ve taken classes from a Stained Glass quilt to surface design, natural dyeing and modern quilts. I now tend to take courses in projects I wouldn’t teach myself but complement my work and often are part of my professional development. I even take business and marketing classes.

Rebel quilt pattern by Libs Elliott in a living room settingI’m taking The Rebel Quilt workshop with Libs Elliott in a couple of weeks with the Lanark County Quilters Guild. I’m so excited about this workshop, it’ll be a stretch for me to work in modern bed quilts, but I’m up for it and what an opportunity to get to connect with one of Canada’s premier quilt artists!

I go into my classes with a very clear objective now and always make the most of them. Here are my tips for you to make the most of your upcoming workshops!

5 Tips!

Set Your Goals Before You Go

If you are new to quilting, your goals are usually fairly clear – learn the technique. But if you are seasoned and perhaps working on your own business, you should be clear about what you want to get from the workshop. Are you there for the project? Do you want to learn new techniques to add to your practice? Are you there to network? Did you come just to support a friend? Decide what you want to get out of it and focus on how to achieve that while you are there.

Challenge Yourself

When you are looking at a conference or offerings at a guild or store, select something that will take you out of your comfort zone. We all expand our experience and gain from trying new things. It may take some time before you see the results in your own work, but it will be worth it.  Another thing to remember is that it’s ok if a style doesn’t jive with you. You challenged yourself, you were open to the possibilities, it just didn’t work for you. None of us can be all things, you likely gained other knowledge while you were there that you can take away. At the very least, you know you will never to that again!

Make Yourself Available

It is really fun to meet new people! I have met some of the most interesting people at workshops from all over the world. I know some of us are introverted, but in these situations, you will gain so much from making connections. Not only on the day you are there, but in the future as well.  Quilting has always been great social gathering opportunity!

Be Ready to Learn

Your instructor has likely spent many years learning and perfecting the technique they are teaching. Sometimes I see students that want to show me how much they know. They often want to be the focus fo the room. This is counterproductive and can lead to an unpleasant experience for all there. Be humble, be grateful, be willing to accept some guidance, you may just pick up a tip you hadn’t known before!

Share Your Experience!

All quilters and fibre artists love to see work in progress. Whether you are in a Facebook group, a guild, or you just like to go into a local shop occasionally, share what you did! Not only do you get praise for the work you did (your work is amazing – really!), but you also help spread the culture of quilting and help the instructor to build a community.  Even if it is not perfect. You never know who is looking and beginners are encouraged by seeing work that is not perfect. We can’t all be super at everything we try, we learn from each other and lift each other up every time we share, comment and encourage another person.

I hope you have the chance to take some workshops this year, it really is so much fun. I look forward to seeing projects, hop over to my Facebook Page and let me know what you are doing. Join my group – Thread Painting and other Fibre Arts if you are into machine embroidery – we love to share what we are working on there. I’ll be sharing my own experiences as well!