Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Update on last week...Workshop Prep

I am in deep trouble...

I mentioned in my goals for last week post that for over a year now, I've sensed a subtle shift in my interest from traditional to more art related quilts. Apparently, the ground is still shifting under my feet and it's quite disturbing. After a day and a half of trying to settle on a suitable group of fabrics for my workshop demo and cutting a few pieces out to help me see better how they were working, I found myself staring at the block, totally uninterested in working on it. Actually, worse than uninterested. I felt a bit of loathing. I wanted to be working on something else, something less structured, something more challenging, something with more curves.

You may wonder what is so disturbing about that. What is disturbing is that the block I will be teaching is the Mariner's Compass block. This is a block I've admired from the beginning of my love affair with quilts. It's probably safe to say it's my favorite traditional block pattern. I spent quite a bit of money taking a three day workshop from one of the masters of the Mariner Compass block. That workshop gave my waning confidence in my abilities an incredible boost. I've been teaching this block in one form or another for 10 years. It's been by far my best and most dependable offering. I recently paid off over three years' worth of layaway payments on a prime example of a classic Mariner's Compass quilt made around 1850. To say the Mariner's Compass block has defined my quilting life would not be an exaggeration. To say many people link me and that block is very true. And now I wanted to turn my back on it. It didn't make sense.

The call to teach the workshop came after I'd made my decision to discontinue teaching altogether. I caved because: a) I've always had good experiences doing workshops for guilds; b) they wanted the Mariner Compass class which I can just about do in my sleep and which I love because it teaches skills applicable to more than just this block; c) I could use the money. Lot's of people have to work doing things they don't particularly like, I reasoned. Why should I be any different? I worried that it was a step back when I was making so much effort to move forward. But once we had settled on using the new book and new method, I convinced myself I could use the workshop as a way to master yet another way of working.

In thinking about how I struggled with my fabric choices, and some of the emotions I'd felt for a couple of days, it soon became clear that because I was prepping for a class, I was falling into old habits and mindsets, bad ones at that. Somewhere along the line, I'd convinced myself that class samples had to have safe and clear fabric choices, which often led to safe and boring blocks. They were uninteresting for me to work on and probably uninspiring to the students. My best examples were often not the sample quilt made specifically for the class, but a quilt from my own collection made for something else. I was always whining that I wish I could use my own fabric instead of being restricted to the selection in the shop. Or, I would listen to the voices with their oughts and shoulds, or my own silly rules instead of trusting my instincts. I found myself doing both as I tried to pull together 4 fabrics keying off a focus fabric, making choices for all the wrong reason and with miserable results. When I finally quit worrying about all that and found combinations comfortable to me, I finally got moving. But there was still that unwillingness to start sewing the block.

More analysis uncovered the other truth about my disenchantment with teaching. I'd discovered after several years of developing new classes and setting up files with teaching aides, it was really bugging me to have all these partial and finished blocks lying around that had to remain forever unfinished. I like to think in terms of how something will look as part of a bigger project, but these bits and pieces had no ultimate destination other than back into the files. I only enjoy doing one-off blocks if I'm sending them off to someone else who will make them a part of a bigger whole. This block for this workshop, I realized, had no bigger whole. I'd picked that focus fabric with the idea of using it as a frame or border, but my mind was saying, "How dull and boring. And I don't have any reason to be making this block right now except for the class. I don't know if I'll ever finish it out." See? My fabric choices were not inspiring me to bigger and better things; my mind was stopped at the edge of the circular block and it had no inclination to go further.

All this reinforced my belief that I'm doing the right thing by giving up teaching. But again, it rather bothered me that I didn't want to work with these fabrics (reproductions that I've collected for years and have always loved to work with) or this block. It felt like someone had knocked my feet out from under me, or cut me adrift in the ocean. I took a day off to think this through, got out of the house for most of it for a change of scenery, came back to the workshop prep on Friday, and most of the animosity had dissipated, thank goodness. I focused on the construction sequences, and technician that I am, found that working through the process gave me a bit of satisfaction and a great deal of relief. My final fabric choices were a bit of nose thumbing at what I think of as convention, so I am much happier. I even started considering how I can jazzily finish it out into a small quilt.

So maybe I'm not in as much trouble as I thought. Going through a bit of an identity crisis, perhaps, but not the end of the world. The ground may be shaking but I think my framework still stands.

Have to share what faced me on Day 2 of the fabric selection process. My studio is a small bedroom that always looks like an explosion hit it when I'm searching for that perfect combination. Good thing I preceeded this with a good straightening up!

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