Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Back From the Ruth McDowell Workshop

On Monday I returned from a 5-day workshop with Ruth McDowell. The picture above is of one her wonderful pieces. I’ve long been a admirer of her work and this was a fabulous opportunity. A lot of Ruth’s work is characterized by her conversion of curved lines to straight lines allowing her to piece images that would normally be appliqued. This conversion to straight line also lends her images a somewhat abstract appearance which I think is the element I enjoy about her quilts.

On a practical level, Ruth is a very down-to-earth instructor who allows her students to take risks. There were 10 people in the workshop - 5 of them were what Ruth calls her “remedial” students which means they have taken this workshop at least once before. So, they came with drawings and ideas ready to go. Then there were those of us who walked in with one (or more) photo ideas and no idea whether they were actually doable.

The workshop was held at a lovely quilt shop called A Notion to Quilt. If you are ever in Shelburne, MA stop by. The owners and staff made us feel quite welcome even baking for us.

The Process

I spent most of the first 2 days preparing the templates. I brought some pictures from my 2001 trip to China that I would like to do as a series and we chose a marketplace picture of spices. Once we decided in the picture the next step was a line drawing followed by converting the curves to straight line. At this point I began to have serious doubts about my choice as the photo became unrecognizable. I filled in the bags with a little color to give myself some frame of reference. The line drawing was then enlarged to finished size and traced on freezer paper.

Pam: Pam is a remedial student and was using that photo of a beautiful flower with a very long name. The colors were beautiful and the fabric audition process was very intense but it’s going to be gorgeous when completed.

Norma: Norma, also a remedial student, was also doing flowers but with a much less conventional take on her photo. I love the way her leaves are pieced and the “broken” border.

Cynthia: Cynthia brought a picture of garlic chives whose flowers could really not be pieced so her work became an impressionist representation of the flowers.

Teresa: Teresa brought a landscape photo with trees in the foreground and a mountains and sky panorama. The treatment of the foreground trees was well done and you really feel the depth of field.

Ann: Ann’s photo was of 2 barn owls and her’s was
probably the largest piece. She has taken this workshop many times and came with her drawing ready to go as did Pam, Norma, Susan and Maggie.

Beth: Beth and I had facing tables and enjoyed ourselves. We discovered that we had quilting, dyeing, and blogging in common. She chose to reproduce the photo of a pelican using a mixture of commercial and her hand-dyed fabric. She did a fabulous job of reproducing the feathers and her hand-dyed in the beak was was a perfect touch of color.

Me: As I said, when I translated my line drawing into straight line I had my doubts. The process of auditioning fabric for the bags and spices was fun and I loved the colors. I wasn’t feeling much better when my first spice bag was added in the lower right corner. It kind iof looked like a bird’s nest sitting there.

However, by the time we did our final wrap-up I was feeling better. More bags were added and the pieces of the sections had been sewn together although each section was still separate and the picture started to come together. I have it up on my design wall and I’m anxious to continue the work.

The bags do look flat and I think that quilting is going to be really important to this piece to add dimension to the bags and add shadows and folds.

I had a great time in this class and may have to become a remedial student. Ruth has five classes scheduled for Massachusetts for 2009 - three in Deerfield and two at this shop in Shelburne.

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