This makes me smile, as I may be somewhat of an aberration when it comes to traditional workmanship as defined by the standards of a quilt show judge. The focus of my teaching is always the making of art that just happens to be stitched fabric. I believe that any construction method and any technique is appropriate so long as the piece has structural integrity. I help students to find a resourceful and personal way to solve technical problems and often demonstrate techniques and share helpful hints that may be useful to realize their idea.
I’m a believer in lots of discussion and lots of visual stimulation. When I set up the classroom, I try to make it look like a working studio with lots of artwork on the walls and, when possible, a U-shaped plan for the tables so students can see one another. I also like to have a common pool of fabrics, donated by the class and me, to encourage each artist to try materials they may not normally choose. My instructions to students are more about attitude than technique in that there are no patterns, very few rules and only general parameters for each exercise. I talk about the idea that a new work is like a stream of consciousness, where what has gone before will dictate what comes next, and I support any number of solutions to a given problem. Thus the student isn’t pursuing a narrow avenue towards a fixed goal, but rather an expanding highway with many exits and entrances. This allows the student to choose her own subject matter and personal content and encourages a meaningful attachment to the work. As a work progresses, I ask for the work to be put up on the wall, and the student and I have a brainstorming session about problems or where to go next. Other students benefit from this as well because they may be having the same issues and can learn by sharing.
Building confidence is an important element for further growth. This is why, throughout the class, I try to focus on the students’ strengths and encourage them to build upon those. Often all it takes is to overcome a self-conscious reticence, and the artist can make the leap into the unknown with wonderful results. I encourage the students to conduct their designing by asking, “What if I do …?” With a growing confidence, the artist can answer by actually trying a solution without fear. Another reassuring phrase I repeat is, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I try to share my own experience of revising less than perfect work or cutting and reassembling it into a new idea. I suppose it is related to my idea of being flexible about the direction a work may take. Humor is a big part of this process as well, and there is often much giggling and hilarity when the solution turns out to be a very funky potholder!
I confess I really enjoy teaching! I like meeting new people and going to new places. I love it when I can see a student take some risks, try something new, and then have a eureka moment as the reward! I enjoy hearing from former students that they have been juried into some national show or won a prize at their local guild show. Some have sent me photos of the class quilt that they have gone on to finish, and I can “read” the pleasure they have taken in it. It is not a one-way street either. I have learned things from my students as well. I was not the greatest sewer in the world at first, and it was a student who sat me down and showed me that making bindings wasn’t that hard after all!
You can read more about Pamela in the Spring issue of The Professional Quilter, the journal of the International Association of Professional Quilters. The journal is available to members, and you can join here.
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