A member of the QuiltArt list this morning referred to¬†‘Scott Murkin’s technique’, ¬†and I thought¬† “Hmmm, I wonder what that is….”¬† (As I don’t get the popular quilt magazines and books these days, its¬†easy to be out of touch with the very¬†latest)¬† Anyway, it turned out¬†to be¬†freehand or improvisational¬†piecing, anyway!¬†¬†¬†¬† And when I went online to¬†find out about¬†Scott’s work¬†I found this site,¬†¬†http://www.scottmurkin.com , and there is a quilt
that looked to me¬†very like an adaptation and re-arrangement of blocks from one of my own bushfire¬†quilts¬†.¬†¬†They have a great deal in common, I’m sure you’ll agree, but I’m not suggesting that this is in anyway ‘copying’ something I did ages ago:
Bushfire 4¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† 1999
¬†I think it is inevitable that¬† quilt makers using the same techniques in similar colours,¬†will sometimes produce similar looking works.¬† We can usually tell looking at someone’s work who they studied with, since, for a while after that workshop their¬†new work reflects what they have learned, but in time their work¬†reflects more of the artist and increasingly¬†less of the teacher.¬† It’s why I myself¬†no longer¬†attend technique-driven workshops,¬†but they are the bread and butter of the quilt making industry, of course.
“Scott Murkin’s” technique is¬†what I and many others learned¬†nearly 25 years ago from Nancy Crow – not that I ever called it ‘Nancy Crow’s technique’ because for her, technique has only ever been the means to her end – in the classroom it was to speed the process of exploring¬†colour and design,¬†and working through her long list of class exercises was only really possible via cutting and piecing freehand/improvisationally.
But actually, it wasn’t her technique, either.¬† It was developed by a Canadian quiltmaker, Marilyn Stothers who Nancy used to¬†take into the classes she was teaching at Houston in the late 80′s and early 90′s¬†and¬†have¬†Marilyn show her students how to do it.¬†¬† Nancy then began teaching it herself as a method useful in her classes on colour and design.¬† As we all know, today¬†there are many contemporary quilt makers¬†working this way all over the world, and it has become a contemporary quilt making tradition, if you can say such a thing…. and yes, I think we can.
Since¬†learning the basics, I’ve¬†always worked this way, and taught many students how to cut and piece freehand.¬† I’ve¬†no doubt someone uses¬†“Alison Schwabe’s¬†technique”¬†to describe their own improvisational piecing,¬†but I claim no ownership.¬† If you’d like to have a go at it,¬†email me for the basic instructions (2 pages incl, diagrams and links) ¬†and I’ll¬†email it by return.¬†¬†There’s enormous interest in piecing like this.
Last month I taught my “Hot Quilts From Cold Scraps” workshop in¬†Dongara Western Australia, and Hobart Tamsnaia Aus.¬† I always promote the class as being about planning and making successful scrap quilts, and one in which people who work via traditional geometric piecing¬†will be¬†alongside those who are piecing improvisationally.¬† In other words,¬†how you piece is up to you, and you just need to come to class knowing how to piece one way or the¬† other, it’s not a beginners’ class.¬† I always say I don’t actually teach¬† freehand piecing in class, as there isn’t usually time¬†even in the 2-day version, and so if you want to work that way you need to¬†learn the¬†basics at home before the workshop.¬† That usually works well, and one or two people always ask me for those instructions in advance.¬† In Dongara there were about 20 enthusiasts in the class – fabulous facilities accommodated them easily – and about 1/3 went to work piecing traditionally, the rest improvisationally.¬† They produced some wonderful work, and everyone achieved plenty of it.¬†¬†¬† The class in Hobart blew me away though.¬†¬† I¬†had been¬†a bit concerned at the¬†low number registered, and anticipated the group dynamics might be a bit unexciting among only¬†7 of them. But not in this case -¬†all had very strong individual approaches and a couple did interesting things no one has previously produced, including myself! Some already knew improvisational piecing, and the 2 or 3 who didn’t clearly did¬†want to work that way.¬† So once everyone was into their¬† exercises before branching off in their individual directions, in such a small group it was easy to teach them the basic methods by demonstrations¬†using the samples I had with me.¬† They were all dead keen and very quick on the uptake.¬†
Thanks to Pat and Susan who¬†both supplied¬†Marilyn’s correct surname which I’d used wrongly in the first version of this post!¬† I have corrected and edited the post to include the gracious corrections I received from¬†Marylin herself, whose website http://www.marilynstewartstothers.ca/¬†presents her and her¬†exciting work in some detail – and I can only say after looking at it that¬†we¬†don’t hear enough of her.