Posts in Workshops
Teaching and learning
Work in progress by Maggie Pearson

Work in progress by Maggie Pearson

In my old life I used to do spend some of my time training people how to use particular pieces of equipment or how to carry out specific tests. I knew the equipment and tests inside out. There was always a correct and incorrect method. A needed to be followed by B which needed to be followed by C etc. With experience I learnt to pass on the information more effectively but it was always the same information.

Teaching surface design is very, very different. Yes, there are a few rules that have to be followed if you want the colour from your Procion dyes to fix to your fabric. (Always remember soda + moisture + heat + time). And I do supply my students with sets of recipes that they can choose to follow rigidly (or not!). But pretty much everything else is about personal choice. There are no rights or wrongs, just choices. So my role as a teacher is that of an ‘enabler’ providing encouragement and support. And I am still learning how to be a good teacher. The more classes I teach; the more students that I spend time with, the more I am learning to tailor my support to fit different needs. My students tell me that I am very well organised - writing class notes, preparing lots of samples, labelling all the cupboards is stuff that comes easily to me. Learning how to nurture the creative process in others is harder but so very satisfying!

The other difference is depth of knowledge. Or in some cases, lack of depth. I have spent hundreds of hours over the years screen printing (especially breakdown printing) and dyeing and, although there is always more to learn, I can teach with confidence. But there are some areas of surface design where I have not spent hundreds of hours, where my skills are a little ‘wobbly’. Of course I rehearse before class but the reality is that I will be learning just as much as my students. I facilitate, I enable and, in return, my students inspire me. Which is actually kind of wonderful!

Just what I needed!!
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I am my own worst enemy! I have a habit of taking on just a little bit more than I should then setting myself challenging deadlines. I did just that with the decision to write my first book, Breakdown Your Palette. But the late nights were worth it - I have been completely overwhelmed by the response and a big thank you to those of you who ordered the book and who got in touch to tell me how much you liked it. I am feeling very loved right know!

Having launched the book I was feeling just a little bit tired. By chance (or maybe by careful planning!) last week was my annual five day retreat with members of the North West Contemporary Quilt Group. It was wonderful. Lovely location on the edge of Grasmere in the Lake District surrounded by hills and sheep. Great weather. And fantastic company. This was our ninth retreat together so we are very ‘comfortable’ with each other. We did some things as a group but mostly we worked on our own projects in a room that was filled with chat, with laughter and sometimes with a gentle silence.

It was just what I need to recharge my energies and redirect my focus towards creating new art for my solo exhibition at the Festival of Quilts in August. I spent many hours at my sewing machine working on a new large piece in my Ruins series inspired by the Cotton mills in the area I live in. This was great thinking time and I now have a clear plan for the pieces I need to make. And yes I have probably given myself a little bit more to do than I have time for but it worked with the book so I will make sure it works for the exhibition!

But before I can get ‘stuck in’ though I have two shows - one in Glasgow this week and one in Birmingham next week. I will be giving a 90 minute workshop each morning called Colourful Cityscapes (you can buy tickets by following the links) and will be demonstrating breakdown printing on my stand in the afternoons. I’ll have lots of copies of my book with me as well. If you are visiting the shows please stop by the stand, it is great putting faces to names!

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Out and about in Glasgow and Birmingham
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I’m off on my travels again soon so have been busy in the studio this week getting ready. Preparing and printing handouts, laminating new signs for the stand (I love laminating), deciding which quilts and fabrics to take to display and, the time consuming bit, mixing textile inks, cutting fabric and making up workshop kits. And figuring out what I need to take to demonstrate breakdown printing and screen printing. I really enjoy the occasional week like this - I started with a very long to-do list and have been diligently ticking them off turning what seemed like a mountain of work into a tidy and labelled set of boxes ready to load in the car.

All this activity because in three weeks time I (and my partner in crime, son Joe) will be at the Scottish Quilting Show (part of the Creative Craft Show) at Glasgow SEC from Thursday 7th to Sunday 10th March. I will be demonstrating on stand ZM26 . I’m looking forward to the show especially because we’ll be staying with my daughter who lives in Glasgow.

The following week I’ll be at the Fashion and Embroidery Show (alongside the Sewing for Pleasure Show) at Birmingham NEC. I’m there from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th March on stand ZL40. I’ve booked an AirBnB for the duration - not as nice as staying with Jess but better than a hotel.

I will also be doing a 90 minute workshop called Colourful Cityscapes each day at both shows. It’s my first time at these shows so if you are visiting please come by and say hello - it is lovely seeing friendly faces!

In case you haven’t noticed I am most definitely not a last minute person! But getting ready three weeks early is early even for me. That’s because I have two groups of students in the studio between now and then. I also have some BIG stuff happening which I hope to share with you next week. And I’m taking 5 days off to go on my annual retreat with my buddies from the North West Contemporary Quilt Group.

Yes I am taking 5 days off. I will be taking my sewing machine and expect to put in many hours quilting my next Ruins piece surrounded by good company and sustained by good cake and the odd glass of wine. Can’t wait!

Discharged with full honours!
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My day a month Introduction to Surface Design students continue to amaze me! This last weekend we focused on discharge which is the process of removing colour. We used four different discharge agents, two as liquids and two as pastes. This allowed the students to screen print, thermofax print, resist discharge in a vat, paint and use low immersion techniques. Great fun albeit a bit smelly at times!

Linda Hill - thickened Formosol applied using a screen with a masking tape resist

Linda Hill - thickened Formosol applied using a screen with a masking tape resist

Jean Martin - collection of fabrics discharged using thickened Formosol and deColourant

Jean Martin - collection of fabrics discharged using thickened Formosol and deColourant

Using discharge can add new lines or shapes to a dyed or printed fabric. Although it is a process that removes colour the fabric rarely goes back to pure white. More often you get pale shades so I think of discharge as a process that adds more colour. It is an integral part of surface design. But it is also a great tool for ‘recovering’ fabric that you don’t like. I call my Thiox immersion vat the redemption bucket!

The discharge process is also covered in depth in my 5 day Colour Your Palette workshop. Places are still available for the course in April. More details can be found here.

Jan Walmesley - thickened Formosol used with a thermofax screen

Jan Walmesley - thickened Formosol used with a thermofax screen

Lynda Edwards - discharged using household bleach

Lynda Edwards - discharged using household bleach

Letting my students do the talking ...

Top left: Sue Warburton - breakdown screen. Top right: Maggie Pearson - open screen and sticky back plastic resist screen. Bottom left: Jan Walmesley - sticky back plastic resist screen. Bottom right: Tracey Ramsay - interfacing stencil screen.

I’ve had another couple of wonderful days with my Introduction to Surface Design students. The diversity of their work is amazing. So I will shut up and let their work do the talking ….

Top left: Tracy Fox - breakdown screen. Top right: Lynda Edwards - mylar stencil screen.

Top left: Jean and Tracey hard at work in the studio. Top right: Phil Langford - breakdown screen. Bottom left: Linda Hill - sticky back plastic resist screens. Bottom right: Jean Martin - thermofax screens.

Introduction to Surface Design - new course dates
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My current Introduction to Surface Design students are in the studio this weekend and I am excited to see their work from last time and what they do this time. I have eleven students split between two groups and every single one of them works differently, each of them creating unique pieces of fabric. It’s a real treat to see them develop their ideas!

This weekend will be session 5 in the day a month for 10 month course and our second session on screen printing. Last time we used open screen techniques and masking tape resists to print background. We also used thermofax screens to print background. This time we will be printing the breakdown screens that we made at the last session and using sticky back plastic resists and freezer paper resists to add detail to our backgrounds as well as to use on new pieces of fabric. As per usual we will pack a lot into the day!

My next Introduction to Surface Design courses start on Saturday 2nd February and on Sunday 3rd February. I have places available on both - have a look at the Saturday group and Sunday group pages for details of the dates and what is covered. And feel free to contact me for more details!

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My Road to 'Ruins' - a talk
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The first ‘first’ of 2019 is just around the corner. I will be giving a talk ‘My Road to Ruins’ on Tuesday 15th January at 7.30pm at All Hallows Church Centre in Mossley Hill, Liverpool. It has been organised by Maggie Pearson of the Contemporary Threads group but is open to all. if you are free and in the area.

I’ve been asked to give talks a few times in the past and shied away from it as I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say and I’d much rather be in the studio stitching. But I decided that, as I am now a full time artist and teacher, I better get my act together! After all I have enjoyed talking about my work at my exhibitions, when I’ve had a stand at a show and during classes in my studio so I should be OK standing up in front of an audience, shouldn’t I?

But what to talk about? I have gone with the obvious and put together a talk that starts with my first ever quilt (made in 1988 from polycotton sheeting and truly 1980’s hideous) to the present day. This might have been easier if I had kept more of the early stuff but those of you who have been reading for a while will know that I have regular clear outs of ‘stuff’. Luckily I have photographs of some of the earlier pieces although not of that first quilt so you will have to take my word for it that it was hideous.

I do, however, have a photo of my second quilt, made ten years later in 1998 from some furnishing fabrics which I thought I would share. My sister is standing on her bed holding it up. I think it would be fair to say that my work has moved on ………

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Simply WOW!
Work by Lynda Edwards

Work by Lynda Edwards

This last weekend the eleven students in my Introduction to Surface Design groups printed some absolutely fabulous pieces of fabric. It was a real pleasure to watch them work and witness the occasional happy dance. The sessions were on using screen printing, thermofax screens, masking tape, string and paper resists to create backgrounds. They all watched me give the same demonstrations and had access to the same tools but each produced truly unique work. Brilliant!

Work above by Sue Wharburton, Maggie Pearson, Debs Nixon and Lynda Edwards. And below - breakdown screens ready to be pulled during next months sessions.

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Better get a wriggle on!
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I have my two ‘day a month’ groups in the studio this weekend and it is a bit of a tip. Since getting home from Harrogate I’ve been busy breakdown printing different samples, soda soaking fabric (and drying it in the studio), ordering and sorting out Christmas presents (bah humbug), doing paperwork and generally making use of every bench. Around all of that I have been doing a bit of mark making and have done a bit more decorating in the bog shed. I may even have got some sleep!

Before my lovely students arrive for their Introduction to Surface Design session on screen printing I need to:

  • Soda soak a few more pieces of fabric then clean up the mess this leaves on the floor. The weather has been very uncooperative this week!

  • Varnish another 5 screens - meant to do this months ago when I could have left the studio doors open to get rid of the smell (apologies students!)

  • Rinse, wash and iron all the breakdown samples and put a few of them up on my design wall. Hide the ones that are perfect illustrations of how NOT to breakdown print.

  • Load the rest of the design wall with quilts and samples that show various aspects of screen printing.

  • Make some more thermofax screens based on mark making for my students to use as background texture this weekend.

  • Decide on the colours I’ll use in my demonstrations this weekend and test drive the new thermofax screens.

  • Top up the print paste and thickened dyes.

  • Double check that all my screens are really clean - a speck of leftover dye goes surprisingly far.

  • Move Harrogate / show boxes out of the studio into the storage part of the bog shed.

  • Clean the bog shed.

  • Open the Amazon boxes, wrap presents and find somewhere in the studio to hide them away from my grandson.

  • Clean the studio. A bit.

  • Make it look a bit Christmassy (but not too much, bah humbug).

  • Make sure there is a good supply of tea, coffee, juice and biscuits (must hide some of the dark chocolate gingers for the Sunday class). Thought about making mince pies. Decided to do more breakdown printing instead.

  • Get some sleep….

My next Introduction to Surface Design courses will start in February. If you’re interested have a look here. My studio might be a tip today but by Saturday it will be an oasis of calm and creativity. But only if I get a wriggle on …

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