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Denyse Schmidt – Improv Quilting Class

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking a workshop with eight other women; an Improv Workshop at Denyse Schmidt’s Studio in Connecticut. Denyse was assisted by Richard Killeaney of Ocheltree Design.

Their studios are in an incredibly cool, old warehouse. Many years ago it was a lace factory. I’m sorry I didn’t take photos of the inside or the outside to share. It was pouring rain, and very foggy off and on, so outside photos were not going to happen yesterday. And, there are many other artists that occupy the floors of the building. I was not sure about the rules of photographing Denyse’s long hall, dotted with colorful doors, with artists names on them, and art hung on the walls. I may have needed to obtain written releases in advance of the workshop.

The industrial elevator can only be operated by hand, and a special key. Richard showed me a line of red paint in the elevator that had to be aligned with the red mark of the floor below or above, to know where to stop and open the elevator doors to enter and exit. Along with this, and the long, wooden paneled hallways, I felt as though I took a step back in time to the Industrial Revolution.

As most of you know, and for those who read this blog and are new to quilting,
Denyse is a much celebrated and prolific quilt and textile designer. If you click on this link to her web site, you can learn more about her, the upcoming workshops, (which I highly recommend), the fabric collections she’s designed and curated, (I’m a big fan of her solids collection), her paper goods collection, and books she has authored. 

The objective of the improv workshop is to not think about all the decisions, as quilters we make in choosing fabrics and colors. In the old days, people used and reused old clothes and whatever fabric they had around. In the end, they still produced beautiful quilts that were used on beds and loved.

The only thing we were told to bring was a 1/2 yard of fabric. We’ll get back to that later.





We came into the work room. Each table had three bags on them, filled with scraps that were small, medium and large, as shown above. 

The morning consisted with two timed sessions, (approximately 1/2 hour), to create two blocks. At first, we had to pull out two small scraps, while not looking in the bag, and sew them together. We could continue to keep pulling from the small bag, and could move on to the medium and large bags, whenever we felt ready to add bigger and bigger pieces to our block. Always not looking at what we were pulling out of the bag.

That may seem scary, especially at first. However, it was really quite freeing for all of us, we felt at the end of the day.

What happens if you don’t like what you’ve picked?

What if you pick a lot of solids in a row?  (That happened to me, but it was actually a great learning experience, that I will never forget). 

There was no such thing as a mistake here. Only opportunities!!

So much fun. And the process helped me see how to break through blocks in my own creative process. It had a different, but positive effect on the individual.
Fortunately, all good.


This photo was taken at the end of the morning before our lunch with Denyse and Richard. At this point two blocks were finished from each participant. They are all together on a design board. Denyse is talking to us, in the photo above, about how each block came together with it’s own special properties.

As you can see, some of us built more of a log cabin block, and some built from the center of their blocks out diagonally. At this point in the day, there was no cutting or squaring off. There were no rulers or seam rippers in the room!! 

It was pick, place fabric next another fabric however you saw it in the moment, sew, and keep going. Total randomness. We could square off our work without a ruler, by eye, at the end of the day.

After lunch, we introduced some of the 1/2 yard fabric we brought from our stash. This is the fabric I brought.



We talked about how we tend to save certain fabric for “someday,” and don’t end up using it. As it turn out, I have been saving this fabric for a long time, which is from a Sandy Gervais Holiday Collection. When I purchased this, I felt it could be used for Christmas, holiday time, but not necessarily, depending upon what other fabrics I used with it.

In any event, at the table I was at we did a little trading of our fabrics too. I ended up with four more blocks that I pulled together at random.

This is what my blocks put together looked like at the end of the day. I felt it had a retro 1930’s feel to it, which I liked.

Denyse pointed out that I began at the upper left hand corner with the blocks that had darker fabrics, and moved toward the lighter blocks of fabric in the bottom right hand corner.  I could see this becoming a quilt, and using some darker colored fabrics around the borders, and using lighter blocks in the center of the quilt when I finish it.

We all went home with a lovely gift bag. In the center of these wonderful treats is a fat quarter from one of Denyse’s Collections. The blue fabric with the white flowers – the perfect fabric to remember this day by.



If you can attend one of Denyse’s workshops, I would encourage you to do so.
Both she and Richard were wonderful hosts, teachers, helping, and encouraging
each of us to “just go with it, and live with the surprise.”

Before I end this post, I want to write about two unrelated subjects.

Later this week, there will be a post about a great, revised product. Stay tuned.

Many bloggers have been posting about May is for Makers month, begun by a very talented quilt blogger, Lindsey@LRStitiched. (See badge on my sidebar). The objective is to support Indie Designers by purchasing one pattern a week, during each week of May, from any of the many talented, quilt designers. 

I believe and fully support this concept, even though I purchase a lot of books, patterns and magazines from Indie Designers, throughout the year. 

Since this is the first year of this concept, which seems to be going viral, my budget for the month of May went to Denyse’s Improv Workshop, (also an Indie Pattern Designer), and a new book, by another Indie Designer, which I will review later during May to underscore the importance of this movement.

This week I am linking up with Cooking Up Quilts, Main Crush Monday.  The Denyse Schmidt Improv Class is worth crushing on!! And Scraptastic Tuesday!!

Happy Quilting!!

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8 Comments

  • Reply scottylover May 8, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    Oh you lucky girl! I love Denyse's fabrics, in fact I just got a fat 1/8th bundle of her Eastham collection. Not sure what it is about them, but they just make me smile. Don't know if I could have done the improv block; I'm a little to OCD at times! 🙂

    Sandy A

  • Reply Lisa J. May 10, 2016 at 1:56 am

    This is a great post. You really conveyed the feeling of the workshop. I wish I was there.

  • Reply Yvonne @ Quilting Jetgirl May 10, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    This sounds like a delightful day. I love workshops that have you sewing and learning so much.

  • Reply Beth @ Cooking Up Quilts May 11, 2016 at 1:19 am

    Your workshop sounds like it was wonderful. The building sounds amazing – I love old buildings, they have so much character and great stories to tell. I'm glad you learned so much in your class. Those lessons will always be with you. Thanks for sharing this on Main Crush Monday!

  • Reply Cheryl May 11, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Sounds like such fun! I love the blocks you made.

  • Reply Nicky May 11, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    Looks like a fun workshop! Will you finish the quilt?? Thank you for linking up to #scraptastictuesday!

  • Reply Linda @ kokaquilts May 15, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Loved reading this post, sounds like this was an excellent workshop!

  • Reply Leanne May 15, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    How nice to spend a day learning from Denyse! Your blocks are fun, I hope you make more.

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