I’m back from my trip. I had an amazing time. It was a real confidence booster for me to go all by myself and successfully navigate the roads, trains, and subways on my own. Being by myself is not something I get to be very often, but I’m such a sit-and-thinker that I really need it every now and then. I imagined that I would be really productive and draw a lot, knit up a storm, do some serious reading, but I decided to just do what I felt like and ended up watching a lot of HGTV (we don’t have cable at home, so it was a novelty) and going to bed early.
Now, about the highlight of my trip– the whole reason Barry sent me on this adventure– the workshop with Denyse Schmidt. (I’ll post about my trip into Manhattan another day.)
I got there super early because I wanted to make sure I could find it. It was a little tricky. Bridgeport is an old industrial town, and the place where Denyse’s studio is located is just one old red brick industrial building after another. The workshop started at 11:00. I left my hotel at 9:30 and even after circling the block several times and calling Barry to have him re-read me the directions off of my e-mail, I was sitting in my rental car outside of Denyse’s building a little before 10:00.
I sat staring at the gray door, listening to Car Talk on the radio, and doodling in my sketchbook. Then a Honda Accord pulled up, a woman with dark hair, a camel colored jacket, big bags and jugs of water got out– and unlocked the gray door to building 4. *Gasp!* That’s Denyse. It’s just after 10. I’m so early, what do I do? I sat and listened to Car Talk for quite a while longer, but before 10:30 I got out and climbed the 4 flights of stairs to her studio and went on in. By then a couple of other people had arrived and were staking claims for table space, so I put down my stuff, introduced my self to Denyse, and offered to help carry water etc. up the 4 flights of stairs. We chatted. She remembered e-mailing me about finding fabric, she thought my blog was beautiful, she was so happy I was there. *Breathe, Jess!* I asked about her recent trip to Guatemala and I don’t know what else. At the risk of sounding really silly and sappy I just have to say that I felt an instant connection with her…
Her assistant Richard pulled out some quilts, so I got to see “Tulip Tree”, the orange “Drunk Love Two-Tone” used in her book, and “What A Dish” in real life. Way cool, so cool, in fact, that I forgot to take pictures. (And I am kicking myself right now as I write.) Richard talked about making the quilts, about the Amish ladies who quilt the corture quilts, the Indian business that does “What a Dish” (and others, for places like Maine Cottage and Crate and Barrel), and stuff like that.
Once everyone got there we got down to business. She told us the rules of the game. She had 3 bags full of fabric scraps, small, medium, and large. Grab a small, eyes closed, grab another, no peeking, and sew them together. That’s the start. She demonstrated our assignment, pulling out random pieces and piecing them together. No cheating. Even if you HATE the fabric you draw, use it anyway. So, it forced us to create color combinations we never would have picked ourselves, to see how prints and solids play off of each other, to see how the size of the pieces made a difference in the block as a whole. We worked quickly, freely, intuitively and it was a lot of fun. Toward the end of the day we were allowed to incorporate bits of our own fabric that we brought, but still had to go back to the bags most of the time. I learned a lot about what I like– the shapes of pieces that appeal to me, color combinations, that a little print goes a long way– and about what I don’t like at all (3 of the 6 blocks I made were blech!). We put the blocks up on the flannel wall and talked about them.
The light in her studio was beautiful, especially as the sun got lower in the sky as afternoon began to turn into evening. We got to see her new fabric line with Free Spirit(which will probably be out in stores by summer) and shop her paper goods from Chronicle books. (I got a set of journals so I could get her autograph. Silly, I know, but I forgot my DSQuilts book to have her sign.) Best of all we were in a room full of creative people making stuff– like art school again– and I have really been longing for that lately.
This was the first time I’ve ever met someone I’ve really admired and watched for a long time. I still have the Martha Stewart article I found about Denyse back in 1998 (I think) and was immediately taken in by her style and sense of humor and tie to tradition. She was an artist with a vision and she fought and worked hard for the opportunity to share it. I want to find my spot someday too.
And the coolest thing about it was that, not only did I learn a little bit about how she works and gets inspiration and struggles sometimes, but I left feeling like I made a friend.
Thanks Denyse! I love you!