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Teaching Mosaic Quilting

Most quilters quickly recognize my style of mosaic quilting and know that I cut my applique fabric pieces using a digital cutting machine. And although using a digital cutter in my quilt making process is essential to me, for others, a digital cutter means dealing with the challenges of technology and equipment such as a laptop, software and the digital cutter itself. As quilters, some of us have never even imagined equipment like this in our studios or sewing rooms. And for others, the thought of mixing technology with art or quilting brings concerns that it might hinder verses enhance their quilting making process. Or perhaps, as you read this you may be wondering what a digital cutter is? But these challenges, really didn't hit home with me until I started teaching. It was then that I realized that digital cutters, software and laptops may not be every quilters set of dream tools as they are for me. And that's perfectly okay because we all create with the tools and products that make us the happiest.

To be fair, a digital cutter does involve technology, some expense and it does require time to master creating digital cut files. But believe me the end results are truly worth the time, educational and monetary investments you will make once you start using one. This is why I will continue to create awareness about using a digital cutter to quilt with at teaching venues and at quilt guilds. I want to show quilters how they work and what I can create using one. But understandably, there will still be those of you who will never use a digital cutter to quilt with. And for this reason, I had to reconsider how I wanted to teach mosaic quilting.

Let me give you an analogy...cutting intricate applique fabric shapes using scissors verses a digital cutter is like cutting a tree down with an ax verses a chainsaw. Sure, you can use an ax but it's going to take a while to cut the tree down and your cut results (or chopping) won't as be perfect or as precise. But if you used a chainsaw, you'd cut that tree down precisely where you want to cut it using less effort and less time. But here's the point, it really doesn't matter if your using an ax or a chainsaw the tree still gets cut down likewise if you use scissors or a digital cutter your quilt pieces still get cut.

I have been thinking a lot about this analogy lately and about quilters in general. There are all different kinds of quilters out there and while my process of using a digital cutter may be appealing to some it may not be as appealing to others. So what does all of this mean? Personally, it means that my quilting superpower is my unique style of mosaic quilts, that I am able to create these quilts using my own photographs and that my quilts evoke an emotional response from the people that view them. This is an great piece of wisdom passed onto me by a friend and colleague, something that I really had to let sink in over time. Even my personal tag line says, "Creating Art One Tiny Piece of Fabric at a Time" it doesn't say "Creating Art One Tiny Piece of Fabric at a Time Using a Digital Cutter". When I speak about my process, I talk about using a digital cutter but when I speak about my art, I talk about how I capture the beauty in one of my photos, how I am able to render it as a mosaic design and how I am able to recreate it in fabric. This is what defines my art, not the digital cutter.

Therefore, I realized that I needed to adapt my process a bit. I am not abandoning using a digital cutter to quilt with, instead, I am offering options. An alternative method to teach and to be able to share my art and my passion for creating mosaic quilts with as many quilters as possible.

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on developing my first mosaic teaching design that is cut with scissors in lieu of a digital cutter. Sounds silly to read this right? But remember, I don't use scissors to make any of my mosaic quilts so I had to carefully think through the process and experiment. Here are just a few things I had to consider before teaching in this manner.

First, I had to consider the amount of time I would have available to teach a non-digital cutter method. Since I am very familiar with working with a digital cutter, I knew that it would take approximately half the time to cut a mosaic quilt design using the cutter compared to using scissors. And since we would be using scissors, this meant that I needed to allot more class time. Second, many classes and workshops run somewhere between 3 to 6 hours. I pretty much knew that a 3 hour class would not be ideal unless the project was very small and/or simple. And finally, I had to consider how I create. I am naturally detailed and I knew that I would struggle to create a small quilt pattern to fit a shorter time frame without sacrificing something in the design of my quilt. So a 6 hour class became my goal.

Once I established the time frame, next I needed to pick a subject matter and take a photograph to work from. Subject matter was another tough decision for me. While I enjoy taking photographs of inanimate objects, flowers, and landscapes, I am strongly attached to the emotional feelings or connections I capture in the human subjects of my photos. But having students create a mosaic of a human subject would be difficult and almost impossible to teach in a 6 hour class. Generally, these types of detailed mosaic quilts take me anywhere from 5 to 6 months to create. So I ruled out a human subject for now. Some may ask, well why not teach a class on creating a mosaic of just a particular body part, such as the eyes or hands. This definitely would be a terrific mosaic quilt class, but it's one that I already currently offer, a basic digital cutter class on creating a mosaic of hand. Details here.

After thinking more about subject matter, I realized that in order for me to teach about mosaic quilting in general, the design needed to have depth and not be too detailed for students to grasp the basics first. Then once they knew how to create a mosaic quilt, their inner artist would take over and guide them naturally in creating whatever type of mosaic design they desired. I also realized that I could always teach a more detailed mosaic class as an alternative advanced class or spread out over a few days at a quilt retreat.

To start, I staged several photos including this one of a flower in a vase.

Once I chose a photo to work with, I did some minor editing using Photoshop. I decided what the overall quilt size should be and I played with color options for the flower head. I thought it might be fun to give students the option of choosing from several different color options for the flower heads.

Next, I created a mosaic drawing of my photo, worked on design options by carefully selected a limited amount of colors help teach about choosing the corresponding fabrics that I would use to complete the design.

I also considered the mosaic shapes themselves, using larger shapes for the background and smaller and more detailed shapes for the primary flower head and vase. Larger applique shapes would be easier to cut with scissors and would aid in finishing the design faster. But you wouldn't necessarily want to make your entire quilt design using all large mosaic shapes (although you could if you wanted to achieve a different design effect). To keep the detail or the realism that you see in many of my quilt designs, I used a mix of large and small mosaic shapes.

Here's a photo of the quilt design still in progress and before quilting.

I think that any quilters who decides to take this class with me in the future will appreciate the thought process that went into designing this pattern and into the class as a whole. And for those who might be a little leery of using a digital cutter now they can find enjoyment creating a mosaic quilt using just a pair of scissors.



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