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  • Writer's pictureJudi Kirk

Summer School

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

I spent four very happy days in Brighton last week, at a Summer School with Wendy Dolan.

The course focused on free machine embroidery with some fabric painting, two techniques that interest me but I don’t have a lot of experience in. As a quilt judge, I feel obliged to explore techniques and styles that are new to me – though it is much more of a pleasure than an obligation!

The theme was "By the Sea", and we were encouraged to arrive with pictures for inspiration and some design ideas. I am ashamed to say that I had none. This is a very busy time for me, preparing for the Festival of Quilts and also starting to focus on Virginia Beach. It didn’t leave a lot of time for anything else, but I think that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

My travel arrangements were rather complicated since “my boys” (husband and grown-up son) were planning to go motor racing at Silverstone, leaving on the Friday, and my husband was also due to come with me to Brighton, where the summer school didn’t finish until Friday evening. We planned to take two cars, so that DH could come home on Thursday evening, but in the end I felt it better that I leave early and also come home on Thursday.

I felt like a tutor’s nightmare, arriving ill-prepared (though I had washed my fabrics, as requested) and leaving a day early. However, Wendy was great – very calm and with a stock of things for me to buy.

Most of the other students were very experienced machine embroiderers, who had come to the class for help with a special project. After a bit of thought, I decided to work on an underwater fantasy scene, which would give me the opportunity to try out lots of different techniques. I worked with expanda paint for the first time, which (as its name suggests) expands when heat is applied, and can be painted afterwards. I also tried using Solufleece, a water-soluble backing fabric.

I experimented by laying sheer fabrics over the Solufleece and either stitching to create a shape or creating the shape and then filling in with a grid of thread (see right-hand side at the front of the work). However, it didn’t seem to have any advantages over just stretching sheers in a hoops and doing the same thing. It had some disadvantages though – firstly, patience (not my strong suit) was required because the piece is wet after the Solufleece has been dissolved: secondly, getting the piece flat afterwards takes some fiddling around (though you could arrange in a more 3-D shape, which would be a bonus); thirdly, you have to buy the Solufleece!

I found that Solufleece really came into its own to create something that looks like seaweed (but could also be moss, lichen, etc.). I free-motion stitched simple branch/twig shapes onto the fleece in a hoop, using various shades of thread. When the fleece is dissolved, the effect is very realistic.

I came home with a much better understanding of fabric painting (and a set of paints) and a lot of ideas on how these techniques could be incorporated into quilts. Oh… and this piece of work:

It’s not finished – the 3D elements are not stitched down yet, because I need to complete the background stitching first. I don’t like the empty space in the top left area and will probably add more elements to the extreme right hand side.

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