Thursday, April 21, 2011

Quilting a' la Diane

Every late winter I look forward to my annual session at Empty Spools Seminars at the stunning  Asilomar Conference Grounds right on the beach at Pacific Grove. This year I was in great anticipation and more then a little trepidation because after three years of trying I had finally landed a spot in a class with the free motion machine quilting goddess Diane Gaudynski. I'm afraid I played hard ball this year and added a little note on my application noting how many years I had been disappointed and the veiled threat that if i didn't get in this time, I wasn't coming at all.

I consider myself more of an art quilter these days, but I still love and admire the graceful free motion quilting by machine I see on traditional quilts and have practiced and studied it with a number of teachers. I  had read Diane's books (check  these out on the right), mooned over her beautiful work in magazines and at quilt shows and visited her classroom at previous Asilomar sessions on Open House afternoon. I wondered if I would ever be able to do anything like her very fine intricate work. I also thought that anyone who did such exacting and perfect stitching must be very serious and a very tough task master. I worried that my slightly haphazard approach to machine workmanship would never measure up.  Still, I new that I needed to go through this difficult boot camp to get to the next level and I was determined to try.  I was scared.....

Well, I needn't have been. The first afternoon Diane put us completely at our ease.  The 24 students were all at different levels  from absolute beginners to more advanced with a lot of experience.  My trusty Viking Designer SE behaved (she  must have enjoyed her very expensive  pre-class cleaning and tune-up at the spa at Sewing Arts Center)

To my great relief, Diane was relaxed, personable, patient and very funny if not downright silly occasionally. She instilled confidence. We all had the feeling from the beginning that if we followed her techniques and studied her demos, we all could do it. So throughout the week, we learned Diane's techniques and tricks. Among them - using 100 weight silk in the top and the bobbin on light as air wool batting, marking stencils and stems with blue washout marker and then riffing around them with free hand quilting and fill patterns. We learned how to get rid of the "dreaded lagoon of poof" by stitching on the bias and not with the grain of the fabric. Lastly, we learned from her patient demos some of her signature quilting patterns like Diane-shiko, Diane-shallot and "Bananas". We practiced on 18" quilt sandwiches which by the end of a few days were works of art in themselves. Then, some of us started on our real class project - a 32" pieced nine patch quilt prepared at home in advance or another small project to show off our new found skills.

My own 9 patch was bits of dupioni silk in mostly pastel colors that were left over from another project with a pieced square in a square in the center. The sheen of the silk allows the texture of the quilting to stand out beautifully. I tried to stitch a different stencil and background fill technique in each square and finished a number of them in class. The rest including the four borders stitched freehand save for the marked spines (each one different, but based on Diane's designs) were finished when I returned home to LA.

It is now trimmed, bound and labeled "Silk Fantasy A La Diane"  and is a great memento of another wonderful week at Empty Spools/Asilomar.
  I sent a photo to Diane earlier today and she has asked if she can use my quilt in her evening presentation at her next session at Asilomar in May.
I am truly honored. Sadly, Diane is retiring from teaching at the end of this year and I feel very privileged to have been one of her last students.
Check out her blog at
and her website at


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