Monday, November 16, 2009

Jan Krentz Quilting Star

For my birthday this year I decided to treat myself to a Variable Hunter Star class with Jan Krentz. This was actually my second Jan Krentz class, as I was lucky enough to take her Love that Lone Star class at the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show (you can see a picture of that WIP here . . . in a posting from a year ago . . . in the same state of progress that it is in currently).

The workshop was put on by the Flying Geese Quilters Guild. Jan's name on their schedule of presenters for 2009 was one of the reasons I renewed my membership in this particular guild. As always the guild members were great to spend the day with (though I think I have gained a reputation as a class clown among some of them . . . I can't imagine how). Unlike the previous guild classes I've described (Joe Cunningham, Katie Pasquini Masopust, and Gwen Marston), the workshop did not take place in the lovely large classroom at Material Possessions Quilt Shop. Why? Because Material Possessions Quilt Shop is no more! They closed this past summer (SewCalGal has a lovely in memoriam). Think global, sew local: support your local quilt shop!

Jan is one of the best quilting instructors I have ever had the pleasure to observe. Like Katie Pasquini Masopust's workshop, every moment was accounted for. She used PowerPoint to describe a process, then demonstrated the process with everyone gathered around, and then went from student to student to observe their progress and offer suggestions. She paced the class well so that students could make it through one step before she repeated the PowerPoint/demo/individual attention routine for the next step. She also provided handouts that effectively supplemented her Hunter Star Quilts & Beyond book. You really get your money's worth in a Jan Krentz class. This was equally true of the multi-day Love that Lone Star class I took back in Indiana as it was of the five-hour Variable Hunter Star class I just took.

The big difference between the Love that Lone Star class and the Variable Hunter Star class is the focus. For both patterns, Jan has developed the most elegant piecing and cutting methods possible. To complete a Lone Star your focus is on precision. So Jan's Lone Star class was focused on all the different points in the quilt making process in which precision is key and how to improve that precision. For example, in the Lone Star class we spent quite a bit of time ensuring that we had a scant quarter inch seam allowance. In the Variable Hunter Star class, as Jan walked around and noticed some folks weren't sewing a quarter inch seam allowance, she brought out the special rulers to check and brought around thick strips of tape to use as guides. But it wasn't a focus of the class. It was just a Jan Krentz bonus.

The Variable Hunter Star strip piecing method Jan developed is INCREDIBLY forgiving. So the focus of this class is on how to use your tools most efficiently. For example, Jan had prepared a set of her 6.5" Fussy Cutter diamond-shaped rulers with markings and taped bumpers for the size blocks we made. Then she gave us a handout so we could doctor our own rulers the same way, or modify the doctoring for whatever size block we wanted to make. Using the doctored rulers made the key part of the Variable Hunter Star construction, the rotary cutting, so easy. It was even more elegant with the doctored ruler than with the instructions in the book.

Speaking of the book, Jan had a great suggestion. On the supply list for the class she recommended taking the book to an office supply store or copy store to have them cut off the spine and 3-hole-punch the book pages. Then put the book into a three-ring binder. At first, this seemed totally nuts. I mean, yes, the book would lay open flat while you're following instructions, but is that sufficient rationale for defacing a book (yes, some of us were more traumatized by the librarians in our lives than others)? In class she explained that you could rearrange the pages so the method you choose to use and the pattern you choose to follow are adjacent. Also, her handouts are designed to supplement the text, so they fit in different places among the book's pages. Finally, she said when she finds pictures of Hunter Star quilts or related topics, she puts them into the same three-ring binder. So she has a binder on Hunter Stars, a binder on Lone Stars, etc. Genius!

Jan is clearly a technophile, as her use of PowerPoint illustrates. She even had the insight to suggest that people who brought cameras take pictures of their hands while they were doing particularly tricky steps in the process. For example this is my self-portrait while making the first 45 degree cut of a strip set.

The following is my self-portrait while using the taped bumper on the 6.5" Fussy Cutter diamond-shaped ruler to cut an inch and a half wide strip at a 45 degree angle.
The woman I sat next to actually looked at the pictures she took on her digital camera to double check she was doing the right thing before cutting each new strip set. So not only will those pictures help her when she gets home, but they already helped her right there in class. I took this class for suggestions like this. I might never make another Variable Hunter Star quilt. But from now on I will always bring my digital camera to quilt classes to take pictures of tricky steps in the process. This is why Jan Krentz classes are worth taking even if your guild or quilt show organizer didn't pick a class subject that particularly interests you. You will come away with more techniques that apply throughout your quilting experience than from any other instructor.

In addition to the workshop, Jan presented a lecture and quilt show to the guild. The lecture was on Design Inspiration from Everyday Life. This was the same lecture I saw her present to the Bloomington Quilters Guild. This time her emphasis on political quilts stood out to me. She gave examples of historical artifacts depicting political acts, like the swearing in of a Scandinavian political office holder carved in wood. She also showed examples of quilts which made a political statement, like a signature quilt done in red and white stripes with white stars on blue, loosely arranged like an American flag.

Tangentially, she showed some slides of recipients of Quilts of Valor. She described a scene where recovering wounded service members would see the new quilts arriving and pull out the quits they received as if competing for who received the best quilt. Not only was this a subtle admonishment to people who do "charity" quilts to do their best work, but it was incredibly inspiring to hear how much these quilts are appreciated by their recipients. How many quilters do you know who have put their hearts into a quilt for a loved one and not received the appreciation they deserved? And here these young men and women, who have probably never met the quilter in person, show off their quilts with such pride.

Jan made a number of practical suggestions for transforming your inspiration into a quilt.
  • Determine the objective for your quilt. What do YOU want to get out of making this quilt?
  • Collect inspiration images. Then be sure to organize them. She sorts her images into folders with subjects such as texture, ocean, flowers, wildlife, and geometric shapes.
  • Once you have settled on a theme, research it. Don't just look at other quilts that have depicted the same theme. How has that subject matter been depicted in other media? In other cultures? Look beyond art, for example at scientific research.
  • Don't forget your theme at the quilting stage. Incorporate your theme into your quilting motifs. For example, a quilt with broderie perse appliqued dragon flies was quilted with a squiggly looping pattern that resembled dragonfly wings and dragonfly flight patterns.

Jan also made a number of practical suggestions about the quilt making process.
  • When determining the design details, don't neglect the background. While the rendering of the subject is important, the background can make or break a quilt.
  • Wool batting doesn't retain fold lines like cotton batting.
  • Change the thread color when you're quilting. It looks extremely impressive from the back.
  • Do not quilt the borders of a quilt more densely than the center or it will bulge. You can change the quilting pattern but not the density of quilting.

The trunk show included the quilts that recently returned from her solo show at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum as well as the sample quilts from her forthcoming book, which is a follow up to Quick Star Quilts & Beyond. The quilts from the new book were gorgeous. For the most part they used striped fabric cut into 1/2 and 1/4 diamonds and sewn back together. The results are chevron patterned diamonds reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass designs. The quilts definitely made me want to buy the new book.

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