Nancy Crow teaches art.
Her medium is textiles and quilting, but she's not teaching 'quilting' per se. And this is the real difference in what she's doing, versus most other instructors out there in the quilt universe.
What I mean by teaching art is that Nancy is trying to open her students' eyes to art world training and getting makers to think about color, value, line, proportion, etc.
She is the antithesis of a quilt teacher who is trying to perfect your skills in applique for example, or any other single technique class. Taking her class means you are in for a week of hard work.
|My work-space and my work-in-progress at the 'Crow Barn' in Ohio.|
I spent one week in her class - at the 'Crow Barn' in rural Ohio. My class was called "Strip Piecing and Restructuring" and its the second in a series of classes that continue up through the master level. I skipped the first class (it was offered, but I was not able to attend due to a schedule conflict). I thought I was experienced enough to miss this and jump right in, but in hindsight I would have been better off to start at the beginning.
Before I signed up for the class, I did quite a bit of research and talked to one person who has studied with Nancy for years. I had heard all the bad stuff, that there was a lot of crying for instance, and I also heard good stuff and saw the interesting work coming out of her classes.
Nancy is a strict instructor. She does not walk around smiling and when she stops to talk with you, she does not mince words. She speaks forthright, and for some that is very hard to hear. At various points during the week, I got some high praise and some very frank critique telling me what I was doing was pretty awful.
At one point, early in the class, I heard from across the room.... "Teresa! I don't know what you are doing over there... but it is not right." This really made me kinda laugh inside... because frankly, I didn't know what I was doing either and it clearly showed. I wanted to shout back "honey, if you don't know what I'm doing, then that makes two of us." But I held my tongue. I walked around the room and did some thinking and finally the instructions for the exercise started to sink in. Then I wiped the design wall clean and went back to work. The result got me the high praise that my structures were well proportioned with line and shape.
|A series of lines, shapes and new fabric combinations I created during the week.|
For this workshop, the Barn was open from 7 am to 9 pm. I pretty much worked all of those hours everyday, as did most every other person attending. I stayed at a hotel about 20 minutes away and I drove there in the dark and drove back to the hotel in the dark (way past my normal bedtime, I might add).
|We were at work long before sun up and left long after sunset.|
There is a lovely woman who is the chef for the week and her meals were incredible, so it was awesome not to have to worry about where to eat.
|I sewed all week on this "antique" Bernina. |
(Its not really an antique of course, but it felt that way to me compared to my amazing
Bernina 820 machine at home).
This little machine was durable and easy to operate, just a bit slow.
Nancy gives a series of exercises with tight deadlines. These exercises are delivered in a combination of lecture and notes. Some of the lectures are short, some are longer. There is no time to waste. Everything is run like a tight ship.
I've always been one to stay on track and not miss deadlines, but doing so took a ton of work and was truly hard. Making students do these exercises in such a short time frame is intentional - she is trying to get students to not overthink. Just do it. Trust your intuitive feeling. For me, I felt that things like choosing colors and how to use them is something I can do quickly, but then you have to sew these things... and I did feel rushed for the most part. But when I compare this to other classes, when don't we feel rushed? Most every class is supposed to be a jumping off point, not a place to create your masterpiece.
During the class, we were asked to make dozens of new fabric combinations. There were many combinations I made by following her directions that I doubt I will ever use, mostly because of color choices that are not really my style... but that was part of the exercise - stretching your vision - try new colors - see what happens when you put one color next to another, and then take those two colors and add black, or add white, or add a neutral - and so on.
On one of the nice weather days, I took a short break to walk around and get some fresh air. The area around the Barn is quite peaceful.
The last day and a half of the class were the biggest struggle for me. I think I understood the directions, I just couldn't get there. After thinking about it overnight, I think I realized that what I was being asked to do was not something that I would enjoy doing.
So I decided to take what I'd learned about repetition and symmetry, and line and balance, and take the fabric combinations I had created in the exercise and do my own thing. The quilt top in the first photo above behind the picture of me is the result - but it's not finished yet. This quilt below is the quilt top from the first day. This was a quilt in a day challenge for sure! And I think it works well... and was fun to make.
In my opinion, this workshop and the way it is taught, is equivalent to art instruction at the graduate level... and I truly appreciate that. For me, it would have been better to start with the first class because I needed that first part of the education - rather than jumping to the second one.
All that said though, I learned a great deal and I am glad I attended. I left feeling exhausted and energized at the same time.
I created two new pieces of art that I love. And most importantly, I truly feel more informed as an artist who makes quilts!