Interview with Denyse Schmidt

on April 16 | in Interviews + Profiles | by | with 127 Comments

We love Denyse Schmidt’s fabric, patterns and her fantastic Denyse Schmidt Quilts book. We asked Denyse to tell us a little more about the sewing workshops she offers, both in her Bridgeport, Connecticut studio and across the country. Denyse shares news about the workshops, a second book (woo hoo!) and more. Enjoy our interview with Denyse today:

SMS: Congratulations on the success of the Hope Valley collection and your latest quilt patterns!
Denyse: Thank you!

SMS: We talked with you a little about your workshops in the past, but it looks like you’ve really expanded the selection of workshops. Can you tell us a little about the variety you have available now?
Denyse: In addition to Improvisational Patchwork, which I have been teaching since 2003, we now offer some basic/beginner workshops as well as Advanced Improv, which is kind of like Improvisational Patchwork 2.

DS4101.jpg title=

Improvisational Patchwork class in March, 2010.

We offer Sewing 101 with Richard Killeaney, one of those gifted teachers who makes everyone feel like they can master anything. He teaches the basics of how to use the sewing machine, how to read pattern instructions, and other essential skills. He also occasionally teaches a project-based workshop-– how to make a pillow or tote, how to put in zippers, etc.

Advanced Improv is sort of a graduate class for folks who have taken Improvisational Patchwork, or who have had equivalent experience. The classes are very intimate (3-5). The goal is to apply the concepts of improvisational patchwork or piecing to an intentional design process. In Improvisational Patchwork, students get comfortable with letting go of their preconceived notions, which allows them to make discoveries about new ways of working and thinking about color and design. In the advanced workshop, we help them harness those experiences and learn how to incorporate them into a planned project. We work with students individually and as a group to take them from early concepts to finished designs. Most students get a good way toward completing their project in the workshop. It’s very exciting!

DS4102.jpg title=

Another scene from an Improvisational Patchwork class.

SMS: What do you hope people take away from your workshops? Is there a general philosophy about quilting and creating that you work to impart?
Denyse: The backbone of our offerings is Improvisational Patchwork. When I first started teaching, I wanted to figure out a way to get people to experience the creative process without all the usual self-editing and judgment that goes on. It can be very difficult to get beyond what we – or someone else – has decided is “right.” We work quickly to help circumvent the tendency to deliberate and second-guess, and I eliminate fabric/pattern choice to alleviate the burden of their being responsible for making something “good.” I feel it connects us to the origins of patchwork, the idea that fabric is scarce and you need to use every last bit. Students pick one scrap at a time and build their block moment by moment, rather than getting stuck in planning ahead-– which is where all the doubt and feeling of overwhelm can come in. It’s a very zen process. Inevitably, students create work that is beyond what they think they are capable of, or they make discoveries about composition and color that they would not have arrived at otherwise.

DS4103.jpg title=

Quilt blocks from a workshop.

SMS: How does a workshop play out?
Denyse: During the first half of the workshop we take students through a few rounds of building individual quilt blocks with blindly selected, random scraps. We discuss the results, and help people through the process. It’s surprisingly difficult for some of us to let go of controlling the outcome! We provide all the tools, machines, and fabric necessary, which makes for a more relaxing experience. After lunch (which we also provide), the second half of the workshop is devoted to incorporating one intentional fabric (which students bring with them) into the process. It’s amazing how much that this changes our perspective and desire to make things play out a certain way. Each person’s fabric choice offers an opportunity for the group to study how differences in pattern, scale, and value interact with other fabrics. Students generally make about 6- 8 blocks in a day.

SMS: We know you take your workshops on the road. Where can we find the latest schedule? Do you have a mailing list we can sign up for?
Denyse: Folks can sign up for our newsletter on the main page of our website, or check in about workshops on our website. I’ll be teaching in Oregon this July during the Sister’s Quilt Show. I’m teaching two 2-day Improv Patchwork workshops, and a 1-day workshop where we’ll be making the Ice Pops quilt from my book. In August I’m heading up to Vermont to be a guest teacher at the fabulous Weekend Sewing Workshop with Heather Ross. It’s a gorgeous place, and I love hanging out with Heather, who makes me laugh like no one else. I’ve got some 2011 dates booked too!

DS4105.jpg title=

A quilt from the Mt. Lebanon Series.

SMS: We noticed the Mt. Lebanon Series quilts on your blog. They’re gorgeous! What inspired the use of neutrals rather than color and print? (Can you tell us what kind of fabric you used?)
Denyse: Thanks! I loved working on this series. I talk a little about the inspiration for these quilts on our website. I visited the Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village a few years ago, before they started major restoration.

DS4104.jpg title=

One of Denyse’s inspiration photos from the series.

The quilts’ palette mirrors the shades of creamy plaster and exposed lath. I’ve always been inspired by the simple beauty of Shaker design and their exquisite craftsmanship. I had an idea of the palette I wanted, and shopped the garment district in NYC for the accent fabrics. The selection includes linens and silks. Together they feel evocative of another era, of historic clothes found in a trunk in the attic. It’s difficult to see in the photos, but I’ve been exploring the use of the selvage edge in my personal work lately, this series continues that exploration. Some of the fabrics have really great fringe selvages.

SMS: Your first book, Denyse Schmidt Quilts, remains one of our top favorite sewing books of all time. Are there plans for a second book? Your adoring fans want to know!
Denyse: I am just starting work on a book of my favorite traditional quilt patterns. It will be published with Melanie Fallick at STC. I’m very excited about the opportunity to make quilts that more directly reference the beautiful, historical approaches to quilting that got me started on this path many years ago. It’s scheduled for a spring 2012 release.

SMS: What are you currently working on? What’s in store in the near future?
Denyse: New fabric, and lots of it, but I can’t tell you more than that now. We are also working on new quilt patterns for fall 2010.

Inspired to quilt today? Don’t forget about Denyse’s Mix-It-Up Cocktail Coasters project from our first Quilting Month!

Comment in any post this week for a chance to win one of these fabulous prizes::

Quilt it With Wool: Projects Stitched on Tartans, Tweeds & Other Toasty Fabrics; Make!: Over 40 Fantastic Projects with 16 Exclusive Designs; 200 Quilting Tips, Techniques & Trade Secrets: An Indispensable Reference of Technical Know-How and Troubleshooting Tips; Jessica Jones Pack ~ 12 Fat Quarters; The Quilts of Gee’s Bend ~ 23 Fat Quarter Pack

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127 Responses to Interview with Denyse Schmidt

  1. Sarah says:

    I have been dying for another Denyse Schmidt book! Not sure how I’ll be able to wait two years for it.

  2. Ethne says:

    This is a post that I’ll come back to time and time again to read and be inspired by

  3. kern says:

    I wish I could take one of her classes. The thing I like best is the deliberate uneven-ness of the improvised blocks. It give her quilts, and her students’ quilts, movement. Now I love precisely pieced blocks-I work obsessively on my meager blocks. But this type of improvising is freeing.

  4. Corky says:

    I will meet Denyse in Sisters Oregon this summer. I love her fabrics. Thanks for the interview and the contest.

  5. mjb says:

    What a great interview! Love the new Lebanon quilts.

  6. Jiaying says:

    I’m just starting to think about what I want to do with the Hope Valley fabric I recently got. Looking forward to her new fabrics.

  7. Latrilla says:

    Thank you for the great interview! For me being stuck in a box and trying to follow what is considered “good” or “right” when it comes to quilting and sewing is stressful for me. I am thankful for Denyse’s insight on improvisational patchwork makes me feels encouraged and inspired to move forward in my work.

  8. Manechka says:

    Wonderful interview! Thank you!

  9. Jeanne says:

    Denise is one of my favorite designers, I love her sense of color and design. ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for sharing her talents with us.

  10. Such a great interview with Denyse!

  11. Deb V says:

    Thank’s for a great interview. I love her fabric and patterns.

  12. rowleygray says:

    i love the unstructured quilts. and to see the walls of the village that were the inspiration for the quilts is great! thanks for the post!

  13. Micmacker says:

    Thanks for the interview!

  14. Annabel says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about Denyse Schmidt’s improvisational workshops, and would love it if she cam eto Australia. Thanks for the interview!

  15. Diana says:

    she is fabulous – thanks for sharing this – I love the focus on quilts this month!

  16. Val Miller says:

    I don’t know anyone who isn’t a fan of Denyse Schmidt! Thanks so much for the interview … it makes me want more.

  17. Sylvia says:

    Really enjoyed hearing/seeing the inspiration for the Mt. Lebanon quilt series. Thanks for a great interview.

  18. angelina says:


  19. tara says:

    I love making up my own quilting designs, it is very freeing and refreshing. I feel traditional quilters do not respect this form of quilting. I feel my spirit, and real self going into my works rather than following instructions in a book.

  20. Michele says:

    Great interview! Her quilting book has been on my wishlist for a while now.

  21. Andrea says:

    Mmmm – love the inspiration of the revealed structure/”bones” of the wall for a quilt. Denyse and Kaffe Fassett both have that remarkable ability to see the form, shape, geometry and beauty that surround us in everyday objects both natural and human-made, and to re-represent those froms with textiles. Makes me just sigh with delight.

  22. Jeane says:

    A great interview! I find Denyse Schmidt such an inspiration for modern day quilting and she makes you look at everything in a different way.

  23. Liz says:

    i need to make some scrappy quilts. so many scraps, so many options!

  24. Kelli says:

    I would love to take one of her classes. thanks!

  25. Jenna C. says:

    so inspiring! i can’t wait to see what ms. schmidt creates next – with patterns, fabrics, and a book to look forward to.

  26. Melissa says:

    Gosh I’d love to take a workshop!

  27. sang says:

    Neat, I wish I could attend some of the workshops.

  28. Nicole G says:

    REally cool to hear from Denyse. I would so love to take a class with her, but i think it’s just a dream for now. in the meantime, i will try experimenting more at home.

  29. Fran says:

    Great interview….thanks for sharing.
    The workshops also sound like a great opportunity….
    I’d like to attend one !

  30. KerryQ says:

    The workshops sound really interesting. I’d love to take a step back and learn more about color and pattern, etc. Also, I have always been fascinated by the Shakers, but I never put the two together: the Shakers and quilting. Now I need to check that out!

  31. Vintagefern says:

    great interveiw! I love her book!

  32. Lark says:

    Love the new Shaker-inspired quilts ! Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unusual places! Looking forward to new Denyse Schmidt fabrics, too…

  33. Lynz Graham says:

    What a great interview- I would so love to go to one of Denise’s workshops.

  34. Lisa says:

    Thanks for an interesting interview. The improv quilt squares are very cool.

  35. Aniza says:

    interesting interview! Thanks

  36. Cheryl says:

    DS really is the doyen of modern quilting. Thanks for the interview.

  37. Lisa H. says:

    What a great interview. I’d love to take a class with her!

  38. Marcia W. says:

    Thank you for this interview. Wish you had asked DS if a re-release of Flea Market and Katie Jump Rope fabrics were possible…

  39. Donna says:

    I appreciate the time given by Denise and SMS in order to share this interview.

  40. Cathy A says:

    Very interesting to read the interview. I’d love to go to one of the workshops in Portland this summer! That would be a fun and inspiring splurge!

  41. Jenny says:

    oooh! Thanks!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  42. Sylvie says:

    I can’t wait to see how the book will be, and the new fabrics!!!!!!

  43. Lisa says:

    Great interview! Thank you!

  44. Noelle says:

    yeah another book and more fabric. How does she find time to sew????

  45. Jennifer S. says:

    Wow – thanks for the introduction!

  46. Jaclyn says:

    More fabric in the works?! Sounds like the fabric budget needs a little increase ๐Ÿ˜‰

  47. Kelli says:

    I loved this interview! Denyse is so inspiring.

  48. Katie says:

    I love the neutral quilt.

  49. Great interview. Loved hearing about the improv classes.

  50. graciegreeneyes says:

    I love the inspiration photo!!

  51. sharon says:

    That was a great interview. Nice to hear her views about teaching and reaching a creative process! Love her work, thanks Sharonj.

  52. alisha says:

    Great interview! Thanks!

  53. Katie B says:

    Thanks for the interview! I’d love to take a workshop.

  54. Maureen says:

    A workshop with Denyse would be informative and inspirational.

  55. Maureen says:

    Beautiful fabric and creative quilt designs!

  56. Sara Hemmeke says:

    DS’s work is always so inspiring – thanks for the great interview! Who knew plastered walls would be the basis for a quilt? ๐Ÿ™‚

  57. Mama Lusco says:

    Thank you. The workshops look wonderful!

  58. Lynn D. says:

    I love her work…great interview.

  59. Corri Sheff says:

    Thank you for the interview. I love her, her fabrics, and her quilts!

  60. sewlindaann says:

    Denyse S. rates right up there with Amy Butler for her breakthru fabrics, ideas and industry standards!!

  61. Erin says:

    Ooo, new fabrics and a new quilt pattern? I can’t wait!

  62. Christine says:

    Those would be great classes to take. I like the idea of improvisational quilting.

  63. Carra says:

    This is great! Thanks for introducing me to Denyse Schmidt. The workshops look like such good therapy!

  64. tjesa says:

    Loved hearing about her workshops…hope I can take on in the future.

  65. Julia says:

    My favorite bit is right at the end!……the bit about Denyse Schmidt designing more fabric!! SWEET!!

  66. Kaye Prince says:

    Gosh, I just love Denyse Schmidt and her work! I would love to take one of her workshops – that would be amazing! Great interview!

  67. amy says:

    This was a great interview. I’ve made many quilts after her improv. style… love it!

  68. Katrina H says:

    I love her quilts and books. I had the pleasure of buying one at an ICFF show a couple years ago!

  69. Ramona says:

    Can’t wait for new material and another book.

  70. sarah baird says:

    i wish denyse would come to australia for workshops, very interesting interview. i especially liked her comments on worrying about matching fabrics and doing what everyone thinks is the norm, my kids always tell me things don’t match or co-ordinate.

  71. ~Helena~ says:

    Nice interview, What a fun class to take. Thanks for sharing.

  72. M. Malik says:

    I like the quiet nature of the Mt. Lebanon quilts. Thank you the interview

  73. julie says:

    Thanks for this interview!

  74. Jessica says:

    Thanks for sharing the interview. I would have so much fun in one of her classes!

  75. Mary P says:

    Thanks for the interview!

  76. LauraJ says:

    I *heart* Denyse Schmidt sooo very much!

  77. Freda says:

    I wish I could visit these workshops. They look so fun.

  78. Krista says:

    I’m buying her book today,I’ve been procrastinating about it but no more!

  79. Amy Sparrow says:

    I loved the interview. It would be so great to take a class like that some day.

  80. Emily Malsam says:

    Love the Shaker quilt, that’s so simple and beautiful. As someone that is new to quilting I think taking one of her classes would be very good since I’m am so stuck on trying to make everything perfect so other quilters won’t say “you didn’t do that right!”

  81. Sara says:

    Thank you for an inspiring interview from Denyse Schmidt.

  82. Rachael says:

    What a great interview!!! I love Denyse Schmidt quilts and fabrics!!! I wish she’d come to Australia to do a workshop!!

  83. Patty Simmons says:

    I would love to take one of those classes. I really love Denise’s work.

  84. Carol says:

    I am so excited. I am taking Denyse’s improv patchwork class tomorrow!!!!! I can’t wait. Fun to see this interview before I meet her.

  85. Karo says:

    sigh. just wonderful! ๐Ÿ™‚

  86. Maeve says:

    Very interesting post! I cannot wait to see Denyse’s new fabric line. And book! I’m hoping to win some of the fabric this week – I enter all the time, but I haven’t won ever! Great quilt month posts, I am enjoying all of them. Love this site!

  87. Kimberly says:

    Can’t wait to hear more about new fabric!

  88. omama says:

    The Improv quilt squares look like a development of Gee’s Bend style as an art form rather than practicality. I like it – and love the idea of moving beyond patterns into organic form and color play.

  89. Andi says:

    I wish the workshops were closer – they sound amazing! I love the Mt. Lebanon series, they are beautiful in such a different way than the brightly-coloured and patterned quilts we have been looking at this month.

  90. Jessica says:

    I bet those classes are awesome!

  91. MamaBee says:

    Great interview. thanks!

  92. Erica says:

    i’m a fan…renewed fan

  93. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the interview!

  94. Melissa says:

    What a fun interview.

  95. Julie says:

    What an awesome interview!

  96. Jenny says:

    man, i would love to take a class of hers…thanks for the interview!

  97. Michelle says:

    Thank you for the wonderful interview.

  98. Mishkat says:

    The interview and the photos from the workshop are quite inspiring!

  99. Megan Presley says:

    Thanks so much! It’s so fun to read more about favorite designers!

  100. Hilary says:

    Denyse Schmidt + Heather Ross in one workshop = awesome!

  101. Sarah says:

    I adore her style — her book got me into creating my own quilts through improvisation, which I so prefer to using a pattern. My quilts look like something I’d make, rather than my colour variation of another person’s design sense. Hooray for DSQuilts!

  102. Kiza M says:

    Great interview! The workshops sound absolutely amazing.

  103. upstatelisa says:

    oooo! another book! can hardly wait!

  104. That was a great interview – Thanks

  105. Christina says:

    After reading this, I’m tempted to try a “non-planned” quilt!

  106. Amber says:

    Thanks for such a great interview…She is such an inspiration and can’t wait to see her new book and all she has in store for us in the future!

  107. Kelly says:

    Great interview! I love Denyse’s attitude to patchwork! I definitely spend a ton of time choosing fabric and second guessing how to put it all together. I LOVE Denyse’s paper bag technique, it’s really freeing to just go with the flow.

    I’d love to win the Gee’s Bend fabric, I’d use it in a DS Drunk Love Quilt, such an awesome pattern, one of my faves!

    Can’t wait for the new book and the new fabric, so much to look forward to. ๐Ÿ™‚

  108. I would love to take a workshop with her!! Great interview!

  109. Sally says:

    Terrific interview! Can’t wait to see the new book. I can’t afford the improvisational workshop in Bridgeport but perhaps someday…

  110. Rachel says:

    I can’t imagine how wonderful that weekend sewing trip in Vermont would be. One like me can only dream…

  111. molly says:

    oh good. more fabric from DS.

  112. elle says:

    I like the theory behind the workshops. Must be really cool to use ‘yours’ and then incorporate ‘mine’. Very cool!

  113. Kristin says:

    Thanks for the great interview!

  114. Moira says:

    always an inspiration. Look forward to the new fabric

  115. What an opportunity it would be to attend one of Denyse’s workshops. One day….

  116. Love, love her. What an inspiration she is. I can’t wait to see her new fabrics, patterns, and especially that book รขโ‚ฌโ€ I treasure her first book so much.

    Thanks for keeping us updated!

  117. Marcelle says:

    That’s is great. I wish we had some workshops here but I don’t believe there are any. Keep up the good work

  118. Thank you!

  119. Erin Compton says:

    Oh I LOVE her! Ready Made Magazine did a feature on her home and it was positively inspiring! She even has patchwork in her hardwood floors!

  120. Jeni says:

    A great interview! I’d love to try out her style of improv piecing. It can be so hard to let go during the process!

  121. Becca says:

    This sounds so neat! It’s so interesting to learn about the different ideas and thought-processes people have about quilting!

  122. Amy Hodge says:

    I took Denyse’s two-day class in Portland last summer and I can testify that her workshops are inspiring and motivational!

  123. Doris says:

    Great interview! Thanks…

  124. qsogirl says:

    it would be fun to take one of these classes sometime! i have a feeling i would be one of those people who would have a hard time letting go of control ๐Ÿ™‚

  125. amy says:

    I love her work! I have her Quilts book and it is so inspirational.

  126. PeachRainbow says:

    I love her fabric and patterns, so gorgeous!

  127. Tong says:

    Thank you for this great interview! I’m a huge Denyse Schmidt fan, love her fabrics, books, and quilts and it’s interesting to read about her workshops in her own words.

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