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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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::

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