my weekend in portland at the pnca

I spent last weekend in Portland, attending Denyse Schmidt’s Pure Improvisation workshop at the PNCA, and basically refilling my soul with all my dear friends in Portland. I took an improvisational patchwork class with Denyse last year at the PNCA, and I signed up for this one as soon as I knew it was happening (both birthday presents from Peter). The amount of inspiration I get from a weekend spent sewing and playing with quilt blocks for fun, with my quilt heroine, cannot be measured. But on top of that, spending time with people I care a whole lot about is just icing on the Pake (one of the featured desserts, made by Mariko, at our gathering on Friday night). Melissa and her family always have a place for me in their home, which is always just perfect, and this time I got to finally meet Erin, she flew in and took the workshop too. Such a treat, all around.

For the workshop, we worked off of the Dutchman’s Puzzle quilt in her newest book, Modern Quilts, Traditional Roots. We were asked to bring 2 solid colors in similar hues or tones. I ordered mine off my Kona color card, and they seemed to have enough contrast, until I got to the classroom, that is. Sometimes I had to double check I wasn’t getting them mixed up when I was cutting. Thankfully when I put them up on the quilt wall, there was a definitely contrast, and a real calming feel to the overall effect of the colors, so I was happy.

Here are everyone’s blocks from early that first day, mine is the top far left, the blues.



From here, we put away the templates, soon put away our quilt rulers entirely (yikes!) and just made our 3 cuts freely, playing with the sizes of the middle triangle shape, things like that. It is harder than we realized to just wing it with no templates or rulers, but soon our blocks began to take on some very interesting new looks. Here’s our new blocks combined with our original blocks, later the first afternoon-


Denyse has a way of making you see things within the work you’re doing that you really didn’t think of before. She’s a master of color, believes that there are no mistakes, she really knows intuitively what works. By the second day of the workshop, all the quilts had taken on their own individual looks, hardly related to the original blocks from the previous day. But yet they were related… but they weren’t…. well, here’s some photos-



For my own version, my actually shapes didn’t change as drastically as some of the other’s did, instead I started playing with adding in some men’s shirtings here and there. I think I’d like to work more on this idea with some fabrics I have in my stash now that I’m back home.


What I took away from this weekend-

Be willing to waste a little fabric to possibly create something truly unique and unexpected. I can get preoccupied with trying to see the finished product in my mind before I even start, calculating every fabric cut, and eeking out as many strips/blocks/pieces I can get from each piece. Fabric is expensive and beautiful, I don’t want to waste it. However, giving myself permission to just try out something new, without worrying if the outcome would be to my liking, can be inspiring. I didn’t like every block I did, but making those blocks got me to a place of new discovery.

Put yourself out there in the world and get feedback from other creative minds. There is just so much to learn. Sewing and quiltmaking is most often a solitary activity. I actually love that about it and don’t have a problem being alone when I create. Yet there is much to be gained from other creative spirits in a room together. Getting out and being part of this is important. I always gain new insight. Sitting in that room along side me were scientists, at home moms, business owners, quilt book writers, and women simply curious to try something new. I was very inspired by that energy.

Give yourself time to play, even just a couple of hours here and there. Tell yourself its not only ok, but necessary. At face value, the idea of it and its ability to make you think outside your box makes total sense, but the key is not to think about doing it, but to actually DO it. Its worth making time for it, even if just a little time here and there. As an example, I spent some time in the studio last night working on a new painting. I didn’t really know if I was even in the mood to work on it, and didn’t have any clear direction of what I wanted to do next. I told myself “its all able to be undone, don’t worry about that”. And after a while I didn’t. I actually felt great about what I tried on the painting, and went to be happier and anxious to start again this morning. Imagine if I’d convinced myself to wait until I had a better idea of what I wanted to do. Probably nothing.

Denyse is wonderful, supportive and fun teacher. Getting to know her through these workshops has been a treat.

And seeing these people made me so happy, I need to see them more often-





and oh my goodness that baby!

Such a good weekend.



  • Alicia

    July 31, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Wow, those photos are amazing! I’m not a quilter, but I’ve always been intrigued by quilting and the improvisational quilts in your pictures are really inspiring. Thanks for posting these.

  • erin

    July 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    you summed it up so well, blair! i’m feeling really lucky and blessed to have had those three days.

  • melissa f.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    soul filling weekend. fo’ sure.

  • Anita

    August 1, 2012 at 6:45 am

    I have been learning those things about myself as well. It’s hard to waste fabric but so good to let go sometimes. And I totally get the working alone & spending time with like minds balance. It’s so easy to just hole up some days.

  • Nicky

    August 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    I’m not a quilter but these are amazing. What you took from the session can be applied to the crafting I do (knitting, crochet and cross-stitch). I have to work on putting myself out there and learning from others. Thanks so much for posting this.

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 2, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Alicia, you are welcome. There is so much from this class (color, balance, etc) that can be applied to other mediums.

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 2, 2012 at 7:50 am

    Me too! Come back soon! xo

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 2, 2012 at 7:50 am

    I can’t believe how long I wait between trips!

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 2, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Thanks Anita. Its really important to do both, right?

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 2, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Thanks Nicky, it absolutely can. I came away with not only inspiration, but a renewed interest in pushing myself creatively. That’s all good.

  • Chris

    August 2, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Does she ever do workshops in Seattle?

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

    You can sign up for email news on her website. I haven’t heard of a Seattle date, but you never know. Here’s hoping.

  • Ella @ Sheds Sydney

    August 2, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Wow! That was indeed really cool. Thanks a lot for the share.

  • claire

    August 2, 2012 at 10:25 am

    yes to all of it! next time maybe i’ll come along.

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Yes please! You were missed! Did you finish the quilt you were basting with Melissa?

  • lisa s

    August 2, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    sounds SO SO GOOD. and those PEEPS. sigh…..

  • bennysmith

    August 3, 2012 at 6:56 am

    It is so beautiful, thank you for sharing! I like the pictures very much!

  • KerryQ

    August 4, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Wow! I live in upstate NY, a few hours from Bridgeport, CT. Your post makes me really want to go to one of the DS workshops!

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