Workshop Fun With Joe Cunningham

I belong to a very large quilt club in Rochester, NY, Genesee Valley Quilt Club, that has about 335 members and meets monthly September through June at a very large building. Before the short meeting (about 10 minutes long), there ample time to search the large library borrow books, participate in the block of the month and fat quarter activities, enjoy time chatting with quilting friends new and old, turn in quilts you have made to be given away as “comfort quilts,” sign up for a workshop, check out the free table, or see what a member might have at the “sale” table that month. After the short business meeting is over we enjoy “show and tell” seeing the many comfort quilts turned in (often 40-50) and member show and tell, which is an inspiration to all of us. We take a lunch and take turns providing snacks. After lunch we have a program, usually a presentation by a well-known quilter, often with a slide show and quilt samples.

Each year I try to take at least a couple of workshops to learn new techniques or perfect techniques I already use. Because the club likes to bring in nationally known teachers and lecturers, I had the opportunity to take a class last fall (2015) from Joe Cunningham. Anyone who has been in the quilting world very long knows the names of some of the well-known quilting teachers. Because there are significantly fewer men quilting teachers than women teachers, you are more likely to know their names.

As a vendor (Nolting Longarm) at Quilt Canada in 2014 held at Brock University in St Catharines, Canada, I noticed one day a very tall, slender man strolling down one of the halls where classes were taking place. Later I noticed that same man eating in the dining area. Could it be, yes, it was, Joe Cunningham. Joe was teaching classes at Quilt Canada.

Over the years I have read articles about Joe and his quilts in various quilting magazines. His style is not traditional, not really art, although sometimes, it is simply his style. So, when I had the opportunity to take a class from Joe in Rochester, NY, I immediately signed up. Like most workshops you are provided with a list of supplies that include fabric suggestions, sewing machine, cutting tools, and sewing supplies. Armed with everything I needed or thought I might need, I went to class which was held in a very large meeting room at a church. There was more than enough room for the fifteen or sixteen quilters. Each of us had two large size tables to work on! This was the second workshop that Joe taught, having taught another project the day before.

The workshop with Joe was a joy. It was very laid back, the technique had a few instructions, very few, and the interpretation was left up to the quilter. Joe roamed around the room looking at progress as we made our 6 ½” blocks. Although laid back, there was structure and he did have the clock in mind suggesting that by 2 pm our blocks should be made. If you don’t have 36, use 28 or if you have more, fine. At 2 pm we would start working on arrangement. Thankfully we each had a lot of space to arrange our blocks. Joe would come by and spend several minutes looking at the arrangement, move a few blocks to another spot, maybe back again, but urged us to be open and look at other design options and that it would speak to us when it was done.   What was so interesting was that everyone’s project looked quite different because of the many different kinds of fabric used. Some fabrics were solids, others read as solids, others were prints with a dominant color, how value (relative strength of color compared to other colors) affected the design, every project looked very different. I remember one project in particular made of fuchsia, lime green, gray and black solids. What a modern quilt that was going to be, very striking.

Wow, the arrangement took the rest of the class time. Even then I was not sure I was

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Joe serenading us as we work.

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Joe showing us his quilts.

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One of Joe’s quilts using his bias tape technique.

happy with my arrangement and spent at least another hour or more on the design wall at home before deciding that was enough and started stitching the blocks together. Joe did spend a little time talking about finishing, adding borders, or not, and, of course quilting. He had a number of samples to look at which provided lots of inspiration.

As Joe started packing up his quilts for their journey back to California, I learned something about storing quilts. I noticed that he did not fold them nice and even by quarters, then fold again into a nice square. Instead, he flopped one corner over, then another corner over and each corner, rather haphazard, like a child might “fold” something. So I asked. Quite simply, folding haphazardly in different ways each time reduces the fold marks that you often see in quilts that are neatly folded and stored. So, I guess sometimes it is best not to be so neat.

My project is now finished, assembled, quilted, and bound.

My finished quilt "Joe Cunningham" style.

My finished quilt with closeup of binding finish technique.

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Piped binding technique.

The workshop with Joe was one of the most fun filled workshops I have ever taken. Low stress, using a free, no thought cutting technique, an encouragement to think out of the box, and he even serenaded us with his guitar and songs. Thank you, Joe Cunningham for a very enjoyable workshop experience.

Below take a tour with Joe Cunningham in his studio in San Francisco.  And, if you have a chance, sign up to take one of his workshops.

 

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