Ali Wilkinson

Taking a Class with Kaffe

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Just under a year ago I was fortunate to be able to attend a workshop run by Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mabley here in Christchurch. I have long been an admirer of Kaffe, probably since I was a knitter in my teens and his huge colourful sweaters were featured in Vogue. When I heard the workshop was happening I signed up without hesitation, but as it drew closer I started to get quite nervous mainly because of all the requirements I had to comply with – having lots of fabric choices but not knowing which I would end up using was the biggest issue for me.

I am not really a fabric hoarder. In fact, until the middle of 2014 I only bought fabric for specific projects and then tried to use every last bit in that project. Fabric in NZ is so very expensive, and Kaffe fabric even more so, and I was quite reluctant to buy stacks of fabric that I might never use. The premise of the workshop was to have lots of choice as Kaffe and Brandon’s primary input would be in assisting in selecting colours and fabrics that worked well together and so arriving with only the fabric I had selected myself would defeat the purpose really.

Add to that my wariness of being told what to do, and I was really starting to panic!

I was on the verge of pulling out when I went online and read some reviews on other blogs from people who had taken a workshop. These reviews talked of the author’s hesitation to let go but the positive results they got when they did. I also learned that there would be an onsite Kaffe fabric shop and so I didn’t need to have quite so much spare fabric. I decided to remain enrolled.

I am so glad that I did! I made a very conscious decision to be as open as possible to what was being suggested, and I determined that (within reason) I would buy whatever fabric it took to make the quilt the best it could be as I am likely to never get the opportunity of having Kaffe and Brandon make fabric and design suggestions to me personally ever again!

Space was tight in the school hall we used. Each of us had a table the size of a cutting mat and a partition on which to pin our design wall. I had bought a 2 yard length of Kaffe’s own design wall fabric, which is a taupe-grey colour with a grid on it, and I pinned that to the partition. Once Kaffe and Brandon had given us all a general talk and provided tips we were away trimming our fabrics and placing them on the design wall. I had selected this hot pink and orange Brassica print as my centre panel and wanted this to dictate the mood and choices of everything else.

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I cut the centre panel and then fussy cut some of the flowers for the snowballs. Initially I had a very pink palate and had selected a pink mirror dot fabric for the frame of the panel. Kaffe and Brandon were circulating the whole time providing input and getting us to look at alternate fabrics. Very early on Brandon came to me and suggested using the orange slices fabric for the border. I have to say I had reservations (which I kept to myself!) and had to work hard to go with his suggestion, but once I pinned it up I immediately saw how it draws out the orange tones of the centre panel and I knew the quilt would head in a different direction!

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Kaffe had talked of the importance of symmetry across both vertical and horizontal planes so I worked in batches cutting my fabrics in matching pairs and placing them on the floor in front of the design wall, then coming to the wall and assigning each pair/set of four their symmetrical positions on the wall.

Kaffe and Brandon continued to circulate and make suggestions on which patterns went well and how to allow the eye to move easily around the design. This input was invaluable and really amped the end result up no end! They used a reducing glass, which is like a magnifying glass but working in the opposite way, and this allowed me to step back a few yards from the wall and look through glass to see the whole quilt in a reduced format. I also worked out that taking a photo on my iPhone did the same thing. By having the quilt seen in such a small format I found I was able to see where colours or fabrics didn’t work or blended together too much or clashed. A great tip!

Choosing the cornerstone fabric was the hardest thing for me. As these are such small pieces I didn’t want a big pattern that would then mean the colour wasn’t uniform across the quilt. I auditioned dozens of fabrics (which made the onsite shop very useful and saved me heaps of time and money!), and finally decided on the pink on pink Folk Art (now discontinued and really hard to get).

Here is Kaffe providing critique and commentary on my quilt – at the end of the day he did this to all the design walls for each participant. We all got to listen to this feedback and I found this really useful as everyone’s fabric choices were so very, very different and the choices plus commentary really opened my mind to possibilities I probably would never have considered.

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Once home I continued the fussy cutting and placement on my design wall. By this time I had bought a further 2 yards of the design wall flannel and sewn it to my existing piece horizontally to make a king bed sized wall.

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Getting those last pieces was tough. Even though the shop which hosted the workshop (Stitch Playroom, which has since shut down) had a huge selection of fabrics, I still ended up having to buy more from www.gloriouscolor.com  which is the biggest online stockist I am aware of for Kaffe Fassett Collective fabrics.

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Of course as soon as my daughter saw the quilt she decided she wanted it for her bed and I had to make it bigger by adding an extra column of snowballs on the left and right sides!

All that fussy cutting of flowers meant that I had a huge stack of spare fabric. Given my desire not to end up with a stash of unused fabric I was starting to get anxious, and then I decided to cut the spare fabric into large squares and rectangles and sew them together very randomly to make a pieced back. This made almost the same size as the top and I supplemented it with some Tula Pink spotty fabric which has little rabbits as spots in places. Very cute. Now the quilt is double sided!

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I sewed on the cornerstones chain-piecing style and spent an entire weekend piecing the backing (how come random piecing still takes so long?!). After all that work, and due to the enormous size of the quilt I decided to get it long-arm quilted professionally, and so I handed it over to the very talented Suzet Pont. Suzet quilted an all over design through the snowballs, each border was quilted individually and the centre panel got a “chickenwire” type pattern. In the centre panel borders she stitched “For Elise love from Mama”, which makes this very special.

Here are some close ups of the quilting before I finished the binding:

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I named the quilt Hothouse Flowers. It has a very tropical feel to it, and I feel that with brandon and Kaffe’s input I have really ended up with a quilt in the vision I went into the workshop with. I am not so sure I would have got such a good result had I done this entirely on my own, and I am grateful that I let go and allowed someone else to challenge my choices and tell me what to do!

15 thoughts on “Taking a Class with Kaffe

  1. Hi Ali
    I totally get what you say about the Kaffe class. I participated in their S Quilt class in Wellington and I really enjoyed their input and how they ran the class. I really appreciated the way they critiqued each design and had something very positive to say about each class participants fabric choices.
    BTW one of my very good friends Alex was in the class in Chch with you 🙂
    Cheers
    Helen

    • Hi Helen. Thanks for your comment. I had been really nervous about the critique but I think they did so well in the way they delivered comments and suggestions and constructive criticism. It must be challenging for them to stay polite and upbeat sometimes!

    • Hi Carol. In total I used about 15 different Kaffe/Brandon/Philip Jacobs fabrics. All were floral except for the orange slices and flame bargello. I really wanted bold and blousey flowers – the quilt is HOT and full-on!

    • Hi Donna. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, the symmetry thing was a surprise to me too but totally makes sense that your eye travels between the two matches and feels balanced. Some of the symmetrical placings were only across one plane (i.e. left and right of the centre panel) but others were both horizontal and vertical planes. Knowing this really speeded up the layout design process and actually some participants then went on to only design one side of the panel knowing they would mirror it on the other.

  2. Hi Ali from another NZ quilter. I found your blog via your posting on the Kaffe Fassett facebook page. This quilt is wonderful. You’ve done such a great job with it. I love those bright pinks and oranges, and it sounds like your daughter does too. I considered doing Kaffe’s class in Wellington, but I didn’t like the S pattern. I would have loved to have done this class though. Maybe they will come back one day. Well done.

    • Hi Wendy. I am sure they will come back as we all gave them a big Kiwi welcome! I am not sure who would host them in Christchurch again now that Stitch has closed down. If we keep posting on their Facebook page it might encourage them back!

  3. Hi Ali. I did the same class with Kaffe and Brandon in Whakatane, and like you I was terrified, but figured it might be my only chance to do a Kaffe class. Brandon was a huge help and like you I had bought very few fabrics but we had our local shop bring their ranges in so I could add as I went along. Kaffe was generous with his critiquing. I came away with a new appreciation of the use of colour. Have now made two of this design in single sizes, yet to be quilted and next one will be the S block. Thank you for sharing your jourmey.

    • Hi Vicki. It sounds like we had a similar experience and outcome. I am pleased for you too and would love to see your quilt if you have links online.

  4. Stunning quilt! and a great post … it’s nice to hear another’s in depth review of the class! Yes, I too now always use that tactic of repeating an element, be it the same fabric, border or block! I find it really helps to get some sort of balance-thingy happening across the whole quilt. Linda

    • Hi Linda. Thanks for your comments. I think we have emailed each other about the Gypsy Wife quilt in the past. I finished mine around September and will be posting a review of that whole process and pattern in a future blog post. I hope you come back!

  5. What a great experience – lucky you ! I haven’t taken quilt making class other than Rachel’s online class that we talked about. I took several pottery workshops years ago and know about the “surrender” when being a student. I think this is the best way to learn and ‘you’ will come back after the class is over. I always told myself that I am there to learn their technique. So many of the things I soaked up would resonate long after. I’m sure you have found this too. Was the class only one day ? It must have been intense.

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