Quilting with Live Music!?

How about a quilt workshop with live music? What, if the musician was a pretty decent quilter, too? Wouldn’t that be nice? It IS nice!

Joe Cunningham – plays, sings and quilts

The Greater Ann Arbor Quilt Guild did it again: They made another great, internationally known artist to visit our little town for a lecture and two all-day workshops.

“Winter Twister,” made by Joe Cunningham, 2010, 73 x 69. Photo by Johnny Davis, San Francisco, CA, 2011

This time, it’s Joe Cunningham, who lives in the Presidio of San Francisco, California. Originally from Flint, Michigan, he had good times as a young musician hanging out in Ann Arbor, so this might be kind of home game for him.

Linda Theil interviewed him in December 2016, find and read it here.

Well, in a nutshell: the workshops turned out to be a real pleasure. I mean, look at that man, risking the brave act of walking into a room full of female, eager to learn quilters, some of them super experienced, daring to be the rooster in the hen party.

But how would you frighten a man who entered the (women’s owned) field of fiber arts as early as 1979, right at the beginning of the big quilting renaissance in the US?

Even if he desperately tried to keep up some authority, he showed a great sense of humor admitting he was just losing it entering our workshop. His wit and humor are really captivating, so there was a lot of laughter throughout the days.

So we generously decided to give him a chance – and that fully paid off! Joe’s very calm way of teaching is astounding. Not by talking so much, but by watching us work, only giving some subtle advice now and then. A small hint here, a gentle decision-support there, always very helpful – that’s what I’d call ‚subliminal’ teaching.

His sense of humor is anything but subliminal, his easy yet cheery nature is both motivating and relaxing. Comments like: ‚I want y’all to be really creative – in exactly the way I dictate!‘ made a lot of laughs mingle with the humming of the sewing machines.

He also declared that if he ever ran for a public office, say, if he ever were elected to be President (note the workshop’s date), the very first thing he’d do in his first hours in office would be to gather all the best engineers in one room, lock it, and never let them out until they had invented the ‚full spool bobbins‘ – never ending bobbin thread, imagine that – what a wonderful promise! I’d sure vote for him, if I could!

He’s a smart guy, no doubt: ‚I make instructions as confusing as possible to make me feel more important and needed!‘ – see, what I mean?

This being said, our Friday instructions sounded kind of disturbingly easy to follow:

„Start with a triangle, add a maximum of 11 more pieces out of up to 4 different fabrics. Go on until you end up with a 24-inch square!“

Should be doable. Actually, it drove me nuts as I worked partly  backwards (I had already a 24-inch edge and tried to get back to the start triangle – NOT a good idea!)

Well, Joe – happily watching us – nailed it: ‚Sewing without knowing.‘

Anyways, he handed out truly good advice: ‚No Y-seams. If you have a problem – cut it off!‘ (oh boy, I could go with this in my daily living…)

Listening to all this, it’s easy to see that Joe is a modern, an improv quilter. Look at what I learned (for my life) in the workshops of the amazing Sherri Lynn Wood here.

I appreciate the relaxed attitude towards perfection and planning. Improv is all about the process and the material, relying on finding the way without a given pattern or having a goal in advance.

Joe said, that even log cabin is more a process than a pattern, as you can re-arrange it all day long.

But – after all – this mighty freedom in designing can be difficult, especially for someone like me who tends to seek security in pattern and kits! Read here about my cheer to the kits of the quilting world.


Quilt workshop Joe Cunningham

Friday-Creations – courage to use negative space

The pictures of our Friday session show clearly, that some of us were more confident to make use of negative space than I was.

And I should get used to bringing more grown-up fabrics (solids!!!) to modern quilting workshops. My candy-sweet colors look simply silly with these designs, let’s face it.

Too colorful, too much…it’s a learning curve!

Joe showed us his idea and technique of sewing bias tape on the quilt top, which easily but effectively adds a lot of different effects: contrast, emphasis, connections, variety… go play with it, you’ll see what I mean.

Here we go!

He buys ordinary bias tape, as it is easier to use as the self-made ones. (Go look, maybe there’s some left in the PTO Thrift Shop!)  Start with the raw edge, sew the bias tape in any shape you like onto your quilt top; the smaller the width of the tape, the tighter you can cruise around. Fold the bias tape over and sew again. If you have two finished edges, sew on both sides. Tape too short? Fold loose ends under, fix them, and they are no longer a problem.

Bias tape magic

By the way: Joe’s everyday machine is a 25-year-old Bernina 130, most of the time using his walking foot. He says she’s doing a great job, still he’s always impressed with wonders of machines made in this millennium „This machine feels so much like home, but it’s making so much less sound!?“

Miracles of the millennium!

His iron is one of his best friends: „This thing is a steam machine, it can change nature, I mean, it really solves problems.“ Again, I’d like to have this for my daily life, see what else it could straighten out!?

Second workshop, different setting. This time, we got precise instructions (wait, as precise as he can (or wants to) be – Joe said, nobody ever booked him for being an amazing instruction designer. Well, we know the reason why…;o)!)

No, seriously, we got very clear instructions on what to do, even if we didn’t really know what we were doing.

Cut different random-width strips, sew them together, press seams open, cut pieces in the given dimensions, sew them together to make new strips (mind the 1/4 inch seam allowance!), cut again, and finally end up with 6 1/2 inch blocks that you may arrange on your design walls however you like it.

About the composition of the blocks: Ideas may come from everywhere, be open! Just lay them out and see, sometimes this can be it! Or create something, like a path, a cross, organize the colors or pattern, turn all background fabrics in the block to the outer edge to create the impression of floating blocks, enhance effects with bias tape…and again: no right or wrong.


Quilts workshop Joe Cunningham

Finding the best composition

Not surprisingly, all attendees came up with totally different results. At the end of the day, the room felt like a museum, stunning creations on all design walls and the opportunity to talk to the artists – what a great atmosphere.

Like this –



– or that –

– more this and that –

… and finally: this is the finished version, made by Joe Cunningham!

If you are not happy with traditional binding, watch this: Joe showed us an elegant, yet very easy technique for invisible binding.

Cut four 4-inch-strips, fold them lengthwise, iron in half, attach them on the right side of your quilt sandwich, raw edges alongside outer edges, like you would do for a normal binding. But you don’t go around the whole quilt, only one strip at a time, starting with two opposing sides, from one corner to the next, leaving raw edges at both ends.

Add two more strips to the remaining edges, a bit shorter than the full length of the quilt (app. 1/2 inch less on both ends), center it and sew from one end to the other (sew until the very edge). Trim the corners to avoid big bulges, turn the binding over, hand stitch it on the backside, and you’ll have a neat, supersimple invisible binding.

He concluded with wise advice: Joe shared his way of folding quilts, that have to accompany him while traveling packed in his suitcases. My grandma used to tell me: „If you want to keep a fabric until it’s old, always use the same fold“ (ok, the German original sounds smarter, but you get it, right?). Now, Joe does quite the opposite. Fold one corner randomly and roughly in direction of the middle (no need to be exact), meet up with the other three corners. Now you have a new rectangle to go on folding normally. This way, you avoid persistent creases.


Want more of him? Sign up for his quilt retreat in Seattle, probably a zinger. He says, the best thing about the retreat is: „I can talk five days long!’ I guess it would be a great time to listen to this kind person five days long!

Or, quoting his friend John Pappas‘ comment on the GAAQG-page:

John Pappas says: (December 8, 2016 at 10:33 am)

Spending time with Joe (whether it’s a workshop, a lecture, or sitting in the woods) is always a pleasure. Looking forward to his Ann Arbor dates.

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert