I’ve taken my share of quilting and art-related workshops over the years. Most of the time, I sign up to learn a new construction method or how to work with a medium I haven’t handled before. But I don’t always go to a workshop to learn. I have two other very good reasons for attending workshops: to get in some practice and to take advantage of the opportunity.

For example, I’ve taken at least five machine-quilting classes in the two decades I’ve been quilting. The first time, I was a novice, and had a lot to learn about threads, needles, and machine settings. But by the fourth class, the teacher didn’t have much new information for me. So why keep taking the classes?

The Unknown Child by Kit Dunsmore (a sample of my machine-quilting)
The Unknown Child by Kit Dunsmore (a sample of my machine-quilting)

Because machine-quilting takes more than knowledge. It takes practice — hours of it. It’s a little bit like drawing with your sewing machine on your quilt. Hand-eye coordination is a factor, one that improves with practice. Unfortunately, when it’s time for me to sit down and sew, I don’t feel like I can afford to practice. I only have a limited time and I want to get something done, so I just work on my project and put up with the imperfect results.

When I’m feeling dissatisfied with my skills, I sign up for a machine-quilting class. They usually run for one day, so I can get 4 to 6 hours of practice in. At this point, I only learn one or two new tricks, but I’m fine with that. Instead, I focus on my technique without worrying about ruining a project. I give myself permission to just practice, and always consider it time and money well-spent.

Machine-quilting sample from my last class
Machine-quilting sample from my last class

The other workshop that I’ve taken repeatedly is a fabric dyeing class taught by Ann Johnston. The first time, I really wanted to learn how it was done. I bought her book and took notes in class. Her low-volume immersion dyeing technique was perfect for me. It generates luscious hand-dyed fabrics with subtle and not-so-subtle variations in color. It felt magical, just like dyeing Easter eggs.

Examples of handdyed fabrics from Ann Johnston's class
Examples of handdyed fabrics from Ann Johnston’s class

Much as I loved the results, I realized I wasn’t all that interested in dyeing fabric at home. Preparing to dye includes handling a variety of chemicals, including careful measuring of powders while wearing a face mask. It’s fussy and messy and I’d rather not, thank you. The best part of dyeing was turning the white cloth into a rainbow of colors. So I took the class again just so I could dye more fabric. I was willing to pay to have someone else do the work so I could revel in the fun.

It’s easy to get hung-up on my expectations for a workshop and to be disappointed if I don’t come away having mastered some new skill. But I remind myself that I can take a workshop for whatever reasons I like, and sometimes I like them best when I’m not there to learn anything at all.

Do you ever take a workshop with no intention of learning anything? When and why?

4 thoughts on “Taking Quilting Workshops With No Intention of Learning”

  1. Great post, good things to think about. I haven’t taken many classes at all, though I am doing a little more of that lately. But I love your reasoning and yes, practice is one of the best reasons to do so.

    Ann Johnston — I borrowed her design book from my guild library recently. It’s an excellent book and well worth owning.


    1. Thanks! I do classes in spurts. Writing this helped me to remember that classes offer opportunities to meet a variety of goals and “I already know how to do that” doesn’t mean I have to pass on a workshop. I haven’t seen AJ’s design book. I’ll have to check it out.

  2. Hi. This is serendipity– hope i spelled that right. Minutes before reading your post, I signed up for a workshop. Actually, I have lots to learn as it is a writing workshop. But I hesitated because I feared everyone else would be twelve and here I am “on the wrong side of fifty” to paraphrase Raymond Chandler. But what the hey. This happens to me at zine workshops too. Aside from learning new skills, the great draw of a workshop is getting together with like-minded people. Even if they all look like they are twelve years old. Oh well.

    1. “The wrong side of fifty”? I didn’t know there was such a thing! 🙂

      I had scarring experiences in my college writing classes that keep me from trying writing workshops, so I think you are super brave to sign up. Don’t let the babyfaces tell you it’s too late because it’s not. You may be in the same place that they are as a writer (or not), but you definitely are in a different place in life. You have much more material to draw from and the stories you tell will be different. If nothing else, have fun while you’re there. You paid for it! 🙂

      I can take other sorts of workshops because I don’t care as much about quilting as I do writing. Sometimes the best part is the people: the teacher and the other students. I felt that way in a workshop I just took with Liz Kettle on art journaling. (Will get around to posting about that one some time soon.)

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