I have wanted to write this post for a while. Last February, the Santa Clara Quilt Association invited me to give a lecture and teach a two day workshop. They chose the workshop Abstraction of Place.

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Quilt maker and teacher extraordinare, Roberta Horton once told me, that if as soon as you learn something you want to go out and share it with others—you are a teacher. That is me. The minute I get something right in my head, I can’t wait to tell you about it. Here is a great piece of Roberta’s work.


One of the best things about teaching is that you, as the teacher, learn so much. When you first realize this it can make you feel insecure—as the teacher you are suppose to know everything. But you do not. And there will always be a student who will try and stump you. At first, I would be defensive when this happened. But eventually I realized teaching is learning. Embrace it.


There are many different types of teachers out there. Some are stern task masters while others will have you hold hands and hum together. I fall some where in the middle. (Thinking about over-the-top-break-you-down-and-build-you-up teachers, always makes me think of the movie Whiplash.  J.K. Simmons’s Academy Award performance is insane.)url.jpg

I believe the most important thing for me to do is to create an enviroment where the vulnerable state of creativity can manifest itself without censorship from me, the student, or her peers. As visual artists and quilt makers our work is visible to everyone around us. Writers can easily hide what they have writen on the page, but we cannot. As we work through ideas everyone can see our struggles and our successes. This can be an incredibly intimidating situation.


Conjuring a safe space for creativity is easier to do with a group that already knows and supports each other. The Santa Clara Quilt Association had this down. They were ready to learn together.


Before the workshop some of the students had expressed concerns about their ability to do the work. I had concerns about my ability to lead them. Abstraction of Place is probably my most advanced workshop. It combines lessons from all of my other workshops and challenges you to abstract an image using color, pattern, and repetition. I also realized on day two of the class that the name of the workshop was ALL wrong and really giving students mis-information about the class. We talked about this and with my students help we decided to change the name of the workshop to—Abstraction Through Color, Pattern, and Repetition.


I also believe that it is my duty as a teacher to met the student where she is. To work from that place. If she only feels comfortable copying my work. So be it. If she wants to go off on a tangent and make things unrelated to what I am teaching. Okay. If she wants to learn what I have to teach. Let’s go.


I knew the first few hours were going to be very rough, but if we could get through that, and I could start working one on one with each student things would begin to happen.


I am so glad we had two full days together. This gave everyone, including myself, time to work through an assortment of obstacles. Some were stuck on selecting their palette. Some had chosen images to work with that were going to take lots of time to break into abstraction. Some really wanted to learn about another one of my workshops—Making Prints out of Solids. We did it all.


Once I deliver the lecture portion of a workshop, I then begin to work the room visiting every student whether they want me to or not. I tell my students I Want You to Want Me.


When I was a young quilt maker, I would hid my work from the teacher. I was that insecure. Then I realized. DUH. She is the teacher because she has something to tell me. If I don’t share my work, I won’t get to hear it.


I see the students who try to hide from me, and I understand. So I will visit with them, and we may or may not talk about their work. We may talk about grandkids, cooking, or travel. It all goes back to creating an enviroment where students feel empowered to share what is inside of them.


You know what Oscar Wilde said—“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

And that is my role as a teacher. I hope to put my students in touch with their creative selves and then translate that into pieced cloth. It’s a good gig.


One of the great joys of teaching is when a student sends you an email with images of her finished work. HINT. HINT. Joan Spencer sent me these lovely images of her work from the workshop. She combined lessons from Making Prints of out Solids with the now newly named class Abstraction through Color, Pattern, and Repeition.


The piece was designed for an exhibition of Arts of the Covenant called “Awakenings in Darkness and Light”.  It will be shown at the Twin Pines Art Center in the Manor in Belmont, CA from June 1-June 30, 2016. You should go see it if you are in that hood.


In Joan’s words, “There are two main awakenings involved in this piece.  One, is the germination and growth of flowers and plants from seeds in the dark depths of rich earth.  There is joy from their bursting forth with a vast variety of color, pattern and beauty. 

The other is the dawn of a new day bringing the sun’s glorious light to dispel the black darkness of night.  I think I will call this piece “God’s Wake Up Call”.


It’s a beauty. I hope this will inspire all of my students to think about sending me their work, so that I can share it with a larger audience. It’s a good thing. We are in this together.

This entry was published on June 21, 2016 at 4:54 PM. It’s filed under About Teaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

23 thoughts on “TEACH = LEARN

  1. Nysha Nelson on said:

    If you work or personality were not reason enough to want to take a class from you, now that I read this I want to experience your teaching first hand. You make it sound like quite a wonderful experience!

  2. I love that you are so flexible in your classes and able to incorporate what the students want to learn. I find it a little difficult and I guess I’m just not as flexible because I tend to resist going into a different “subject” that is out of the scope of the class. I admire your style. There really is nothing better than happy students at the end of a teaching gig!

    • Heidi- I teach a class out here in McCarthy, Alaska called SEW FUN. Everyone picks their own project, and we just go at it. It is exhausting. But it has been exhausting, but through that I have learned how to switch gears to try and meet students needs. I do imagine though that as I become a more experienced teacher, that my workshops will have clearer boundaries. I am still a beginner at this. You are so right about the feeling you get when your students are excited about what they have done. It is the best!

  3. kathleenloomis on said:

    I bet you are a fine teacher!!! This post describes all the qualities that are important.

    • Thank you Kathy. I consider that I high complement coming from you. I have learned so much from you and your blog over the years. You are one of my inspirations!

  4. Having taken two of your short classes, I know for sure that you ARE an excellent teacher, Maria. And if you ever teach your two-day class in Anchorage, I really want to take it.

    • Nancy- that is so nice of you to say. I do hope to teach some longer classes in Anchorage. Some day. In the meantime, you should come to the Valdez Quilt Festival in September. It is always a very good time.

  5. What fun to relive our fabulous 2-day adventure into abstraction with you as our fearless leader!! Your workshop provided so much inspiration, tips and tricks, and having 2 days together made it possible to see everyone’s work evolve and grow!! This post inspired me to resume working on my piece…will be sure to send pics once complete!!

  6. Susan on said:


  7. Carole on said:

    Enjoying your blog posts so much, Maria. Especially since it might be the closest I will come to EVER meeting you as I can no longer travel like I used to. I am living vicariously having not a prayer to make a whole quilt. Times past, I have only made a few commemorative squares for others’ quilts: some contributing as fund-raiser raffles, banners for ecclesiastic holidays inspired by biblical history and sites, and one for an OB-Gyn Doc who was retiring. Hazel Roth’s “Biggest Quilt in the World” was another I made a square for that helped serve as a banner promoting continuing education where I taught embroidery and calligraphy for years. All that behind me now but I am still vitally interested through your sharing great photos of your classes and conferences and others’ beautiful quilts that I have long admired. Thanks ever so much for the continuing trip with you. Carole

  8. Deborah Smalling on said:

    All your posts are great, but this is just another example of your fabulous writing and sharing and inspiring and the list just goes on and on!

    Sent from Windows Mail

  9. Great post Maria. Your honesty about the process is refershing!

  10. Great post Maria. Your honesty about the process is refreshing!

  11. Pam Rocco on said:

    Great post, Maria! That’s why I love reading your blog.

  12. Great post as always. I’m really getting into teaching now, and yes, you learn as much as you teach.

    • You would be a great teacher! Sign me up! I was just sorting my magazines today and ran across the SAQA issue where you are the cover girl. I love your work Martha and was so happy to have you share it in the PK talks this year at the SAQA conference!

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