On Stitching Together

About a year ago I wrote about South Africa’s travelling quilt teacher, Doortjie Gersbach, and the challenging star workshop we did with her. Well, she returned to Grahamstown-Makhanda this week and treated us to a more meditative class on hand stitching when she showed us how to make blocks using her version of the Japanese folding technique.

Watching intently as Doortjie demonstrates her 17-pin method

It was a glorious day. Doortjie Gersbach is an inspiring and patient teacher and draws one into the joy of stitching, even when it feels as if it is impossible to close those corners neatly. Through the ingenious use of two shapes — a larger outer circle and a raw edged inner square — cut exactly from templates and then folded and stitched together, one can create this mermaid’s purse shape.

These are the collected works of the two blocks made by each of the stitchers who attended the class. Wouldn’t it make a lovely, bright quilt.

Doortjie is known for her bold and vibrant use of colour and always adds red to her quilts. Many of us were inadvertently influenced by her beautifully bright work. Here are photographs of some of her samples (with apologies for the poor quality of my photographs.)

The second block we learnt to make was the star. For this one uses hexagon templates of two sizes and, again, the two pieces are folded one to the other and stitched together. The piece of fabric at the back is cut with a seam allowance and tacked carefully along the fold line to create a hem, and therefore a finished edge around the star shape. (It is so much easier to demonstrate a method than it is to describe it.) Here are a set of photographs of the process:

I am looking forward to making more of both these blocks. One of the people who attended the class, Elmarie Riddin, has been busy stitching to make cushions for her patio out of a set of gorgeous fabrics. This is what she produced in the last couple of days, after the workshop.

Elmarie’s set of blocks

I am inspired to continue stitching until I have enough for a table runner. Doortjie’s set of templates includes those for medium and small blocks in the same pattern (see the photograph of her class sample) and of course I want to try them all. I know the small block will be more of a stitching challenge with all those pins on a smaller piece of fabric. But oh, the satisfaction when you get the corners to fold in neatly and cover the sandwiched batting and raw edge of the central piece.

Talking of a challenge… Doortjie has a version of the American Beauty design which she calls her distorted American Beauty. She made it after visiting New York in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy had wreaked devastation and flooded the subway system.

Doortjie Gersbach’s quilt, Distorted American Beauty

She has offered to teach us how to make this on her next visit to Grahamstown. I have to confess that I am terrified of making this design. Then again, it would be a challenge! And if anyone can help me face my fear of sewing all those points and making this quilt, Doortjie can. She offers a range of classes and showed us examples of the many different quilts she has made. There is a very pleasing scrap quilt which also caught our attention. It would be much easier to make, but not nearly as challenging at this Beauty. Luckily we have a year to decide. And another stimulating workshop with Doortjie to look forward to.