Thursday, September 27, 2012

"My Designs" Workshop with Cindy Needham

Last week, I made a trek up to Northern California to take a five day workshop from Cindy Needham.  Cindy does an entirely different style of quilting than what I do -- I make big soft quilts to wrap oneself in; Cindy makes incredible show quilts.  I had taken two days of her instruction at the High Desert Quilt Guild in Ridgecrest CA last year and was eager to learn more about her style.

I took my Brother DreamWeaver XE and really put her through her paces.  Four and a half solid days of free motion sewing -- I don't take a lot of breaks for shopping and such -- were a pleasure with this machine.  I tried a lot of different threads and got beautiful stitch quality.

Cindy teaches how to combine stencils and freehand work in the same piece.  Sometimes we only traced part of a stencil; for instance, the spine of a feather for guidance and then filled in the rest with freehand quilting.  I also learned a number of interesting backgrounds to show off the primary work.

But that's enough talk -- let me show you what I did!

This is the first piece I worked on.  It measures approximately 9" x 12"; I used Radiance fabric, both front and back, and wool batting.  I marked one side of the fabric with the curvy lines that were on one of Cindy's handouts to us and stitched the lines with Glitter in the top of the machine and Bottom Line in the bobbin.  The rest of the work was done freehand with Kimono Silk in the top of the machine and Bottom Line in the bobbin.  Cindy is an educator for Superior Threads and brought her "thread bar" for us to use as well as a good assortment of Superior threads from her personal stash.

This is the second piece that I worked on; it measures 21" wide by 17-1/2" tall.  I have white Kona cotton on the back and Radiance on the front.  This also has wool batting in it; Cindy's a big fan of wool for its lightness and loft.

I traced guidelines from three different stencils, giving me the "bones" for the spine of the feather, the pinwheel in the lower right and the 8 sided geometric figure at the top right.  The rest was all filled in freehand, including all those feathers!  Didn't think I could do that, but it was what I was hoping to learn....

Since I was working from the back of the piece, I used Bottom Line in the top of the machine and three different threads in the bobbin -- for the "bones", the part I wanted to stand out, I used King Tut.  At Cindy's urging, for all the feather work and other foreground stitching I used a contrasting, light brown, shade of Kimono Silk; all of the background fills are done with a shade of Kimono Silk that more closely matched the fabric.

I still have more work to do on the piece to make the grid in the upper left hand corner more dense, particularly around the feathers.

Here's a closeup of one of the backgrounds based on a 1/2" diagonal grid.

The center of the four sided feather shows another background fill, a bit of echo as well as an S-curve fill.

This is the third piece I had brought; it is composed of four orphan blocks from a workshop I took from Miriam Nathan Roberts at Asilomar several years ago.  I whomped the four blocks together and brought it along.  All I got done were the center feathers and a little bit of stitching with gold Glitter thread in the upper left hand block.

To do the feathers, I just hand drew the spine, stitched it, then filled in with the feathers freehand.  I expected this to be difficult as far as spacing and such.  Either it's not that hard or it was beginner's luck!

Here's a closeup of the feathers; to stitch these, I used a variegated King Tut in the top of the machine and Mettler 100% cotton Silk Finish thread in the bobbin.  You can also see a little bit of the work in the upper right hand corner that I did with Glitter in the top.  I started out with the Mettler in the bobbin and had a bit of trouble balancing the tension.  At that point, Cindy advised me to switch to Bottom Line in the bobbin with the Glitter in the top, but I didn't notice much improvement.  I was running out of time and didn't take the care that I normally do when choosing upper machine tension, so that is something that I will be working on this week.

I want to get the first piece bound and the second piece finished and bound so I can take them with me to Chicago on Sunday.  Cheryl Hoffman, Brother's VP of Education, and I will be playing with the DreamWeaver next week and making some videos for Brother's website -- I always love hamming it up for the camera, so this should be a lot of fun!

I really appreciated Cindy's teaching style; she would lecture each morning and then turn us loose to practice what she had taught us.  She's always circulating around the room, ready to help if you have a question or are at a sticking point in your work.  A thread suggestion here, a design suggestion there, and we all came out with really nice work at the end of the week.

Cindy has a number of retreats in McCloud CA (I'm less inclined to do those because it's a 12 hour drive from home rather than the 6 to Rancho Cordova) and in Rancho Cordova CA.  If you would like to experience Cindy's magic for yourself, you can read all about it at  I've already signed up for the April 11-14, 2013, "linen ladies" workshop, so now I'm on the prowl for a couple of beautiful pieces of vintage linen to take with me!

Definitely an enjoyable week that vastly improved my machine quilting skills -- I have to say that it was worth every penny and every minute and firmly bonded me with this new machine....

Brother has provided me with the DreamWeaverTM XE, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.


  1. Am definitely envious of your opportunities with those workshops with Cindy....she (and you) are pretty awesome!!! Have been following Cindy, & you, for a while now and have learned tons. Thank you for your insightful, and picture-filled, post....really helps those of us who can't make the sessions "in person"!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Denise! I marked a big piece up, too, and am looking for just the perfect fabric for it. Can't wait to do this again!


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