2020 - Developing new classes

Developing new classes

Marilyn Pretorius, award winning quilt artist and SAQG quilt teacher with 32 years experience, share her views on how to develop original work for classes:


I first became aware of Copyright in quilting when I joined a Regional Guild in 1989 in East London. I realized that if I was serious about teaching, I had to develop my own designs.  This would ensure a stress free journey as a quilt teacher!   With the loyal support of my students, I tentatively started doing my own designs which was a tremendous boost for my confidence.   If I was not made aware of the copyright issues, I would never have tried to develop my own unique style as a quilt artist and teacher.  During the 30 odd years as a quilt teacher, I have regularly changed my quilting style.  It is important to prospective students to see that the teacher remains interested in his/her passion for stitching by constantly honing his/her skills, experimenting, learning and developing as a quilt artist in the process.


Decide which area of quilting you are passionate about and focus on that – you must be proficient in what you want to teach, students immediately sense when a teacher is fluffing.  Keep on experimenting, pushing your own boundaries and try to develop your own unique workshops – this guarantees no transgression of copyright laws or getting permission from other teachers to teach their workshops.  If you teach more traditional styled workshops using elements from the public domain, make it your own by delving deeper and by giving it a fresh approach.   Make sure that the concepts of your workshops are exciting and interesting – that will ensure that you will get bookings for your workshops.


There is no manual with step by step instructions of how to develop your own workshops – you have to put in the time and energy to develop yourself firstly as a quilt artist before you can confidently start a journey as a quilt teacher.


For me as a quilt teacher, it is important to be original in what I offer students, to think out of the box, inviting them to join me on my journey of discovery, always challenging them to delve deeper.  Happy smiles at the end of the workshop is a sign that I have accomplished that.  I have never taught a workshop where I too, did not learn from the students!


Teaching at Festivals:

As I’ve had the privilege to be an organizer of National Festivals, it is always exciting to receive the applications to teach!   The quilting community in South Africa is very small compared to other countries and quilters attending National Quilt festivals on a regular basis, expect exciting new workshops as they are familiar with the older ones!  Rise to the occasion and treat them with new workshops – it is not a good idea to submit the same workshops at every festival as eventually you will not succeed in having any bookings!


Inspiration for original workshops:

My biggest inspiration for workshops usually comes from quilts I make, images I capture with my camera or something in daily life triggers an idea which I will develop into a workshop.   One cannot rush creativity – it is a process which has its own pace.  Sometimes one has to step back and wait for the next wave of inspiration before work can continue.  By being patient, it often enables one to transform a simple concept into something unique – by rushing through the process, one often misses the sheer joy and opportunities of the creative journey.

1. Quilts:

Most of my major work is experimental.  While making these quilts, certain aspects will often surface which I will bookmark as a great idea which can be developed into a workshop.   The next decision will be what format the workshop sample will be – a cushion cover, small wall quilt, runner or a bag.   The trick is to ensure that every step works, measurements must be accurate and steps well thought out.     The original quilt will be discussed alongside the workshop sample as part of the workshop.   It teaches the students to look beyond the piece they are working on in the workshop and hopefully inspire them to take the concept further and make it their own.  
2. Sketch book/journal:

I always have my sketch book with me at Guild meetings and mostly make rough sketches, just scribbling – some are turned into quilts or workshops.  The more you do something, the easier it becomes.  It is so easy to say but I cannot draw like Sally Scott or Kathryn Harmer Fox…!  Nobody expects you to be a fine artist – if you can hold a pencil, try!  It is a wonderful exercise to overcome your fear and the first step in developing your own work!     I often get flashes of inspiration, sometimes I hear something on the radio – I make notes of all of this.  If you stumble upon good quotations, write it down for future inspiration.   
3. Photography:

Invest in the best digital camera you can afford and make sure that you always have it with you when travelling.   It is amazing where inspiration for original work can come from, always be ready to capture the moment!   E.g. think stained glass church windows, patterns on wrought iron fences & gates, rock formations, bark on tree trunks, fallen leaves on forest floor, fern leaves, Middle Eastern mosaic tile designs, porcelain, antique fabrics for appliqué, animals, landscapes, buildings, people, shapes, gardens, colour combinations, random compositions etc.   Photographs can be downloaded onto your computer and stored in folders for future reference.   Inspiration is always around us – look, see and explore the possibilities!
4. Imagination vs problem solving:

Sometimes one has a wonderful concept, but it seems impossible to make it workable for a workshop – an obstacle I experienced with my Design a Mandala workshop.  I have always loved the mathematical aspect of pieced quilts – my journey with mandalas started because of my love of medallion designs.   I scribbled a rough design for my first mandala in my sketch book and after making it, I realized it would make a great workshop.  My biggest obstacle was the mathematical aspect as I knew students would find it too intimidating when I talk about geometry tools!   For some students it is a huge challenge to draw a straight line with a school ruler!  I somehow had to find a “design made easy” way as the focus of the workshop would be the design aspect.  After lots of thinking, I overcame that problem by providing them with a marked circular grid template for them to do their designs on!  If I hadn’t devised the plan of the grid, this great workshop would never have been a success as most students would not have coped with the geometry tools.  Creative problem solving is a key component for a successful quilt teacher!



Problem solving, unpicking, reassessing concept, waste of fabric & threads is part of developing your own workshops!  Take photographs and make notes of each step you are working on so that you have a step by step record to refresh your memory of what you did!   By the time you prepare to teach this new workshop, you must be familiar with the process.  You must also be aware of potential problem areas and give guidance to navigate students safely around tricky areas.

Often workshops are about teaching a new technique – develop the technique into a small, useful project as such a workshop is more sellable than a sample piece. Students like to take something home.

When making a teaching sample, use your best fabrics to show up the potential of the workshop at its best.  Often a photograph of this sample will be used to advertise your workshop – it is the packaging/presentation of your workshop and will be the first impression in the marketing process – make it stick!

Developing new workshops is a continuous journey and requires hard work and commitment.

Realize when the season for a specific workshop is over and move on.  It is very easy to become complacent and stale…!


Business side of Teaching:


When you decide to become a quilt teacher, you will exchange your expertise for a fee – yes, it is a business transaction and your student will expect value for money.  With so many YouTube videos available on the internet, don’t be tempted to teach something you found there or on Pinterest as you might not be able to sell your workshop!   Investigate what other teachers in your area teach and offer workshops which are not on offer – this way you will ensure that you will be able to fill classes.


In conclusion, most of you know me as a fibre artist, but before this latest phase in my journey, I was a traditional styled quilter and taught the basics of quilt making.  Old school, I did everything by hand!  It provided me with the perfect platform and background to build, explore and develop as I knew the rules!   I regard all of the above as relevant for any teacher, for those starting his/her teaching career or the ones who have already been around for a while longer…  The bottom line is, love what you do, put your heart into it and enjoy the journey!

15 June 2020

Marilyn   Pretorius

quilt artist,  teacher  &  brush  rags  hand  painted  fabric

16 Gerrit Place,  Walmer Downs, 6070

Tel:  041 367 1634

E-mail:  maripre@mweb.co.za

blog:  http://marilynpretoriusquilter.blogspot.com