The Nancy Crow Workshop

For the record, I need to start by confessing that a week after I sent in my deposit for the workshop, I got cold feet and tried to back out of it. I had been told by a number of people that Nancy Crow was hard on you. I didn’t want to work hard! Fortunately for me, there was no backsies. And since I didn’t want to forfeit my deposit, I went ahead with my plans to attend.

This was, without a doubt, one of the very best workshops and retreats that I have ever attended. The surroundings were beautiful, the workspace provided was superb, the pace was exhilarating, the instruction and inspiration were above reproach, and the food was out of this world. I talked a bit about the retreat on my other blog, so I am going to concentrate on the actual workshop in this blog.

First, I want to address that reputation that being in a workshop with Nancy Crow is hard. Somehow the fact that she is honest in her critique of your work and has high expectations of each participant has gotten a bad rap. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was refreshing to have a teacher that is passionate about art and wants to convey that to her students and help them to become the best that they can be.

After a brief introduction to what we would be trying to accomplish–a discussion of figure/ground and how it pertains to art in quilting, and some instructions on what strip piecing and restructuring would involve, we were given a number of exercises to do, which involved cutting fabric selvedge to selvedge (sans ruler!) and sewing strips together in various combinations (i.e. dark/light, bright/cool, etc.) We would be making new fabrics with our own original combinations of colors. We were using all solid colors this first day.


After we had those “fabrics” assembled, we started cutting them and restructuring them into a “composition” (quilt top) on our design wall. I am showing my first top here, even though I don’t like it. As I said on the last day (when we had to present our work to the group,) when I was putting my strips together, I liked each of them. But when I was finished and looked at them, they made me think of school uniforms. So when I put them together in a quilt top, I still saw “school uniforms.” One of the things that Nancy impressed on us was to not be afraid to experiment and fail.


Then, we were given all new sets of exercises to do, first combining strips of neutral and brown fabrics, and then combining colors with some prints. One of the interesting things Nancy said was that you had to be careful of prints, because if you used too many of them in your composition (quilt top) they will start “bossing you around.” And I found that that was true. I love prints, and had made a lot of them, but I had to eliminate most of them when I started working on my final quilt.


We cut one strip from each fabric for reference, and pinned it to the wall.


And then assembled all our “fabrics” neatly on our table. They didn’t stay this way for long!


I started putting pairs of strips together that I thought might work well.


After we had most of these exercises done, we were given new instructions on cutting the “fabrics” (that were composed of our strips) into strips and restructuring them, combining them to make units and small compositions that would then be assembled into our final composition. This was fun, but also frustrating. At one point, my next-door neighbor, a really nice woman who had come all the way from Canada, saw me looking perplexed. She said, “well, where is your figure and where is your ground?” And I just said in despair, “I don’t know.” But we were on a time schedule, and so I just kept on working.



With such a large class, it was amazing that Nancy gave plenty of individual attention to each participant. She would circle the room and ask each person, “talk or pass.” If you had a question, she would spend some time with you. But if not, she went on to the next person.

On Thursday afternoon, we took a break from our work, and each workshop participant gave a brief (5 minute) presentation of their current work. Of course, I shared some of my housetop quilts, and how I love combining quilting with God’s Word. So after dinner, most of us went back to work on our composition. I had cut some simple strips and ‘restructured’ them into what looked like plus signs to me. My neighbor glanced over at my design wall, and said, “after your presentation, I understand your composition a little bit more (indicating that the ‘plus signs’ were indicative of crosses.)” That had not been my intention at all, and I had not seen that myself.



THEN, Nancy came around one last time, and I was kind of apologizing for the diagonal lines in the middle piece (I had heard her criticize other workshop participants for ‘meaningless use of diagonals,’) and she said, “Oh, after your presentation, I kind of thought they looked like an arrow pointing upwards.” OMGOSH. It kind of made me cry. Even though my intention was to NOT do anything spiritual, it seemed like God had other plans. So then I just went with it and added two obvious crosses. In the final group evaluation, another person pointed out that there was a very large cross in the middle of the composition.


I was not sure I liked it. But I decided that rather than try to take it apart and re-do it, or leaving it unfinished in a heap (as most of my workshop projects do) I wanted to quilt it right away. I had a little idea of how I wanted to quilt it, so I started in the day after I got home!

Close-ups of some of the restructuring and quilting details:





I loved the whole experience. If I could I would definitely take another class. I know I have only scratched the surface of what Nancy has to offer. She is taking all of 2014 off from teaching because she wants to concentrate on her own art. Maybe I’ll be back in Ohio in 2015!

6 thoughts on “The Nancy Crow Workshop

  1. Fascinating, to see the steps and thought process (and angst!) that went into your week of quilting. I know for a fact that many times, it’s taken someone else’s perspective on what I’m making for me to really “see” it – and I love that your classmates did that for you. For the record, I recognized your beloved crosses right away, in the first shot of the final composition. 🙂 Oh, and I did not see school uniforms, lol – I loved the color combos in the stripes.

    I bet you ended up learning much more in this workshop BECAUSE you struggled – if it had been easy, you could have just stayed home. By being challenged, you really worked your brain creatively and I’ll bet what you learned will keep popping up in future projects.

  2. I’m glad you had such a great experience! I look forward to seeing how you incorporate this into more of your art. 🙂 I thought it was really interesting how your artistic theme shone through, even in a situation where you seemed to be more consciously working learning technique. I also liked that the workshop gave the opportunity for participants to talk a bit about their own work, that must have been interesting!

    Some newbie questions:
    – What did Nancy Crow mean by “meaningless” (vs. meaningful) use of diagonals?
    – Was more of the workshop focused on color combinations, or would the same technique “work” in a more monochromatic scheme but with different fabric textures?
    – Do you find that workshops increase performance pressure? Not that it’s a bad thing when learning something new, just curious.

    • Such interesting questions. You made me think!

      I think she meant that the diagonals did not add anything to the beauty of the “composition.” (and to be very honest, I do not like the big diagonals in the middle of my quilt…)

      The workshop was called “strip piecing and restructuring.” Nancy loves color, as do I, so I can’t imagine doing it without using a lot of colors. But absolutely, the texture thing would be very interesting. Most quilters do work primarily with cotton, mostly because it is the easiest to use. I want to experiment more with texture. It does add a lot to quilts when you see it used.

      For me, workshops exactly do that. And what I explained at the end of the class was that I realized there were two parts of me in conflict in a workshop setting: the “good girl” who wants the approval of anyone she perceives as being an authority figure, and the “rebel” who wants to do it her way no matter what the teacher says. No wonder my workshop creations are often a mess!

      • Thanks for responding, Debby! Your post made me think a lot about art and our reaction to it – why we love some pieces, why we don’t love others, and how subjective it is, and yet there are principals of composition. You know, I think I’d have the same type of good girl/rebel reaction, I totally get that.

  3. Thankyou for that thorough and most interesting discussion of your design process. I don’t think we understand enough, as new quilters/artists that there is an long process of try-rethink-refabricate to any finished piece…we all think the artist simply was so brilliant the entire composition instantly appeared! In a similar class with the lovely Rayna Gillman, we were working through free form design on the design wall. I had some great elements I really liked but could not see a way to get them all to play together. I invited the class to come comment and kick ideas around…got lots of interesting feedback, as you did on your crucifix elements, and while I did not go with any of the suggestions, the ideas presented did spark an “aha!” idea that became the focus of the composition, which worked out very well after that discussion. Sometimes you just need the perspective others can bring.

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