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As it seems everything else in life has had to go online, I supposed it was only an inevitability until things like craft shows and festivals started finding ways to transport themselves to the digital domain. This is exactly what the Festival of Quilts was experimenting with, with their ‘Beyond the Festival of Quilts’ event, which caught my eye for the digital masterclasses on offer.
When I had the great pleasure of visiting the Dongdaemun Fabric Market, I picked up a lot of fabrics traditionally used for making hanbok, what is often considered the traditional Korean dress. As well as the gorgeous brocaded silks (or synthetics), part of the outfits involve the use of lighter organza in a range of beautiful colours. I love how unabashedly colourful a lot of Korean textiles are.
Of course, as is the case for most textile traditions around the world, offcuts and waste are precious materials, which is where the art of jogakbo comes from. I’d seen many beautiful, beautiful examples of jogakbo used in old and contemporary ways at the Chojun Textile Museum that you might be interested in seeing and the Victoria and Albert museum has a small piece here on some of the history too. I was so taken by the fabrics used in jogakbo, and in particular the little bags, that in the hope of having a god myself oneday, I purchased Yang Sook Choi’s absolutely brilliant ‘Korean Patchwork Quilting’. My version is in French but I assume they didn’t ruin the fantastic step-by-step photographs and wonderful project design. (I’ve just noticed the book isn’t out in English just yet but it’ll be out in November!)
The reason jogakbo grabbed me so much is that many are made from lustrous, sheer fabrics and the thick seams make them reminiscent of stained-glass windows. When I saw a masterclass coming up at the Festival of Quilts for just £15 to learn to make, I knew this was an opportunity I had to jump on. I also thought it would give me a chance to use the pile of fabric I came home with as well as time for me to be brave and dive into patchworking with sheer fabrics.
The whole experience of an online quilting class was a bit of a strange experience. It started with prepping the fabrics in advance of the class with very little information on what was to be made and I was just left hoping that I hadn’t misunderstood any of the instructions. I wish the class content list had been a bit more comprehensive – I know I should have gathered that I would most likely need pins but the pace of the class was such that a two second pause to grab additional equipment was lethal in terms of keeping up.
When the class started, Sara Cook, the instructor, did a heroic job of being natural and conscious of the camera placement. I would really love to do an in-person class with her – she seems like a brilliant teacher with and equally brilliant sense of humour. However, I don’t understand at all why the Festival of Quilts decided to run the classes as live Zoom webinars, particularly when recordings were made available after a day. (They originally said it would be a week but it was much faster than that).
One of the things I don’t like about the Zoom Webinar format is that it means there really is no opportunity to interact, or even see, other participants. You only see a small sub-set of other questions being asked and while Sara was doing her best to keep up with them, there was a noticeable lag. The other big problem was the strictly enforced timeslot. This was quite a challenging project to fit in an hour anyway and rather than the ‘show new part of project’, ‘class disperses and tries’, ‘regroup and either recap or move on’ format that most group craft classes take, Sara ended up showing the same skill several times. However, it was easy to miss small details (where a rewind feature helps) or to fall out of sync with the timings of the demos (where a pause feature helps).
Given the near complete lack of interaction I would have preferred just to have the video released and then potentially a shorter timed slot for questions. It was an absolute nightmare trying to keep up sewing live and I was very surprised at how poor the video quality on the Zoom Webinar was (I’m not sure if it auto-adjusts based on connection speed but this shouldn’t have been an issue) – even though great care and practice had obviously gone into making sure to place things in the right spot for the camera and getting the best angles, for some of the small pieces, like making the bat at the end, it was really hard to make out much detail.
With transparent fabrics, it’s all about the seams and one of the big take homes of the class was learning to make the kekki seam. While not necessarily very complicated in themselves, they take a bit of fiddling and folding and are supposed to be quite narrow. I have to admit, while the first few steps were okay to follow, I very quickly fell behind and then it was frenetic dashing between sewing machine and computer trying to catch up. I managed to do something at least that looks semi-respectable (not sure if it’s right) in the time but I really, really struggled on making the little bat knots to go on the design. I didn’t have time to take any progress photos while working along, but I think this one of a hurriedly pinned bat captured how I felt at the time quite well. I’m not sure if it would have helped to be given a handout in advanced to at least understand the ‘seam logic’ of the kekki seams – there are some brilliant diagrams in Korean Patchwork Quilting that I found very useful when trying to digest afterwards.
While it was nigh on impossible to keep up with the class (especially when I’d managed to sew my starter trip to the fabric – genius move from me) I found a lot of the titbits of knowledge given out really helpful. I’d never thought of using the Bernina Magical Mystery Tool (the three bits of non-descript white plastic that come with the machine otherwise known as a foot spacer) to level the foot for bulky seams. Where has this trick been all my sewing life? Lots of good tricks for fabric handling and how to set up the machine, including changing needle positions, which is knowledge I’m not sure I would have picked up from anywhere else.
I was really surprised by how fuss-free the organza was to sew with (I love you Bernina) and, to be completely honest, although everything was thrown together in a mad panicked dash, the end result was far less horrible than I expected. I’m tempted to add a few more panels, make a square and try one of the projects in Korean Patchwork Quilting…
For those of you interested in Korean textiles, Sara Cook is giving an online lecture on 28th August that you can book onto and has a book on all things bojagi called Bojagi: Design and techniques in Korean textile art. I will definitely be keeping a beady eye out for her future workshops as all my masterclass gripes came from the problems associated with synchronous, online teaching.
As for the rest of the Festival of Quilts, the online event was crammed with content, including lectures, workshops, and dynamic galleries. I have to say, I felt the dynamic galleries were done as well as they could within the medium, with text description or audio commentary from the artist. I loved Eszter Bornemisza’s exhibit which veered between being hauntingly beautiful (particularly ‘March’) to downright creepy and even the flatness of a computer monitor couldn’t completely rob her work of its power. For others, like Marilyn Hall with more sculptural objects, I suspect a lot of the impact dissipated on its conversion to flat pixels.
I don’t really want to say anything too negative about the experience because I believe strongly that the organisers did a fantastic job of making an online event and, while the masterclass was never going to be as good as in person, I definitely still got something out of it. However, like so many things at the moment, it’s just not the same as the hustle and bustle of a convention centre, of going somewhere to immerse yourself in a world of colours and fabric scraps and the queue friends you make while swelling your stash to ungainly proportions.
If I thought I was missing craft classes when I went to the London Embroidery School’s lace appliqué class ,I really am now. I have been doing some online things, which works very well with rewinding and revising certain parts, but I do miss the interaction and the live feedback that comes with an in-person class.
For now though, there is plenty of sewing to be done…