Bill Kerr Workshop

Bill Kerr
Bill Kerr

The Bill Kerr  Workshop was awesome. It came hard on the heels of the Sew Day held on Thursday and there were 35 people there! We didn’t get to see Weeks Ringle or the famous Sophie, who has recently published her first book, A Kid’s Guide to Sewing, but I’ll suffer through.

I said somewhere that I want to crawl inside Bill Kerr’s head and suck out all the information he has in there. It sounds gross, but that is how I feel. This is the second lecture/workshop I have taken from him and this was all new information. Or I wasn’t really paying attention last time and he just got a gimme in me.

He is a very good lecturer, regardless, because even if he said the same things over again, they resonated with me and I want to incorporate them into my work.

The last time I heard him speak was at the Peninsula Quilter’s Guild in 2008. At that time I wrote “I am hopeful that I will get to work with them, because he mentioned that they teach a week long, intensive design course. It is now on my list of things to do when the work situation simmers down.” I remember that a month after i wrote this statement, my work troubles were put firmly on the back burner, because my husband was laid off and it was a year and half before we could even consider something like this workshop. I still want to take the design course, and will still have to inquire, though he said they are still busy, but Weeks has created a Craftsy class with a lot of information and that class has 6,000 students in it. I can’t even imagine having that many students. I know they are not all in a classroom at once, but still that is a lot of potential questions.

My ideal would be to have a once per week class with them where the students, including me, went away, did some work and came back the following week to work with them some more. Since they live in Chicago and I live a few thousand miles from them, I will have to put that on my list of things to do when I win $100,000,000,000 in the lottery.

If you don’t know Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle, they are the owners of the Modern Quilt Studio (formerly FunQuilts). Weeks is the author of the popular Craft Nectar blog.  They are the authors of several books:


The workshop was scheduled to last from 6:30-9:30, but we really went until about 10:00pm. At 6:30, Bill bounded, literally, into the room and just started talking to us about color and design and I was, immediately, riveted. I think he really did chat with Rhonda for a minute before he started, but being in the way back of the room, that was my impression. He is energetic and full of life and I know I would gain so much by truly studying with him and Weeks.

He said something that I truly believe. When I looked back at the208 blog post from the last lecture I attended. He said a version of “He suggested that people think you are born Picasso or doomed to mediocrity. He believes this to be wrong and that visual arts take work, like anything else, and that you can be successful if you work at it.” He really emphasized that everyone has an artistic spark and that the owner of the spark has to practice and practice. For us that means making many, many quilts and failing at some of them.

A lot of what I write below is from my notes, so some of the sentences may be just fragments.

Hue – what we call color. When I say my favorite color is turquoise, I really should be saying my favorite hue is turquoise.

Value – relative lightness or darkness of a hue

Itten Color Wheel-saturation
Itten Color Wheel-saturation

Saturation – in-tenseness of the hue – hue in purest form – middle of Itten color wheel. e.g. Pure saturated yellow can never be dark.

Black is the most desaturated “hue”.

The other thing he said that I need to remember for my own work is that it is never, ever solely about the color; it is about the role that the color plays in the quilt. THE ROLE. Fabric is fabric; you can use all types and styles together. There is no quilt police who will look at your quilt and tell you to take some fabrics out. Who cares if it  is modern or civil war, etc? If hte fabric has the right role int he quilt and it is a modern fabric next to a Civil War reproduction next to a feedsack, and the piece works, you have succeeded.

Isolate one concept, express one idea:

  • showcase 1 fabric
  • showcase 1 pattern
  • etc.
David Butler/Jo Morton quilt
David Butler/Jo Morton quilt

Above is one of the quilts Bill Kerr brought as an example. It is a perfect example of the above statement. It is a combination of David Butler’s first collection and Jo Morton fabrics. David Butler is Amy Butler’s husband and his quilt fabrics are more ‘modern’. Jo Morton designs Civil War reproduction fabrics. The fabrics work together despite their different styles and, thus, the quilt works. Don’t limit yourself because you think “I don’t do Civil War.”

Drabs work really well with brights. “Drabs” are taupe, putty, some greys, olive green, some browns, etc. Drabs are forgettable. Drabs allow other fabrics to shine. He didn’t have a chance to go into this very much, but he said that a lot of times a drab version of the complementary hue can really spark up another color. Drabs can add some relief, <Jaye editorializing> I think that what Kerr discussed was what is sometimes referred to as “buying ugly colors” or “using ugly colors”. I don’t like to think that there is a hue that does not have a role to play in some quilt (see above in David Butler/Jo Morton quilt). I also like the idea of calling these types of hues “drab” rather than “ugly.”

He also said, and I really like this metaphor, that putting fabrics together for a quilt is like creating the perfect guest list for a party. Think about hue, scale, pattern (like polka dots). Think about eliminating the ‘loud obnoxious guest.’ Think about how the scale, pattern and hues work together as a harmonious whole. I keep thinking back on his comments comparing quilts to a party.

Figure Ground and Illustration Style
Choosing fabrics for a quilt is not just about looking at the circles on the selvedge and picking colors. Figure Ground and Illustration Style are two things to consider.

In simplest terms the figure is what you notice and the ground is everything else…The figure always defines the ground and the ground defines the figure. They are inseparable — you can not have one without the other. If you draw the figure in a composition, you are drawing the ground at the same time… (Daphne)

Illustration Style is the style in which motifs are drawn. Are there light objects on dark field? Are there dark objects on light field? Are the motifs are outlined in black? Are the motifs not outlined? The type/style of drawing, such as the way I draw my CPP responses or a watercolor color style are all examples of illustration style and they are another tool that you can use to choose fabrics.

Bill likes RJR Linen White as a great background. He likes it better than Kona Snow and there was a suggestion that Kona, while dominating the market, ravels too much. The RJR Linen White is very warm.


Every quilt is an opportunity to learn.

Weeks Ringle wrote an article in the June 2013 American Patchwork and Quilting called Stash RX

I’ll write another post about the Fabric Smackdown exercise we did.