Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Quilting Break at Chiang Mai (part 1)

Chiang Mai 23rd – 27th Jan 2013

So there I was, in Chiang Mai, getting all set for 5 days of focused quilting, a wonderful and exciting experience I had been so looking forward to. The best birthday gift I could have ever got! Karen and her husband Mark Sengel met me at the airport. They are both retired international school teachers, quite off beat and totally chilled out, we became friends immediately! They live a  little out side Chiang Mai, in the middle of a tamarind orchard which house their landlady in a very posh wooden house, the Sengels in another little cottage, and me in the very new guest house which had just been completed and I was the first occupant. The place was idyllic, with amazing trees, and orchids growing everywhere, with a slightly over grown back vegetable patch….but all together totally charming.  

 The Sengel's House
My guest house

10 expat women who form the ‘Chiang Mai in Stitches’ who meet every alternate Wednesday from 10 am to 2 pm, had their meeting on the day after I arrived, which  I was fortunate to attend. Women of all ages, the eldest being 80, all with a common interest in some form of craft, meet and chat, have a show and tell, carry on with projects they are completing, and someone sometimes tries to teach something new! 
I had taken the kantha that Baba’s grand mother had made over 120 years old...and still looking great), and one of the new ones that I had recently had made from my old saris.  Of course there were many ooohs and aahss,  people touched the fabric and exclaimed at the work, the softness of the silk! Karen’s sister from the US was visiting, retired from an IT job, also a quilter, showed us how to make rope coasters with fabric scraps tied around rope. It was all machined together with a zig zag stitch, and was great fun. I made 2 coasters for our bedside at home!

What I found invigorating  was being amongst a group of women, who so totally enjoyed their day together, remained focused on the needle work, sharing ideas and offering help, no unnecessary gossip, just 5 hours spent in easy peaceful camaraderie, and relaxation. It was great to be able to talk to others who shared the same interest for needle work like me. A lady from Germany wanted ideas on how to make a black and white quilt for her granddaughter, and was encouraged to share her original ideas, which were then built upon. Another showed her completed pieced  quilt top and wanted ideas on quilting. Karen’s sister had made lemon squares and there was hot coffee….it was a great way to get an idea of what I was going into…all very serious needle women!

 Show and ancient tribal dress from Laos. The embroidered side is worn when the person dies
Leslie's first attempt at piecing a picture of lemon grass and turmeric 

I spent the evening chatting with Karen, teaching mark, who is a very interested cook,  how to make a chicken curry and aubergine with yogurt, and looking at all her amazing quilts!

Her teacher is a quilter called Ruth McDowell,  in the US who has fine tuned the method of making a complex pattern in geometric sections, from a picture and piecing cloth together, to reproduce a version of the picture in fabric. Karen has understood and mastered the craft and having lived in Thailand and Japan for the last 15 years, has used it to create wonderful pictures of life in Thailand and Japan. That’s possibly what attracted me most to her, the use of local subjects, local indigenous fabrics and colours! 
Check out Karen's website at 

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