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Tours for the Thinking Person: Vermont

Heart & Crafts

In New England a crafter's delight: classes and time to create projects

January 11, 1998|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LUDLOW, VT. — Paradise is a subjective thing: a secluded tropical beach. A bottomless shopping spree at Barneys. Eating all the chocolate you want and never gaining weight.

Mine is being able to work on craft projects for days without major disruptions.

Anyone who sews, crochets, knits, weaves, wood works, etc., understands this. I love my husband, I love my job and I love my cats, but they leave precious little time for much else.

So when I saw the ad in Threads (a sewing magazine) last spring for the Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts in Ludlow, Vt., I immediately called for a catalog. In its pages I discovered paradise--summer classes in everything from floral design to woodcarving to rug hooking to tole painting, all held in a converted farmhouse surrounded by verdant fields and hills. I knew that Vermont was also a craftsperson's dream, with cottage industries in weaving, glass blowing and pewter scattered throughout the state.

Perusing the Fletcher catalog, I zeroed in on quilting, finding a five-day beginning class in early July. Intensive instruction was exactly what I wanted. For years I longed to learn how to quilt, but the few classes I had taken in Los Angeles always followed an exhausting day at work. So far I only knew quilting as a frustrating, tedious craft, and yards of fabric sat gathering dust in my closet. I still wanted to try, but under better conditions.

Space was still available when I called, and the winter registrar promised to mail me a class supply list as well as information on accommodations and what personal items I'd need. The class was $175, and for an additional $50 a day I'd get three meals and a single room in a dorm-like facility, sharing a toilet with my next-door neighbor and showering down the hall--rustic was the word that came to mind, but that was fine with me.

There was only one little problem--I'd have to haul my extraordinarily heavy Bernina sewing machine 3,000 miles, along with fabric and other supplies, plus clothes. Although I found a travel case for the Bernina and it fit under the airplane seat, schlepping it was not a pleasant experience. Apparently airport security hadn't seen many on the X-ray machine; they'd invariably furrow their brow and say, "What is this?" I quickly learned to yell, "It's a sewing machine!" as it lumbered down the conveyor belt.

I arrived in Burlington a day before orientation, picked up a rental car and checked into a motel. It would take several hours to drive south to Ludlow and after a long flight, I needed a night of rest.

After tooling through the bucolic wonderland that is Vermont--farmhouses, sweet small towns and charming Victorian buildings--I arrived in Ludlow in the late afternoon and had no trouble finding Fletcher, which is on the main road past the town's center. I checked in and found my room in a building called "The Roost." It was indeed rustic, but not uncomfortable, with a twin bed, desk, sink, chair, fan and open closet. I felt like a student again.

That evening students and instructors gathered for orientation. It looked like a small group, but I discovered later that the school filled up more toward the end of summer. Then we regrouped into our classes, and our instructor, Nola Forbes, led us to what would be our classroom for the next five days: a converted barn, outfitted with long tables for cutting and sewing.

I instantly liked Nola. A Vermont schoolteacher with years of quilting experience and associations with various guilds, she made it clear we were in for a lot of work. Yet she was eager to have us soak up as much knowledge as we could in five days. She explained that we'd start out with a basic nine-patch block, then move onto more advanced blocks and techniques that included hand applique and sewing curves. By the end we'd have six different blocks ready to be made into a quilt.

We'd begin at 9 a.m., break at noon for lunch, come back at 1 p.m. and work till 5, then break for dinner. Every night there was an open studio from 7 to 9 p.m., where we could work on that day's project.

I was one of only four students in the quilting course; the others were Sandra, a 40ish woman; Anita, an older woman originally from England; and Alice, a grandmother. They were all from nearby states and had driven to the school. Sandra was the veteran of the group, having taken classes at Fletcher for years. She said coming here was her annual birthday gift to herself.

*

The first day of class flew by as Nola looked over our fabrics and helped us choose appropriate colors and patterns. After I'd completed a nine-patch, the most basic and easiest block, there was a great sense of accomplishment--the quilting equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. We praised each other's work and proudly hung them on the wall.

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