Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Post Where I Tell You About Filming an On-Line Quilting Class (with more details than you could ever possibly want to know)

A few weeks ago I posted a picture of two different fabric pulls and blocks made from each of them.  I finished them up and made the bright ones into a wall hanging and the more subdued pallet into a pillow.  Why?  Because they were the project for the online class I was going to film on basic piecing skills.   !!?!!?!!   I know!  Crazy!.

I am so glad they took this picture for me - I didn't quite believe that I looked remotely professional or that the layers of makeup looked natural.  And look at the shelf behind me - our book!  You Can Quilt!  Subtle, huh?  :) 

My friend Heather says that if you don't write something down it is like it never even happened (cue ominous voice).  So I am going to go a bit crazy here and tell you all about the process.  I love a good behind the scenes post and it was an experience that I never want to forget, so let's start at the very beginning.

December-ish of 2014, Elaine B., Executive Editor at the American Quilters Society (the company that published our book You Can Quilt!), moved on to develop AQS's new online class site, iQuilt.   It is a totally new venture for AQS and I think it is going to be great!   When she first changed roles she asked if I would be interested in doing a class.  I said it sounded interesting but the time wasn't right for me.  Fast forward a few months.  I had just finished making a pillow that I thought would be a great project for a beginning quilting class when Elaine called and said they were looking for an instructor for a beginning quilting class.  Crazy.  We talked for awhile and I agreed to do a class.

The first steps were to submit an outline of the proposed class, sign the contract and get scheduled for a filming time.

The set - notice That Quirky Scrap Quilt on the left?  And the project pillow on the shelf?

Then there wasn't much to do until about 6 weeks before the class when I started talking to Alissa the producer.  The first time we talked we discussed the vision for the class, the project and other stuff that I didn't write down so I don't remember  - it is like it never even happened.  :)

About two weeks later we spoke again.  Alissa expressed some concerns about the project and suggested we do something that had a finished product - like a quilt block - at the end of each section.  She also wanted to cut the how to layer, baste and quilt section that I had at the end because there was so much that went into quilting that it could be it's own class.  I almost freaked out at that point.  There were 4 weeks until filming and I needed to come up with a different idea?  And all of the time planning (outline, instructions, etc) was "wasted" and had to be re-done?  And I had to come up with a finished product that wasn't quilted?  (cue hyperventilation)

But she was totally right.  It would have been a pretty lame and simplistic class with my initial project (which I think I might submit to a magazine so I'm not going to show any pictures quite yet).  So, I submitted a new project idea and outline, got an ok and got to work.

The Pillow - photo by my brother Eric Ellsworth
I decided to make a sampler (a new skill with each block) and mount it onto a canvas covered frame used for painting.  Then I went a bit crazy selecting colors - I still have piles of fabric all around my sewing room.  There is a bit more stress than normal when you are picking out fabric for a class.

 Then I started to make everything including the step outs.  Step outs are the step by step pieces that you can pull out and not have to actually make on set.  For example, I had all the pieces cut for each block, a finished block and any other pieces I could pre-make (like HSTs) in a bag labeled with the lesson number.  I should have had more pieces prepped, but I was lucky to get done what I did.  I was also lucky that my parents and brother came out for my daughter Colleen's birthday and baptism.  My mom kept the little ones busy while I kept sewing and prepping.

Brian - the computer guy.  He monitored everything during filming - I think - I'm not sure exactly what he did.

About 2 weeks before filming Alissa and I talked again.  We walked through the outline together and then she asked me to practice telling her what I was going to say in lessons 2 and 3.  Augh!  I thought I had everything figured out, but discovered that there is a big difference rehearsing what you are going to say in your head and saying it out loud.  I realized that I was going to have to rehearse what I was going to say multiple times out loud.  That is very hard for me.  I have this weird thing where if I am afraid of doing something (like giving a speech in school) I will avoid working on it which will make my I-am-going-to-mess-up self-talk come true.  So, I made a conscious effort to make myself practice.

I was planning on shipping everything to Denver where we would be shooting, but didn't get it all done in time.  I also had a hard time finding a box that would fit a 24" x 24" canvass.  But everything got packed (except some extra fabric and blades that I forgot - grrr) and I got on the airplane in Des Moines with all my boxes.  For some reason they had gotten rid of the curb check since the last time I had flown (yeah, Des Moines is a very small airport) so I had to run back and forth with my boxes from the airport shuttle to ticketing while the intercom warned passengers not to leave their luggage unattended.

Cory - the hair and makeup person
The flight to Denver was uneventful except for being delayed and some rough flying at the beginning and end.  They had arranged for a driver to pick me up and take me to the hotel.  He was originally from Tunisia and we had a great time talking about North Africa and the Middle East on the way to the hotel.  When I first got in he asked if I was going to such-and-such hotel and I said yes.  After I was dropped off, I realized that I was at the wrong hotel.  !!!  I called Sam and he came back for me and I got to the right place.  We both felt pretty dumb.

Alissa giving me a thumbs up!

The next morning they were finishing taping another class and I didn't need to be there until 11 am.  So I got breakfast at the hotel and practiced the lessons we were going to film that afternoon.  Again another mix up with the shuttle - I had to tell the hotel that I needed a ride, it wasn't prearranged.  But I got there, hung up my clothes in the dressing room and got my makeup done.  It was way heavier than I usually wear, but you really couldn't tell that I was wearing very much at all once I was under the lights.  Cory did an airbrush foundation which was super light - I couldn't tell I was wearing it at all.  But I did decide to take out my contacts the next two mornings because all of the rubbing while applying eyeliner and everything else that covered the dark circles under my eyes really bothered them.  The second morning Cory got me mixed up with another instructor who wore eyeliner under her eyes and when I put in my contacts without even thinking I said, "Whoa!"  I looked freaky with that much eyeliner.  Then I tried to think of the most polite way to say that I didn't want under-the-eye eyeliner.  She said she usually didn't like doing under eyeliner, but since that is how I usually wear my makeup she put it on anyway.  I said that I didn't wear eyeliner under my eyes (not since that green eyeliner in 8th grade) and she took it right off for me.  That was a close one.  :)   I was willing to go a bit out of my comfort zone makeup wise, but not that far.  It was pretty heavy.

Cory was lots of fun.  She just finished doing zombie makeup for Texas Zombie Wars.  She says that zombie makeup is kind of boring.  They just look dead and gross.  She had music going while she did my makeup and I heard Recovery by Frank Turner for the first time.  It became my new favorite song.  She also did my hair and had the tiniest straight iron.  She said it was good for working with guys hair.

They did a "behind the scenes" shot the last day where they asked me questions while I had my hair done.  I'll post a link when it goes on iQuilt.  I forget what I said, but I think it was kind of funny/good.

After lunch (southwest style salad) we started filming.  I felt super nervous and sick to my stomach.  The first thing we filmed was the second lesson - Choosing Fabric and Cutting.  There was a lot to go over and keep straight.  They didn't want to use any type of a teleprompter because it was hard to get it to look natural - ie people end up looking at the prompter not at the camera.  To help me remember the order of what I was going to say we arranged the visual aids around the table in arch.  I just had to move from left to right.  They also showed me how to put things on my left side and leave them on the table if I wanted to show the audience something.  That way Joe (the cameraman) could get a good close-up of it.

It was intense, scary, frustrating but then exciting when I finally got the section finished.  There were lots of starts and stops.  I got better about not moving my hands or anything on the table when I would need to stop and gather my thoughts.

When I needed to stop they told me to pause and look down at my hands for a few seconds.  Then when we restarted I would look at my hands and then look back up at the camera, smile and start talking.  It makes it easier for them to edit the sections together.

Alissa would stand to the side of the camera and follow along with the outline we had worked on.  If there was something I missed or something we needed to retake she would raise her hand.  Then I would continue to the end of my thought, look down and pause and then we would discuss what needed to be done.   She would also nod and give a thumbs up if things were going well.

Even with all of that there were still things that I forgot to say.  They weren't vital to the class, but it was still frustrating to go back to the hotel and realized that I had forgotten to say this or that when I had planned to.

I also had a hard time wrapping up the lessons.  It felt kind of forced and weird so I would look at Alissa to see if I was doing ok and then because my eyes kept flicking to her (instead of staying focused on the camera - the white square) we would have to retake it - again and again.

Joe, setting up the C camera.  He would be on a "movable" camera off to my left.
I also learned that it was best if I told Joe (the moving cameraman) about any moving of fabric or closeups we would need in the section coming up.  Every once and awhile I would hear him make a tiny "tisk" sound.  At first I thought it was because I had made a mistake (it kind of was) but then I realized that he made that sound when he didn't get a shot like he wanted.  For instance when I moved unexpectedly from the cutting mat to the pressing area of the table.  Some we would do it over and some we just worked with.  I could never quite decide if I should stop or not when I heard the "tisk".

Joe had the ears of a bat.  He would regularly stop the filming and say, "Did you hear that?  Birds." or "Airplane" or "Ugh.  They're mowing the lawn next door again.  It must be Thursday."  Then we would wait for the sound to pass and go back a bit and redo the section.  They also we record the background noise of the studio at the end of each take.  I guess they can use that background noise to fill in if they dub out one of my "ummm....s".

Joe was also in charge of lighting and sound.  Depending on the shirt I was wearing we had an easy or harder time getting the mic just right.  If it got out of place and started rubbing the fabric it would make a noise and Joe would have us stop and adjust the mic.

The only person I don't have a picture of was Sophia the assistant.  She was super nice and is going on a study abroad to Hungary this fall.  She ordered lunches, ironed my clothes, edited promos and other stuff.

This is the monitor Alissa could see while we were filming - that way she would make sure all of the shots were going well.
Speaking of clothes, they recommended bringing 6-8 solid jewel toned shirts.  No large prints.  No red, white or black.  No light weight or flimsy material (for the mic).  I don't know about you, but I had a total of one shirt like that.  So I needed to do some shopping.  It was really tricky finding something that looked good on me that met those criteria.  But now I have a bunch of new shirts to wear - I didn't wear them much before filming because I was afraid of them getting stained.  That's just how things are over at my house.  :)

We didn't get as much filmed on Wednesday and Thursday as we had planned so I was getting a bit stressed on Friday, but we got it all done.  We finished up the last promo piece (where I had to repeat the ending at least 8 times because I kept stumbling over the words) just as the shuttle to the airport showed up.  Alissa packed my shirts while I gathered all of my supplies into a pile for them to ship back to me.  Then big hugs all around and I was off.

I was on a total high for the next two days.  Completely giddy.  There was literally a bounce in my walk.  I kept smiling at and starting conversations with people at the airport, which is not my normal MO.

It was totally stressful and completely wonderful and I would love to have the chance to do it again.  I love the filming team - they were amazing.  Not just great at their jobs but super nice people.  I would totally have them over for a BBQ.

So there you have it.  My epic post on filming an on-line class.  Something I never thought I would do, but something I am so grateful I had the chance to do.

I believe they are planning on launching iQuilt in the next few months with the first 12 classes they filmed.  Mine was the 27th class, so don't hold your breath.  It might be awhile before it goes live.  You can sign up for email updates on iQuilt.

If I didn't cover something feel free to ask questions in the comments and I'll answer them.

I don't know if I mentioned it, but IT WAS AWESOME!  :)

Thanks for reading to the very, very end!


  1. This is so amazing! Congrats and thanks for sharing all these fun behind-the-scenes moments!

  2. Wow! So much goes into the filming and all the details. It does sound like it was awesome!


  3. Wow, I'm so excited for you! I have signed up for a preview. I want to see you though. Congrats to you!

  4. That's so cool! Thank you for sharing all the details, it's fascinating to read about how this all works and I've always wondered. :) I love that "omg I just conquered the most stressful, scary thing ever!" high. Great job and I look forward to seeing it!

  5. I'm not surprised at all---you DID begin your acting career when you were quite young as Gretel in Sound of Music. BTW you were adorably talented then, too!

  6. congratulations! how super exciting for you. and totally nerve-wracking, i'm sure! this is awesome. and good for you for getting it all recorded. for posterity and all. ;)

  7. Congratulations Lelia!! How exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Great job - I can't wait to see it!!

  8. Loved this! How nerve-wracking and how thrilling to have this opportunity. By the way, as someone who has done teaching for a living, you walk away from every class thinking of the things you forgot to say--that is totally normal! I'm just happy I'm never in front of a camera when I do teach--Bravo to you!