Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The good, the bad and the ugly

Yesterday was Twelfth Night, and as I packed away my Christmas decorations for another year I thought back over a particularly turbulent December.
There was much to smile about.
A pre-Christmas family wedding gave me the opportunity to have a happy snap taken with my lovely mother and sister
For the third year in a row I enjoyed the privilege of an Access All Areas pass to photograph Sydney's Carols in the Domain for my friend Robyn's (Event Founder's) personal collection. This was my stage side view of The Wiggles, Captain Feathersword and Henry the Octopus!
This beautiful girl arrived home after three years working in the USA and Botswana. 
For the first time since 2010 all of my precious children, my daughters-in-law and my grandchildren were here for Christmas.
My sister and I had a little bit of fun on Christmas Day too. In the past we've been known to turn up in the same outfit, quite unplanned, as we have very similar tastes in our clothes and shop the same favourite online shop. 
When we recently discovered we both owned the same top, but in different colours, we decided to wear them on Christmas Day, with identical white pants. To complete the picture we both pinned the sequined felt Christmas trees I had made for us, in different colour ways, a few years ago.
Not at all fun was the mercy dash I had to make to the vet with Chester after he ate a 485gram box of Lindt chocolate balls, wrappers and all, six days before Christmas. Chocolate is toxic to dogs, and can kill them.
Fortunately Chester is large, and had eaten an assortment of milk, dark and white chocolates so he hadn't ingested too much theobromine, the chemical found in highest concentrations in dark chocolate and cooking chocolate.
 An hour after an injection to make him very sick indeed he skipped out of the surgery with an empty stomach, completely recovered, though my bank account might take a little longer. I'm still learning not to leave food where my sensitive-nosed pooch can reach it, even if it is wrapped and sealed.
Here's my naughty boy, as we were about to leave for the vet. He must have had a very sore tummy!
Sydney's Martin Place is usually the centre of our city's enchanting Christmas decorations, a giant tree covered in winking fairy lights and swathed in electronic banners. Families make the trip into town and children gaze, open-mouthed, at the magical scene.
This year Martin Place became famous for another, very ugly, reason. Just ten days before Christmas an extremist gunman took seventeen customers and staff hostage in the Lindt Cafe as morning coffees were being dispensed. The very ordinariness of these circumstances rocked us, and for sixteen hours our city held it's breath as surrounding offices were evacuated and riot police stood by.
The waiting game ended suddenly, around 2am the next morning, when the gunman shot and killed the manager of the cafe, Tori Johnson, and after a loud exchange of gunfire between the riot police and the gunman he and another hostage, solicitor Katrina Dawson, were shot dead and the rest fled, terrified, to safety.
The next morning the flower tributes started, just a few at first, propped up against nearby office buildings. But soon the outpouring of public grief gathered momentum and it was not long before a huge area of the top end of Martin Place was covered in a fragrant carpet of flowers, candles, soft toys, cards and messages, particularly to the two families who had lost loved ones.
Everyone wanted to surround these families, and those of the surviving hostages, with love. 
Quilter Joshua Helms (under his pseudonym Molli Sparkles) wasted no time mobilizing the worldwide quilting community to make 5inch hashtag blocks, and the response has been nothing short of amazing, with more than a thousand blocks having arrived by New Year, and many more since.
Batting, backings and longarm quilting services have been donated, and the plan is to make as many quilts as possible from these little 5 inch rainbow coloured blocks, initially for Tori Johnson's parents and partner, and for Katrina Dawson's husband and three young children.
Hashtag blocks have arrived from Germany, the USA, Alaska, the UK and all over Australia, and I'm proud to be able to play a small part in Molli's heartwarming initiative by making up these hashtag blocks.
Di B has been particularly industrious and made twenty!
All the details, including the time frame for this venture, are here.
As you've seen from my previous post, when compassionate quilters work together we can do great things!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Quilts in the Church

What better season can there be than Christmas, when we celebrate Gods great love for us, to festoon our church with quilts, gifts of love made by St Mark's Quilters.

These larger, crib sized quilts, will soon be off to the KU Marcia Burgess Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre at Liverpool where each little boy or girl will be given one of our quilts when they start there this year.

I love how our quilts look with such a beautiful backdrop!

Then there are the Blankets of Love, around 60cm square, each destined to one day wrap around a tiny baby in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital's Newborn Intensive Care Unit.

Some of these bubs will be struggling to live. But some will not have survived their birth, and the quilt will either go with them when their parents say goodbye, or become a keepsake, a lasting memory of their precious little baby.

Either way, these grieving parents will know that a quilter at St Mark's cared enough to stitch love into a quilt especially to comfort them.

We hung up to nine quilts on each sandstone column, suspended by their corners, and the overall effect was amazing. 

With fresh flowers up in the sanctuary, red bows on the pew ends, and a glittering Christmas tree beside the font, the church looked incredibly beautiful, all dressed for Christmas.

Here's how it looked later that evening, as the choir processed in to our Carols Service by candlelight singing "Once in Royal David's City".

But it was when the lights were turned on that our quilts really shone.

Our quilters choose their own colour combinations from the stash of appropriate fabrics we've collected, even sometimes adding fabrics from their own stashes to achieve the end result. What you don't see, though, is the metres and metres of batting that goes inside  our quilts, something that would be very expensive indeed if our quilters had buy their own.

We like to think of this cuddly inner layer as the heart of our quilts, making them soft and comforting.

Ever since we began, the members of Rotary Inner West have given us a generous donation towards our batting each year, for which we're incredibly grateful. 

While the quilts were hanging in the church Di B and I invited President Fay Thurlow, along with Sandra Bloxham, member of the Board of Directors, for a private tour to see the quilts hanging in St Mark's, followed by morning tea in the church garden. 

We were delighted that they presented us with a cheque, in memory of a member of our church family, Peter Crooks, who was also a member of Rotary Inner West and passed away in September. Peter was very supportive of the ministry of St Mark's Quilters, so it was quite an emotional occasion for us all.

This year we hope to keep on encouraging our keen group of quiltmakers to keep trying out new quilting techniques as they develop their creativity and, at the same time, bring a warm quilty hug to those who need it.

We love because God first loved us.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Australia Flair

It was a combination that fired my imagination in a way I'd never been moved before in my quiltmaking journey: two pristine fat quarter bundles of Emma Jean Jansen's Terra Australis (my favourite fabric range of 2014), the Quick Curve ruler, and the Quiltcon Panasonic  Bias Tape Challenge.

Today I'd like to share with you my second Quiltcon entry, 'Australia Flair', a quilt I hope conveys the sunshine, warmth and celebration that is our Australian summer.

The challenge brief was simple, to create a quilt using appliquéed handmade bias tape as the main design element. 

I started by using my Quick Curve Ruler to cut out plain white quadrants which would be my main shapes.

As a lover of appliqué I've been using Clover Bias Makers for many years, and from my collection I chose the 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch and 1 inch sizes. I pressed open one folded edge of the 1 inch wide bias which was eventually taken up in the seam allowance when I sewed my arcs into blocks

After marking the arcs on my quadrants, I initially used tiny dots of Roseanne's Glue Baste-It to hold my strips in place. However I soon decided I was more comfortable with hand tacking the strips, ready to machine appliqué them using Auriful Invisible thread.

I tried to graduate the shades diagonally across my quilt, from warm to cool, and on the white space in the middle I 'tossed' a multi-coloured streamer. This was meant to be a party quilt, after all.

I used a double-batt, this time Australia's finest Matilda's Own wool/poly on top, combined with Quilter's Dream Poly Request, to ensure a nice thick base for my free motion machine quilting, and a resistance to fold lines in case Australia Flair had to travel.

As you can imagine, a quilt that thick needed LOTS of pins to ensure all those layers didn't move!

Confident that my pinning would hold the layers, I flew in the face of convention (what a rebel I am!) and began by quilting the arc blocks on my Bernina 1230 domestic machine, and using Aurifil Mako 50 threads in white 2024, leaving the central area until last. To be truthful, this was because I hadn't yet decided how I was going to quilt that part.

After all those feathery shapes, in the end I went for simple twin-stitched cross-hatching, to rest the eye but still give plenty of texture.

'Australia Flair' is my first serious competition quilt, so I washed, pegged out and blocked it carefully so it would hang straight, especially necessary with all that bulk. 

Then I auditioned 2 1/4 inch wide strips for the multicolored binding until I decided on this combination that continued the graduated colour story right out to the edges.

Here you can see the binding machined on before I trimmed back the batting and backing to half an inch from the stitching line. I like a well-stuffed binding!

Did you notice those flapping tails on the corner of my quilt in the pic above? My previous attempts at machined mitred binding corners have ended in frustration and tears, but I was determined to master this method which leaves no binding tails to join along an edge. All the joins are within the neatly stitched mitred corners, or at least that's the theory!  

Woohoo! It worked!

I've loved every minute spent making this quilt but, like Happy, my other Quiltcon entry, Australia Flair won't be making the trip to Austin, Texas.

I'm not the only quilter who assumed that, as long as an entry in the Panasonic Bias Tape Challenge met the competition criteria, it stood a reasonable chance of being accepted. 

As well, I had reason to think that Australia Flair was one of a reasonably small pool of entries. A search of the Instagram hashtag #biastapechallenge and #panasonicbiastapechallenge comes up with entries by just six quilters, myself included. Clearly there must have been lots more Bias Tape Challenge quilts not shared on social media.

I was a little sad that it wasn't juried into the Quiltcon exhibition and, having put so much work into the creation of Australia Flair, the dust of disappointment clung to me just a little longer than it did with Happy. 

But I've brushed myself down, pulled on my big-girl panties and accepted that what will be will be.

Come February, though, when so many of my online quilting friends are meeting up in Austin, Texas, sharing photos of the fun on Instagram and getting to see in real life the magnificent quilts that made the cut, I'm sure I'll discover one or two of those pesky little grains still stuck in my shoe, and once again wish that, if I couldnt be at Quiltcon, at least Australia Flair might have gone.

Friday, December 12, 2014


I'm afraid there's been little time for blogging here lately, with my sewing machine whirring late into the night for weeks on end. I've been busy making quilts and trying to put my personal 'word of the year' - COURAGE - into practice by entering a couple of competitions for the very first time.

Today I'd like to show you one of my entries, a quilt I've called 'Happy' because that's just how it makes me feel.

{My photos were taken at different times during the process, in varying light conditions}


I initially entered it in the Quilting Expo at my local Spotlight store, the rules being that it needed to be my own original design and made entirely of fabrics bought from Spotlight.

Basically, I just took a single piece of Spotlight's white homespun, and fused a rainbow of petal shapes to it. Like many quilters, I have a love/hate relationship with Spotlight and their fabrics, but their homespun is one of my favourites. It's so soft and just beautiful to work with, and I always keep many metres in my stash.

I used a double batting for the first time, but rather than use the recommended combination of a wool and a poly batting, I used what was on hand and made a double poly sandwich before appliquéing and quilting the petals in the one process.

Then came the fun part, free motion quilting all that white space!

I might have gone just a little over the top with those feathers!

Finally I bound it in one of my favourite blue prints, an abstract floral that reads as plain, but has enough liveliness to be interesting, if that isn't too contradictory :-)

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the competition. My Spotlight store took down all the signs advertising the Quilting Expo!

 I checked with the store a week before, and again on the day of the advertised event, and on both occasions I was told it was still on, and invited to bring my quilt in for judging.

But there were no other entries :-)

So in the strangest of circumstances, it won! And I won a sewing machine!

Emboldened by my 'win', I summoned up all my courage, took a very, very deep breath and entered Happy in the Modern Quilt Guild Quiltcon competition. This is a juried competition, attracting world wide entries, but nothing ventured....

Of course it was rejected, on the basis of these two photos below from my online entry.

The Quiltcon exhibition judges had clearly given a lot of thought to the sensitive, encouraging wording of their rejection email, but it still took me several hours to come to terms with it. Instagram was alight with excited quilters posting screen shots of their acceptance emails, and pics of beautiful quilts that will hang at Quiltcon next February, and I couldn't help feeling left out of the party.

It wasn't until I learnt that from around 1,350 entries only about 300 had been chosen that I started to feel a little better. 

And then quilters like me, coming to terms with their disappointment, gradually started to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and gather courage to post pics to Instagram of their #rejectedfromquiltcon and #quiltconreject quilts. The trickle soon swelled to a torrent and by the end of the day there was a virtual quilt show of #tunaquilts ('the fish John West rejects', get it?��)

And these rejected quilts were magnificent!!!!

I have plans for this quilt, and the experience of entering an international competition has taught me a great deal. It's also made me even more determined to become a better quilter.