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Sunday, 1 May 2022

Me Made May

Today marks the beginning of Me Made May. I’ve never participated before, as watching it on Instragram, it seemed the purpose was to wear something different that you’d made, every day, for a month. My autumn/winter wardrobe doesn’t extend to 31 different outfits, let alone my handmade one.

To be fair, I have started to sew clothing again in the last year or two, I’ve knitted a couple of items for myself, and I happen to be doing an open sewing class during May this year, so it prompted me to take another look at Me Made May.

It turns out a fashion parade of me-made items isn’t the point at all. Instead, it’s about making a commitment to wearing your handmade wardrobe more or differently. Personally, once I’ve made an item, I don’t need additional encouragement to wear it, so I thought about other ways I might be able to participate.

In late 2014 I essentially stopped buying new clothes. I’d just been studying textile sustainability and I was shocked at what I was learning. You can read more about that journey here. In the intervening years, I bought underpants, leggings, a pair of jeans, a pair of summer pants and a cardigan. I also had a jacket and two skirts made for me locally. That's not a lot for five years.

By the end of 2020 though, there were pieces in my wardrobe that were getting beyond their use-by date. And I’m not talking ones that can be fixed with a darn or button. I’m talking tops that are so threadbare they’re see-through. There comes a point where items are going to wear out completely or only be fit for gardening or painting in (insert whichever other stain-attracting hobby you’re into).

Given I couldn’t sew for half of last year though, I ended up buying a handful of items. Now that I am back at the machine, I can be more mindful about what other pieces I add. I also need to be realistic about what else must go. It was all well and good slopping around in threadbare clothes at home during 262 days of lockdown, but it’s not going to cut it back in the real world.

So, my commitment for Me Made May is to do another wardrobe audit. That, and tackling the mending drawer. By the end of the month, I’ll have let go of some pieces, put some back into rotation and made a list of what needs to be added, including pattern ideas – if I’m going to add to the wardrobe, I’d prefer that the items from here were handmade.

Let’s see how I go.

And since I'm normally about the quilting here, this is a little infographic I created back in 2015 about the cotton industry (that provides all our quilting cotton).


1, 2, 3, 6 and 9 To Die for – Is Fashion Wearing out the World?, Ch 7 – 'Picking at Cotton', Lucy Siegle, Fourth Estate, London, 2011
4. Cotton Campaign, http://www.cottoncampaign.org/about.html
5 and 10 The True Cost, movie http://truecostmovie.com/, Direct quote from Vandana Shiva
7. WWF Global, http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/about_freshwater/freshwater_problems/thirsty_crops/cotton/impacts/
8. 3Fish, http://3fish.com.au/whats-the-drill-with-organic-cotton/

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Travels with my Aunt

This quilt has been patiently waiting to get its moment in the spotlight, and since it was finally gifted on the weekend, it now can. A good friend of mine had a zero birthday at the end of last year, so the seeds of this started way back in lockdown in 2020 – sketching out ideas and playing with design options.

And then sepsis happened – and geez I hope this is the last time that experience has to come into a quilt story! My original design had been quite complicated, stretching my skills and forcing me to learn some new ones. It would also have taken me most of 2021 to execute. That wasn't an option anymore. I arrived back in Melbourne from recuperating at Mum's in June, but even then a full size quilt was beyond me. A baby quilt was more my speed at that point.

What to do? What I always do of course... Start with colour, and go big!

The palette was easy, as my friend has a very specific set of colours that decorate her home.

At left taken on a trip to Paris in 2019 and her Princess Zoe at right in all her palette perfection.

Red on Maroon Mural, Section 4 1959
Then the two things floating around my head in terms of inspiration were Rothko and Liberty. Now, I know that sounds like chalk and cheese but she's a fan of both so I went down a research rabbit hole. 

In terms of Rothko, I started with this image she took in London at the Tate in 2018. It was his works with large bands and blocks of colour that I thought could be useful and I've saved a few of them over on Pinterest here.

I then went to the Liberty website. Tana Lawn was out of the question given the size I wanted to work in, so I headed straight for the upholstery section, and that's where I hit the jackpot. These are all part of the Liberty Interiors collection, in soft pinks and greys with a touch of gold and an art deco theme, which I knew would also be appreciated. 

Then it became a matter of deciding how to include these into a design. To purchase the fabric I could only buy metre cuts at a minimum, and the price is eye-watering compared to quilting yardage – literally ten times – so I had to be a bit smart. I noticed that I could purchase swatches which were quite large at about 7.5" square and reasonably priced, so I started using that limitation in my design sketches before I committed to the order.
This is where I ended up. It was a bit of a gamble ordering the Liberty without knowing whether these large sections of solids would be possible to match, but it was a gamble I was willing to take and the swatches were ordered. Naturally it was still a bit of Covid-posting nightmare but UK-Aus was working reasonably well and they only got held up in Singapore for about ten days.
Once I had the Liberty in hand I thought I'd head to Millrose Cottage as I knew their selection of Japanese linens was good and I figured I might at least make a start there. Well, the quilting gods were on my side for this one and I couldn't believe the beautifully textured options in just the right colour palette.

All the fabrics bar the middle one below were purchased there. The far left is the only standard quilting solid. For the next couple of weeks I carried little swatches of these fabrics and the Liberty ones around in a bag anytime I was going near a fabric shop. It was Tessuti that came up trumps with that lovely middle linen.
By this time my body was well enough for me to manage piecing this and the crawling around on the floor it was going to involve. Squaring fabrics was going to be key here and I knew that loose weave on the right above was going to be my biggest headache. I used a mixture of pulled threads, following the fabric pattern and a laser tile level to square everything up. I think I also measured everything at least four times before cutting. Those pieces are so big, there was no room for recuts if I stuffed something up. 

Another thing I had to be mindful of was the different weaves for the Liberty. I used a thicker than normal needle for a couple of them and went pretty slowly over those round cut velvet sections. I also noted that one of the finer fabrics marked when I pinned it, so I was very careful to avoid that after I'd done it once. And last, even though ironing the seams open is normally my approach, it wasn't always appropriate here given a number of the Liberty ones couldn't be directly ironed.

Once constructed it was on to the quilting. There was still no way I could handle a queen size just yet so off it went to Sweetgum Quilting. I had some ideas about the pattern, but let's face it, it's not my strong suit and when Valerie suggested this absolutely perfect Art Deco edge-to-edge I was immediately sold on it. I don't normally face bed quilts but I didn't want a thin border detracting from these large shapes so I went with facing and I'm very glad I did.
And the name 'Travels with my Aunt'? Well we both love to travel and are both partly defined by being aunts so I borrowed the name from Graham Greene and that's what it's been known as while I work.
I don't know about you, but I think it's nice to name something you spend so much time with.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

A long time in the making – the Positively Square quilt

I shared the first tentative pics of the making of this quilt back in September 2020, but the inspiration for it is lost in the mists of time. I do remember being motivated to play around with plus blocks when Curated Quilts did a callout for their Plus edition, but the actual specifics of this one are long gone...

Maybe I was on a roll with the denim, as the Laid Back quilt had just come out and I was working on the pattern for the pouffes – there's nothing like a bit of pattern-writing procrastination to get the creative juices flowing!

I turned the underside of the spare room bed into a design wall during lockdown.

Construction of the Positively Square quilt is fairly straightforward (most of my patterns are) and I've written it for both denim and conventional quilting fabrics as well as for with bias tape and without.

I sandwiched my version by tying and then added red hand quilting to match the bias tape (as you can see below), before finishing it off with big-stitch binding in dark blue thread on red fabric.

But enough of my version, let's take a look at what my testers have done with the pattern. I love it when quilters take my patterns and really make them their own, and honestly, I was blown away by all the variations these guys came up with.

First up we have Diana's (@dianavandeyar), which uses solids in a palette that is pure Diana – unexpected but perfect! I'm a big fan of brown and that peachy pink is an all-time favourite. Diana took her own approach to colour placement and layout, but if you're a bit nervous about that kind of thing, the pattern will give you guidance.

Julia's (@cactusflowerfabrics) quilt top below uses a mix of patterns and solids. What I really like in this quilt is the way the blocks move towards being totally solid from top left to bottom right.

The pattern uses a mix of dark and mid tones on light as well as light and mid tones on dark, but of course you can get a similar effect using patterns versus solids, and mix it up a bit as both Diana and Julia have done.

Next we have Amy's (@amyjakobs). While Amy used a tonal approach with the denim, she switched it up by adding the odd green block (also a brilliant approach if you ran out of denim!) and then randomly used green bias tape over the edges of some of blocks (rather than just the corners).

Amy's denim Positively Square quilt with the odd green block

Then we have Vicki's quilt (@vpquilter). She's taken another path entirely and instead of alternating between the solids and patterned fabric to make the blocks, she's always kept the patterned fabrics forming the plus shape and then mixed up the background colours of each block which gives the quilt a completely different look.

Last, but not least is Melissa's (@hovdemelissa). I confess to loving her quilts-in-the-wild pics. There was clearly a bit of wind, but it just adds to the charm of them. Go check out her Insta feed to see the rest. Melissa has made her quilt from upcycled denim, but then used a mix of different coloured pre-made bias tape that she inherited. She was worried that some were different widths to others, but I don't think that matters in the slightest – it's a great overall effect.
Bravo testers! They're such a fabulous bunch of quilts to have showing off the versatility of this pattern – thank you! 

If you have a go at this one, make sure you tag pics with #positivelysquarequilt on social media so we can see the approach you take – I hope you have as much fun with it as my testers and I did.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Days measured in stitches

My time is currently being marked in stitches and involuntary participation in a strange kind of lottery.

How many pieces can I cut in a day? How many rows can I piece in a day? How many rows can I join in a day? How many passes can I quilt in a day?

It doesn't matter if I'm working on an exhibition quilt, show quilt or gift – it's always the same.

But there's an added novelty this time... Back in lockdown, I'm relying on thread, backing, etc arriving by post to complete quilts, and as any Australian (or maybe even American) will tell you, our postal system isn't coping very well with so many of us at home. In fact, it's coping so poorly USPS has stopped shipping to Australia.

I have two quilts close to finish. One is a finished top, and it has been finished for a good while – backing is its problem. 

Tartan blanket back for the Positively Squared quilt
My new approach to backing the Positively Squared quilt

I want to back it with a vintage blanket, but couldn't find just the right thing online, so a combination of things needed to be ordered – and this is where the postal lottery began. One element was ordered from Perth (the other side of the country – think LA to NYC) and it arrived in three days, the other I'm still waiting for, three weeks later, from another suburb of Melbourne... So, I've changed approach again and I think I like it better – necessity surely is the mother of invention.

The next quilt is close to being a finished top, but for this one, I really stupidly tweaked the design part way through making and was quite literally one hexagon (albeit a rather large one) short in yellow. Can you believe it? This one has been some kind of minor miracle, in that the yellow has arrived a week after ordering (again from Melbourne) along with the most perfectly matched wideback you ever did see!

Pentagram fabric for the Sugarbag quilt back
Could not get a better fabric for the back of the Sugarbag quilt.

So now peeps, you really have to keep your fingers crossed for me that the thread for quilting this one arrives in time. Thankfully the thread for the first was ordered well before the postal system fell apart.

How do you work towards quilt deadlines? Do you plan your time out like me?

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Honouring moments in time

Giant wonky snowball quilt

When my oldest niece, Olivia, turned 13 my sister decided to commission a more grown-up quilt for her. There'd been some bedroom shuffling during lockdowns, and with plans for renovations it seemed a good time to celebrate a milestone birthday with a new quilt.

My brief was this colour palette along with a picture of a doona cover Olivia liked, that featured an animal print. I set up a Pinterest board to share appropriate fabrics with her and got to work on some design ideas.

The shapes in the doona cover were large, so I started off with big, geometric, haphazard shapes. It turns out it was more the fabric patterns and the colours she liked and she needed the design to have a bit of order and symmetry to it. Improv was giving her a headache! We also ended up swapping out the paler, mossy green in the palette with a grey.

Quilt colour palette
Sarah Renae Clark's colour palettes

I tried a few, more orderly designs and we settled on a giant wonky snowball. Something that still had a bit of the unexpected, without going completely random. Next it was time to source the fabric. The first place to look was clearly the stash, but there weren't a lot of dark blue-greens or greys going on here. Certainly not enough to make a quilt from, but definitely a few that could make corners.

Starting the quilt in lockdown last year was a real challenge for a number of reasons. I couldn't see any of the fabrics I was buying in real life, so quite a few things arrived in the mail that went straight in the stash.

Then there was also the struggle to get fabrics in Australia at all. Some of this was due to the pandemic and supply issues, but it also reminded me why I tend to use upcycled fabrics. We get access to such a small range in Australia and the cost of shipping can be exorbitant, so it's best if I don't get my heart set on something I'll have trouble sourcing. I'm looking at you Chalk and Charcoal! Except for a few white/cream widebacks, this fabric was pretty much impossible to get here.

At this stage we're still talking 2020 and as I was in lockdown for about seven months of it, there was no chance I was going to be having guests stay in the spare room. To give myself extra project space I upended the spare bed and used the base of it as a design wall. You'll have to excuse the dodgy photos below, but they were snapped on the iPhone at all hours as I contemplated this quilt.

Liv wasn't really keen on that intense plum colour so it went first. Then I thought it was still too busy with the jade green, so that went too. In the end, it was clear that the large hexagon pieces were going to need to be fairly neutral. It was at this point we were finally let out of lockdown, so I packed the quilt in a drawer and headed out of town.

quilt in progress

Three months later, after a mad dash back to Melbourne before borders shut, I got the quilt out again, this time on the floor – see pic below. I started with all the darkest blocks before filling in the alternating spaces with the mid tones. Then I set about choosing the corner pieces – finally letting those small pops of colour back in. 

Just as I was starting to make real progress on this quilt it got put on hold again as I contracted sepsis and ended up in hospital for a few weeks before starting a very long (and ongoing) rehabilitation. There wasn't going to be any sewing for a while.

After being out of hospital for a few weeks it was clear I couldn't cope on my own physically, so Mum packed me up and took me home to Wagga to recover... For some reason we packed the quilt.

Making real quilt progress

Months passed, and while I wasn't really ready for sewing myself, I knew I could stand long enough to cut fabrics for a while and to iron piecing, so I asked Mum if she'd help me finish the quilt. Thankfully things moved pretty fast from there and we'd decided it would be reasonable to aim to have the quilt with Olivia for her 14th birthday.

We laid the blocks out on a bed so I could reach them more easily and sewed a few every couple of days. It wasn't long before we were getting the rows together and completing ourselves a top.

And all those extra fabrics I ordered? Well quite a few of them ended up on the back, including those extra plum and jade animal prints. I didn't want to do anything too fussy for the back, not least because it would have to be Mum piecing it. It turned out that the black fabric was already cut in strips, leftovers from a quilt my step-Mum made (boy was she a lifesaver with a few spare navy-coloured grunge blocks too!) so that dictated the strip widths around that central fat quarter and we had a top and a back ready to go for quilting.

wonky snowball quilt back

The quilting was done by Sarah from Temora in lightning-quick time and the pantograph is Loophole by Sarah Ann Myers. Mum and I were thrilled with how it turned out. By this time I was well enough to return to Melbourne, and Mum was off on a much-needed holiday, so the binding got done with a bit more of that black fabric, right back where the quilt started.

close up quilting

And the birthday girl? Well by all accounts she's super happy with it too. Mum and I got to see her open it on Zoom – Olivia in Sydney, me in Melbourne and Mum back in Wagga. I love that technology allows you to be there in moments like that even when you can't be there in person. It's so special to be there when someone opens a quilt gift. My sister also text me not long ago to say that Olivia is rarely out from under it, although she had finally left the house after a few weeks (they're in lockdown now too) but had only gone as far as the car, and the quilt had been taken along too :-) As long as it's loved, then it's all OK with me! 

In a bit of a postscript, I had decided sometime during 2020 that I would try and use scraps from projects straight after completing them, as I thought it would be good improv practice, but also give me smaller pieces to show when opportunities arise... I often find myself without appropriate works for local art shows. So, with this in mind I started with the scraps of Olivia's quilt. The dark colours spoke to me of the difficulties of these last months and I added in some bright spots of gold to remind me of better times; of much care and kindness shown; of days without pain; and of finding light in the darkness. Meet 'Phosphoresence'.

Phosphoresence