.post-body img { width:600px; height:auto; }

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'.



  1. What a saga, Tara! This was really an effort of love, time, and remembrance - perhaps of things that you'd rather forget! Still, for Olivia, it's a treasure. I like how you collaborated on it through Pinterest, and then actually worked out fabrics through pictures. I find picture-taking really valuable when designing... helps me "see" a quilt better. I'm really sorry that you suffered through sepsis and the recovery process, but how wonderful to have a mum who is sympathetic and helpful! Count that as your own treasure! I like what you did with fabrics for the backing, and how you used scraps to make Phosphoresence. It's intriguing and dark, perhaps a good reflection of your emotions through 2020 and well into 2021. The subtle yellow flying geese across the bottom are wonderful. My eyes were immediately drawn to them. How were they achieved? Are they big stitched? No matter. It's a gorgeous piece. I'm glad you've continued to create through all your trials. Be well. Stay well!

    1. Hi Linda, thanks for your lovely words.
      I'm like you with the pictures – mine phone is full of dodgy shots as I figure things out.
      And yes, I'm eternally grateful to Mum. I wouldn't have got through this recovery without her, let alone the quilt. There were definitely a few months there where no creating was happening and the most I could manage each day was getting out of bed!
      Also yes, those stitches are made with metallic gold DMC thread cross-stitches. I think I still may add a few more...

  2. Tara, I love this. I was wondering what you were going to do with all those bits you were saving along the way. Did you do the quilting too?
    Thanks you for all those kind words. I am blessed with three wonderful daughters each of whom is talented in her own special way. Keep making me proud!

    1. You're welcome Ma. Let's face it, I wouldn't have made it through these last six months without everything you've done for me.
      I forgot I've pretty much made the small quilt since I got back. I had sewn all the triangles into a square or rectangle before I left, I think. And yes, I did the quilting, as it's only a small piece I figured I could manage it.

  3. Love all your quilt patterns. They all look so artistic and would look good as a deco piece too.