Thursday, 11 September 2014

Rising Balloons Quilt

A quilt commission, a new fabric line, a birthday present. I'm excited about this quilt because it would never have been without the convergence of these three occurrences.
A dear friend of mine asked if I could make her a quilt for a mutual friend and her family. They've been living in Australia for almost a decade, originally from England, and are returning home at the end of the year. I immediately thought of Emma Jean Jansen's recent lines Terra Australis I and II. They are bright and modern, they have a great selection of beautiful and fun basics (kangaroos!), and it's distinctly Australian without looking like a cheap souvenir shop or retro tea-towels.
Our friends have been living in Canowindra, home of an annual Hot Air Balloon festival, so Jewels asked, if possible, for hot air balloons, but ultimately trusted me with the design.

Soon afterwards, my amazing Tim gave me an Accuquilt Go fabric cutter for my birthday! He actually walked into my local quilt shop, bought it, and a hexie die to go with it, and arranged for it to be delivered because he was on his bicycle! I asked my mum if she'd buy the large Drunkard's Path die for my birthday to go with it. I'd avoided curves so far in my quilting. I'd sewn in plenty of sleeves in my time, so I knew I could do it, it was just the cutting that kept me away. With my fat quarter bundles of both lines in hand, I cut a 9" strip from each prints that I wanted to use (all the basics plus a few extras). Cutting 6 layers at a time with the Go cutter, I had the entire quilt cut in about 45 minutes!

I arranged the quilt in overlapping circles, hoping that it would look a little like hot air balloons rising up en masse. I free motion quilted around the circles in a swirly design, to represent the wind. This mix of colour, design, and quilting is so different to what I usually make and I love it! I found the whole process really satisfying and inspiring. The biggest challenge? Trying to get photos on our weekend in the country in full sun with a strong breeze! Thank goodness this old brick shed we found. Not quilt the wheat field pictures I had in mind, but lovely (and protected!) just the same.

In the centre of the circles, I almost quilted lines that would look like hot air balloons, but I was too afraid they'd just look like basketballs! So I went with this simple flower so that the circles would still POP! but would have a special feature to draw the eye.
I backed the quilt with a couple of the feature prints from the lines, mixed with other prints from my stash.

Usually custom orders make me feel limited, more like a manufacturer, rather than an artist, and I've really enjoyed the break I've given myself this year to make for friends and ideas. I haven't missed the constant evaluation of time and price, which usually led to less experimentation and a safer mix of colour. In this instance, I offered my work for free, which enabled me to play, without worrying about keeping my hourly rate above sweat-shop level.
For me it throws into question what I want my sewing to be for me (a successful business? A means of creative expression and sanity in the baby years? A hobby that pays for itself?) but I'm enjoying the things I'm learning, both personally and creatively, while I let the question float a while...

Saturday, 16 August 2014


I was just relaxing in my yard, drinking tea with a friend, hanging out the last of my washing, when suddenly, a lovely bunch of friends arrived with flowers and a birthday cake! What a lovely surprise when it happens that Tim's away skiing for the weekend, and I'd just started to grow bored of playing Hungry Hippos!
We sat around and sipped from delightful little teacups, and ate yummy fruit and cheese, and told stories about disastrous holidays. And then I remembered that this quilt needed photos! And while I don't have the loveliest yard at the moment, having 2 adults on quilt holding duty, one on baby holding duty, and the others listening to the big kids' constant chatter, made the shoot more than successful!

This lovely group of women are part of an intentional, urban community, that Tim and I have lead for almost 6 years. Half way through our degrees, we decided that university held the opportunity to be a rich time of community, discussion, creativity and thinking through our faith together. We set up a kind of 'home church' as part of Cornerstone Community here in Newcastle, with other student friends.

Six years is a long time in a family's life. Long enough for the first baby to be school aged, and for 2 sisters to come along. Long enough for routines and priorities to change. Long enough to see friends start and finish their degrees and move to new places. We are less involved these days than we used to be, less available for barbecues and concerts and craft afternoons. So it's a precious gift when a pre-prepared party arrives at our door, when these adults jump on the trampoline and hide in the cubby house, cuddle a baby, boil the kettle, hold a quilt. It's why I've started making these Graduation Quilts, for these friends that have moved on, or will finish up at the end of the year. I wanted to thank them for their generous gifts of time and friendship, washing the dishes, watching the kids so Tim and I can go out for dinner, bringing flowers and a meal when a new baby arrived, or when one was lost.

This 'Scrappy Trip' quilt is for Mandie, a sweet, happy girl, who moved last year to start teaching. I used small scale, fresh, and sometime novelty prints, strawberries, bikes, horses and butterflies because they remind me of her innocent and adventurous spirit. Until now, the Scrappy Trip around the World quilts hadn't really drawn me in, but I settled on the pattern while looking for ways to make an Irish Chain quilt. I was fussy about colour placement, had lots of fun making the blocks, and like the way the diagonal repetition draws attention to the little characters in the squares, compared to a randomly placed 'postage stamp' quilt. It was one of those few quilting experiences where I made the quilt bigger than intended, rather than running out of puff early and settling on a baby quilt!

Phew! Another quilt cut, sewn and photographed! I can't wait to post it off to you Mandie! xx

Monday, 11 August 2014

Quilts and their Stories

When blogging about a finished quilt, one has to decide between telling the story behind the quilt (this one is the first of a series of graduation quilts, for lovely friends in our home church, which has mostly uni students. I made this one for someone who loves the beach, because these colours remind me of the seaside), or the making of the quilt (this one was inspired by the one in Sunday Morning Quilts), or the photography adventure that follows.

I made a deal with a lovely new friend of mine that I would help her baste the quilt I've been teaching her to make, then I could drive her home, if on the way, we could photograph some long-finished quilts, child-free!. But then the baby refused to go to sleep before we left, so we decided to bring her along for the ride, assuming she'd just fall asleep in the car. WRONG!
We got the pram out, hoping she'd either doze off or enjoy the last of the daylight, and BROKE the pram as we got it out of the car. Checking that it could still hold her safely, we put her down in it and went for a walk. We got these two photos above (rescued by heavy editing) before deciding that the very unimpressed baby and the dark were clear signs that it just.wasn't.working...


Thank goodness for my neighbour's trusty grey house! I snagged Tim just before he left for work, but it turns out this quilt is slightly bigger that the baby quilts I usually make and I struggled to get the whole quilt in the shot, without the presence of weeds, or baby, or aerials or gas fixtures. And there's really only so much a poor husband can hold up a big quilt while his creatively fussy wife orders, "Put your left hand up a bit, no, your other left. Face me a bit more. Higher!" before, his arms nearly fall off...

...and he walks away, taking the baby inside out of the cold. Isn't he good to me?

 So, I'm not sure when we're going to master the art of either taking the whole family out when everyone's happy AND the lighting is good, or getting away on my own when everyone's happy and the lighting is good, but at least I'm getting time to sew, right?

 So what story do you tell when you finish a quilt? And which one do you like to hear?

Friday, 1 August 2014

a gift

I love handstitching. I love the time for thinking, processing, praying. I love it when Tim chooses scary movies and I have something to focus on apart from the film. I love it when visitors come, or when I have a meeting. When I want to be sewing but also need to listen to Evie's long and convoluted story about the princess and the power ranger. I'm sure I listen better when my hands are busy. :)

I started this quilt two years ago when my lovely friend was struggling to conceive. After a conversation where she had confessed that she couldn't wait till I could make something lovely for a future baby of hers, I thought it would be nice to make something sooner, something that would remind me, while stitching, to pray for health and peace and patience, and a new little one for them.

The pattern is Rachel's Modern Medallion, from Stitched in Color's Handstitched Class and each round of the medallion includes a different handstitching technique. I highly recommend Rachel's classes!

Well the more I stitched, the less I was convinced that it was my friend's style. Isn't it challenging making for others, without completely second guessing yourself? I replaced the centre with something different to my original choice, I chose brighter colours than the earlier rounds of Loulouthi which are very 'autumn'. Still, I was unsure. And then, miracle of all miracles, she fell pregnant! And slowly but surely, the quilt became neglected while I dreamed up fun and sweet baby gifts.

She had stayed in my "I don't know what to do with you" box for about a year, when I found out my cousin, another quilter and Anna Maria Horner appreciator (I like to think I introduced her), found out at her 20 week pregnancy scan that her baby was high risk, his organs weren't forming properly, and she needed to prepare for the worst. At the beginning of my own pregnancy with Finlay, I was devastated for her. I decided the best thing I could do was bring out the quilt again and keep praying.
Following surgery immediately after birth, Naomi's baby stayed in hospital for 2 months before, miraculously, wonderfully, she was able to take him home. You can read her honest and beautiful story here.

I've told a couple of people while showing them this quilt, that I was making this for my cousin.
"She must be a pretty special cousin!" has been the common reply.
And she is special, and I do like her a lot, but I don't think the recipient of a quilt can be valued by the time put into it. Sometimes it feels more like a gift to the quilter, wouldn't you agree? Thousands of kilometres away, little old me with my 3 kids and small house, can do this one thing that's extra special. I used to be the person wishing I knew how I could help, wishing I could do something. Now I can do this. Something that can hopefully, humbly, be a physical expression of all those hopes and prayers and tears, given for that precious little boy. And the much longed for little boy born to my friends last year. And for other dear friends and their wishes for babies and partners and other things that haven't come along as easily as they hoped.

Yes, I do love handstitching.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Dear Myself as a First Time Mum,

It's Tully's 6th birthday today. Your 6th anniversary as a mother. And I've had this letter in mind ever since our third baby was born. Because birthdays and new babies always bring up some of those memories of what you expected of yourself, and how things have turned out so differently than you hoped, but still, in a lot of good ways. I wanted to encourage you, to let you know you've done a good job. To tell you that some things will get easier and some harder. That some things will need to be let go. I wanted to write a list of everything I wish you could have known back then, but really can only be learned through experience.

You need to resign from your job as people pleaser.
And apply for the new job of finding what works for you. Parenting is demanding and boring. And lots of other things too. You will agonise over whether sewing is a waste of time and if you should be getting out more, visiting family more, hosting more. You'll think people who do the grocery shopping with 3 kids, who manage to fit playgroup, swimming and music lessons, and the daily school run, and work part time, are both insane and amazing. And they will look at you and ask you how you possibly do your life, with your sewing and homeschooling and church commitments. Deciding not to do it their way is not rejecting them, or telling them they're wrong, or even failing, it's just part of the process of figuring how to do your life. That's the gift you've been given, and it's also your new job.

You still hate baking.
Let me tell you, Jodi, that it has gotten easier baking with children as they've gotten older. So don't feel like you've failed as a mother when it all goes pear-shaped when Tully's 18 months old. There is so much time to give them all the experiences you want them to have as children. There are also some that you find easier than others. Gardening with kids drives you crazy, sewing is fun. Painting gets easier when they get older, but is completely frustrating when they're little and have short attention spans. If something fails, please don't take it personally. Enjoying life together means doing things you enjoy together. Besides, Tim likes to bake, ride bikes and take the kids to the beach, so let him do it.

There are no easy answers to the TV issue.
Or the discipline one, the education one, how many kids you should have, breastfeeding, cloth nappies, working mothers or anything else you thought you had figured out in your childless 20s. You'll decide which ones are non-negotiable (hardly any), and which ones need to be negotiated (most of them) in each season. It's ok to make decisions to make life easier (like using disposables and the tv in the morning and daycare) and also the ones that bring challenges, but fit your values, like homeschooling. And making those decisions doesn't mean they're made forever. You'll keep reassessing your values, challenging yourself, going easy on yourself. Using modern conveniences even though your parents survived without them doesn't make you soft, it probably makes you smart, and fortunate. Living according to your values, even though they differ from the mainstream doesn't make you hardcore. I think I'm learning that values that you truely hold for yourself are the ones that are motivating, whereas one you adhere to because you've borrowed them from others feel more like a whip.

They will sleep.
If I knew telling you to 'put those baby sleep books down' would work, I would beg you to, but right now, they are the only thing making you feel like you have any hope of regaining control of your life. But please know, you will get better at living without control. And it will get easier to build a routine. Eventually you'll replace the books with your own experience and confidence, and it will feel wonderful. Keep going. Its going to be ok.

Some days are a write off.
You will have days like today, where the visitors have left, Tim's taken the day off and the kids are full up on new toys and attention. And you make plans. Plans to write and to sew and to cross some things off that list. And suddenly the kids start fighting and wake the baby up and it all turns to poo. Sometimes it will just last the morning, sometimes all day, or all week. You will have months at a time that are spent contrary to your personality and desires. It happens and it sucks. Turn the TV on. Eat cake. Go outside. Call for help. Order home delivery. Live out of washing baskets for the next week. (actually, you'll do that even when things are good - who sorts washing when you can be sewing?) Lock yourself in the bathroom for 10 minutes. You're going to be ok. You're not doing permanent damage to your children, or yourself.

People who say enjoy it while it lasts are lying, and telling the truth.
As are the people who tell you it only gets harder. Nostalgia is fun for those that have the luxury of having everything you're experiencing now in their past. Each stage brings its own challenges and joys, but perhaps the biggest challenge is to be completely in each moment. There is beauty when they are snuggling asleep in your arms and when they learn to sleep on their own. When they ask a million questions and when they just want to figure it out on their own. When they want to spend time with you, and when they lose themselves for hours playing in their room. It can feel like you are doing everything poorly because everything you do is interrupted, and so everything still buzzes around in your head, waiting to be resolved. But somehow, if you can just put your list and your phone down (you'll be surprised at how much technology has crept into every crevice of your day) and pour your whole self into right now, you might not enjoy it all, but you might find more to enjoy.

Hang in there my dear friend. While it sometimes will feel like your kids are an interruption, an alien invasion, being at home with them also gives you the opportunity to shape your days and pursue interests you didn't have time for while single, albeit in an interrupted fashion! You will make new friends, feel terrible for abandoning others, sit out in the sun at lunch time, and watch movies under home-made quilts on rainy days. Practice thankfulness. And patience. And keep some chocolate hidden in your underwear drawer.

Love, You. xx