Posy Pinwheel Quilt

I only really paid attention to this tree for the first time today, and I can't believe I haven't noticed it before. I loved it so much that when I came home to look through my photos after our little shoot this afternoon, I didn't have any close-ups of this quilt. I just kept wanting to fit more of the tree in. Isn't she beautiful?

In fact even as I sit here to write, I'm drawn to say more about our incredible country side. Perhaps because after a week of being inside with a house full of colds, it was just so good to be out in the sun and the warm Autumn air. So good. To frame a finished quilt and a beautiful old tree in a photograph, to focus in, to make the parts align, to remember again I have so much to be thankful for... this did more for my poor old head than Panadol and Vicks have all week.  

My Posy Pinwheels had been sitting, quilted and waiting for a big tidy up on my cutting table so I could trim the wadding and back, and bind it. Set aside first for my Flock of Stars quilt, and then for two more quilts for Free Spirit's Quilt Market Booth, I was finally this week able to give her (and my messy studio) my attention again.

I English Paper Pieced this quilt from 1" jewels and 1" hexagons. I love these sized shapes because they easily fit along a 2.5" strip of fabric. So I went through my Loominous scraps from my Fair Isla quilt, cutting off a strip of each print and basting them into petals. I think it would also make a nice quilt to use up a jelly roll.

EPP is very close up, very intimate, very, very slow. So it was a completely different experience, a little like seeing the world from a plane, or up a tree, or like going outside when you've spent the week in, to take photos today and feel the movement I was hoping for. And I was kind of thinking it would feel like a birthday party or country fair, but today with all that long grass and prickles and darting insects, it felt a whole lot more like an ecosystem. It felt like fresh air and wildflowers and swooping birds. 

They say laughter is the best medicine. But I would have to argue for colour.

New Day, New Year.

Today is the first day.

Tim's at the dining table reading about earthquakes with the kids. And I have escaped to my air conditioned cave to sew and write a blog post.
When we were at university, Tim and I used to joke about how his degree (in engineering) would get him a job, and mine (in history and Russian) was great for dinner parties. But when suddenly, a little over a year ago, the north wind blew, and two souls, feeling dry and a little lonely in suburbia, got a call about a house in the country, it didn't take much, if any, convincing for us to pack up our house and move to the land of the deep breath.

We've been living in Canowindra, NSW for 13 months and it's golden hills and deep silence (except for this time of year, when the cicadas are celebrating their yearly riot) have affected us deeply. Here there is no academia, no race, no big shopping malls or beeping horns. I have enjoyed a year off comparing myself to that model on that billboard, or that family in that big house. There is hard work, there is a connection with the seasons, there's an optimism, and a kind of submission to the whims of the weather. If you've read the Little House books, you'll know what I mean. "Surely this year, it will rain. Surely this year, our hard work will pay off."

I like living here with these people, and these hills. Every so often there'll be a remark about having to go back to 'real life'. But I wonder if we've stumbled upon it here, where we know our neighbours and work with our hands.
This time last year I changed my blog name to reflect these other changes. Tales of Cloth became what I was hoping for, a place of stories and connection, of colour and learning. I didn't have as much time for it as my dreams needed to be fully realised. But I had time to sew and to read. When Red Sky at Night came to a close, my year did too. And suddenly my mind was blank. I had nothing to write about. So I let it sleep for a while.

Sometime during the second half of last year, I was approached by Free Spirit to design some quilts for Anna Maria Horner's upcoming lines. Yes! I made up some 'virtual quilts' and submitted them. They liked my work, and asked me to design with some other lines. And then that work led to more, until finally, last month, I was asked to make a huge quilt inspired by the Free Spirit Logo for QuiltCon 2016! Having spent the whole year in the history books, and working a lot with red and white, working in this way has felt like an absolute gift. It's interesting and challenging and fast. And I'm soaking up every bit of it.

One of my submissions for the QuiltCon 2016 quilts that wasn't chosen.

Around the same time, Tim and I started to reflect on this new 'real' life we'd stumbled upon. His Masters was drawing to a close (though even now drags on beligerantly), and our work here with Cornerstone was rich and fullfilling, but low student numbers were taking its toll on the community finances. Surely there was some way we could make the most of my connections with the quilting community, that could provide some unskilled labour for the young adults who stay here with us, work to pay their way, and study the Bible. We think we've come up a corker of an idea. But I won't share it now. All that just to say that we've caught that kind of farmer's optimism, "The harder I work, the luckier I get", and like ducks, we're paddling away behind the scenes to bring something new and colourful to the quilting community.

And that's why I am here! And Tim is out there learning about earthquakes. It's why, when I finish writing, I'll start sewing, instead of cutting up apple. 2016 will be a year of working together, of trying new things, of argueing, I'm sure, whose turn it is to do bath time or cook dinner. But nothing new is ever smooth, and I feel hopeful for a year of working at something that is meaningful and interesting to both of us.

Blueberry Fans Quilt

I've been dreaming about Dresdens for a while now. I've been looking them up on Pinterest, searching hashtags on Instagram. When I feel inspired to try something new, I usually mull over it for a few months, seeing if something captures my attention. I wait for an idea to jump into my head, then I start cutting.
With this quilt, however, I felt like I was 'cutting blind'. There are lots of Dresden quilts out there. But none that I could find that made me go, "Yes!" Many were made with 1930s fabrics, which I can admire, but aren't really me. There were Dresdens with borders, with white centres, with extra rounds. Extra large Dresdens, extra small ones, and even cat Dresdens. Maybe I just needed to dive in with my favourite prints, and see where it led?

Then Karen Lewis announced her debut line, "Blueberry Park" with Robert Kaufman, and I knew I had the perfect match. They were the perfect mix of basics, happy and not too busy, so that my blades could be colourful, and distinct from the one next to them. I emailed Karen and asked her if she'd send me some prints and she agreed! When she sent me a 5" charm pack of all 75 prints, I remembered that in my search, I'd come across a tutorial for cutting Dresden blades from charm squares. I can't recommend this method enough! It's a great way to use almost an entire 5" square. I quickly hopped online and bought a Dresden ruler.

I decided to make quarter circles first, just to play with the design before I sewed them into circles, and I'm so glad I did. It gave me room to play with different colour backgrounds for each fan, rather than in big blocks behind a whole circle. I like that it makes it feel a little more 'flitty'. It's happy, optimistic, joyful. Like butterflies but not too much.

For the black circles, I found a soup mug in my cupboard that made them to exactly the right size including a 1/4" seam allowance. After I had appliqued all the fans onto background squares, I made up a bunch of black 1/4 circles, and a template out of heavy card, to press the edges over. I've long been a fan of Roxanne's glue baste. But living an hour away from a quilt shop had me making do when I ran out. Glue stick worked a charm! And I'm using it for everything these days!

It sat on my design wall for about a week while I decided how to quilt it. Putting the final blocks together is always my sticking point. But as soon as I've decided on the backing (Mobius Stip by Jeni Baker) and quilting, I get a burst of energy again, and hook in till the finish. I went with close, straight lines. I had all kinds of ideas about making the fans jump out, but my quilting just isn't up to it. This made sure everything was stuck down tight, and gave me a more controlled 'crinkle' after washing. It was the perfect choice, I think. Do you? I actually like that the fans are flatter rather than puffy.

Last week I made the exciting discovery of an old truck and other random farm debris in the neighbouring paddock. So with the changing of the clocks this week to Daylight Saving, we all took a stroll after dinner for photos and climbing while the sun went down. I so, so wanted to finish this before the bright yellow canola faded, but I was too slow. Thankfully there's always next year!

Hovering Hawks - Red Sky at Night

I've been buried in the most wonderful book about quilting in the 1930s this week! I had so many questions about why quilting took off again during the Great Depression and I just couldn't find the answers online. So finally I took the plunge and purchased Merikay Waldvogel's Soft Covers for Hard Times. 
I was curious to see if there was more to Depression Quilting than just making do. In Australia during the depression, we made quilt-like coverings called Waggas, made from old knitwear, blankets, hessian, basically anything that could be sewn together into a covering, and then stuffed with chaff or flour sacks. They were utilitarian and rough and charming in their own way. While some were made from leftover dress fabrics, there was less emphasis on beauty or design. They are a striking image of what I imagine the depression to have been like. But when we think of American quilting in the 1930s, we think of pretty colours, a huge variety of blocks, and, now that I've learned a little through this series, an explosion in publications, pattern sales, and quilting competitions.

In her book, Waldvogel explains that the spike in interest in the handmade arts didn't begin with the stock market crash in 1929, but with the bicentenary of George Washington's birth, and a revival in colonial homewares. It became fashionable to style one's home with Early American furnishings. People started dragging out their long forgotten quilts handed down through their families to put on display, or copy with modern prints. 'Traditional' became a word tied with patriotism, family and identity. It was fashion, and not frugality that sparked the quilting boom in the 1930s.
The depression, however, still shaped how the boom played out. When flour manufacturers discovered that women were using the calico cloth of flour sacks for their patchwork, they decided to use beautifully printed fabric instead of the plain, stamped cream cotton, to give them an edge on the market. According to Robert Cogswell (author of the book's introduction), it's actually one of the very first instances of industry emphasizing packaging over product! Depression quilters started to look out for the various prints to collect, not just the best quality flour, or the most reasonably priced. I'd take up baking too if flour came in pretty fabrics!
This nostalgic connection with the past, the chaos of the present, and the necessity to 'make do', created the perfect opportunity for fabric manufacturers, department stores, newspaper owners and entrepreneurs to make money from handcrafts in this incredibly challenging decade. Patterns, marking tools, pre-cut quilting kits, reproduction applique designs were all sold en masse despite the crippling financial conditions. And I'm certainly not judging, or complaining. I love the quilts of the thirties. And I think quilting is the perfect thing to do when everything around you is falling apart. It did make me think though, that 'Hovering Hawks,' a block first published in 1929 by Ruth Finley, was a good choice for today's block!


You will need:

Red: Four 4" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles, four 3.5" squares.

White: Four 4" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles, four 3.5" squares.

1. Sew your red triangles to white triangles. Press open and trim to 3.5"

2. Lay out as above. Red squares stepping diagonally down the centre, bordered by half square triangles, followed by white squares and the white triangle facing in in the corners. Because you have equal amounts of red and white, you can also arrange the colours in the opposite layout.

3. Sew each square to the one next to it, so that you end up with a collection of pairs, as above. Press. Arrange these back in the right spot.

4. Sew those pairs to the one below to make 6.5" squares. Press.

5. Sew those squares to the one next door. Press.

6. Sew these two halves together to finish the block. Press.

I really am enjoying learning more about quilt history. I love looking deeper beyond our assumptions and finding out what really drove these women to create such beautiful works. For some reason I feel a little relieved that it's not as straight forward as "times were tough so they made do, and did an incredible job of it." There are more layers than that. Fashion and advertising, wanting beautiful things, the desire to create, needing to live simply, paying for pre-cuts. It means they're more like me than I imagined. Not just a card-board cut out of American Sainthood, but a person affected by the things around her, shaped by her circumstances, sometimes cutting corners, juggling responsibility and creativity and desire. It makes me appreciate their art even more.

Nana McIntyre - Quilt in Progress

I remember having a conversation with a friend when I was twenty about what I was going to do with my life. I wanted to travel again. I wanted to volunteer with young people or refugees or orphans. I wanted to give my life to something worthwhile and important. And I probably should go to university if I could squeeze it in. Afterall, I was smart. I shouldn't waste that. I just didn't know how I..
"What do you mean, 'squeeze it in?' How much time do you think you have?" My friend interrupted.
I laughed as I realised the answer. Five years.

By the age of twenty five, I needed to have succeeded in all the areas of life that were important to me so that I could be ready for my life to end. Not with death. With marriage, kids, bills, responsibilities.
It's funny to think that that conversation was fifteen years ago, and that tomorrow I'll be 35. And life hasn't ended. By coincidence, I did marry at 25, the year I finally started my degree. Two years later that was interrupted by the Wonderful Choas, a baby that came earlier than we'd planned. Though I did work hard to finish university before the next one came along. And in a way, life did end then. The old life. The portable, spontaneous one. The one where you plan to be in Europe for Christmas (not because we're wealthy, but because we love to travel). The one where you use your holidays for road trips, and stay with friends on their sofa. The one where you can move everything you own in the boot of your car, and decide year to year what you want to do with your life.

But I believe in resurrection, and when that old life died, something new and beautiful grew in its place. Any artist knows that limitations foster creativity and I think Tim and I have used those limits well to carve out who we want to be and what's important to us.
But I've still spent this week yearning for the old life. Tim's been in Newcastle for the week, working on his Post Grad degree. And I've been longing for a long stretch of time to work on this quilt. I've been impatient with the kids for making mess and resenting me for having to tidy it up, for needing to eat THREE MEALS A DAY, for being loud and waking the baby, for asking things that don't matter to me while I'm trying to concentrate. So I've been putting them to bed in the evening and stay up late to suck out as many hours as I can from the day on my own. Which, of course, just makes me more cranky the next morning. Should I send them to school? Were we silly having a third? Should I demand a week to myself to work, like Tim gets once a month? 

The reason I love to study history is that it reminds me that we didn't always have this expectation that life was ours to do with what we pleased. In fact, for most of human history, most people have had their life carved out for them, shaped by poverty or status or family expectations. I am part of a very short series of generations in a relatively small part of the world that have been told we can do whatever the hell we like with our lives. Which has really only led to the consequence that whatever we choose leads to dissatisfaction.
People who have been reading here a while would know we've been reading the Little House series as a family this year. I can't tell you how much I recommend it to all families. The books are written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and are the story of her life growing up in a pioneering family. And you get such a strong sense reading them, that they really believed life was about gratitude, acceptance, doing the task before you with integrity. Not about having options and freedom and fulfillment. Those things were nice when they came, but they weren't the goal.

Laura's story was set at the same time that Betty McIntyre's grandparents were making this quilt somewhere in Australia. It's made from soldier's uniforms. And I love the idea of making something so beautiful from something that has seen so much tragedy. To me, soldier's uniforms speak of a complete lack of freedom, of a career spent following orders, of discomfort and death. It makes me love this old quilt all the more. And it makes me sad that I've spent the week fighting to get more done on mine, rather than learning its lessons.

People have been asking me if, like the original, I've been using recycled fabrics that have their own story. That would have been fun. But instead I've been using this curated bundle here. The colours are inspired by those around me. The brown and gold fields waiting to be planted. The green and purple lucerne, the red and orange carpet on my front lawn. So in that way, they still tell my story. Never in my adult life have I been so surrounded by colour. Never in my quilting life have I felt such a need to put those colours in my work. It's a process that's giving such joy, going by feel with each round, deciding what would work next, what gives me the same feeling as those green and gold hills. If you feels inspired by it too, Beth from Stash Fabrics is offering a 10% discount on all purchases during her Kona Blog Hop with the code WOW303.

Tomorrow I'll be 35. And because I like round numbers, if feels like the kind of milestone you sit and think about your goals for the next five years. And gosh, I long to have gratitude as a habit. To hold my life with an open hand. To welcome my kids rather than resent the interruption. To count my blessings rather than the years till we can travel again, or the hours left in the day. Is it possible I could be all those things by 40? I guess I have to want them more than I want to finish this quilt!

Stash Fabrics not only has a range of specially curated bundles, but now has every Kona colour in stock, and a new Kona club starting in September. For someone who's always loved bright clashy colours, and been a little afraid of solids, this has been a great experiment to see I can still create a look I love, movement and interest with plain colours. In fact, somehow it feels even more me, like the work is truly my own. You can click on the links below to see what others have done with the same challenge. The results are beautiful.

Stash Fabrics Kona Blog Hop Schedule

July 17 – Darcy @ Modern Cozy
July 23 – Jacey  @ Jacey Craft
July 30 - Kelly @ Kelby Sews
August 3 – Nancy @ Owen’s Olivia
August 6 – Jodi @ Tales of Cloth
August 10 – Megan @ City Stitches
August 12 – Rita @ Red Pepper Quilts
August 17 – Elizabeth @ Andpins Handmade
August 19 – Tara @ Rad and Happy
August 21 – Sharon @ Color Girl Quilts
August 24 – Allison @ Allison Sews
August 27 – Kristi @ Schnitzel and Boo
August 31 - Jessee @ Art School Dropout