In the Studio


And all over a sudden, almost overnight, I went from escaping here for the air-conditioning, to escaping here for the sunshine. From cursing its hot beams radiating through our thin tin roof, to welcoming them through the northern window that fills most of the wall next to my sewing machine.

Perhaps it was the change in the weather, or the finishing up and shipping off three more quilts for Free Spirit. Or maybe even the big fuss over on Instagram about the impending changes to my feed, but I woke this morning with the desire to write. To think about words and the state of things, without limiting it to the space before the ... or how to caption a picture so that you don't just flick away.


English Paper Piecing has become more than just a summer fling. And something about my Free Spirit Quilts becoming my 'day job' has made me feel completely justified in working on more than one EPP quilt at a time. Afterall, it's my relaxing-in-the-evening sewing. I'm allowed to follow my whims, right? And even before this Pinwheel Posy quilt is all stitched up, I have another in mind that's ready to explode out of me if I don't hurry up and give it form. And hey, it's the weekend. Maybe I'll just succumb.


A completely new and exciting adventure for me is Scraps In Tubs. I know. Not new or exciting really, but all the happy feelings come mostly from me actually diving in and doing it. About a month ago, my mum came and helped me sort through my monster of a scrap stash. It was like a virus, making its way into all corners of the house (mostly with the help of our oh-so-helpful two year old.) My mother never passed on her organising genes to me, so I asked her to give them to me in a weekend, and we had a lovely time together wrapping yardage around comic book boards, and reorganising my scraps into these spider-proof, toddler-proof tubs. We threw out anything ridiculously un-useful, and then added my fat quarters and big scraps in the mix too. Now I only have two places for fabric storage, rather than five or six. Oh, it's so good!


I've been slowly going through the boxes and putting all kinds of favourites and not-so-favourites alike through the 2.5" square die with my Accuquilt, for the aforementioned next-in-line hexie quilt. If only I could hand-stitch as quickly as I can cut 2.5" squares!

The big tidy up revealed a longish forgotten scrap project, which this week has been brought out into the sunshine to hopefully be all sewn up. It's made completely with the scrap triangles from a second mountain campfire quilt I've sewn up and was also put on the 'waiting pile.' Fin wanted to be in the photo, but didn't want to be in the photo. She turns two today. And she lives most of her life this way, wanting to join in, and wanting to be in control. I'm like that too so I understand. And liking her despite the infuriating bits helps me like myself more.


I started this blog 5 years ago next month! Back in the very epicenter of baby-rearing chaos. It feels a little strange, a little too good to be true that today we say goodbye to the baby days. All those hundreds of times that I wrote, and said, and prayed, "This too shall pass", and it actually did! Who would have thought?

Some mothers are absolutely, wonderfully themselves with little ones underfoot. But me, I'm enjoying me right here in my Autumn sunshine and my tubs with lids.

Bigger


Every so often, you have a sudden realisation that your kids are growing up. This week has been one of those moments. It's never anything earth shattering, maybe just overhearing their conversation about their day while in the bath, or that they get through their morning chores without cajoling, or they can start to help out with quilt photos, rather that me needing to work creatively around them. But somewhere in there you look at them and think, "Listen to you! Look at you! You're bigger!"


I'm not the kind of person to mourn this change. I love grown up conversation, help with the washing, wee in the toilet. This is the stage I've been waiting for. The one where we know we are done having more, and we just sit back (in a figurative sense) and enjoy the ride. No more cesareans, no more morning sickness, no more stopping every 2 hours in car trips to pull over and breastfeed.
I have friends with teenagers and I know there's still some stuff ahead of me, but right now, I have a big boy that I can still beat in a wrestle, and a little girl who I can still beat trying to escape under the front gate, and one in between who doesn't like to wrestle or escape (yet). Right now it's nice.


This quilt was pulled from my Works in Progress box already sewn into quarter-square triangles. I cut those up diagonally and sewed them back together without too much thought or design. I think it's good to do that with WIPs sometimes. I thought a little about how to make it bigger, or add some white or grey for interest, and in the end, I had two spare blocks, and could have cut some more to make an extra row, but I just kept making that decision to keep it simple. I sewed the finished blocks together, spray basted, quilted and bound it in a long afternoon. I have other quilts I want to throw my creativity and thoughtfulness at. I could just let this one be a happy, scrappy gift for a friend.


I started this blog almost 5 years ago because things weren't all that nice. Because I wanted to take photos and tell stories that processed what was hard, but mostly recognised what was good. Today, taking photos of these sweet kids, and a quilt I didn't have to fight to finish, it felt good to stop and say, "Hey, look where we are! How good is this?" Life is chaotic and interrupted and full and it's easy to find things I want to change, to think, I can't wait till we're nappy-free or till Tim finishes his Masters, or the kids are old enough to leave for an evening. But right now, in this moment, I am surrounded by beauty. I have much to be thankful for.

Tent City Quilt


Elizabeth Lilian Neilson Mitchell lived in Melbourne, Australia at the turn of the 20th Century with her husband and eight children in a small two bedroom cottage. Her husband worked for a fabric manufacturer and would bring hope small samples for Elizabeth to stitch.

Maybe it was the twinge of jealousy at a constant supply of new fabric samples. Perhaps the memory of our two bedroom cottage last year that forced negotiation and creativity to live there peacefully and comfortably. Or maybe it was just the fresh peaches and cream and the occasional blues in her quilt made in 1900, that felt so modern and inviting. Whatever the reason, this quilt, featured in Annette Gero's Fabric of Society, a delicious book of Australian historic quilts, sung to me, calling for a reproduction.


This quilt reminded me how much I love throwing scraps of fabric at my machine and seeing what it becomes. I started with my Wild and Free triangle scraps from my Mountain Campfire quilt, some Petal and Plume scraps by Bari J, added the paler Wanderer prints by April Rhodes and the entire line of Skopellos by Katarina Roccella. I cut rectangles 4" x 6", and then in half diagonally, and then sewed them back together at random. The half square triangles are 4.5" and 3". I sewed the rectangles together in long rows and then cut them to around 80", purposefully offsetting the points.


I was tempted to lay this one out on my design wall and put more thought into colour layout, but I decided against it, and I'm so glad I did. Since putting up my design wall this year, investing in a grid book, and then recently, EQ7, many of my quilts have been heavily planned, consuming more time and thought in the process. If I wanted this one to look scrappy, I needed to trust it to the scrappy way. And what a relaxing, smooth way that is. It's amazing how easy it is to keep stepping back to the machine in the little moments when the decisions have already been made, when all that is required for layout is to keep on stitching. The three quilts I'm working on currently are all big decision quilts. Lots of stopping and starting. Lots of staring and thinking. And they'll be worth it in the end, I'm sure. But there was a special kind of joy in this one. It's good to remember the choice to go simple isn't a compromise.


Elizabeth's children slept in tents in the backyard, hence the name Tent City. I laughed out loud when I read that, thinking of how child services would never allow it today. So much of my brain goes in to wondering if my children are happy, growing, going to turn out OK. Did we make the right decision to homeschool? Do I pay them enough attention? Will they inherit my love of colour, or my complete indifference to cooking and housework and gardening? I wonder if Elizabeth ever wondered the same things, kissing her children goodnight under the stars. Did it occur to mothers in the 1900s?



Having this quilt turn out so beautifully has reminded and reassured me that in the end I don't have have a whole lot of control over the decisions they'll make in the future or the people they'll want to be, all I can do is keep throwing in the right colours, and be so, so thankful for this big old house in the country, and pray the scrappy way works its magic.

Just moments.



I spend a lot of time thinking about where I'm headed. Where I fit in the world. What my purpose is. I'm so drawn to the idea of having a creative identity. I make this, and when I do, people know it's me. But it seems that when I pin something down, when I say, "I'm going to make reversible clothes and sell them in town!" or "I'm going to make patterns!" or "I'm going to make drawstring quilts!" that I start to feel stuck. That settled feeling of finding a niche is an elusive one for me.



So it probably shouldn't have surprised me that after announcing absolutely and unequivocally a few weeks ago that I Am a Quilter, I started to feel at sea. Trapped. Like the very act of mapping out my path stole it's beauty, it's adventure. Like it was supposed to be a secret thing, left unspoken and mysterious.


I have a nearly four year old who's a lot like me. Suggest a plan for the afternoon and she runs the other way. But leave her to her own devices and she'll flit (mostly) happily from one thing to the next. If I'd offered to make this pinafore for her, she would have politely, but firmly declined. But today she had in mind that she wanted a purple dress. And because life doesn't always allow you to drop everything and make at a little girl's whim, but today seemed one of those days, I agreed. I gave her the option of the pinny or a wrap dress, and she chose the print.



As I started ironing, then pinning, then cutting this all too familiar pattern, I felt the kind of peace that comes when you get lost in something. I've made more than one hundred of these, but the last was over a year ago. Still, I didn't stop once to double check the next steps.
"I'm enjoying this!" I thought. And then, "Maybe I could make more to sell before Christmas!" And then along those all too familiar tracks, my thoughts meandered. Price. time. feelings. How am I feeling? Would I want to make another after this? Would I hate myself in a couple of weeks when I have 20 cut out pinnies staring me down?

"Mum? Mum. MUUUUMMMM!"


This is why it's good to sew with a nearly 4 year old every now and then. Because you can't think with a little girl's constant stream of questions and stories. And when you can't think, you realise that the good you were enjoying was not the making, but the moment. The opportunity to say yes to Evie. The knowing it was quick and familiar. The feel of her hand on mine so she could help me sew, but "not get needled". This wasn't about finding an identity, this was about being. A mother with a skill and passion that could be shared just like this, right now, because Tim was outside with Tully and the baby was asleep.


And so we sewed. And dressed up. Brushed her hair and photographed her dancing. It occurred to me, just quietly, that it was impossible to get her to model last time, that maybe we could do more now. But I stilled that voice quickly.
No plans. Not right now.
Just moments.

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