It was 1984. In Adelaide a group of people had met in January to discuss forming The Quilters Guild of South Australia, and held their first official meeting on 29th March 1984. I didn’t know, and would not have been at all interested. I didn’t have the patience for quilting.
Cherylie McConnell started teaching adult general interest classes through TAFE at Mt Barker, with bread making and quilting. Jim and Cherylie lived across the street from us in Gale Street, Woodside, and they contributed three children to the tribe who lived in the short dead-end street. Cherylie had learned quilting while living in the South East for a year when Jim took leave from teaching at Oakbank Area School to try his hand at farming. I eventually enrolled to help make up the numbers, thinking that I would just make some cushions for Christmas presents. I didn’t have the patience to make a quilt! Cushions I could handle.
Lesson one was just about buying fabrics. I wasn’t too interested as I had lots of scraps for the cushions. It was wonderful to see what the rest of the class managed to scrape together before the second lesson though. We made templates, marked fabric, cut it out (with scissors) and started stitching little pieces of fabric together to make our first block. It was Nine Patch. Nine squares joined together to make a 12 inch square, plus accurate ¼ inch seam allowances. I pieced the first one by machine, but tried hand piecing Shoofly. I preferred hand piecing when you needed to be this accurate, as it was easier to unpick the mistakes!
By the third lesson I was absolutely and totally hooked. I would finish my homework, then cross the street to try to get some hints of what to do next. Cherylie kept quiet about the next step, so I found myself planning a quilt. Or perhaps two, maybe more.
Cherylie had patterns which she had received in her lessons, plus a book of patterns to share with us. The book was Sampler Quilts, by Dianna Leone. This was the first book which was available in Australia I think, and every one at that time started quilting by making a sampler quilt using the patterns from that book. Cherylie wanted to try different houses, so she gave us some drawings to see if we could make them into patterns. My efforts were used by the other girls in the class, and Cherylie added them to her pattern collection for future classes.
By Christmas time I had completed 16 cushions, and had fabric to make a quilt for Wendy and Dean. I had also started making a Grandmothers Flower Garden quilt using leftover calico scraps from doll making.
In the middle of January 1985 Jim got transferred to Kimba! I had twenty-four hours to make up my mind about teaching patchwork, or the class Cherylie had planned through TAFE would be cancelled. I said ‘Yes’ and spent the next couple of weeks while Cherylie packed following her around with a notebook and pencil asking for more details of information she had introduced during the ten weeks of lessons. I grabbed some books out of her hand one day telling her I would need them more than her in the next few months. One of them was Sampler Quilts by Dianna Leone.
I didn’t have my driver’s licence, and managed to convince Judy Hagger she needed to learn a new craft so she became my driver. I paid her petrol money so she could pay her class fees.
So, in February 1985, I became a patchwork quilting teacher. I hadn’t made a quilt, but Cherylie kept saying the money was good, and there was a story around about one teacher who read a chapter of a gardening book at each class and wouldn’t answer any questions. At least my class would get a revised copy of Cherylie’s notes and a demonstration. Then Cherylie rang from Kimba and asked for her books back as she had a class together as well. I tracked down my own copy of Sampler Quilts, and posted off Cherylie’s lot, plus the notes I had revised so far.
The first term was at Mt Barker, with a class of 16, and one teacher who had yet to make a quilt. During the first class I went blank. The opposite of total recall. Nothing. One of the students asked a question and luckily I knew the answer to that and was able to carry on. All the demonstrations went well in class, and every thing just worked beautifully.
Perhaps a bit too beautifully. After several weeks something did go wrong, and I had to unpick and start again. There was a sigh of relief from the class and one of them said, “Thank goodness, she’s not perfect.” They had been terrified of making a mistake because I had made it look so easy!
Then there was the night, just after the machines had been serviced, when I sat down and placed the pieces to be stitched under the needle, lowered the presser foot lever, and the foot stayed up. I lifted the lever, and the foot fell down. But the tension wasn’t engaged with the lever up, even if the foot was down. Class and teacher fell about laughing, and I thought it would be a good idea to try the next machine. Same story. Third time lucky, but by then both teacher and students had totally relaxed and the whole process became fun.
I managed to keep just about a step ahead of the class, working on two quilts including the Life and Times of Wendy and Dean. During class I worked on a pink and white sampler using mainly poly cotton fabric because there were no pretty pink and white cotton fabrics available. Wendy and Dean’s was pink, brown and cream, and mainly cotton, but some of it not very good cotton.
Term 2 I taught at Woodside, and had fun when the lights went out during one class. One of the girls had a cigarette lighter and held it up like Florence Nightingale and we got through the basics of the nights lesson as well as we could, and half the girls had gone home when the lights came on again. The remainder stayed and talked until class time was over, and I noticed for the first time the friendship which grows unaided amongst quilters.
In June I finished the two quilts I had started so I could show students I could make a quilt. I completed the pink and white one first so I could show me I knew how to do it before I tackled the big one. I couldn’t believe I had done it! Then I felt let down, depressed. There seemed to be a big gap in my life where the quilts used to be.
What do you do when you have finished a quilt? Easy, start some more.
In August 1985 Brian and the kids dropped me and Judy Hagger at the Unley Town Hall while they went to the football at the oval just up the street. The occasion was the first exhibition of the Quilters Guild of South Australia, titled ‘In the Beginning’. My most vivid memories are of a hand appliqué, beautifully hand quilted original design (by Josie Fradd I think, maybe Alison Verrier), a Drunkards Path Sampler also hand-made by Heather Dunn, and Rachel Dettman’s Inner City, hand-made of course. The workmanship of the first two was wonderful, Rachel’s work was perfect, as is every thing I have seen of hers since. The sampler quilts showed a level of expertise which was about equal to the work my girls were doing, which was a big relief, but I found it mind blowing to know there were heaps of others out there. I joined the guild soon after to be a part of it all.
Term three again at Woodside filled even more quickly than the previous classes. The money was good, and I bought a Janome Memory Craft 6000, the first computerised sewing machine. Wow! What a machine. Great reliable workhorse, which took me 15 years to wear out, and then it became the spare machine.
At the end of term I invited previous students back for supper, and we all wanted more. I called a meeting by placing an ad in the Courier, and we met for the first official time before Christmas because we didn’t want to wait until January. The Woodpatch Quilters were born.
In January we met for the second time, and I announced that Brian had a new job in Coonalpyn! I was summoned to the art room at school one evening before we left town, to be met by the parent club members and quilters. I had to find room to take a baker’s basket with me, and I’ve found room for it every shift since. Can’t move it full of fabric though!