Sunburnt Country

April 20th, 2021

The virtual Studio Art Quilt Associates’ annual conference opened on April 15th and continues until 25th April. Over 400 attendees are enjoying informal meet ups on the conference platform, organised zoom discussions, studio tours, lectures and several kinds of slideshows. Approx. 4000 SAQA members around the world are organised into geographic regions, and although I am geographically located in the Latin America and Caribbean region, I’ve also chosen to list Oceania as my second region. The region covers members in New Zealand, Australia, PNG and the island nations, though we don’t currently have any members out in the middle of the Pacific. This conference’s theme is Oceania so presenters for the most part are Aussies or Kiwis. Two virtual exhibitions were organised to coincide with it, and slideshows of them are part of the program. I have Dreamlines in “Oceania: Impressions From Around the World”, for which you only had to submit images, and there was no date limitation – I have posted this quilt before

Dreamlines 3 2015 70cm x 40cm

The other exhibition I’m part of is themed “Distance and Diversity”, and is available virtually only through the conference app, but will open in real time in New Zealand next month (gallery information at the end of this post). I don’t normally make works for themed shows, with my interest in little landscapes, I was able to produce a work to the design requirements – 60cm x 40cm landscape orientation. It was shown one evening accompanied with lovely regional music – some didgeridoo segments were interspersed with sounds of nature, birdsong and so on – perfect. The quilts themselves are a fine and varied collection I’m proud to be part of. From when the SAQA conference organisers approached the regional group to put it on, we only had 8 months to form the committee, write the prospectus and entry form, arrange jurors. collect the selected quilts and prepare the catalogue for printing. As a volunteer member of the organising committee, I felt honour bound to submit an entry, and at such times the stirring words of Dorothea MacKellar’s poem My Country always spring to mind.

Sunburnt Country 2021 60cm x 40cm Distance & Diversity Exhibition

My statement about this work reads: “Australian born in 1885, Dorothea Mackellar wrote her iconic poem My Country in 1904 while her family was living in England.  A highly emotive expression of homesickness for her country, it includes terms such as ‘sunburnt country’, ‘wide brown land’, ’sweeping plains’ and ‘far horizons’, some of which are standard descriptive adjectives for Australia today. Inextricably entwined with the harsh landscapes on the antipodean continent that produced it, Australian Aboriginal civilisation suffered greatly as English colonists arrived and spread out across the land.  Those English influences have in turn been diluted by more recent waves of change brought by immigration from many parts of the world, resulting in the culturally diverse country we are today.  My miniature landscapes attempt to express in fabric the vast open distances, varied colours and textures of landscape that make up our huge island continent.”

My regular readers know little landscapes are a thing of mine. I blogged several times about the making of this piece, so if you’d like to learn more about my process, follow these links:, and

Sunburnt Country, detail. Fused landscape segments onto black background, sprayed sky and hand drawn iconic Australian images. hand quilted.

The images, artist statements and jurors’ comments are now in the hands of a printer, and a catalogue will be available by the time Distance and Diversity opens in real time on May 14 – 16, 2021: The Great New Zealand Quilt Show, Rotorua, New Zealand. Other New Zealand dates and venues are July 5 – 25, 2021: Estuary Arts Gallery, Orewa, New Zealand and November 1 – December 2, 2021: Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand. It will travel to Australia in 2022, though the event at which it is scheduled to open may yet be cancelled – this wretched pandemic is a nightmare for event organisers – so I’ll give more information closer to that time.

Auditoning Shapes

April 19th, 2021

The two pieces I intend to enter into Art Quilt Australia are ready for their photography appointment this week, and the recording of the Artist Interview for Quilt National 21 is done and sent to the Dairy Barn. Yesterday I felt free at last to unwrap my neon orange rip-stop nylon and start to learn its potential by making a few samples.

All of my art is based on inspirations I get from Landscape, and as I love repeat units too, I often see things in terms of rather diagrammatic plans. The brown squares on the second row are of a ~4cm sample square of brown suede I made about 10 years ago, the middle cut out and trimmed smaller to leave space, and then holes punched in parts. It’s not landscapey, but it is an image I have so often thought about but never actually used – yet. I love the idea of a repeat block surface design using this idea in some way – and its time may have come! Either leather or ripstop nylon would be perfect …

A scanned page of some of my images I gathered onto a word document page and printed off.

I do keep going back to certain things – I don’t believe it is lazy on my part, I have different things to say using some of the same ‘diagrams’ as I guess these are. Another approach to this length of nylon (which does tear with a satisfyingly loud, sharp sound, actually) is to explore textures with/without using the exactly matching orange thread. I used neon green in this very early sample (since I do still have about 2,800m of it) and found the circles were easiest to handle by first making a tube, attaching the cut length into place using the fine matching orange, and then couching/oversewing is manageable, though requiring a hoop or frame. So, a large textured piece? Something pandemicy? Samples give small concrete platforms that show possibilities.

Some more exploring will involve holes, and I was recently reminded of using a heat tool to melt/burn synthetics. ( I only use this technique outside on a windy day with my back to the wind to avoid breathing in any fumes)

Pandemic Pattern 5

April 12th, 2021

A huge number of stemmed french knots and hand quilted cross stitches later, yesterday I called it a day once the binding was machine sewn. I love the last stages – in this case of folding back the french binding and hand stitching it down, adding the sleeve and signing the work, all of which I will finish today. I hope my next photo of this quilt will be announcing it’s acceptance into the important art quilt exhibition I’m about to enter it into 🙂

Pandemic Patterns applique in process. The leather shapes represent coffins.

It’s now time to contact my wonderful photographer Eduardo and set up an appointment for this one, Pandemic Patterns 4, 3 and another small work I made late last year all in greens. That one I thought I might send to New Zealand until I realised ordinary airmail postage wouldn’t get it there in time; and it wasn’t ‘important enough’ to send by Fedex. Still, green is my favourite colour, and I’m seriously thinking of gifting it to someone I have in mind.

While I mull over my next pandemic work, I plan to experiment with some textural sample making in a ‘new’ to me material. Wanting small amounts of some high visibility fabric, flouro colours – I went to a store someone recommended, and they did have some wonderful hectic orange, bright pink and yellow-green. It’s ripstop nylon, the stuff they use for hi-vis safety clothing for road workers and the like – perfect – but they would only sell a 10m cut. The price was 90pesos per metre, which is almost exactly US$2.00 at the moment, so I bit the financial bullet and bought 10m, paying considerably less than I’d been quoted. That store also has some fabulous flouro/neon threads in colours I don’t have but finer – and considerably smaller cones than the 1500m ones I imported a few months ago!!! So I have some ideas, anyway, and still the notion of aposematism is bumping around in my mind.

An Embarrassing Omission

April 6th, 2021

There must have been a good reason, but I really don’t remember why I agreed to make a quilt for an exhibition+auction that some womens group was holding to support a worthwhile charity. Perhaps it was on my mind to make it at the time …. I do know (1) someone must have asked very nicely or compellingly (2) and at the time I was totally infatuated with the ceramic art retrospective exhibition we’d just seen of iconic Uruguayan painter and ceramicist Jose Gurvich. He did a lot of couples/Adam and Eve/lovers, and while I can’t remember why I chose a The Tree Of Life format, which is so different from inspirations before and since … I do know I started with this hand painted version, which I ditched, a good decision probably … anyway it is gone and not subject to reappraisal. (I think the snake’s pretty elegant, though)

Arbol de la Vida, version 1, painted background.

The Tree of Life, or Arbol de la Vida…. version two. I began a draft blog post at the time, 2005, and was diverted and it remained as a draft until today. At the time I felt I could become hooked on fusing, but I’ve not done much since, until recently. Whatever original deadline I was given, it was brought forward at the last minute by three days, so that the comfortably do-able became a frantic, last-minute miracle. Maybe that was why I resorted to the fusing – anyway that worked, though the quilt was not sold to my reserve price, and is in the back of a cupboard somewhere. Another thing I totally overlooked when compiling my illustrated catalogue a couple of years ago!

Arbol de la Vida, 2005, approx 1m x 1.25m. The Gurvich influence is plainly visible!

Looking Back

April 5th, 2021

I recently prepared a Lightning Talk for the virtual SAQA Annual Conference which begins in a week’s time – there’s still time to register. My talk, A Journey Through Landscape, involved a lot of critical and some nostalgic review of works I wanted to show in the short time allowed for the 20-slide presentation. My talk’s theme is around the role, the influence Landscape has always had on my textile art through shapes, lines, colours and textures. Yet I do nothing pictorial, it’s all abstract. Anyway,preparing the talk took me into some memory nooks and crannies, and I found a draft of something I was preparing to post several years back but evidently didn’t, so it being relevant to the ‘Looking Back’ thing, I tidied it up and here it is.

Because of Mike’s work as an exploration geologist, we twice had the fortune to live in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, heart of the gold mining industry in that state. In the late 60s the Nickel Boom, we were among the thousands of people who flocked there from around the world.As all booms do, it faded, and we followed opportunity north in 1975 for a few years, but returned to Kal in 1981 as a gold boom was on, and left in 1987 to go off to the USA. We loved both our times there.

In 1985, perhaps, Australians began hearing a lot of talk about events being planned at national, regional and local levels to help the nation celebrate the Bicentenary of European settlement during 1988, the Bicentenary year. One major year-long event was a travelling expo of “Australia”, organised to visit all parts of the country during the year. The organisers planned display of double sided banners to be mounted above the entry to the expo.

These double sided banners had a large single letter on one side, and a design on the other reflecting something about the region where it was made. To be made to specific dimensions, the design had to be submitted and approved, after which it became a community project in local hands with a group leader who liaised with the Canberra people.

The Goldfingers Embroiderers and the Patchwork Pollies formed a group to carry out the big project, led by quilter Margery Goodall. The The City of Kalgoorlie Boulder is the main centre of the huge gold mining industry in Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields.  Even after 128+ years’ continuous gold mining, large quantities are still produced in the city and surrounding region, and new resources are still being found. For the pictorial side the obvious choice was something to do with gold and its history there. We settled on a traditional medallion-style design featuring a soft sculpture of the Golden Eagle Nugget the largest found in Western Australia, at Larkinville, 97 km south of Kalgoorlie Boulder. My version is shown here with yours truly standing in front of that side of the banner on the day of the official handover. 

October 1987. Margery Goodall and Alison Schwabe in front of sides of the quilted banner.

Located near the edge of the Great Central Desert, a desert landscape colour scheme throughout was determined. Our assigned letter was H, which we decided to work in traditional crazy patchwork, as it would lend itself to lots of community participation, an important one of the project’s goals.

I offered to free machine embroider buildings and headframes typical of historic Kalgoorlie in the medallion, as I had plenty of experience with FME. Someone suggested perhaps I could make a gold nugget for the center of it, and I blithely agreed with that great idea, having no real idea how I’d do it but aware I’d have to make my own pattern and works out how to make one… I’m an experienced procrastinator with a finely tuned sense of just when I need to cut that out and get on with it 🙂  So, after weeks of procrastinating and agonising over the folly of offering to make such a thing, and faced with a fast approaching deadline, I finally got down to experimenting with samples, naturally.  It was probably turning over in the back of my mind for weeks, but once I focused under pressure, the Golden Eagle Nugget took me about a day to figure out and make.  I found a picture of that famous nugget, drew a rough shape and used that to cut out the gold lame, the brassiness of which I toned down in places with brown paint, layered that with batting and free machine quilting to give the ‘lumpy’ surface texture. I then sewed around the edge and stuffed it a little before sewing it shut – like a little pillow. I ran some little stay stitches around the edge and did a few circular gathers on the underside to help it ‘sit’ properly on the surface.  Phew! I was hugely relieved and still just a bit proud of the result of one of my most inspired projects, ever.  Below the eagle is a little fme pic of the main street water fountain statue of the prospector Paddy Hannan whose discovery of gold nearby led to one of the most fabulous gold rushes the world has ever seen.  What a joy to wander back in time through these photos, enjoying the memories and demo of the proven value of making samples whenever entering uncharted territory! 

People were impressed with the expo, but being in the USA that whole year, we just had to take their word for it! i sometimes wonder how all those banners fared in their year of touring. though from the top photo they seem to have been sheltered from rain, no doubt they had lots of sun shining on them over the year – I think they probably faded quite a bit. I don’t know where they’re stored, either, though I imagine possibly the National Library. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been cut down into blankets for a cats home or something …

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