My name is Robin Gartner. I live in Rockingham where my husband and I retired in 2003 after busy lives teaching and raising three daughters in Wauchope in NSW.
Although born in Sydney, I spent my childhood in Fiji. I vaguely remember visiting family in Sydney as a 3 year old. It was not until 1950 that we were able to visit again.
For me it was a period in boarding school then 2 years at Teacher’s College in Wagga Wagga. I taught there for several years before moving on to W towns on the North Coast of NSW – Woolgoolga, Woodenbong, (where I met my husband), Wyong and finally Wauchope.
I have always been creative. I remember making fairy rings, dolls house furniture, drawing and painting early in my life. However my greatest loves were thread and fabric. By the time I was 10, I could knit ,crochet and embroider, but best of all I could use my Mum’s machine which was a Wilcox and Gibbs hand turned chain stitch machine. Because there were no ready made clothes available, that machine was a real work horse. It sewed every stitch Mum needed until she died.
Mum and I made all my boarding school uniforms on it, firstly to go to Suva Grammar and then to NEGS. I remember having to make 80 button holes by hand .
Your first foray into the quilting world?
It wasn’t until the mid eighties while in Wauchope, that I made my first forays into the quilting world. With a group of friends I decided to enrol in a TAFE class for advanced embroidery. We all sewed and embroidered so this was to be a great social event.
One component of the curriculum was ‘quilting’ which none of us had done. We duly arrived with our 12” pads of graph paper, school rulers, cardboard and glue. . We were going to make a sampler quilt. Firstly we painstakingly drew each block line by line, made our cardboard templates, traced them on to the back of our fabric very careful to maintain the grain line. Then of course we had to add the 1/4” seam allowance before cutting each piece with scissors. No machines allowed, so the blocks were all stitched by hand. My precious sampler took 6 months to make, not too bad with all that
The fabrics in the quilt were a mixture of qualities and varieties. The quilt did not
survive the the jumping etc at the hands of 3 grandchildren and due to the fabrics used disintegrated after about five years
My next quilt was ‘Around the World’ . I cut each individual 4” square by hand, the fabric was poly cotton and the wadding that dreadful thick craft stuff. The quilt survives.
Your quilting story?
A new teacher arrived at TAFE , Shirley Hand who was a genuine quilter, a prize winning member of the NSW Guild, and she was my inspiration. She introduced us to quilters’ rulers, rotary cutters, and mats and proper wadding One of the group established a shop in Port Macquarie where we could buy all our needs. Concurrently Quilting was becoming a big interest on the North Coast with groups popping up in all the big centres.
The course was renamed ‘Commercial Needlecraft’ and was moved to Wauchope TAFE which was almost next to my home. I continued to attend and found there was much more to quilting than sewing squares together. We appliquéd , machine embroidered, painted and dyed. It was a new and fascinating world.
A local craft shop opened and as I had just retired from teaching, I became involved. I invested in a selection of fabrics and began to run classes at the shop. As I felt the need for credibility I applied to participate in the Teacher Accreditation Programme with the NSW Guild. ( I was already a member) Narelle Grieve was my mentor and I soon had my accredition. The classes became a fixed group and we decided to form the Wauchope Patchwork Group. We had a day group and a night group with 60+ members .
I felt the group was my baby. We had in-group classes which I mostly ran . We had special tutor weekends twice a year, we made quilts for our local nursing home and hospital, we held an exhibition each year and participated in district get togethers. It was a wonderful group. They now hold a big exhibition in the Show Ground with stores and demonstrations annually. Google them.
Have you won any awards?
Yes. I exhibited regularly at the Wauchope Show and won something on most occasions. My major work at TAFE was selected for display in Sydney. It also won the major prize in an Art and Craft display in Rockingham. I won several other awards in this exhibition before it was cancelled.
I have entered quilts in Quiltwest each year bar one since I joined in 2004. I have been awarded several prizes there. I was honoured to have my piece in the 40th anniversary challenge voted the best entry by my peers. I have had both my two entries accepted into Stitched and Bound. Perhaps my greatest thrill was to have both these entries and the ‘Ruby’ quilt featured on the QQ cover.
In your spare time?
I love my garden, I am fascinated by the WA flora, I have always loved the ocean but as time goes by surfing, snorkeling, and fishing from both beach and headlands is no longer recommended. I have been a great reader, Pride and Prejudice would be my all time favourite.
Are you a WAQA Member?
Yes , that was one of the first things I did when I came here.I served on the Quiltwest Committee for several years. I also belong to the Contemporary Quilt Group. Also I am a member of the Rockingham Patchwork Group.
Your favourite quilting tool?
I could not survive without my cutter board and rulers.
You can’t live without?
The view of my garden and the sound of the birds from my sewing room.
Do you follow patterns?I rarely follow patterns, although I have just completed one of Ruth de Vos’s designs. Mostly I like to design my own work. Copyright was an issue when I was planning to teach.
Your favourite part of the quilting process?
Sometimes it is the freedom of free motion quilting, but I think mostly seeing my ideas come to fruition
How much has quilting changed since you began your journey?
I began as a traditionalist. Having gained an understanding of the process I began to explore possibilities. Making children’s quilts with a lot of appliqué and quirky designs was a good starter.
(25 years later those quilts still appear in my daughter’s home). I have gone through the Japanese stage, and there have been kaleidoscopes galore, stack and whack, coats and vests. Now my focus is more on art quilts and smaller pieces with a lot more embellishment.
Your number one tip?
Go to classes. There is nothing like the person to person interaction. No matter how experienced you are it is amazing what you will learn.
Do you have a preference for a particular type of quilting?
As I reviewed my body of work for this article, I began to realise just how big a role appliqué has played in my work. I still love log cabins , and now machine embroidery.
Do you have a “stash”?
I can’t reduce it. It keeps reproducing and not just the fabric!!
Do you have a designated work space?
My whole house at present. I do have one bedroom set up as a ‘studio’
Bigger or smaller quilts?
Definitely smaller now.
Thank you Robin, I know it was a big journey for you looking back on your quilting over the past 35 years. I appreciate very much that you have shared your story with me.
words by Lorraine Marshall & Robin Garner. Images provided by Robin Gartner.