I have been fortunate enough to see many different quilts and styles of quilts, since I moved to Perth. It has also been a joy to meet the makers. I have seen a few of Helen’s quilts in the last few years. I am intrigued when I see her quilts, as each one is of such a different style, that sometimes I find it hard to believe it is the same person who has made them. I was delighted to meet Helen at a Contemporary group meeting a few weeks ago, and the rest is history!! Thank you for sharing your story Helen.
I was born and bred in Perth and have lived most of my life in WA with the exception of a working holiday in Sydney when I was 21 years old. I started full-time employment when I was 17 years old and finished in 2015. My main career was lecturing in business. Working with adult students was very stimulating, busy and satisfying but it left little time for sewing.
I share my small home with a bossy Burmese cat called Ziggy. She is quite entertaining. My love of cats began as a child and cats have featured in several of my quilts.
My mother was a professional dressmaker who set the bar high on how garments should be finished. She was a perfectionist and her dressmaking and embroidery skills were exceptional. When Mum passed away in 1998, I inherited her Bernina 830 which I still use for day-to-day sewing.
Have you always been creative?
Yes. I remember making dolls clothes from garden leaves when I was young. My first sewing project was embroidering pockets and a band on an apron for my mother when I was about nine years old. It was a school project and my apron was chosen for display at the Perth Royal Show.
Over the years I have enjoyed embroidery, pottery, furniture-making, beading, dressmaking and now quilting. I sold most of my pottery thinking I would continue that hobby at a later date but never did. The most useful piece of furniture I made is a six-foot bookcase in jarrah with double-depth adjustable shelves. It holds several hundred books.
I studied classical piano for 12 years from the age of 8, gained an AMusA in Pianoforte and taught piano to children privately over a number of years. When I am sewing at home, I tune into ABC Classic FM radio.
I have been a volunteer with various community groups over the past 50 years including Lions Clubs. I have created many designs for badges, brochures, banners and flyers using desktop publishing software. Recently I created a logo and pin design for the 2022 National Lions Clubs Convention.
Your first foray into quilting?
I visited my first Perth Craft Fair back in 2016 and collected a flyer in the Quiltwest exhibition for the 2016 WAQA Open night. At that time I was unaware that quilters and quilting groups existed in Perth. Curiosity got the better of me and I ventured north-of-the river on a winter’s evening into the Adriatic Centre to learn more. I recall seeing colours everywhere, happy people, quilt demonstrations and fabric. I had stepped into another world. A Kaffe Fassett quilt “made from scraps” was the clincher. I joined WAQA that evening and have never looked back.
Your first quilt?
One month after becoming a WAQA member I visited Fukuoka, Japan and filled my luggage with traditional Japanese indigo quilting fabrics. I wasn’t brave enough to cut into them for my first quilt so I designed a simple pattern in pink/green fabric from Textile Traders.
My second quilt was a two-sided, simple “brick” design using my Fukuoka textiles
Have you won any local, national or international prizes?
Equal third in the 2019 Challenge
Quilt: “Fantasy Garden”
Best first time entry – Covid Quiltwest 2020
Quilt: “Natasha and Annabelle”
What else do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy travelling, swimming, lawn bowls, music, dressmaking, gardening and reading.
The British comedy “Death at a Funeral”
Family, are they supportive of your love of quilting?
I have one son who is based in Asia with his partner and two daughters. In June 2019, my son’s family moved into my small home so my younger granddaughter could undergo medical treatment at the Perth Children’s Hospital. My sewing room was emptied to make room for them and 18 months later the family is still here and I am still looking for sewing items stashed behind the sofa, on cupboards, under beds and other safe places.
My son probably thought I needed professional intervention for hoarding when he saw my craft stuff. The penny dropped when he visited the Covid Quiltwest exhibition and saw my quilt featuring his two daughters on display. There were pop-up shops, colourful fabrics for sale, eye-catching quilt creations and many participating quilters like myself at the exhibition. He is now very supportive telling me that I should keep my quilts and not give them away.
Do you belong to any other quilting groups?
I am a member of the Contemporary Quilt Group and I enjoy helping at the Community Quilts’ busy bees. In June, I joined the Alexander Park Craft House Management Committee as Secretary.
Favourite place to holiday?
I have travelled extensively since I was 18 years old. I have family in the UK and Asia and on every trip I try to see something new. My last overseas trip in late 2019 was around-the-world and included the Houston Quilt Festival, London, Iceland and Thailand. I used to coordinate a youth exchange program between Japan/Australia for Lions Clubs Australia and after five visits to Japan, it has become a favourite destination. When Covid is a distant memory, I hope to re-visit the Tokyo Quilt Festival.
Favourite quilting/sewing tool you can’t live without?
Two favourites: my Juki 2010 semi-industrial machine, which is great for straight sewing and quilting, and a silicone applique mat.
Something else you can’t live without?
Music, a sewing machine and a pet cat are necessities for a good life.
Follow patterns or prefer to make your own designs?
I prefer to create my own designs. It’s the expectation of what the final design might be that I find exciting. Start with an idea and see what happens. If I sew a commercial pattern, I feel that I have just copied it. Developing an idea creates a new design. In dressmaking, I always change the original pattern in some way. The recent Rajah quilt challenge was interesting because we used a commercial pattern but could include our own colours and theme. I chose a nautical theme in bright pink to represent the female convicts who sewed the original quilt.
Your favourite part of the whole quilting process?
Sewing on the binding. I know the quilting (the least enjoyable task) is finished and the quilt is coming together.
How much for you , has quilting changed for you over the years?
Quilting has given me a wider interest in sewing, a wonderful creative outlet using colour, an artistic boost to my retirement, a reason to travel to Tokyo and Houston to see their quilt exhibitions and the opportunity to become involved in the craft scene in Perth.
Your number one tip to pass onto another quilter would be?
Try new techniques. Quilting offers so many opportunities to try something different. I trialled thread painting to depict four endangered animals for the Spring into Parks banner and was surprised and pleased with the results.
Do you have a preference for any particular form of patchwork/quilting/ or what do you enjoy doing the most?
Boro and applique have become a bit of an addiction. I am keen to try more techniques. Not sure if hexagons will ever grab my attention.
Do you have a fabric, ribbon,thread, button stash?
Yes – fabric stash, thread stash, buttons, patterns, lace, ribbons, Japanese haberdashery. You name it, I have it. I probably need another life to get the stash down to one storage box.
Are you lucky enough to have a designated sewing space, where you can just close the door and leave the mess behind you?
After my son’s family moved in and I gave up my sewing room, I have managed with a 3m x 3m area in the dining room. Not ideal but all I need is an idea, fabric, my Juki, music and a cup of tea to keep sewing.
Do you prefer working on bigger or smaller pieces?
I definitely prefer smaller quilts because I can move onto new projects more often.
Helen, thank you so much for your time, it was wonderful to learn more about you and your quilts.