A Quilting Challenge

quilt‘Retirement: How did I ever find the time to work?’ was the title of a quilt picturing a voluptuous bikini clad grey haired beauty of a certain age. She was resting in a hammock slung between two palm trees, holding a tropical cocktail.

Her portrait was on show as part of the annual Dorothy Collard Challenge, in which members of the Auckland Quilt Guild are challenged to design and make quilts on a particular theme. This year it was “The Space Between”. 

It was created by Val Williams who says "Having retired three months ago I've found time to sit and dream. At a recent retreat I was inspired to paint fabric and actually finish my challenge piece".

All the chosen quilts were beautifully displayed in the Becroft gallery, which is part of the Victorian/Edwardian Lake house Arts Centre in Takapuna, a heritage building.

The late Dorothy Collard was a former member of the AQG. Like many quilters, she gathered a large stash of quilting materials and books during her lifetime. But her collection was larger than most! After her death a big sale was held of them. It filled the Grey Lynn Community Hall.

She left a bequest from her estate to the Guild to sponsor an annual challenge (with a trophy and prizes) for five years, with the possibility of extending this. After nine years the Guild has taken over the sponsorship of the challenge.

As I walked around the exhibition, enjoying these beautiful quilts I couldn’t help thinking that it was a shame that she could not be present in person to see her challenge being met with so much enthusiasm and skill. Her generosity has been amply rewarded.

A move away from tradition

Quilts used to be simply squares of fabric sewn together decoratively and padded to make utilitarian items like warm bed covers. But it is obvious from this exhibition how times have changed.

Nowadays many different techniques, materials and adhesives can be used in quilt making, including computer technology. In this exhibition, it was interesting to see that many of the quilts were multimedia, with paint and printmaking used as well as stitching. Arguably they were closer to fine art than folk art.

The creative process

During the exhibition Trish Downie, the head of the Auckland Quilt Guild, gave a fascinating artist talk on the creative process involved in making a quilt.

She draws her inspiration from many different sources including the natural environment, photographs she has taken on journeys, advertisements, and quotes from books she has read. 

Examples of these are kept in her personal quilting journals, which she shared with us. She stressed the value of keeping a journal for recording good ideas and for setting yourself a regular challenge to try out new ideas or techniques

For Trish, a quilt begins with a whirl of ideas that gradually come into focus as she starts to consider what kind of materials and techniques she can use to compose her quilt. 

It can be difficult to find the right solutions, and this can lead to an artistic block. But in her experience, if you go away and leave it for a while, it will begin to take shape again when you go back to it.

Have Faith in Yourself

A lot depends on your mental attitude. “What you believe at the beginning of a journey will affect the outcome,’ she says. “It’s not just about being good with a needle and thread but in believing in yourself.”

Even though I’m not a quilter, it felt like the kind of good advice I could well take on board and apply to my own journey in life.

Read more from Lyn Potter here