The Making of Songlines….

I often have trouble producing an art work for a ‘themed ‘challenge. I overthink it and I find that my best work or, at least the work I am happiest with, comes from the heart. Would I like that quilt on my wall day in and day out, is the question I ask.  If it doesn’t fill me with joy, then invariably it doesn’t get finished! The theme for this challenge had been percolating in my head for a long time and it took an age before a clear idea formed. It nearly didn’t happen….. I was pretty involved in the preparations for my daughter’s wedding in early December and I knew that if I had it clear in my head by the time the wedding was over, then I should be able to get it finished!

People often comment that I produce work quite quickly, but it usually has been made in my head for several months before I actually begin work. Naturally, changes occur along the way but they are usually due to technical or construction issues that I encounter. It is unusual for me to take photos as I go, (I forget!) but I happened to use the camera a lot in the production of this piece as I needed to step back from it to see what I was actually making!

The beginning….I started with the thread embroidery.  I have never ever tried this before, but I had watched a video – so …. how hard could it be? I sketched my ‘elder’ straight onto the water soluble plastic – I used a double layer of the ‘plastic’, then I hooped it, dropped my feed dogs and away I went.

I soon realised that it was pretty hard to see what I was doing and thus get a perspective on the image being made. I started on the shoulder and the lower half of the body first mainly because I was a bit scared to do the face. Five colours of thread were used- black, two shades of grey, white and a little bit of brown in the hair and beard.

Taking photos helped – you can from the photos below that the moustache was wrong. This was much more noticeable in the photograph than when just looking at it. More stitching and more photos until I was happy.

You can also see that I have trimmed the plastic around the edge to get rid of the bulk before I soaked the finished piece in water to dissolve the plastic. Magically it all stayed together!

Next was the decision on which background fabric to use.  I auditioned two fabrics and both created a different vibe and I wasn’t sure which I preferred, so I keep both in the running.  I sketched some of my songline ‘circles’, more to get an idea of the size than anything else and pinned them on both the fabrics.

Steam- a-seam was ironed onto the back of my chosen fabrics. Circles were cut and then placed onto black fabric. – Each yielded two circles and on some I cut the black off the outside edge.


The coloured circles were stitched down except for the outside edge – This would be stitched when placed on the background. I then painted the dots using tsukineko inks. I made enough circles to be able to play with layout on the two backgrounds so I could compare and make a decision. This decision was aided by my siblings – I trust them for honest opinions and when in doubt I send them a photo with a question eg ‘which background’ and they reply and often I listen! The interconnected lines were initially cut from fabric that I found in my stash. I also made thread lines in ochre thread and also my ‘campfire’ symbols were thread embroidered (same method as I used for the elder) and I then played with the layout.

While this seemingly mechanical placement was happening, there was actually a method in my madness. The ochre threads are the dominant links between the orange circles. These orange circles are key points in my family story and in particular my daughter’s life. Kiriana has been teaching in remote Cape York for just over five years and the energy, the joy, the struggles and the children of the Cape have not only embedded themselves in her life but in the lives of all our family. Her fellow teachers are an absolute inspiration and I admire their dedication and sheer love of the land and the community. As with all songlines, a lot is hidden or is private to the outside viewer, but the symbols and the links all are symbolic in the telling of our story.

Once I was happy with the placement, it was time to quilt. I have taken a photo of my practice piece where you can see a couple of patterns that I played with but most of the decisions actually centred around the colour of the thread.


Once I had made those decisions, l quilted the piece through two layers, the top and the batting. I then pieced a background using the green fabric that I had auditioned for the front and used several of the circles to give interest. (I had lots!) I stitched around the outside of the coloured circles through the three layers to tie it all together. The thread embroidery was tacked onto some soft black wadding and was then hand-stitched to the background piece as well as through some of the contours to give depth. The facing binding method was used so I could keep the edges straight and also because I didn’t want to subject my thread embroidery to excessive manoeuvring. I then four plaited the headbands with raffia and hand-stitched them onto the finished quilt. Voila! it was finished and even a week early!!!



It is with great delight (and excitement), that I can announce that my quilt “Songlines” has been selected for Brenda Gael Smith’s ‘A Matter of Time’ Textiles Exhibition.
The inspiration, and subsequently the dedication, came from the amazing communities and teachers of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy.

The following is the my artist’s statement (in case you were wondering how it linked to the theme!). This week I will write a short post of how the quilt was made and the techniques I used…surprise, surprise I actually took some photos during the making…


(Dedicated to the teachers and communities of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy)

Time, in Aboriginal society, exists in a vertical relationship rather than in a horizontal sense. The past, present and future are all bound in the eternal ‘now’ of the Dreaming.  Time is not viewed in isolation but has an interconnectedness with the past and with the future. Everything that happens ‘in time’ has eternal implications and is elaborately interconnected.  Songlines are used to explain these connections.

My songline dreams of the day all Australians are connected harmoniously, and when the elder’s ancient songs are embraced, treasured and passed on, to a tolerant, united Australia – it’s just a Matter of Time.



Brief overview of techniques:

The elder is made entirely of thread and is appliqued onto the background. The ‘circles’ in the songlines are appliqued and painted. The  ochre connecting lines and the yellow ‘campsites’  or ‘resting places’ are also made as separate thread pieces which have been appliqued onto the quilt.  The background is free motion quilted using silver and a variegated thread.

a matter of time exhibition


and a wedding in the family….

2015 has been a bit of a multi tasking year; working full time and sewing at every possible moment, I have also been preparing for my daughter’s wedding – you know just the usual kind of stuff – decorations, printing, programs, flowers,  etc etc. Full on to say the least and further complicated by the fact that the wedding was in Northern New South Wales, Australia, in a magical place called Tylagum; I was in New Zealand, and Kiriana was in Cape York!! Still it was a wonderful Wedfest (despite the storms!) and I can’t believe the time I have on my hands now that it is all over! Head down, butt up now as I try and complete my entry for ‘A Matter of Time’ – deadline Jan 15th yikes!! It’s all in my head……… Anyway here are a couple of proud mother photos!

Korowai Ma’s backstory…

korowai maI had been contemplating continuing my ‘white on white collection’, although the thought of more white was a little daunting. I had been trying to work out the technicalities of creating a 3D type image that was happy with, but at the same time, being aware of the requirements of ‘art quilts’ needing to be hung easily, transported easily and being also stacked without damage! I had made several test ‘bits’ but none inspired me to continue the process.

Then I decided to change my shape (from the previous rectangles and squares) and decided to go for a full circle – a kind of flower. Firstly, I had to decide on the ‘petal’. It was crucial that these could be ‘bagged’ relatively easily and that also they would be easy to attach. Where to ‘cut’ the bottom of the petal was actually quite important. I discovered this when I got a little slack and had to discard 50 sewn and bagged petals! It was Mary who suggested adding a colour to the underside of the petals. I had already considered this but I knew that it made the bagging and the ironing of each petal much more precise and thus a lot more work….. of course Mary didn’t have to do this!!! We then discovered this wonderful ‘slightly heavier than voile’ fabric on one of our fabric shopping trips and the experiments started again.

I must admit it was a welcome relief not to be surrounded by ‘white’ for hours on end! I had completely underestimated the number of petals that I would need. I know that maths and I are not a natural fit, but how on earth could I be that far out? I would have to whip up another 100 at several stages of the making of this quilt! It soon became a ‘no brainer’ to opt for a ‘graphic’ look and make a half circle, placing the centre (or the edge) of the circle on the left hand side of a square of fabric . Much more manageable in petal count ,I decided. During the mindless sewing and bagging of the petals, I was working out in my head the heavy quilting that I would do so that the ‘flower’ really popped.

koro as half flower

On the design wall – the cord was sewn under the lip of the petal to give a bit of a lift – this is the ‘graphic half flower’ look with the fabric for heavy quilting still attached!


While moving the ‘now sewn’ half circle around,  I thought it looked like a cloak and from there the idea just ran. The heavy quilting disappeared, the underside edge was bound and I was now working on recreating a traditional taniko border. It didn’t take me long to realise that I didn’t have time to devise a way to do ‘proper’ taniko using fabric (another project!) –  so I used a kete style weaving technique to create the border of the cloak.


Of course , now the piece had no quilting on it! I had elected not to quilt each petal as I had done in my previous ‘White on White’ work, so I decided to hand quilt (not a strength) a gentle koru using perle 8 blue on random petals.


Korowai Ma (white cloak) has certainly had an interesting journey and I was thrilled to be awarded first place in the Amateur Wall Hanging Section. I suppose it was fitting that that award ended my amateur status for the Auckland Quilt Guild and that my transition to being a professional tied in with my first magazine cover! I was delighted to be contacted by Anne Scott from the NZ Quilter and asked if I could send the quilt to Wellington to be photographed for the cover and would I mind the cloak being worn by a beautiful wahine.  (as if!!!). I am absolutely ecstatic with the cover and admit to having a wee smile when I see the magazine for sale. I love the evolution of ideas – I just wish I gave myself more time to make these massive changes!! nz quilter cover

2015 Festival of Quilts

The 2015  Auckland Festival of Quilts was in a new venue (AMI Netball Stadium) which was really bright and the air flow was fantastic as it was a particular warm November!

Sporting a broken arm (thank goodness that happened the week after hand-in) I entered my ‘Turangawaewae’ quilt and my new ‘Korowai Ma’ (white cloak) into the Wall Hanging Sections.  I also entered into the children’s quilt section with ‘Little Monsters’ – which was not my pattern. Despite having been an UFO for some time, it ended up looking fantastic and I will remind every child that every sleeps under it, exactly how many hours of work were involved!  It was a Kelly Wulfsohn pattern – I love her designs, but man are they labour intensive!! ( and (

I will do a separate post on ‘Korowai Ma’ but all the winning quilts from the festival can be viewed at

little monsters

Little Monsters – 1st Place – Children’s Quilts

2015 Dorothy Collard Challenge

The Challenge for 2015 was ‘A NZ Book Title’. The Dorothy Collard Challenge is an Art Quilt Challenge and looks for ‘something different’ in the execution of the piece.

My quilt was based on the book by Chris Pugsley entitled ‘The Bloody Way Home’ and was awarded a merit prize and the viewer’s choice. The draw card, in also honesty, was that it was topical subject (Anzac Day being just around the corner) and the fact that the fabric used for the sky was spectacular (great to have a cool stash!!). The poppies were made of silk and then stitched onto the quilt.

The winner was ‘Tu’ made by Rona Keith, and merit prizes were also awarded to Alison Laurence and Debbie Jones. Below are their quilts (in order)  but all of the quilts can be viewed at


2015 New Zealand Quilt Symposium

Mary & I headed to Palmerston North for a few well deserved days of classes and shopping (of course!) The weather was fantastic and the hospitality great as we spit up to go to our various classes. I was doing a two day workshop with Rosalie Dace ( whose work I have admired forever. If you get the opportunity to meet or workshop with Rosalie, don’t turn it down – pure gold! Inspirational, challenging and grounding – Loved every minute of it. I actually finished the piece I started working on in that workshop (a rare feat) and it is one of my favourites. Entitled, “Turangawaewae”, (A place to stand), I dedicated it to my daughter Kiriana. It tells the story of her growing up in New Zealand, grounded in New Zealand culture and values and then the transition to Australia where now, as a grown woman, she teaches in remote Aboriginal communities in Cape York. It was Rosalie who supported and helped me believe that I could complete this piece – I love it!!!


Together we did a one day workshop with Karen Stone where amidst tons of laughter we made some clamshells and also Karen demonstrated her new hexagon method which certainly appealed to me! I think there will be a book out shortly so watch for it. Below are photos of the workshop and some of the samples we made. Sadly neither of us made our samples into anything but we did learn a few new sewing techniques and Karen’s quilts were a joy to look at.