My fascination with fabric began early, in a sewing class at school. Miss Burne arrived one afternoon with a Quality Street tin full of hexagons cut from magazine paper, covered in a kaleidoscope of coloured cloth. My passion for quilting was born.
Back then, finances were limited, I had a Saturday morning job that paid £3.00. Admittedly a Mars Bar only cost 20p, but you had to be canny to make £3.00 stretch. I would walk from school over the railway line and up the long sooty length of St. Johns street and on, up Eastover to cross the muddily swirling river Parrot into the centre of Bridgwater. The statue of Admiral Blake stood on the Cornhill staring benignly down towards the water, unaware of the depradations of time on this once bustling port town. I would linger longingly outside Fine Fabrics, its window full of crisp new cottons and then head resolutely to the charity shop.
The racks there offered an affordable alternative, summer frocks that could be dismantled and turned into something new. Staffed by well meaning, white-haired ladies in twin sets and pearls,
“That will suit you dear,” or “I think this one might be a little on the large side.”
I hadn’t the heart to admit my barbarous intentions towards the garments they had so lovingly pressed and presented for sale.
Quilting became a means of making myself feel at home wherever life took me. In 1995 we were posted to Singapore. Apart from being pregnant with my third child, I also faced learning to negotiate the hectic traffic situation inherent to a small island 50 x 80 kms in size with 342,245 private cars and 16,517 taxis (Land Transport Authority, 2015) on the roads.
I discovered the delights of Arab Street in Little India early on, gorgeous dress silks and upholstery fabrics. My goal was the American quilting fabric store in Tanglin Shopping centre. It provided the impetus for me to overcome my reluctance to drive into the centre of the city. Housed just a stones throw from the American Embassy at the smart end of town, the shop rubbed shoulders with an eclectic mix of stores: antiques, ancient maps, persian rugs and designer clothing and footwear, all catering to the desires of the well heeled amongst the ex-pat community.
The escalator glided smoothly upward. I stepped out onto the creamy marble of the fourth floor, full of anticipation. The shop was an Aladdin’s cave of riches for a fabric addict like myself. I spent ages carefully pulling out bolts and making a stack so divine my mouth watered. No longer feeling homesick on this tropical island, I took my stash to the counter,
“How much you want?” Irresistible, I bought far too much.
I have come to rest in Perth. Before we emigrated, I wondered how I would fare for fabrics to quilt with. Would I have to buy on line and have it shipped? I have been surprised by the number and variety of quilting supply shops. It makes sense when you think about it. With a rural population so very isolated, crafts bring womenfolk together in communities. My favourite place to shop for cloth has to be The Quilt Fair that comes in May every year to the convention centre. Perth itself is an isolated city, yet as you walk through the huge doors into the hustle and bustle of the fair, you feel so connected. Hundreds of (mainly) women, bubbling with a childlike excitement, the buzz of happy chatter and a visual cacophony of colour surrounds you. I am warmed by a wave of contentment, a feeling of fellowship amongst this disparate group with a unifying passion that I share. I browse the aisles, revelling in things that are not available here, things that tickle my creativity into action and rekindle again my love of fabric, needle and thread.
A Quilted Life by Penelope Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.