We wanted to snorkel in the Pacific. Several times we crossed to the Eastern seaboard, which was expensive; so, we decided to rent our house in Cottesloe and move to the East for say, a year. We settled in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast (Queensland) and stayed for seven years. We snorkeled on Lord Howe, Vanuatu, Fiji, Lady Eliot, New Caledonia. It was a great time.
It was also fruitful for my textile development and explorations. It seemed that Queensland was much more eclectic in its Art ethos. The Queensland Gallery for instance would show textile in with any oil or print or drawing, which might be relevant to a theme. This seemed very different to that which I was used to in Perth; though not in USA, where textiles was not regarded as a hobby and/or female preoccupation.
I joined a group of people interested in weaving, tapestry, stitching, quilting, ceramics, dyeing, and anything else of a craft-art flavour, and it opened possibilities to me. We had workshops and discussions and a couple of exhibitions in Brisbane and often ventured forth to regional exhibitions of interest such as Noosa, Maroochydore, Maleny, and Brisbane.
The University of the Third Age was very active in Caloundra and I spent weekly sessions absorbing this and that, with great profit and stimulation.
We moved back to Perth for family reasons which I have to confess left me a little lost for a time.
I have always felt that nostalgia, whether it be in architecture or needlework or whatever, is good emotion wasted. I suppose, temperamentally, I was already looking to speak with my own scissors and threads rather than someone else’s. I was given to understand that what was around me, my experiences, in my voice, was not quite the thing.
I suppose it was a certain stubborn self-preservation which stopped me in mid-stitch as I was applying a breadfruit in the Hawaiian manner (from a bought pattern) – I am an Australian, not a Hawaiian, so why am I stitching breadfruit?
When I returned to Australia, I started stitching quilts of my own imaginings. They evolved because I don’t like to copy, and I wanted to show things based on my own experience. In the early eighties, before it was popular, I was interested in using indigenous plant forms in quilts, which celebrated the shapes and colours of the plants.
Among others, I developed five quilts which I call the ‘Dullflower’ series. They depict native plants and the title is a wry salute to those who find boredom in the Australian bush and are aimed at exploring wildflower shapes using a different approach in each.
The spectacular flower to the fore is a large “prionotes” banksia with two attendant birds which are free-standing. They are the accurately represented Western Spinebill and a larger bird which is an amalgam of the New Holland honeyeater and the Large Wattle Bird all of which are Honey Eaters and pollinators of Banksias. The English piecing down the sides of the quilt also represents banksias.
Play is made of the word ‘everlasting’ so the elements represent the past, the present and the ongoing, as well as the paper-like flower. The colours are those of everlastings; yellows, whites and pinks. The ‘light spots’ are hexagons, used so much in traditional patchwork, and traditional patterns are scattered over the surface in the quilting to represent the past.
The bird is an attendant honeyeater but also suggests the ‘everlasting’ – if one wished to see the Holy Spirit or the dove of peace that is fine.
I drew first and I always draw from life (we had lots of spider orchids on our farm block). I spent hours getting the orchid ‘right’. I tried many shapes more realistic but had to get simpler and drop detail after detail. I wanted to suggest a simplicity which conceals a great deal of complication, delicacy which conceals toughness.
All the quilts I have made were explorations and though I have never copied a quilt, my early ones were of my own designs expressed in traditional techniques. They were quite successful and since I was using Australian native plants as my theme, before it became popular, they attracted attention
I think it important to use one’s own thoughts, the perceptions and loves of one’s own time and place, rather than someone else’s hand-me-downs; the past used for the steps it can suggest, rather than for the provision of present substance.
But they were not where I wished to be, though I knew that each one made me a step nearer to the radical and even outrageous which I want. But it’s a hard slog with my temperament. I was brought up 'proper' by an English Mother and that’s a hard mask to shed and at times I fear that I am a generation too late.
I am Australian of this day and age, and I want the images, effects, and colours that I use to arise out of my own experience rather than to speak of another time and place. It is literature, philosophy and psychology that informs much of my work. Politics has always interested me; and I have stitched several political pieces.
I have also stitched social commentary.
I would like to make pieces which speak to people who are not interested in quilts, to use a quilter’s insights and skills to lure in those who dismiss quilts as largely busywork. I do not know if I am making quilts or textile pieces. I don’t think I have joined the stick wrappers and keep vigilant control over my lunatic tendencies; perhaps they do not sit well in general shows and of course no one wants to own them. A quilt can stand for many things.
For the marriage bed, for cosy security, for thrifty make-do (Waggas), for ceremonial gifts… and as a political statement. Stitches and words serve the same purpose and become one. Things stitched:
Some are for fun...
Some are for exhibiting...
Some are for teaching...
Some are to find something out.