Once the domain of old ladies and American colonialists, quilting has found its place in the modern day, and right here in Newcastle there is a new generation, brimming with energy, taking up the craft and making the country, and world, take notice.
While technology can often sideline industries and skills, quilting has used the internet to its advantage as a way to share designs and ideas across great divides. Talk to most modern quilters and they will have an Instagram account brimming with posts and thousands of followers.
THE TIMES HAVE CHANGED
Modern quilting is akin to modern art. They use bold splashes of colour, geometric patterns and improvised designs. The inspiration may come from a poem, the life of a loved one, a new baby, an old friend, a quirky pattern, an accident, a melody. Quilting has become another canvas and masterpieces are being created lovingly by hand, stitch by stitch.
Catherine Mosely, of Cameron Park, is one of the new generation who has found joy in quilting. Her passion began back in 2008 when a friend had her first baby.
"I wanted to give her a really naff present, so I crocheted a rug with the granny squares. When she had her second baby I needed to make her an equally naff present, so I thought I'd make her a patchwork quilt. Little did I know!" she says.
"I signed up for a beginner's class where you learn all the basic techniques and I made her a quilt. I loved every second of it. I loved the colours, the patterns. I learnt about fabric, about fabric stores. I just got completely into it."
That was 11 years and almost 100 quilts ago.
Catherine attended classes for years, learning techniques and undertaking the process from pattern to finished product. She stuck to traditional designs and did it all by hand, and when she grew enough confidence, started making her own outside of class. It wasn't until a friend living in San Francisco introduced her to quilting blogs that she discovered the modern movement.
"The whole online world of modern quilting was awesome; it blew my mind because then I was like 'ahh, these are my people'."
She connected with younger quilters, fun funky designs and artistic freedom and has made friends all over the world via social media - the modern quilter's sewing circles.
Instagram is the busy hive of exhibition and collaboration and Mosely has over 4000 followers. Social media platforms have created the rise of 'sew-lebrities' - well-known pattern and fabric designers who, like the couture fashion houses, release spring and autumn ranges eagerly awaited by fans.
Social media spurs discussion and gives the artists a space to display their work - which otherwise may hang unseen in a hallway for decades.
And so many of these deserve to be seen and celebrated - their creativity and skill is astounding. It has also emboldened some to push the boundaries in subject matter and technique.
"In modern quilting, probably the one technique that would be used most commonly is improvising. Not measuring everything up, not cutting it with a ruler, not having a plan beforehand and just sewing stuff together," Catherine said.
"It's often something that's experimental and it might turn out OK, but I don't have time for that. I've got so many quilts I want to make and so little time, I get on with the ones where I know what I'm doing."
Most of the quilts on her 'to make' list are for others - birthdays, significant life events, and so on. Considering a quilt can take anywhere between two months and two years to complete, and the cost is upwards of $2000 once you factor in materials and working hours, is truly a labour of love. But beyond the joy of creating and giving, sometimes there are extra perks.
Quilting competitions occur at state and national levels; in NSW the Sydney Quilt Show is the pinnacle exhibitive fair. Catherine has won awards the past two years running: in 2017 for a piece called Halo and again in 2018 for her groovy Shag, inspired by an old shopping bag. The quilt was then sent to the 2019 Australasian Quilt Convention in April for display.
But the grandmummy of all shows is QuiltCon - a four-day extravaganza in the US with exhibitions, workshops, guest speakers and stalls, run by the Modern Quilt Guild which was formed in 2009 and is the peak body behind the contemporary zeitgeist. Each year quilters are invited to submit a piece for hanging and a jury selects 400 from across the globe to exhibit. Catherine has been chosen twice, including for Shag in 2018, an extraordinary accomplishment.
Spending some time online, you can see that quilters can create truly original and remarkable work - check out 'Bling' by Katherine Jones online, Best in Show at QuiltCon 2017, to really blow your socks off. There are also those who do what they like, and there are the true traditionalists.
"The grey area is bigger than either traditional or modern so I don't call myself either, I just make what I like. To be honest, I think most people are on my spectrum," Catherine said.
"To decide if a quilt is modern or traditional, it's a bit liking looking at art. There's a massive area in the middle; from the 1800s, from the 1970s or now and you can't tell when it was made.
"Quilts are important works of art. Every quilt is made by someone's hands and aside from the monetary cost, they've put their very valuable time, skill, and love into it. While a quilt may not be to everyone's taste for one reason or another, they need to be be appreciated and valued for the work that went into them and the stories they tell."
EXCHANGE OF IDEAS
On a Tuesday night at New Lambton Community Centre, I've been invited along to the monthly get-together of the modern quilting arm of the Novocastrian Quilters, a group which has been in existence for many years. Catherine is there, as well as a dozen or so ladies sitting around a large table with metres of cloth, thread, piles of patterns, fabric samples, sewing machines, an iron and ironing board, as well as quilts from home for a show and tell. It's not a "sit in the lap" hobby, and often quilters will have a dedicated room or space in their home for work and storage - an addiction to fabric seems to be a common affliction for quilters.
The women in this group are from all walks of life and of all ages. They come together with a love of the long process, the creativity and the act of sharing.
Work is shown to each other throughout the evening. They are proud and they should be - the quilts are stunning and regardless of how clean and simple the final outcome may appear, take a closer look and you'll uncover the complexity of what went into making it. The work is often personal, but like all art it can resonate with the collective: one is based on a Maya Angelou poem and will be given to a sick niece; an A to Z monthly project which took on a life of its own when letters were played around in a kaleidoscope app; Escher-inspired geometry; as well as a charity quilt for a local neonatal ward.
There are periods of quiet concentration through the night as they sew and other moments of laughter and discussion. I learn that 'quilt' is actually both a noun and a verb.
"You make a quilt," Catherine explains, "but the actual quilting is the stitching that goes through the three layers to hold them together. You can do it yourself on your domestic machine or by hand or you can send it to a longarm quilter."
One such longarm quilter is Leanne Harvey from Mt Vincent Quilts, who also attends the Tuesday night group. She began quilting for others in 2004 as she "loves the texture of quilting and how it brings the quilt top to life."
She specialises in sewing together the three layers of a quilt - the top design, the wadding and the backing - through the use of a 'long armed' machine which positions the quilt on a frame with rollers - the entire quilt can then be quilted in one session.
"Most of my clients are happy for me to choose their quilting designs but I do have other clients who have very specific ideas on what they want, so we work together to make that happen," Leanne said.
Quilting designs could be simple straight lines, swirling patterns or even drawings to tie-in with the fabric design, but that final stitching can be the make-or-break-moment of a quilt's success. In another display of embracing technology, the longarm can be computer programmed for an all-over design, however there are still some who can freehand quilt with exquisite detail.
Leanne is another who has found the outlet of quilting fulfilling beyond words. She's decided to enter one of her quilts in this years' Sydney Quilt Show and is using history as her inspiration.
"My show quilt is inspired by the Rajah Quilt - Australia's oldest surviving quilt. It was made by convict women on a boat called the Rajah during their transportation to Van Diemen's Land in 1841," she said.
After disappearing from known existence, the Rajah Quilt resurfaced in 1987 in an attic in Scotland, when it was then gifted back to Australia, since residing in the National Gallery where it makes an appearance once a year.
At the end of the day, despite its beauty or artistic expression, a quilt in still at heart, practical. You can throw it in the washing machine and durability can last years.
"It gives me joy at every stage of the process - choosing and working with different colours and textures, the meditative activities of cutting, sewing and pressing, and then when it's finished I have a useful item that is beautiful to look at and provides literal warmth and comfort," Catherine said.
And it's not a hobby that she's going to give up anytime soon.
"Knowing how to make a quilt is not a finite thing. There is always new fabric or patterns coming out or a new skill to learn. It continues to be engaging as trends and styles come and go. The community is so wonderful too. It has always been something done in groups and while I do as much as I can in face-to-face groups, it's wonderful to be part of the online community."
And that very first quilt made for a friend's baby in 2008?
"It's still on her bed now."