Ali Wilkinson

Quiltcon Living Springs

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This weekend quilty blogs and Instagram posts will be filled with images and chatter from Quiltcon Pasadena. Meanwhile in the South Island of New Zealand, the REAL modern quilting royalty were meeting at a secret location code-named Living Springs, sewing up a storm, solving the world’s problems, and enjoying this view:

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There’s something very special about hanging out with a bunch of like-minded friends and only having to worry about which fabric to use next and when the bobbin is going to run out. Many projects were completed and others had a good amount of progress made on them. I gained stacks of inspiration from other projects, in particular this gorgeous x and + quilt by Kirsty:

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How yummy is that? I definitely see my version of that in my future sometime soon!

For me, I worked on completing the Tropical Cabins, or at least the part that I can complete until I buy some plain white yardage on Wednesday.


Unfortunately I was only able to stay one night as I had double booked myself and had Cirque du Soleil tickets for last night, but the rest of the posse are still there and if anyone is interested in seeing what they have been up to check out #quiltconlivingsprings on Instagram as I know a number of them are posting regularly.

Here is Andrea laying out her son’s HST quilt and I am looking forward to seeing the end result:

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We are already making plans for another weekend and I am really looking forward to it, and next time I won’t be double booking myself.

Ali Wilkinson

Handiwork of Cuba

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I’ve been away for the last month and a bit, travelling with Gary, Golden Child and a couple of other families in Cuba. (hope you enjoyed the couple of posts I scheduled to post in my absence) This was an amazing trip in a country that is undergoing profound change that is almost palpable in its speed. I first went to Cuba in 1995 for a few days as a backpacker. In many ways the country is the same, but in so many others it is different; there are more cars now, but even so by Western standards the roads are deserted, and there is certainly more variety of food and items for sale. Cell phones might be widely available but the reality is that the pace and way of life is still very much as it has been for decades. It was quite refreshing not to have any possibility of internet access for the whole time!

Our trip visited much of what the western part of the island has to offer and we were lucky to spend 3 nights in Trinidad, a UNESCO world heritage site and lovely town on the southern central coast. Trinidad is famous for many things, including the needlework method and designs particular to the town.

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Using pencil a design is marked on plain cotton or linen. Individual threads are then removed with a seam ripper to create the holes seen in the photo above.

needledown_nz_Cuban_tablecloths_ 5Then the fabric is stretched on a hoop and embroidery floss or thicker cotton thread is used to sew the stars and other patterns used as both decoration and reinforcement. The stars are a particular feature of the Trinidad handicraft scene.

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Sometimes traditional embroidery was mixed in with the Cuban style.

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The flower made of diamonds is also a particularly Trinidad feature.

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It was a hard decision which tablecloth to buy, especially when they were selling for USD25 each! (I wanted to buy more but it was Sunday and there were no banks open and the only ATM in town was already empty and I was getting low on cash. Such is the way in Cuba where serious cashflow planning was required due to only big hotels accepting credit cards!)

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Trinidad is also famous for crocheted clothing, usually made from cotton or linen in white or natural shades. I had been sure to have photos but it appears I didn’t take any, so maybe go and Google to see the fine work being done there!

Tourist numbers are already increasing to the island and the US has just announced that 110 scheduled (commercial) flights per week will be allowed to go to the country shortly bringing even more tourists. As the numbers grow and free market economics start to come into play I think that not only will prices go up, but a way to mass produce these items will be found. I feel very lucky to have been able to see the ladies at the market doing their handicraft themselves and to have bought my tablecloth when I did.

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Ali Wilkinson

Chinese Vases

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I made this quilt 12 years ago just before I left Singapore, inspired by a much larger quilt designed and made by Ira Joseph featuring the same pieced yellow background, Chinese jars and vases, fruit, fish and other Chinese symbols and a large brown tree that linked the whole quilt together. I wish I had a photo to share but I don’t, and I can’t find one online. (I will ask Ira if she can send me one so I can share with you all).

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I was still a relative beginner and didn’t think I could tackle a large quilt, so Ira helped me make a smaller version for use as a wall hanging. I gathered my favourite Japanese and Chinese fabrics in blues and whites for the crockery, and added a few feed sack style blues and yellows for the background. I used batiks for the fruit, fish and vase stand. The ginger jar with the Chinese symbol (centre of bottom block) was actually a handkerchief! My templates were pretty basic and this was the first time I ever did needle turn appliqué, with some wonky results in some places!

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I quilted by hand and machine, echoing the jars, plates and vases, or sashiko style in the borders.

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The leaves coming out of the top of the large vase were sewn loosely onto the quilt to give a 3D impact.

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And I even made teensy Dresden plate quarters for the corners!

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Looking back at the different skills needed and my inexperience in those skills, I am surprised I jumped right in to make this quilt – clearly I was naive and oblivious of what was required!

I might no longer hang this on the dining room wall, but this quilt holds a position of fondness in my heart and I love to get it out and look at it from time to time. It might go back up on the wall in my new sewing room in the about-to-be-built new house!

Ali Wilkinson

Paying it Forward


This is Sriyani (with a tired and jet lagged toddler Golden Child). She was our amah during our time in Singapore and lived with us in her own rooms off  the kitchen and did the housework and some cooking, but most importantly she looked after the Golden Child.

Last week I posted about how I got into quilting whilst living in Singapore, and I guess this is a spin-off story from that.

Sriyani was really fascinated by my quilting and the fabrics. She was originally from Sri Lanka and had some beautiful saris she wore on Sundays when she went to church. Looking after Golden Child left her quite a bit of “downtime” as the Golden Child was a very good sleeper! So I enrolled her in sewing classes at the same quilting shop I went to, which I think was a bit of a culture shock for some of the more traditional local shoppers as usually service staff stayed home and kept out of sight, a little like Carson off Downton Abbey would have happen! Luckily Ira, the shop owner, was very supportive of my desire to teach Sriyani a new skill, and welcomed her to the classes with open arms.

Sriyani showed great skill and we bought her a basic machine and fabric. She was prolific! When we left Singapore she went to work for a Dutch family and they made good use of her sewing skills making things for their three children!

We kept in touch with Sriyani and a few years later she moved back to Sri Lanka. She had spent 25 years in Singapore looking after other people’s children and houses. All that time her husband and mother had looked after her own son in Sri Lanka, and she had been saving and judiciously purchasing commercial property and land in Negombo. When she returned she took some sewing machines with her and set up a small business where she taught other women how to sew and created patchwork quilts for sale. She began to offer quilting services and established a link with a quilting store in an upmarket part of a SE Asian city (details not shared for privacy reasons).

I am sad to say we have lost touch in the last decade but there is a soft spot in my heart for Sriyani and the care and devotion she showed to the Golden Child, and I also have immense pride for her achievements. One day soon I will go to Negombo and I will find her again. Perhaps by now she has even more business interests!

Ali Wilkinson

A Different Kind of Sewing

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Anyone who has a cherry tree knows that from the first moment a glimpse of red is on the fruit birds will come flocking and pretty soon the tree will be bare. Birds, like toddlers, don’t seem to understand that by waiting a bit longer the whole experience is better!

The last few years, as our crops got bigger, we have wrapped the tree in netting and managed to get enough cherries at optimum maturity to satisfy ourselves, family and neighbours. This year I decided we needed to get a bit more serious about this so I bought two packs of netting, each measuring 4m x 10m and I sewed them together along the longest edge. Hardly sophisticated sewing techniques, but that 8m x 10m net was able to be placed over the entire tree in a much quicker process, and with a confidence that there are no sneaky holes where the netting doesn’t quite overlap.

As you can see, the cherries are ripening, and in about 3-4 weeks they will be almost black, super sweet and juicy, and full of crunch. Heaven!

[In case you are interested, the variety is Stella and we planted the tree 11 years ago. It has fruited successfully and in good quantities for the last 5 years. I bought it for $15 in a garden centre closing down sale, so consider it a really good investment!]