Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Story of a Very Special Quilt

Tonight I am going to tell you the story of a very special quilt.  I have had to wait a while to share this story for a few reasons which are not important here.  I am just so glad to be able to bring it to you now.

My sister, Glenis, is a teacher in the small Western Australian town of Bruce Rock.   You can see where it is on the map.


The Shire of Bruce Rock and its townsite are situated in the heart of the Wheatbelt of WA, 254km east of Perth.  
It has a population of approximately 700 people, with 1200 people in the shire.   

The local school is the Bruce Rock District High School which offers classes from Kindergarten to Year 10.  Children have to go by bus to another town called Merredin for Years 11 and 12.
This is only a little school - there are around 125-130 K-Yr10 students and 12 Year 8's!

Glenis got some of the children to go out around the school and take some photos so that I could share them with you.






Earlier this year, Glenis asked her Year 8 Society and Environment Class to write letters to soldiers in Afghanistan and she sent them off to the Welfare Mail Address.  Would you believe they not only made it through all that welfare mail in good time but the box landed on the desk of the Chaplain in Tarin Kot.

He emailed Glenis to thank her for the  fantastic letters and advised her that he would distribute them to the Aussie Heroes for her and hopefully the students would get a number of responses. He went on to say that they all appreciate the support and encouragement of fellow Australians. He also happened to know where Bruce Rock is as he was from WA himself. 

Well, we were pretty happy with that and then this came!

Dear Glenis,

Please thank your Year 8 Society and Environment class for their written letters to us. I apologise for the delay in our response. We are soldiers from the Special Operations Task (SOTG) based in Perth, WA, so we are very familiar with the Wheat belt of Western Australia. 

A special thanks to Matilah, Maddison, Tegan, Luke, Rachelle,  Marin, Lawson, Brittany, Ashley, Tysen, and Darnell.  I have personally read their letters and drawings. 

In answer to some of the questions; 

I see the weather in Perth and assume Bruce Rock has dropped in temperature over the last week.  The temperature here in Afghanistan is currently 35 degrees celcius and warming up as we are coming into summer where it is expected to reach 45. 
I do not have a quilt on my bed as the temperature at night now is warm enough for just a sheet on the bed.  My room is average size broken into four smaller areas with four of us living together which is like sleeping in a room with your brothers or sisters. 
Did you all enjoy ANZAC day service and what did you learn?  Matilda great job on your drawing.  Maddison how is the little calf doing?  Yes, at times it is scary fighting but the training we do keeps us better prepared.  In winter the temperate drops to below zero and in summer as high as 50 in the middle of the afternoon.  
Yes, we had an Anzac day service with the Governor General giving us a visit.  Thank you for having a minute of silence for the fallen as we have a few friends that have been killed both in training and on operations.  
We do fight day and night; however, rest when we can.  This is my 3rd tour of Afghanistan; however, I do have friend that are on their 6th tour.  I have not been hurt and do not plan on it Tegan and yes luck is on my side Luke.  
Yes we do have electricity which is provided by a generator, which at times, runs out of fuel so we are left in the dark.  
The environment in Afghanistan is very different to Western Australia; however, they do have a lot of wheat farming with hot summers and cold winters just like Bruce Rock.  
I have been in the Army for 27 years with a number of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  On Anzac day we had a dawn service, played some two up and had our two beers which was a very enjoyable day Marin.  
Most days we come back to our base; however, we do fight at night.  
We are not the only country fighting in Afghanistan Lawson.  We have soldiers from USA, Canada, UK, Romania, Lithuania, Italy, Germany, Slovacian, Jordan, and Singapore.  
Never badly hurt Brittany just little injuries.  No Ashley, I am not scared that the base might get attacked at night.  I work very hard during the day so I sleep like a baby when we are not working.  
Tysen, my training is what goes through my head in the heat of battle. Being a good soldier is like being good at school, work or life in general you must practice and train to be at your best when the time comes. 
My favourite sport is Australian Rules football but enjoy most sports and my favourite team is Richmond.
I have a small farm 10km East of XXXXXXX so I know how lucky you all are living in the Wheat belt of Western Australia. Thank you all for the letters and pictures and I hope you all enjoyed Anzac Day and we really appreciate you support.

Thankfully this was an email which my sister passed on to me so I now had this lovely fellow's email address.  I wrote to him straight away and offered him a quilt.  He wrote back and said that he would love to have a quilt but was not confident that it would arrive in time for him before he left.  Now, you all know that normally we post via the AFPO system so as to avoid paying Aussie Postage on top of the price of the quilt but this time I was happy to make an exception.  Firstly I really appreciated the effort he had gone to with the children and secondly knowing that he lived in Perth I knew I had someone over there who would be happy to help out.

Then I had an idea.  Glenis has on occasion done some fabric dying with her students. I know brave woman!  I called her and asked if she would be interested in getting the students who had written to the soldiers to dye some calico that could be used in the quilt.  She thought it was a great idea.

I asked her to write a little about it.

I showed the students how to scrunch, pleat and add salt to the dyed fabric.
The material had to be wet first and then most water was wrung out.
The kids were allowed to choose their own colours – most chose a combination of two!!
They chose how to create the patterned fabric. 
The dye we used reacts to light – more light brighter colours. So a hill of fabric is bolder and the valley is paler.
The fabric was placed on black plastic outside to dry.
I was astounded by the colours. I would have thought there would be more browns and blues and greens. 

In the mean time I spoke to Liz, of the red kangaroo fame, and she was more than happy to be a part of this special quilt. 
Eventually this rainbow bundle was delivered to Liz.



Now lots of you are quilters and are well and truly familiar with all that goes into making a quilt but I know there are also lots of you who are not quilters so I thought you might find a bit of info on the construction process interesting and seeing as Liz took all these pictures for the students I thought I would use them here too.

First you have to come up with a design - sometimes that is the hardest part.  Liz wanted to work with what the students sent and was determined to not take too much away from their gorgeous fabrics.  She decided on a simple pattern that involved appliqued silhouettes around the outside.  An applique is a piece that is cut out and attached on to a back ground fabric.  In this case Liz used a special paper backed fusible webbing.  She traced the pictures she wanted to fuse onto the paper side of the webbing in reverse. 


Then she ironed them onto the back of her fabric.


Next she cut them out and peeled the paper backing off each one.  That leaves you with your applique shape which can then be ironed on into place.  It still has a raw edge, i.e. just the cut edge of the fabric so it needs to be stitched down some how to prevent it from lifting up if the quit is washed and also to prevent fraying.  Liz stitches around her applique shapes during the quilting.  I stitch around my appliques with either a straight stitch, a zigzag or a button hole stitch  before I layer the quilt (more on layering soon).  
There is always more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak!


You can see Liz sewed all the colours together to form a loose rainbow design.


The rainbow was surrounded by a dark brown border to give it some definition and then a larger cream border was added on which Liz placed all sorts of wonderful farming images.  Very appropriate for a quilt made from fabric dyed by children from a farming community and going to a fellow with his own farm.

After the entire quilt top was completed it had to be layered!  That means that the quilt top, the batting which is the soft cotton filler that goes in the middle and the backing all need to be laid out completely flat so that there are no wrinkles. 
Liz pins her quilts by pinning the backing to the carpet and then smoothing the next two layers down before pinning - man that is hard on the knees!  Liz says it keeps her fit!
 I layer my quilts by placing the newly ironed backing fabric with the right side (the printed side) face down on my kitchen table and then I slightly stretch it and tape it down all the way around it with masking tape.   Isn't it lucky that my kitchen table is just a smidge less than 42" and is about 6 inches longer than it needs to be!  YAY!  It is so much easier to layer a quilt with a helper (sometimes my wonderful hubby, sometimes another Aussie Hero Friend) but  I can do it alone.  After the backing is is taped down firmly and there are NO wrinkles I lay down the batting.  This has to be smoothed out really well too but this can be done by running your hands over it until it is sitting flat and again NO wrinkles.  Finally the newly ironed quilt top goes down with the pretty side up.  Once again it has to be smoothed down.
Most quilters pin the three layers together, some use a washable basting glue called "spray baste".  I pin!  A LOT!  The more you pin the better chance you have that your quilt layers will not shift during the quilting process.  


Pinning can be hard work so some of us use a tool to help get the pins closed. Liz uses a teaspoon to help her.


But not just any teaspoon.  If you look closely you can see that it has a small notch in the end to catch the pin with.


Next you move on to the quilting process.  Now some quilters have a big set up called a long arm quilting machine but Liz and I and lots of other Aussie Hero Quilters use normal domestic sewing machines.  At this point I just need to say that I do not in anyway intend to put myself in the same league as Liz who is an award winning quilter!!!  You can check out some of her other achievements here and especially here.   I just hope she won't tell me off for sharing them with you as she is a very modest lady.  I think it is good for our serving members to know that we not only have wonderful novices sewing for them who have taken to their sewing machines just for them but we have also very talented quilters who are extremely passionate about sewing for Aussie Heroes  and I am very proud of every single one of them!

Now back to the quilting.  Not every quilt made for Aussie Heroes gets as much attention as this quilt did in the quilting stage but Liz wanted to honour both the students's efforts and the wonderful respect our lovely soldier showed to them when he wrote his letter.  
If you look closely at this photo and the next one hopefully you can see some of the quilting details.


And of course, the border is quilted differently from the rainbow middle of the quilt.  I think Liz spent about 5-6 hours on the quilting. 
I think it is just awesome.


Liz even listed the names of all the children on the back of the quilt.


Finally the quilt was completed and stowed away with the laundry bag until it was delivered to the soldier's wife just before he came home.


The end you think?  Not quite!  The photos and the story of how the quilt was made were sent to Glenis and she shared them with the children and they sent Liz a thank you email.

Dear Mrs X(her name doesn't really start with X but you know I don't use surnames on the blog),

Thanks heaps! The quilt looks really good, and we like the way you used our fabric. from Maddi  :)

Thankyou for making the really cool quilt.  I like the way you have designed it and the details. Matildah :)

Thankyou so much for using our fabrics in the quilt. We really appreciate it, the quilt looks GREAT. Tegan  :)

Thankyou for taking your time to make a quilt by using our fabrics we made. It looks fantastic and I think XXXX will like it too.  THANX HEAPS plus I love the details. Ashley :)

Thankyou for taking the time to do the quilt that we have done. I thought it was a great thing to put the details on them and the different ones you have done. They look amazing. Brittany :)

Thankyou for putting our dyed fabrics into the quilt. It looks fantastic, thanks heaps .Darnell :)

Thank you for using your time up on the quilt.  They look excellent and fantastic and I've never seen anything that detailed. Luke =)

Thankyou very much for putting our dyed fabrics into an awesome looking quilt. It is awesome. How you have made such simple pieces of fabric into such amazing designed quilts!! =) Tysen

Thankyou for your time to put together the quilt and by the way it looks awesome. I like the designs on the quilt so thankyou.:) Marin 

Not all our quilts can be as special as this, with as much work put into it, but I do think that all our quilts are pieced and quilted with lots of love and that is what really counts.  
After all
 - all quilters know that-

A quilt is a blanket stitched with love!


Just a reminder if you will have a quilt in the mail by end of tomorrow please don't forget to send me a picture and a confirmatory email  - so far for Quilts of the Week this week we have Chris, Jill, Karen D, Kylie, Liz, Maria, Michelle and Pam M.

Till next time.............keep spreading the word and happy stitching!


8 comments:

  1. What a wonderful story - brought tears to my eyes and now I'm waiting to hear the reaction when he sees it as I'm sure a message will come. Also, you said there were 12 Year 8s but only 11 sent and received messages - what happened to the other student?

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  2. What a moving post- this soldier took so much time to reply to all the questions and even though I don't know him, it made me feel strangely proud of him- for a big tough man to treat these teens which such respect and tenderness is wonderful! Connecting with the next generation is so important and he has certainly done that, although I did have a giggle at some of the questions that were asked! (my DH gets asked similar questions about his job).

    And the end result is stunning- what a beautiful quilt and what teram work! Congratulations to everyone involved.

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    1. I felt exactly the same way Pauline when I first read the email he sent the children via my sister. I was so moved and impressed. Now the children are really motivated to write to more soldiers in the future. It has really had an impact on them.

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  3. What a fantastic and brilliant story, Inspirational and moving. The final quilt is stunning and a fabulous by all involved.

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  4. Fantastic read... I bet the kids were so impressed with there letter to them... and your sister ''what a woman'' very impressive bunch of kids she has there... big well done by everyone xxx

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  5. AWESOME!!! Well done to everybody involved.
    Hugs Khris

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  6. A very inspiring post. So wonderful that the Yr 8's wrote the letters, and such a boost to them to get the reply. They did an awesome job of dyeing the fabric, and well done Liz for making such a brilliant quilt.

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  7. How cool that the kids, sorry students wrote the letters and we all got to share in the journey from letters to the quilt and how nice that they all wrote Liz a thank you note. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the whole post. Thanks to JM, Glenis, Yr 8 students, Liz and the thoughtful 'Aussie Hero' who made this post all the more worthwhile.

    Hugs
    Naomi

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