On Saturday I was engaged to be the speaker at Wyndham Patchworkers Quilt In.
I used to be terrified of public speaking. When I was at school each 6th Form pupil had to take turns in assembly at making the reading. Assembly was daily so it came round pretty frequently and luckily I managed to get out of it pretty often purely because my best mate didn’t mind doing it and would do it for me.
When I worked in Marketing I was asked at a couple of firms to stand up and give the marketing report to either the executive or in one case the entire firm of 30 odd people. There was no getting out of this but I hated it.
I wondered how I’d go with teaching but once I’d introduced myself, talking to people was no problem – they had come to see me and I was there to share my knowledge with them. I didn’t feel any nerves, just delight that I was able to pass on some information about how I do things and although the quilt police might not think it the done way, it worked for me and it would work for them too. More than anything else it was giving them permission to try their own solutions, not necessarily slavishly follow tradition or accepted ways of doing things – as the proverb says “there are many ways to skin a cat”! I say “poor cat”!
A couple of times I was called upon to talk to the quilting group I used to be a part of. 50 people is slightly different from talking to 6 or 8 but again I was comfortable doing it. If I goofed, I laughed it off with the group and moved on, no big deal. I was after all just sharing a technique, an idea or showing them a few quilts. It wasn’t terrifying in part due to the fact that I knew them and I knew that I wasn’t going to be skinned alive if I really messed up.
I never did really mess up and I now realise it was because I was sharing something that I am really passionate about. I might not have been totally articulate but they understood and I had gotten my message across and that was at the end of the day what was needed.
After some time of teaching I started to get a bit of a name for myself. A male quilter is not a common thing here in Australia. I was doing some good work, I had won three awards at the State Championships, Victorian Showcase, so I clearly was doing something right and I was asked to give a talk to other quilt groups. I was delighted to do so and I started sharing my quilts with other groups in the Western Victorian region.
Last year I went down to Geelong to do a talk and was caught by surprise. I had been contacted to give a talk and I assumed that I was going to give a talk to a local group. In effect it was a local group except it was the local guild that all the local groups were associated with and I was the guest speaker at the guild’s quilt in.
There were 170 there. This was a totally different kettle of fish! I had a microphone to be heard! My quilts had to be paraded to be seen by the assembled masses. 170 faces were hanging on my every work. If I goofed I probably would have been skinned alive!
I didn’t goof and during question time I realised that they had loved the quilts, they had loved the snippets of information I shared in how I made them and they wanted more. Question time went well over time!
It felt like a bit of a baptism of fire but I survived and had the biggest rush at the end of it. The whole thing was a bit of a blur but because I was sharing my passion and my passion showed the talk was a huge success.
I have been asked to speak at other quilt ins since and each time I get a wonderful feeling of having connected with such a wide variety of quilters. At quilt ins there is a host group and then there are those from other groups that attend and spend the day with like minded people quilting and chatting and stitching and dishing the dirt. Its a great way to spend a day.
The quilters that attend the quilt ins are of all levels of ability. I try and speak to them all. We were all at some stage the beginner that didn’t know how to mitre a corner or what thread to use in the bobbin. Some of us are keen to learn new techniques some don’t realise the techniques that they want to learn until they see a quilt that talks to them, others are more advanced and want to compare the quilts they make with the quilts that are being displayed and shared as part of the talk.
For the large part quilters are the most sharing of people I know. The willingly share information, give away “needles saying you have to try theses! They are the best”, swap stories and techniques, have photos at the ready to show their recent quilts and who they gave it to. You aren’t a stranger for long amongst quilters – there is always some common ground.
The Quilt In on Saturday was just like it. There were 150 expected and more turned up but room was found for them and there was plenty of food to be shared. We chatted, stitched and ate.
After lunch I launched into my talk. I had taken a large selection of quilts and talked about my unorthodox journey in quilting and it seemed to hit a nerve with those gathered. They enjoyed the quilts being shared, they sympathised with my story and during question and answer time there were lots of questions on my techniques, what drove my passion and my working methods. I told them that I teach at local patchwork shops and from my studio and since I have been contacted by several who were there interested in classes. An opportunity for me to share my passion on a more intimate level.
I had the best time. I spent a long time chatting to the quilters as they came and looked and handled my quilts before we packed them up. I was delighted to spend the time with them sharing how I do things and giving them suggestions on their own techniques. I could probably say well come and do a class but that’s not how quilters work, we share freely. That’s why I love being a quilter.
I shall share with you a very personal story. I was buying my very first sewing machine. I had inherited my mother’s 1960 machine which was on its last legs and I broke it making my first quilt. Even then I knew that I was going to be doing this patchwork thing for a while and I needed a new machine. I bought a $500 machine that did more than just the basic stitches but nothing too fancy. I was asked by the sales lady what I wanted it for. I replied that I had just started patch working. She turned to her friend and said “He’s one of us!” with a big smile.
Until that point in my life I had lived a life of exclusion, I was “one of them” but in buying that machine I was told I was one of them, the quilting family, and that I had joined the bigger association of quilters – they didn’t discriminate as to who joined that association you just had to have an interest in sewing and quilting.
I’m sure that was a pivotal point in my life – to be included the great family of quilters. Their characteristics of sharing and learning and befriending a new quilter and to never feel completely an outsider again was a huge thing.
I hope in my talks to quilt ins, to groups, when I’m teaching I am inclusive and sharing for that is very much they way I want to be and shall always want to be. I think quilting is now so in my blood that I shall die quilting! I shall die with the next project ready to start, patterns printed, fabrics selected and who or what comp its for already decided. But most of all who I want to share it with both the finished quilt and the journey of making it for that is what quilters do. And I am a quilter. And very proud of it.