Having learned sewing skills from both her mother and grandmother, Jennifer Stringer has truly found her niche with the Black Head Beach Quilters group. Currently President of the club, Jennifer encourages people with an interest in sewing and quilting to join …
What brought you to the Manning area, and how long have you called it home?
I started visiting the Manning Valley about ten years ago, when my daughter started teaching here.
Some years later I met my husband here, and we have now married and have lived in Taree for three years. We have decided to settle here in retirement. The Manning Valley is such a peaceful and relaxing place, with lots to do, great communities and wonderful scenery.
What initiated your interest in quilting … Have you always been crafty?
I was very fortunate to have a mother and grandmother who were excellent needlewomen, and passed on their skills to me as a child. I have many fond memories of learning to sew, firstly on a small toy machine, as well as my grandmother’s treadle machine, to finally having my own sewing machines all my adult life.
I made clothes for myself and my children, as well as home furnishings. I studied art at high school and teachers’ college and have always loved painting, drawing, dabbling in design and colour through fabric printing and interior design. I also taught art classes at schools where I was a teacher, and I love encouraging others to create.
I discovered patchwork and quilting in Sydney, when I enrolled for a six week beginners’ course at a local wool shop in Auburn back in 1983. Fabrics for quilting were in limited supply, but I immersed myself with books and visiting some early quilt shows, and these early experiences grew my interest and passion for patchwork and quilting. Quilting was experiencing a revival, and subsequently, with better tools and fabrics, it is gaining in popularity as a rewarding and useful pastime.
What are some of the favourite quilts you have made … And what is it about the designs that appeal most to you?
I have always been interested in the history of quilt making, and I have created some quilts that pay homage to quilting techniques, such as Hawaiian applique and Amish quilts. I use Australian flora, and colours from nature to inspire my quilts. I have enjoyed dying my own fabric to create graphic designs, and I love experimenting with new techniques and putting my individual stamp on a design. I set myself challenges to try new techniques, and foundation piecing in geometric circular designs is my current focus.
Describe your creative process … How much of your work is hand sewn, and how much do you sew by machine?
Equipment such as rotary cutters and rulers, as well as advances in sewing machine technology have transformed how quilts have been made. However, it is usually helpful to have a working knowledge of hand sewing techniques, such as applique, when needed.
My creative process usually begins with the seed of an idea. I collect images on Pinterest or from books and magazines on my design board in my workroom, then I collect suitable fabrics, make some working drawings, and then some preliminary pieces of fabric piecing. It just snowballs from there!
I have a design wall in my workroom, where pieces are auditioned for inclusion in a piece.
Mostly, I work with my sewing machine, but I also am thinking about the purpose of the quilt (is it for a child or a gift?) and how it will be quilted. I now have a long arm quilting machine, which has transformed how my quilts are constructed and finished.
There are many steps in the creative process, and some pieces take years to complete.
How do you select the fabrics used in your designs?
My fabric choices revolve around colour and quality. Some fabrics are better for quilting, such as 100% cotton, as they hold their shape and wear well over the years for both utilitarian items, as well as wall art.
I love scrap quilts and vintage fabric, so I have a varied assortment of fabrics for my quilts. I also like to dye fabric for variety.
Some projects call for different textures and colours, and we are fortunate to have a vast array of fabrics from which to choose.
If someone was to ask, “Why do you quilt?”, what would be your response?
I think the visual and tactile qualities of quilts and the creative processes are what keep me quilting. Quilts are also useful items (they keep us warm!) and can also record life history and experiences.
Quilts tell a story, and each one is personal. I love that quilts and quilting ties people together, through handing down to future generations, and they can also be visual statements in our world.
I also make liturgical banners and wall hangings, and I find this is a wonderful way to explore spirituality. Visual symbols, along with colour and design, can be beautiful expressions of personal spirituality and helpful for public worship.
You’re a member of Black Head Beach Quilters. How has this group helped you/inspired you with your quilting?
Just last month, we held an exhibition at the Surf Club at Black Head Beach. It was the first one for me to participate in, and I was overwhelmed with the diversity of expression and talented sewing and quilting that this group produced. This group of stitchers are from all walks of life, and our common ground is quilting. With that shared interest comes friendship and support, as well as sharing ideas.
We encourage each other and learn from each other. I joined the group as a way to meet new people when I retired to Taree. The group belongs to QuiltNSW, our state guild organisation, and this has also encouraged me to become an individual member and to exhibit my work more widely.
The Black Head Beach Quilters held an exhibition recently. What feedback have you received about the event?
The feedback we have had from members and visitors alike has been overwhelmingly positive. I think sometimes we can hide our light under a bushel, and patchwork and quilting is often only seen in the home or amongst friends. As president/facilitator of the group, I am extremely proud of the achievements of this diverse group of creative people. The group engages in fundraising for many different community projects, such as the Surf Club, women’s refuges, children’s hospitals, Lions Club projects and Aussie Hero quilts for ADF personnel, by making quilts to raffle or donate to others.
What skill is necessary to become a member of Black Head Beach Quilters? Are beginners welcome?
A love of sewing and a willingness to have a go and learn from others … Many people come to our group as beginners and quickly pick up tips for their next project. I would also encourage people to seek out classes held in local patchwork shops as an excellent way to begin, as there are many skills to learn, and they can be very helpful.
Where can we find out more information about the club or see samples of your work?
We have a Facebook page for members, and QuiltNSW has a very helpful website with information about quilting in general.
I have some samples of my work on my Pinterest page or by appointment. I am happy to share my work. I will also be teaching some classes at Just Patchwork, Tuncurry, next year.