Q & A with Material Obsession Sarah Fielke, Co-Author with Kathy Doughty of Material Obsession


How did you learn to quilt and what do you remember about the experience?

My mother taught me to quilt when I was about six years old. I had a tiny pink sewing machine that she bought for me on a trip to America, and it really worked. She let me have  fabric from in her stash and showed me how to make patchwork, then tie the little quilts together. I didn’t make a large quilt until I was about 12, when I made her a throw for her birthday using her Bernina.


Your quilts feel fresh and modern but very much rooted in tradition. How do you achieve that?

No one ever told me that you “couldn’t use stripes” or that “every quilt needs some yellow” or any other silly old-fashioned quilting myth. I have always just done what I like, what makes me feel good.I think doing what I enjoy combined with a love of old quilts and a passion for history has led to the style of quilts I currently make.

In the knitting and sewing communities we have seen a strong influx of new, young enthusiasts in recent years. Do you see evidence of this in the quilting community?

Most definitely. Material Obsession has naturally attracted young beginners because of its colorful quilts made with large pieces of fabric and lots of prints. Many younger women once looked at large, complex quilts and thought quilting was too hard for them. Also, in the past, some quilting shops were a bit snooty toward young women who wanted to quilt.

This attitude has changed dramatically in the past few years. There are a lot of designers making beautiful fabrics in colors and patterns that modern women want to use in their homes. When I first started quilting the freshest fabric you could buy was from Laura Ashley, and everything was brown or dark blue or bottle green.

You are based in Sydney, Australia, but travel to the United States fairly regularly to attend quilt shows. Why do you think it’s important to attend shows in the United States?

I LOVE going to shows in the U.S. First, I think it is important to keep up to date with the fabrics that are available, the books that are coming out, and what is current in the market. I am about to start work with the new website, www.sewn.net.au, which will launch in June 2009, and it will be my job to report to quilters on the everchanging face of quilting in Australia and overseas. For this reason, it is especially important for me to know about all of the products available in the quilting universe and also how to use them correctly.

Second, I love to travel to the States to see all the people I get to know online and to meet and learn from others.

Third--or perhaps I should have put this first--I want to SEE everything!! Quilt shows in Australia are a speck on the landscape compared to the annual quilt show in Houston. I want to see everything and go shopping!

You attract a large American audience to your blog and website. Do you see differences/similarities in the American vs. the Australian quilting communities?

Apart from the obvious fact that the American quilting community is so vast and varied compared to the Australian one, there are other important differences. Australian quilters are quite innovative and very different overall in their use of color. I think that’s what makes our quilting magazines, like Down Under Quilts and Quilter’s Companion, so popular in the U.S. The Australian quilting community is also spawning some great young quilters and fabric designers; for example, Cath and Kirsten at Prints Charming are making beautiful fabrics that are helping Australian quilting really come into its own.

Which quilt in Material Obsession was the most fun to work on and why?

My favorite quilt in Material Obesession is Dotty for Dresden, which is on the front cover of the American edition. I loved making that quilt and I still love looking at it. It combines three of my favorite things--spots, hand-appliqué and hand-quilting. I pulled out all my current favorite bright bits for the plates and splurged on meters and meters of the spotted fabric for the background. I just loved every second of it. I hand-quilted it in a 1” grid all over the background, so that when you hold the quilt it has a wonderful drape and texture. The best thing about it for me is the negative spaces created by the various circles--the plates, the centers, the red spots in between and the spots on the fabric itself.

Which project in Material Obsession was the most challenging to work on and why?

That would be The Big Pineapple. The fabric distributor Free Spirit sent Kathy and me a box of Amy Butler fabrics. It arrived on a quiet, rainy afternoon in the shop, so we divided the fabric into colorways (Kathy took murkier ones and I took the pinks and greens) and started hacking them up. I had wanted to make a pineapple quilt for ages, but a tiny one with tiny little 1/2” blades, and all of a sudden it was a HUGE one with massive 4” blades and big squares at the center. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes sewing large is not easier than sewing small. This quilt presents quite a few challenges, especially because the bias needs to be in the right place once the block starts to get bigger. Also,because we were working with samples and I didn’t do any calculations before we started hacking, there wasn’t enough fabric, so we had to rearrange everything a few times before we were happy. Then, of course, I took my usual road to pain and decided that the whole king-sized quilt needed hand-quilting 1” apart. I was glad to see the end of this project. I love the quilt, though, and I use it a lot on my bed.

When you were a child, what did you imagine you would be when you grew up?

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a teacher, write stories, draw pictures, and own a shop. Not many people get to say that they are doing exactly what they wanted to do when they were a child. While I don’t own the shop anymore, having just sold my half to Kathy, I do still work in the quilting industry and own an online quilting shop attached to my blog. I also teach quilting from home and from other shops and I don’t think I will ever stop doing that--I love sharing what I do and what I learn with my students. I also now post stories on my blog, www.thelastpiece.net, and I am drawing and painting in hopes of someday starting a fabric line.


If you could spend an afternoon quilting with one person in history, who would it be?

Wow, there are so many! I’d like to say Laura Ingalls Wilder, making a dove in the window quilt or maybe Anne Boelyn, working on some embroidery for a coverlet. I think that, in the end, I’d have to go with Marie Webster, though–-how many times could you say that you quilted with the “Grandmother of American Quilting?”

What are you making now?

Or more accurately, what am I NOT making? I am working on a collaborative wool quilt with the folk-art quilter Sue Spargo, which is great fun. Sue has done the center medallion of the quilt and I am appliqueing the borders, but now we have to make two quilts so that we can each have one. We are going to publish the patter in Down Under Quilts. I’m also working on a huge, bright four-block appliqué quilt and I am updating a green and red antique quilt pattern I saw in an old book. I’m also working on a meter-square appliqué center for another quilt, some hand-pieced 1” stars for another, and some string piecing for a quilt that is so early in design it's just strips at present. Oh, and a red and white log cabin.