Formal classes at the school on Tarawa were scheduled for the mornings, the coolest time of the day. After lunch, there was a compulsory rest period for the children and this was followed by organised activities for an hour before the evening meal.
The PE lessons usually took the form of playing games, mainly volleyball, softball and tennis and the pupils were the keenest I have ever known. The pitches, on hard packed coral, were marked out, regularly I might add!, with lines of the whiter coral sand carried from the waterside. There were regular inter-house competitions played during the activity sessions and a sports day held once a year. (My greatest dilemma then was to mark out a full size and accurate running track, using white sand to mark the lanes!) As a teacher, usually wearing tennis whites and sunglasses, I taught technique, organised teams and umpired the matches.
I also had to teach classes at the Tarawa Teachers College (TTC) where students from 18 to 40 were being trained as teachers for the primary schools on the outlying island. Although we played the usual games, I was also interested to learn about local games.
MY QUILTING JOURNEY 1986
Jacobean Spring was my first competition entry, way back in 1986. The event was held at Audley End in Northamptonshire and the Marquis of Bath presented the prizes. My quilt was voted the winner of the hand appliqué section and was then selected as the over-all Championship Quilt! Imagine my surprise and delight. I had started at the top … and I have managed to work my way down over the next 20 years! For my efforts I was awarded 4 pairs of Wilkinson Sword scissors: dressmaking, embroidery, snips and pinking shears (not the sewing machine that is awarded nowadays!). I must also say that, way back then, this quilt was fresh, original and different. It wouldn’t win any prizes in today's competitions where availability of fabric, expertise in technique and innovation in design are far superior. But in 1986 I was proud to be National Patchwork Champion!
Life on Tarawa, the main island in the Gilbert Islands group, was certainly different from anything I had ever known before! Land consisted of a strip of compressed coral, no more than about 6 to 12 feet above sea level. This tiny strip of land was so narrow in places that it was possible to throw a stone into the ocean on one side and the lagoon on the other. There was only 12 miles of hard packed coral on the south side of the atoll that could loosely be called a road and, although a few cars had started to appear, bicycles and motorbikes were the main mode of transport. The remainder of the island, stretching to the north of the 100 square mile lagoon, was broken into smaller uninhabited islands by tidal channels but it was possible to walk and wade to the Catholic mission school of Taborio if necessary. The mission was mainly accessed by boat. Coconut palms accentuated the shaped of the atoll and gave welcome shelter from the searing rays of the tropical sun. This same sun rose in the morning at 6am and switched off dramatically some 12 hours later as it disappeared over the horizon.
MY QUILTING JOURNEY
The hand appliquéd and hand quilted sections of what became known as Jacobean Spring progressed steadily, in between my regular classes and travelling workshops. After 10 weeks of intensive work it was sent off unwanted, unloved and uninsured to the National Patchwork Championships. Quite frankly, with the intensity of work I had seen enough of it and was glad to see the back of it!
‘Only 10 weeks!’ I hear you gasp. It was at this time that I started to learn how to save as much time for my sewing as possible:-
I taught my daughters how to cook: Tin opener: can. Can: tin opener!
I only ironed the front of my husband’s shirts in the sure faith that he just didn’t look at the backs.
I realised that if ‘stuff’ was put back where it belonged, it produced an aura of orderliness.
I sprayed polish into the air just before my husband came home so he would assume that I had been polishing.
I have always been told by my husband that I never put things away after I used them so all I had to do was leave out the polish and duster or the Hoover and he would just assume that I had used it!
What a game but at least the quilt was finished quickly!
So there I was at 21, recently qualified as a teacher, and standing on a coral atoll called Tarawa, in the middle of the South Pacific. There was a wearying 36-hour journey behind me, and a 2-year contract ahead of me. I had one suitcase with all my worldly belongings, a collection of postcards (to share with them the wonders of the outside world) and a melodica (which I couldn’t play!)
From high in the air, I had seen the whole island as a tiny pinnacle of coral surrounded and protected by a reef, not unlike a tiny blob of paint seeping into the endless azure blue of the Pacific Ocean. On closer inspection, it revealed itself as an L-shaped strip of coral planted with coconut trees, enclosing a lagoon and surrounded by a reef. On landing, all I was aware of was white coral sand, coconut trees and I felt the intense tropical heat of the fierce afternoon sun. The simple sign saying ‘Tarawa International Airport’ was proudly fixed onto a locally constructed structure made from the ribs of coconut leaves and topped with a roof of pandanus leaves. I had arrived!
MY QUILTING JOURNEY
At this stage in my journey, in 1985, I had started home-based classes and the word is spreading. Periodically I would do a one-day workshop with a 3-course lunch to spread the quilting messages wider than my immediate classes. I heard about a craft class in Gresford and started to go there when I was free from teaching (regular readers may recall the mention of one of my current projects: the Gresford sampler) I also joined Chester Ps & Qs (Patch workers and Quilters) so that I could get to know a wider circle of quilters.
I worked hard to be enthusiastic when I taught any technique for the umpteenth time and I coaxed students along week by week in classes. But I needed to develop my skills too. It was about this time that I heard of the National Patchwork Championships. As one who needs to work to a deadline, I decided to enter my first quilt, Appliqué Sampler, of which I was justifiably proud.
I ran this idea across a ‘friend’ who said the organisers were looking for something a bit more special than that! After recovering from the unintentional hurt of the comment, I wondered what to make instead. I genuinely thought that ‘special’ meant that I had to design something new so I started to look around for an idea and I fretted about what I was capable of achieving. I knew it had to be hand appliqué because this was all I could do well at this stage and the quilt had to be worked in smaller sections to be joined after it was quilted.
Ulverston Grammar School was a 5-mile bus ride away from Dalton and I had to walk a mile before I got to the bus stop. I always enjoyed school, mainly for the social advantages and sporting opportunities and I performed moderately well on the academic side. I believed the one, single experience that put me off sewing for life (or so I thought) was making my wretched gingham apron, by hand, in domestic science! This torturous experience seemed to drag on for most of that first year. We sewed cross-stitch patterns on the pockets and waistband and constructed each section by hand. We watch the teacher’s demo, had a go, queued to have our stitches rubbished, took them out and tried again; queued, had our stitches rubbished … and so it went on. I don’t think I would ever have got to the cooking stage had I not been able to take it home during a long holiday and get my mother to complete it!
Aside: After mentioning this at a lecture several years ago, I was approached by an elderly quilter from the audience who sympathised with my early sewing experiences. Then added ‘At least you didn’t have to make the gusseted knickers my dear!’ Thank goodness for that eh?
MY QUILTING JOURNEY
Most of my early quilts were backed with a plain, backing fabric (Quilt Police cover your eyes: usually polycotton sheeting which often crept onto the front as well!!) As I learned to quilt by hand, I struggled to get even stitches on the back. As a result, I did just enough quilting to hold the three layers together which is, of course, one of the functions of the stitch. The decorative element of the stitches would have to wait!
Whilst making this quilt, one of my daughters, at 11, just happened to have a pink bedroom, so this quilt became destined for her bed! I got her to choose some patterns and on the cat block I embroidered an impassioned ‘Sewn with love, Mummy x’. When it was finished, I put it on her bed and explained about the time that had gone into it making it and how she was to look after it. Imagine my horror when I saw muddy paw prints going diagonally across it a few days later. As I ranted and raved, Tam pondered the situation, then determinedly scooped the quilt off the bed, threw it onto the floor in my studio and said that she would rather have the cat on her bed!
Aside: This was a valuable, if not humbling lesson for me. I learned that if you want a child to love a quilt, you have to invite them be part of the whole creative process. You do not foist a complex and precious masterpiece on them and expect them to respect it!
I was born and brought up in the UK, in Dalton-in-Furness in Cumbria, at the southern tip of the Lake District. http://www.dalton-in-furness.org.uk/ Dalton is an ancient settlement and was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Daltune. During the 12th Century, Furness Abbey was built 1 mile away, and Dalton became the site of the Abbot’s market and fair, and his courtroom and gaol. This resulted in the town becoming the Capital of Furness in Medieval times. Henry VIII destroyed the nearby abbey during the reformation. Dalton-in-Furness was the birthplace of portrait painter George Romney 1734 – 1802. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Romney_(painter)
MY QUILTING JOURNEY
I started to quilt in 1983 when we lived in Dorset, a county in the SW of England, on the English Channel. I was at a local craft show, minding my own business, when I saw the appliqué quilt that a local teacher, Jenny Dove, was exhibiting. I’d never seen anything like it before and was drawn to it, to savour the impact of the colours, the combination of fabrics, the delicacy of the design and the texture of the quilting. Jenny uttered those immortal words ‘Why don’t you come along and have a go’ and I did! I attended a one-day workshop to do a traditional Topeka block and then continued at night school 2 terms and made my first quilt.
I was a total beginner and so was desperate to learn. I only knew how to do appliqué at this stage and so all the blocks were done by this method. The patchwork block ‘Bird’s Nest’ below was made by appliquéing all the squares and triangles onto a plain background! I knew no different. I certainly had a lot to learn.
Hi I'm Dilys Fronks!