‘Mum, can you make me some finger puppets please?' Not an unusual request from my daughter, as she worked in the Early Childhood sector. She had noted that as their vocabulary increased, the children developed a fascination with either ‘farm' animals (cow, horse, sheep...) or ‘wild' animals (lion, elephant, giraffe...). However, they knew very little about our unique Australian fauna.
To extend this knowledge, my daughter asked me to make a set of a dozen puppets of typical Australian animals. A week or two later she excitedly reported ‘Mum, the kids love the puppets - but they really need a story to go with it!' So I wrote a story... after all, that's what mothers do, isn't it?
It wasn't long before work colleagues borrowed her resources. ‘We really need the story as a book for group time....' came the next request. A book! That was the last thing on my mind. But I could make a quilt with the story on it. And so the adventure began.
All the embroidery was completed as I travelled to work, ‘redeeming the time' for the 1½ hours / day... and found lots of encouragement from my fellow rail commuters! I discovered that it wasn't only kindergarteners who were unfamiliar with our animals - many adults knew very little about them either! So I ruminated on the best way to extend this knowledge ... and the second quilt was born.
The story quilt was hand-stitched in ‘stump work', or three-dimensional embroidery, using a wide variety of textures, threads and stitches; the text was back-stitched, and embellished with cross-stitch eucalypts (gum leaves and flowers). Each section features different stitches, and a variety of textures. I completed each panel by hand-stitching it, ‘quilt as you go' style.
The companion quilt was hand-worked in a modern adaptation of ‘black-work'... it's a bit like sketching, but with a needle and thread! However, the trick was to replicate the 3D picture, on a grid (the 32 count even-weave fabric), with repeated patterns in the design (a specific feature of black-work)! Additional information was printed onto fabric, with background photos of the animals' natural environments, to complete the panels of this quilt. This time I hand-pieced the entire top before assembly into the quilt, and hand quilting. I don't particularly enjoy stitching up and down straight lines, so the border quilting design of gum leaves, gum-nuts and flowers, was a welcome relief!
All in all, it took me about two and a half years to complete the quilts. With fear and trembling, I exposed my ‘baby' to the public at the Queensland Quilt Show 2009. To my astonishment, ‘Mrs Echidna's Dilemma' was awarded the ‘Viewer's Choice' First Prize!!
While the quilt was still ‘under construction', some friends in the art world saw my work, and encouraged me to consider applying for a Regional Arts Development Fund [RADF] grant to develop the ‘story quilt' into a ‘story book'. Others must have seen the potential, because the funding was granted - and now we have the book! What a ride it has been!
In May 2011, the book was awarded a bronze 'IPPY' [Independent Publishers] medallion in New York. Mrs Echidna's Dilemma is now in its 2nd printing, released September 2011. The animal science on the opposing pages has been updated, under the guidance of a world authority on echidnas! It is being embraced by the education world, as a great example of the multi-modal approach to teaching literacy.