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Material Obsession

I often tell people that writing, editing and publishing Valley Fiber Life is like making a job out of researching what I love and telling all my friends about it. That is especially true for stories like this one, because I had the opportunity to interview Sarah Fielke, the co-author of two books that have been living on my nightstand for the last couple of months. 

Sarah and her partner, Kathy Doughty, wrote Material Obsession and Material Obsession Too (Murdoch Books and STC).  At the time, she and Kathy were also co-owners of Material Obsession, a quilt store in Gladesville, Australia.  I caught up with Sarah to hear about the books and her current projects.
Material Obsession seems to celebrate the "reinvention" of the traditional quilt.  Is that a theme that runs through all of your work?

Traditional quilts are the basis of all my work. I often take an antique quilt or block that I have seen and rework it to suit my style. It's very rare that I will make a quilt that LOOKS traditional - usually I have broken the block up or blown it up to a huge size, or used an element of one quilt to make another. Contemporary-traditional is how we like to describe it.

What contributes to presenting a traditional block in a uniquely contemporary way?

I don't always use the latest fabrics, in fact I like to use a lot of retro fabrics and novelty prints, too. I think maybe the fact that I don't like to use ranges, and I don't follow any "quilting rules" about matching blues or not using lots of different shades and hues of the one color. I use whites and creams, often together. I use lights and darks, saturated colors and soft colors together.

I don't worry about silly things like using Kaffe Fassett fabrics with 1930's with an 1800's reproduction; if I like them, I use them and I take all the red tape away. People get so
worried that things aren't just the right color or exactly the same fabrics, and I don't worry about things like that.

I also think that because I never follow a pattern or take measurements from someone else's block, that the quilts just go their own way and become what they want to. Sometimes when I start out going one way I will sew and sew and find that in actual fact, I did something else, or I have an idea for appliqué or something that I wouldn't have thought of before I started. There's also a lot of what I call "air" in my quilts - that is, space, and the space created by blocks and the air between them. That's what really gets me excited about hand quilting - the spaces I make to quilt in.

Have you explored any other kinds of quilting styles, such as art quilts, mixed media, intricate piecing, or any others?

I have taken quite a lot of workshops in different kinds of quilting. While it isn't what I do for my patterns and books, I love experimenting with different techniques and sometimes that will lead me on to something interesting or a twist for one of my more traditional quilts. I am very inspired by quilters such as Ruth McDowell, South African Rosalie Dace and Australian
quilters Beth Miller and Trevor Reid.

How did the two of you manage keeping the store open while doing the book project?

Writing both the books was incredibly busy. Kathy and I both have children and run homes and the shop too, so the book and the quilts in it were fitted in around everything else. I'm currently writing another book, on my own this time, and that has been a form of madness as well - starting two new businesses (Sewn and The Last Piece). Renovating a house and designing
a fabric range while writing it has certainly been a challenge!

I really like the way the books were produced and formatted. Did you two come into the project with the concepts or did you start with an idea and agent?

Kathy and I had been writing our own patterns for a while and my husband, Damian, convinced me that they would make a great book. I didn't want a craft book publisher as such; I wanted the book to look very different from the other books out there, so we went to Murdoch Books in Australia and gave them a presentation on our quilts, the patterns, the business... I think they were a little overwhelmed! It must have worked though because they bought into the concept and have been so amazing and supportive of everything we wanted to do with both books. I am thrilled they are also doing my next book. STC became involved as a secondary publisher through Murdoch.

You are no longer co-owner of Material Obsession (the store), and you have just submitted a new book to the publisher, which is your first solo project.  You are also working on Sewn, your online craft site with a quilting focus.  Finally, you have a great blog, The Last Piece.  All of this together makes you sound like a busy person! 

Oh yes, and as I mentioned,  I am designing a new series of fabrics.  I'm not allowed to tell you very much about it yet, but I can let you know that  it's very "me" - lots of spots, checks and stripes, interesting flowers and vines. I am so
excited about how the colors are coming together. We are at final artwork now so I am expecting strike-offs soon, which will be REALLY exciting! It will be released at the International Quilt Market in October of this year.

Wow!  That is all so exciting to hear about!

Finally, VFL readers would like to know what sites you visit when you sit down at the computer.

I read a mixture of blogs which I try to visit as often as I can. Some of them are friends' blogs and others are designers I admire. I love Mrs. Schmenkman Quilts  and Cabbage QuiltsOrange You Lucky, and Lizzy House. I spend a fair bit of time on Facebook and I'm also not adverse to a spot of online fabric shopping! And Etsy, I need to stay away from there.

Thanks so much, Sarah.  Visit Sarah at The Last Piece, to find out more about what she is up to.

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