For lily ferres and margaret swan, quilting is a long-distance family affair.
For the past few years, Lily Ferres and her auntie Margaret Swan have been talking more often than most friends do – they’re on the blower (or texting or video-calling) several times a day. “We might be sewing and we’ll leave the phone on top of the sewing machine,” Margaret says. “We never run out of subject matter – it will be about what we’re doing, what we’re planning to do, our hopes and dreams, or gold thread.”
The duo – Margaret, who works on her family framing business in Melbourne, and Lily, until recently an art teacher in Wilcannia in north-western New South Wales, and now in Newcastle – might be 1000 kilometres apart, but they’ve formed a tight little sewing circle, the Quiltmore Girls, which revolves around their passion for quilting. Margaret’s mum – Lily’s grandmother – had been into quilting for ages when, five years ago, Margaret went with her to a quilting workshop “just to be polite and kind”. She was hooked immediately, and when Lily visited a few months later, she got sucked in, too.
As Lily was full-time at uni, though, she didn’t have much space for hobbies, so would live vicariously through Margaret. “I’d call her, ask what she was doing and get her to send pictures,” she says. Lily’s first quilt took her two years, but once she moved to Wilcannia she had more spare time, and estimates the two of them have now made around 100 all up. It’s the act of creating something unique that they both love. “I feel like my head’s exploding,” Margaret says.
Aside from regular quilts, Lily’s into making quilted anything, including cushions, oven mitts and ironing board covers. She’s even made a coat out of one of her auntie’s creations. “I find cutting into any piece of fabric difficult, but cutting up a quilt would be next level,” Margaret says. Earlier this year, when Lily was staying with Margaret, they quilted together in the evenings. “When I got back home, I made more blocks and posted them to Margaret, who’d make them into a quilt – we made half the blocks each,” Lily says. These days, they regularly send each other packages of fabrics. “We do give a lot of money to Australia Post, but it’s worth it.”
Many of their materials come from op shops, often in the form of old tea towels, aprons and tablecloths. Lily also has a stash of fabric printed by her students, as well as some she picked up on a school trip to the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. On Instagram – at @quiltmoregirls – they show photos of quilts on rusty fences, in the desert or on suburban park benches. “We try to capture the location of where they were made, and incorporate a bit of their character,” Lily says. ‘Mix and don’t match’ is one of Margaret’s mottos; her personal Instagram handle, rather fittingly, is @semichaotic. “I haven’t learnt to be as wild,” Lily says (you can find her at @this_darling_life_of_mine), but “she’s very good with technical tips,” according to Margaret.
Neither of them would ever sell their handiwork. “I love the things I make so much that if I’m going to give you a quilt, that shows how much I love you,” Lily says. Their next step, Margaret reckons, is to work on a quilt together, with one of them making a start, then sending it back and forth until it’s finished. According to Lily, they’d find it thrilling to watch the progress. “We love what each other does, so there would be no fear of disappointment.”
Lily says their relationship now isn’t so much like an auntie and niece – “we’re friends because of this shared interest – we never get bored with each other.” Her dream would be for them to have neighbouring studios, “but I can’t imagine that happening anytime soon, so we’re really lucky that we’re used to collaborating this way.”