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Last year, when I was tidying up, I came across a bolt of grey wool gabardine that I no longer needed.

When I mentioned it to my friend Amanda, she commented that her local quilting group could use it for making waggas. And when I enquired what a “wagga” was, the darling woman sent me photos of some pages from The Fabric of Society, Dr Annette Gero’s brilliant book about Australian quilt history. I was hooked. I cheerfully sent the bolt of wool up to Amanda in rural NSW.

Before we go any further, I should point out that I am not a quilter. I have a surprising number of friends who are amazing quilters, but I know my limitations. Any hobby that gives me an excuse to hoard small scraps of fabric must be avoided at all costs.

But I am a mender and I do love all things vintage, partly for the aesthetic, but mostly for the wonderful stories an old piece will have to tell. So when I was at the Sewing Basket recently, I bought three very torn and battered old quilts to see if I could mend them. I’ll do a separate post about them – I’m still trying to take decent photos. But here’s a sneak peak…

Working on the quilts reminded me of the book Amanda had mentioned, and I thought it might be an interesting read. It turned out to be a great deal more than that!

It wasn’t an easy book to find – being published a decade ago meant that most bookstores no longer stock it. I finally tracked down a copy from Dr Gero herself…and ended up spending a glorious hour showing her my old quilts and talking excitedly about all things textile related. Of course, I also purchased a signed copy of The Fabric of Society from her, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I’m enjoying it.

As a quilt historian, Annette has researched the provenance and backstories of the quilts she showcases, and her writing style brings their stories to life. The book provides a unique insight into Australian history and a glimpse of the everyday lives of men and women from the early 1800s to 1960. Annette has kindly given me permission to share a few pages with you.

This quilt was made by convict women en route from England to Australia in 1841. This was a common practice, but the Rajah Quilt – named after the ship transporting the women who created it – is the only one of its kind to have been uncovered to date…

Mary Chubb Tolman’s humungous hexagon quilt was made sometime prior to 1857. It boasts 6,063 hexagons and an estimated 750,000 hand stitches. I’m including the story that accompanies the quilt so you can get some sense of how the book is laid out.

I laughed out loud at the last line – the patterns which accompany the book include one for this quilt, but anyone who is willing to undertake a project of that magnitude now (or even back then) has my utmost respect…

The quirky quilts of Mary Jane Hannaford are featured and they’re just too fabulous for words! One of Australia’s most famous quiltmakers, she didn’t start quilting until she was in her 80s (!) and all of her works are delightfully whimsical and deeply patriotic…

And then…there is an entire chapter on waggas!

Waggas are the quintessential Australian quilt. They appear in the stories of Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson (1890s), and the term was originally used to describe crudely sewn together sacks (or other found fabrics) which were used as rough blankets. There is a country town in our state called Wagga Wagga (it’s a Wiradjuri phrase meaning “the place of many crows”). The “wagga” name for these blankets is thought to have come from the Wagga Lily Flour sacks which were used to make some of the very early ones.

I adore everything about them – the frugality, the make-do spirit, the uniqueness of every single one. I love that they were almost always made from upcycled fabric and clothing, and that they were meant to be true workhorses, designed to keep folks warm during hard times. I love that the ones which survived did so as family treasures – being so coarsely assembled and heavily used meant they didn’t have any value as objet d’arts. However, like many items of this ilk, they carried with them the memories and stories of hard times and sacrifices made by earlier generations.

This one made by Joan Williamson in the late 1940s was filled with old clothes. The clothing had been well darned, and when it had passed the point of no return, it had been turned into quilt padding. Many waggas were created using re-purposed materials at a time when resources were seen as too precious to discard. Our planet would be so much healthier if we all viewed clothing that way today, because in reality, our resources are still too precious to discard, regardless of what they cost to buy…

If you’re a quilter, the book comes with paper patterns for 29 of the vintage quilts in the book…

. . . . .

The Fabric of Society is an expensive book, but at the same time, it’s also excellent value for money.

It’s weighty, the photography is stunning, and the stories are joyous and fascinating. Published by fine art specialists The Beagle Press, the pages are thick and glossy, the quilt photos appear to have been taken under natural light (my old iPhone didn’t do them justice), and the book is bound in such a way that it sits flat when open, so you can read it while nursing a cup of tea (a very important consideration).

At a time when we’re all trying to stay at home as much as possible, it was a no-brainer for me to spend the dollars I’d been saving by not eating out on something that will provide hours of enjoyment and distraction.

As always, this isn’t an ad – I don’t have any affiliation with Annette, but she’s incredibly kind, extremely knowledgeable, and huge fun to talk to. At one point in our conversation, she mentioned that she has trouble walking away from vintage doilies at markets. “Someone put so much work into them and they’re selling them for just a few cents each! I have to buy them…otherwise all that hard work isn’t getting the respect it deserves”.

I told this story to Pete. My husband is very used to me coming home with handcrafted items I’ve “rescued”, citing the exact same reasoning.

“I think I’ve found my spirit guide”, I told him. “You are not allowed to go shopping together”, he replied.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of The Fabric of Society, please email Dr Annette Gero directly via her website. ♥

. . . . .

Folks, Annette just asked me to let you know that she is selling her latest book Wartime Quilts for $89 (which is 30% off RRP). She will also pay the postage to anywhere in Australia. You can read all about it here – it’s a spectacular book and filled with stunning quilts, many made by soldiers, some containing up to 9000 pieces of wool. (Umm. I might have come home with a copy of this one too. Don’t tell Pete.) Please email her directly for more info.

I made a thing from a thing that was going into e-waste and some leftover bits of cotton yarn.

Pete said it was the “heat sink” from his old computer. Made from heavyweight cast aluminium, it’s gorgeously sculptural. Much too gorgeous to be melted down for scrap. I find old computer components are incredibly appealing – I wish I could figure out how to turn the old circuit board into earrings, but it’s fibreglass and almost impossible to cut (or wear) without injury…

I originally tried to use the heat sink as a coaster which made Pete roll his eyes – apparently, it was designed to take heat out, so all it did was make my tea cold..

But bless him, he’s always so quietly (and occasionally loudly) supportive. I walked into the dining room last week and found him using my “artwork” as a phone stand…

What’s the quirkiest thing you’ve ever made from something that was going to be thrown away? ♥

Whenever I type “friands” into a message, the autocorrect changes it to “friends”.

I have decided to accept the wisdom of the universe – friands are indeed our friends. So I’ve baked them a couple of times during lockdown and they’ve been a huge hit with Pete and Small Man.

Thanks to darling Jane, we’re well stocked in eggs, plus Monkey Girl brought me six egg whites the other day after her first attempt at Portuguese tarts. I stashed them in the freezer, and they defrosted perfectly for our most recent batch of friends. I mean friands.

Here’s a gently edited cut and paste of our original recipe, including the microwave custard. Have you ever made microwave custard? If not, you might find it life changing. Our friend Will, the best MC ever, will jog the kilometre from his house to ours in pouring rain just to pick up a tub of it off our back deck. He is English, though. I’m occasionally tempted to leave a spoon out for his return trip home. ♥

. . . . .

BLUEBERRY AND DARK CHOCOLATE FRIANDS

  • 100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 45g plain flour
  • 140g icing sugar mixture (or plain icing sugar)
  • 85g almond meal
  • 80g defrosted frozen or fresh blueberries
  • 50g dark chocolate callets (I used Callebaut 70%)

1. Preheat the oven to 190C or 175C with fan. Sit six sturdy cupcake liners on a tray and spray the insides of them lightly with oil.  Alternatively, use a well greased friand pan or a lined muffin pan – if you’re using the latter, I’d still spray the paper liners with oil as this batter sticks savagely.

2. Melt the butter if you haven’t already done so (I always forget that step and then have to wait for it to cool). Put the blueberries on a flat plate to defrost a bit if necessary. It’s ok to use them still a bit frozen, but if they’re too hard, they’ll tend to sink to the bottom of the friand.

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and icing sugar, then stir in the almond meal. Sifting the icing sugar is important or you’ll end up with hard lumps in your batter.

3. In a separate mixing bowl and using a hand whisk, beat the egg whites for about a minute until they’re frothy, but not stiff. They should look like this…

4. Quickly but gently fold in the dry ingredients, then add the cooled melted butter.  Stir until just combined.

5. Very gently stir the blueberries and chocolate into the batter.

6. Spoon the mixture evenly into the six paper liners and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, rotating the tray once during the baking time.  The finished friands will be well risen and  golden brown in colour.

7. Allow to cool on a wire rack before serving with a hot cup of tea!

. . . . .

MICROWAVE CUSTARD

And…waste not, want not…turn the four leftover egg yolks into custard in just a few minutes in the microwave!

  • 2 cups (500ml) full-cream milk (I used UHT)
  • 1 tsp homemade vanilla extract*
  • 4 egg yolks (from 59g eggs)
  • 1 Tbsp (4 tsps) cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1/3 cup (70g) caster (superfine) sugar*

1. In a large pyrex mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, vanilla extract, cornflour and caster sugar until smooth.  Microwave on high for 2 minutes until hot (my microwave is 1000 watts).

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.  Pour the egg yolks through a sieve into the bowl of heated milk, whisking constantly as it ribbons into the hot mixture to ensure it doesn’t curdle. A second set of hands is always useful here.

3. Heat the eggy milk in the microwave on high for 1 minute, then whisk.  Heat for another minute, then whisk again.  Continue heating in 30 seconds bursts, whisking well after each, until the custard has thickened to your liking. Use immediately, or refrigerate until needed.

. . . . .

I saw this clip on the news recently about a Sydney restauranteur helping Thai students who are struggling under the COVID19 crisis.

Many international workers employed in restaurants here don’t qualify for help under existing government schemes and the food industry as a whole (bless them) has rallied to support them.

The message Jack from Jumbo Thai had for everyone was particularly wonderful – as one hand takes, the other hand gives. That’s how we look after each other and our communities.

Happy Sunday, folks! ♥

Our garden is finally bouncing back after the drought and one of the first things we planted after lockdown was bok choy seeds. After only a few weeks (four or five we think, time seems to move a bit differently these days), they’re ready to harvest. The cima di rapa is coming up too, but taking a bit longer.

And a few years ago, Pete’s brother Uncle Steve and his wife Ali gave us a potted pineapple plant for Christmas. Sydney isn’t the ideal climate for this tropical fruit, but most years, Pete manages to coax a baby fruit out of it. It’s been slowly spreading, so now we have a mini pineapple garden. That is, a very small garden producing tiny pineapples.

There are now several plants in a large pot and an old concrete laundry tub which we found in the backyard when we moved in 30 years ago…

So far we’ve only managed to get one small pineapple each year, but it’s always been delicious and perfect. Here are photos of last year’s precious harvest…

How are things growing in your garden? ♥

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