Do you remember me telling you that my dad taught me to climb trees?
(back when my hair was golden)
That he looks like a bushman when he has a beard,
That he is the most curious, intelligent, loving person I know?
Have I told you all the ways he has showed me about life;
how to marvell at the earth -
at the adaptations of plants?
For about six years my dad was the caretaker on a solar-powered farm on the outskirts of the city. It is owned and run by a passionate, environment-loving couple determined to encourage sustainable living. At the time it all seemed so normal; to spend one night a week and every second weekend in the thick bush. I found all these old photos of us there; they'd be about 12 years old now and with the recent acquisition of a scanner I thought I'd share some with you. How many trees we climbed... and mill towers:
To dance barefooted along tracks, to wade in the swamp, to get muddy feet, to scramble through the garden, to climb tree upon tree, to swing on old buoys, to glide on flying foxes, to dream up elaborate games with my little sister, to feed chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, long-necked turtles, to watch structures being built out of mudbricks, to make hideouts from bracken, to save owls, to find a family of possums in the roof, to grow mould on old vegetables, to grow plants in plastic bottles, to do experiments with dad that sometimes involved smoke and often loud noises, to have an ever-replenishing supply of paper and twisty coloured crayons, to jump on the trampoline and play dress-ups, to believe in faeries and bush-dwelling sprites, to look for the lost sheep, to harvest clay fresh from the bed, and to make pottery on the wheel, to drink water out of a tank, to flush the toilet with swamp water, to roll the washing through an old press, to get an extraordinary amount of scratches, to watch my older sister get bitten by the old shetland pony, to laugh at my brother driving the little manual car, to canoe in the river and build sandcastles on the shore, to see snakes, spiders, ant lions, venus fly traps, bats, and every other creepy crawly and usual plant you can think of -
To witness a fire sweep through the property and turn every last thing to ash. The flames, by a blessing from above, were stopped at our doorstep. Never in my life, not ever, have I witnessed first hand that kind of destruction and seen the meaning of regeneration so forcefully... the plants that needed fire to germinate, new shoots on every blackened tree trunk, I can still feel the acre of burnt bush under my feet - that after rain turned into a giant blanket of soft moss, and I remember the smell of honey trickling out of the hives that was caramelized on the hot ground, but let me tell you the sheer surprise and relief we felt when we found the guinea pigs in their charred pen huddled deep down the rabbit burrows - still alive! I cannot forget the months and years after of slow regrowth, rebirth.
I thought that was all a given; that every child does that on the weekend. Now so much older; its been eight years since we left the farm. A farm in the city. I will never forget what it gave us; how blessed we were. It seems impossible to describe it all now; to tell you how much it shaped my life. Last year I went back to visit and could not contain the sheer excitement and inspiration I had from walking down the tracks I had run down so often as a child. Thats when I resolved to write it all down and illustrate it - so that one day I could read it to my own children.
Because whatever happens, wherever we find ourselves, I know we need to live with dirt under our feet and trees to climb.
I have always wanted to make my own quilt and with the help of Clancy's mother (who is both expert and artist in this field) I embarked on designing my own. I wanted to start with a fairly simple pattern that could incorporate all my favourite fabrics; making a feature out of the linen babushkas, repro ironing ladies and polka dot scarf girls - but also using triangles and squares of lots of other beloved cotton.
With the help of Alice, we busily cut dozens of triangles, squares and birds making quite impressive scrap mounds.
Once cut, we attempted to make sense of all our fabric pieces - I am sure this is the hardest part of quilting - there is so much to consider; prints, repetition, colour and light balance. At first I was a bit let down - seeing all the beautiful fabric together was a bit shocking and not quite what I had expected - but after a bit of tampering and eliminating some colours and fabric we ended up with something quite thrilling:
On every square is either a red, white or black bird - each row flying in a different direction. Thus how it got the name of the "Serendipity Quilt" - there are many unexpected patterns, repetitions, colours and the birds add a sense of calm and peace to the otherwise completely haphazard display of fabric! Each bird was blanket stitched place using contrasting cotton:
The sewing of squares and triangles then took place with two machines (thanks to Alice and Jenny) - so before we knew it a quilt-like-thing emerged:
I choose a nice thin wool wadding and the bright red apples for the backing fabric: It was all then thoroughly basted into place. I have now bought a lovely big ring, more sharp needles, thread and acquired a perfectly fitting thimble. So the quilting begins - a true test of endurance and perseverance!
I am going to quilt the "diamonds" made by the squares and triangles and around each bird. And with one bird down - only 31 more to go! At this rate it may be finished by the cooler(ish?) autumn months. There is something to be said for quilting - and how it has impacted many many generations of women around the world. I love the old quilts that incorporate tiny scraps of preciousfabric, clothes, and so I'm told even flour bags back in the day! I also like that there are no restrictions, that any colour, size, shape can be made and there are so many ways of doing it - by hand, with a machine etc. Yes, I have already started collecting fabric for my next quilt - and all I can say is that it will be very, very blue.
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...