Wendy Pang


Canberra Quilter Carries on Australian
Tradition, With More Than A Few Twists

"Quilt-mad and net-crazy" is how Wendy Pang characterizes herself, and how she brings these two demanding yet complimentary passions together is one of the defining elements of her life.

A resident of the Australian capital of Canberra, Wendy remembers the exact hour of the day she began quilting: "When a friend rang at 6 p.m. one night in winter 1985, and mentioned she was taking a patchwork class that evening, I had to join her. Luckily there was a cancellation, so I started patchwork the day I first thought of it." After a few frustrations having to do with the slowness of hand-piecing and hand-quilting, the bug bit her hard after she completed a quick scrap quilt from Quiltmaker magazine.

From those modest beginnings, Wendy has gone to being the proud owner of 66 UFOs (not all of them quilts), but says she likes to let projects take their time. "Even though it might take a few years, I do finish things," she says. "I like to let them mature, like wine, before I come back to them fresh and enthusiastic for the second stage.

"Because I have worked full-time since 1987, and I have three children [Andrew, 14, Kim, 12, and Michael, 9, along with Malaysian Chinese husband, Robert], I'm a typical modern quilter. I love to get stuck into something new and exciting, but then find the hand-quilting takes a long time in my limited evenings. So like many others, I have made lots of machine-pieced quilts using rotary-cut methods. This is great, because it allows me the satisfaction of producing a lovely quilt quickly, and experimenting with colours."

Of her quilting style Wendy says she builds on the traditional. "I have to fight the temptation to 'follow the recipe' for a quilt with well-laid-out instructions. The quilts I have made which I like the best are the ones where I have taken a traditional pattern and made it mine by adding a touch of applique, or original quilting. For example, my Summer Quilt II, Pool Midday is a lone star quilt made in bright summer fabrics including (eek) rayon. All the bright colours blur together, fading at the centre like a summer sun too bright to look at. In the squares and triangles around the star I appliqued bikini girls and hawaiian shirts. The quilting is that favourite Australian summer footwear, the thong, and cool drinks with straws."

Wendy is very much aware of and rooted in the Australian quilting tradition. "The Australian quilting experience starts early," she says. "We have, for example, the 1841 Rajah quilt, which was made by convict women as they travelled on the ship Rajah to their new prison home. Fabrics were donated by charitable women so that the convict women would have something useful to do on the voyage which took 105 days.

"Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of one of the first governors, made a hexagon quilt in the 1830 - 1840 period which has been preserved. Other women around the colonies made bedspreads and coverlets following the English tradition. Later, crazy quilts were enormously popular here as in other parts of the world, but decorated with Australian flowers, birds and spiders.

"A unique Australian tradition is the wagga (pronounced wogga). Typifiying the Australian need to 'make do' with whatever was available, waggas were made of whatever the housewife could find. They are heavyweight quilts made of woollen suiting samples, or salvaged squares of wool blanket. Often a wool blanket was used for batting. The haphazard nature of the wagga is a result of the quilter patching anything suitable together, and gives waggas a wonderful charm. I remember one my grandma, a widow with 9 children, made. Backed with a blanket, it had 3 wornout blankets for batting, and a crocheted top made of leftover wool of many colours."

This rich tradition is carried on by a "vigorous quilting group" in Canberra. "The founder of Canberra Quilters, Margaret Rolfe, is well-known internationally for her books on simply pieced animals, especially Australian animals and flowers. In fact, it is becoming a tradition that presidents of Canberra Quilters write a book when they step down. We are especially proud of Kerri Gaven for her fine quilting, Judy Turner for her colourwash- style quilts, and Lynn Inall for her quilts from recycled denim. Other artist quilters are Christa Roksandic who makes wonderful land and seascapes, and Diane Firth who explores colour and geometry."

If Wendy is rooted in the past, she's certainly not stuck there. As a Macintosh software support professional, she has lots of computer and internet experience, and considers computers an indispensable part of her quilting life. "For me, first there was Quiltnet and InterQuilt, then I started Southern Cross Quilters [see story above]. Later I joined Q-Xchg, after being very disciplined about not giving in to that temptation for a long time.

"It's hard to say what is most wonderful for me about virtual quilting. Is it the fact that I can chat to quilters anywhere in the world at any time of the day? Is it their amazing knowledge and generosity in sharing it? Or is it the fact that I can 'attend' a quilt group meeting in my pyjamas, if I wish, sitting at my computer in the early morning before I go to work? I wouldn't miss my sit-and-sew group which meets each Wednesday. I wouldn't miss my monthly Canberra Quilters meeting. I wouldn't miss the annual quilt exhibition, or Royal Show, or going to Sydney for the Quilt Festival each year. But virtual quilting adds another whole dimension to my quilting life, making it much richer."

So how does a busy wife, mother, software professional, quilter, and netter find the time? "The answer is easy - if I didn't I'd go crazy. After a busy day at work, to be able to sit peacefully and create something which will last and give pleasure over a long time is a necessity for me. Now I'm in my 40s it's quite clear that my life isn't going to be long enough to do everything I want. So I love to enjoy each day, and get the most out of it I can. I often think 'Life's too short to... worry about the hole in Michael's trouser knee, have a spotless kitchen, etc."

Quilt-mad and net-crazy. Her solution: "Count those UFOs -- no, those *finished tops*, and read my mail faster."

Wendy Pang can be reached at wpang@pcug.org.au

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