Quilters Quell Feelings Of Despair And Piece Together Stories To Impress

1. the earth without art is just 'eh'
THE EARTH WITHOUT ART IS JUST ‘EH’

This impressive quilt was just one of many on display at the Australasian Quilt Convention, held at the Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens, April 5-8, 2018.

It is the largest dedicated quilt event in the southern hemisphere and again I used it as an opportunity to catch up with my “quilter” sister, Cate, who came down from interstate for the event, and our younger sister, Rita joined us.

The event is a wonderful celebration of creativity, craft, and community with international participation and recognition.

If you tell stories with a quilt (as many people do), express yourself through hand-crafted clothes and gifts, or adorn and decorate with embroidery, then the convention was the place to be. And, if the day we attended was anything to go by, the organisers will be thrilled with the numbers!

3. closeup bridges over bombs quilt
PEACE – entered in AQC Challenge – Borders & Bridges

Tragic Coincidence

I’m writing this as President Trump and his allies, UK and France, are bombing Syria and so have chosen the above quilt to showcase first.

Each beautifully stitched panel expressing sentiments dear to my heart. If only quilters and writers had political power…

The quilt maker’s statement will resonate with others, I’m sure:

Every time I hear the news it is filled with atrocities and cruelty… it bruises my shadow. I want to tightly shut my eyes, like a young child wishing not to be seen, in the hope they do not exist… but they do. perhaps shining a light on it through the graffiti of tomorrow will prompt us to see… to discuss… to understand… and to bridge the chasm of disinterest and inaction. By adding one reasoned, empathetic voice to another we will steadily erode the borders between us and achieve what we seek and can earn… a Peaceful World.

Maria Mason

What Do Borders & Bridges Mean To You?

This challenge was one of several given to quilters here and abroad and one Maria addressed.

Quilters from the USA also exhibited quilts responding to, and exploring, two fascinating opposites – Turmoil and Tranquility.

A group of South Australian textile artists explored the hashtag symbol. They interpreted the theme in textiles.  “Originally, a typewriter key symbol for ‘number’, the hashtag is now widely used as a means of connecting targeted audiences on social media platforms.’ (Another ‘topical’ topic!)

The Van Gogh Cherrywood Challenge, Dutch Gallery Tour, also came from the USA. The latest exhibit a predominantly blue swathe of exquisite quilts inspired by Vincent’s life, many of his artistic motifs, and even some fun play on titles and his name.

There was an exhibition Met In Melbourne, from eight Australian textile artists who had dinner at the AQC in 2016 and decided to create ‘pieces of/for 8’ – choosing to make quilt panels focusing on a concept of words ending in “ate” as their theme. (Grab your dictionary – concatenate, undulate, ameliorate, rotate, migrate, pomegranate, decorate and ornate.)

Like the variety of responses in writing class to prompts and triggers, the quilters didn’t disappoint. Their thought-provoking, inspirational, and brilliant interpretations, whether of word, theme, or concept absolutely delightful. 

 

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Who would have thought of the violin’s bridge?

 

Another quilt maker asked, “Is this Paradise?”

I looked from the tour bus and saw them, Syrian refugees, huddled on a street in Athens, mattresses bundled under tarps. They all had a look of abject misery, here in a place barely able to support itself, let alone provide them with the future they had risked so much to find.

With this thought in my mind I scanned the Internet for more information about borders and bridges, there were so many stories of people crossing bridges and unmanned borders from war torn lands throughout all the world. Did any of them find their Paradise?

Sue Mobilia

5. is this paradise quilt.jpg
Is This Paradise?

I liked quilt maker Jeannie Henry’s declaration that “Borders and bridges are artificial constructs created by man but ignored by nature.” Jeannie and a couple of other quilters used bridges bordering Victoria and NSW, or over the Murray River as subjects.

Linden Lancaster declares, ” I grew up in the border town of Echuca… spent many hours on the river – a scruffy, suntanned girl – swimming, fishing and riding my bike up and down the goofies with friends. Sometimes we would construct cubbies in the shadow of the bridge when the river was low. My first kiss was under that bridge, bridging childhood into adolescence. Forty years later, the painted graffiti of first crushes are still being proclaimed from the bridge pylons and framework.”

Shirley Drayton trips down memory lane too, ” The Echuca Moama Bridge… originally a road and rail bridge with the Fruit Fly Inspection a stone’s throw from the bridge, to stop the fruit from coming over the border from NSW, to prevent the spread of fruit fly. Mr Ron Hicks (my uncle) the fruit fly inspector… The cars had to stop and wait for the train to come across the bridge. Cattle were taken across for market day at approximately 6.00am, again cars had to wait until all stock and stockmen were completely across.”

How Writers can be Inspired

In my writing classes, particularly Life Stories at Godfrey Street, I’ve given Crossing Borders as a topic and ‘burning bridges’ – something most of us have done in our lives. However, many of the quilts focused on a sense of place, not just for the Borders & Bridges Challenge but even those addressing other themes.

“Place” (or setting) is a great writing topic to make a lesson around – not just for a memoir. A sense of, or focus on, a place can trigger all types of creative writing.

There were many fascinating interpretations of the Bridges & Borders topic. The quilts created were striking – geat for inspiring a writing class, especially poetry.

Topical issues, whimsy reflections, emotional reminiscing and gut-wrenching observations. Quilters love words too – some even incorporate them in quilts.

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Marriage Equality 2017

 

Marriage equality is the bridge across the heart of human love and understanding. Negative emotions and thoughts make up the sea of negativity that border this act of love.

Ronda Hazel

 

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The World Awaits #TimesUp

 

Fear of or caused by sexual assault causes restrictions and confinements in lifestyle and thought. These borders are internalised, held within the model, stitched in text. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are exciting bridges, for the first time ever women are being heard and believed. The onus is starting to be on men to change – and not on women to curtail their lifestyle, to dress conservatively, to not provoke. Stitched into the background are words of empowerment and hope. This quilt can be hung either way up. the model in bridge pose or flying through the sky, free.

Neroli Henderson.

 

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Bridge To Extinction

 

‘Bridge To Extinction’ highlights the conflict between humans and nature. Koalas create borders within their eucalypt habitat. Logging in Southeast Queensland forests shrinks these borders and threatens their survival. Using dyes, printed text, paint and stitch on fabric, I wanted to turn the dry words from the newspaper into imagery that couldn’t be ignored. As human ‘progress’ destroys its habitat, the koala escapes on a log bridge to wasteland. I reflect on the irony of providing koala bridge crossings whilst fragmenting the bushland that serves as their only food source and home.

Marie Mitchell

 

 

13. rosellas and galahs quilt
Bridging The Borders

 

conceptually linked to the theme… by its very title. The borders are the empty husks of the gumnuts on the right, symbolising youth and as such empty of knowledge and the full, flowering gumnuts on the left, symbolise old age and being of wisdom and experience. The bridge is represented by the birds arching in full flight across the sky, connecting one side to the other and symbolising the flight of time between youth and old age. Leap from one side and trust that your own momentum shall carry you to the other side.

Kathryn Harmer Fox

 

11. masking ptsd - bulding bridges quilt
A Hidden Reality

 

P.T.S.D. is an insidious and debilitating disorder. Every part of your life is affected. Enduring workplace harassment and bullying led to devastating consequences for me. I was told to ‘build bridges and get over it’. Physically and mentally I was unable to cross the border from NSW to VIC for several years. My career was shattered. I learnt to mask emotions in order to function. Emotionally and creatively I felt dead for several years. the theme resonated immediately for me. The image flashed into my mind and stayed there. Creating it was cathartic. I am a survivor – speak up about bullying.

Julie Evans

 

9. looking for the edge- two generations bridged
Looking For The Edge

 

“Taken from a photograph of my daughter and granddaughter as they gaze out across the sand towards the open ocean. The sand is the border between land and sea. My daughter and granddaughter bridge the generations as they hold hands sharing the moment. They do this often in a silent communication of their shared love for the beach.”

Di Tramontana

 

14. love bridges all borders
LOVE BRIDGES ALL BORDERS

A great display of heartfelt offerings with memorable and thoughtful designs produced by deft hands and artistic minds.

Van Gogh In Stitches

The Cherrywood Challenge was in Australia from the USA for the first time and the exhibit displayed textile art inspired by Van Gogh’s life and masterworks. It was an extensive tribute to the much-loved artist.

Participants from all over the world with 200 out of 450 entries selected. The quilts will travel throughout the world. Participants win fabric prizes, receive extensive exposure and have their work published in a book.

Not surprisingly, there is a growing interest in the Cherrywood Challenge and I think it is appealing to a younger audience than is usually associated with quilting. The next theme being Prince, the musician – cherrywoodfabricsbigcartel.com

 

 

Tradition Versus Technology

There were plenty of traditional quilts on display but I overheard a couple of older ladies lamenting the introduction of “too much technology” – for them hand stitching still the mark of a good quilter.

There may be some resistance to technology, a fear it is ‘overwhelming’ what many proudly boast as a craft were needlework and handmade were the keys to excellence.

Others were ecstatic about the new sewing machines, embroidery attachments, printers that process photographs and material, computerised design and stencil cutters and numerous other offerings from the stall holders, teachers and workshops at the convention.

The digital divide is everywhere – those that embrace and those that resist.

It may be a case of move over or adapt Baby Boomers if you don’t want the Millenials to needle you! Times change – and often for the better…

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Generations Explained

And in case you wonder where you fit in, here is a potted version of The Atlantic’s explanation – believe what you will:

  • Greatest Generation, 1930-1946 – they fought and many died in WW2 for ‘our freedom’.
  • Baby Boomers, 1946 – 1964 – freedom from fear because the war was over and relaxation of sexual mores means the name is self-explanatory.
  • Gen X, 1965 -1984 – because it fits a nice 20-year time span, spoiled, apparently they think they’re ‘cool’.
  • Gen Y, – mid-70s to mid-2000s – but considered a made-up generation, so really fake – skip to Millenials…
  • Millenials, 1982 -2004 – the digital natives who apparently want it all.

From a Baby Boomer With Millenial Daughters

I like traditional quilts and know how much time, effort, and expertise is involved – I’ve observed my sister and had many discussions with her and listened while she has explained in great depth the intricacies of various methods of applique, patchwork, dramatic designs, embroidery, paper-piercing and fussy cutting techniques.

However, she belongs to a quilting group that is open to new methods, technology and new ideas – caring, sharing and learning a great philosophy.

I have two creative daughters totally comfortable with new technology and pop culture.

Below is a minute selection of traditional quilts on display – there were even rows of the ‘Best in Australia” with award winners from every state.

I love the inclusion of non-traditional articles and adaptations. We met a young lass who loves cosplay. She was promoting sewing machines with attachments that did specific embroidery and lace effects.

We chatted about cosplay and I mentioned some of the memorable costumes I saw when I went to a convention in Sydney a few years ago.

Her anime costume a gorgeous pink layered dress with rabbit ears headgear. She wore the dress recently as a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital at Easter and attends events and does other promotions when she has time.

The dress took several weeks to make and has over $400 worth of material. A marvellous example of dedication to popular culture using centuries-old crafts.

There were two other costumes on display – one a la Jane Austen and one from the Lord of The Rings.

While I was engrossed in reading the stories behind the quilts my sisters met up with a writer and academic who has just published a book Towns and Trailblazers.

Rita was particularly impressed with Jen Wulff ‘s research of local women from the 18th, 19th or early 20th centuries, some renowned, others unknown.

‘Each trailblazer and her town have inspired a quilt block which combines to create an Australian inspired textile providing a tangible connection to places and the women remembered.’

29. quilt of forgotten women

The quilt blocks relate to the far North West coast, through to the Red Centre, across to the East Coast and down to Southern Tasmania. Short stories about the women, quilt templates and construction tips are included in the book, which Rita, bought.

Jen is a quilter too and ‘greatly values the lasting friendships made through local quilt groups and she hopes her recently published book increases awareness of both quilting and the role women had in shaping Australia.’

The Melbourne Exhibition ‘8’

 

31. concatenate exhibition 8 quilt.jpg
CONCATENATE

 

“To link together, to unite in a series or chain.” Quilter Lee Vause drew inspiration from childhood games: Scrabble, Barrel of Monkeys, Snakes and Ladders and Twister.

 

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DECORATE

 

Using thread and free motion stitching, quilter Raylene Richardson decorated face shapes emphasising different facial elements.

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ORNATE

Showing wonderful use of texture and design and manipulation of materials, ‘Ornate’ is self-explanatory, but for ‘Migrate’ the quilter chose feathers and fish to represent the large migrations that occur in nature.

 

 33. Migrate 8.jpg
MIGRATE

 

Our world is constantly turning, slowly spinning and rotating around the sun. Inspired by the marvels of the natural world Brenda Wood is fascinated by the way the sun peeks over our horizon in the east and we catch ‘the trails of its warmth and beauty, until each evening we rotate away from its heat and light…’

Sunlight travelling through our atmosphere scatters colours, stronger beams during the day than in the evening – depictions of the varying strength of colour in sunrises and sunsets represent the concept of rotating.

 

34. exhibition 8 1.jpg
ROTATE

Instead of an adjective, quilter Sally Westcott chose a noun. The pomegranate is beautiful to eat, cook with, and to paint and draw. She enjoyed exploring its texture, shape and colour.

 

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POMEGRANATE

Internationally, award-winning, Melbourne based Neroli Henderson chose the word ‘ameliorate’ – the process of making something bad or unpleasant better. Her panels “focus on the vulnerability of the female form, and its power and ability. Creating personal, explorative works such as these helps to ameliorate the past. An artistic catharsis. These pieces seek to take memories of physical pain and loneliness and transform them into moments of beauty.

 

36. female form quilt exhibitioin 8.jpg
AMELIORATE

 

I wonder how many people have heard of Neroli ( eiloren.com.au ), quilter, writer, editor of Textile Fibre Forum magazine (2014-16), a group owner of the popular Facebook Textile Arts group, and an artist ‘who combines art quilting techniques and materials with traditional media and digital approaches.’ She believes ‘in the use of textiles and stitch as a valid fine art medium and can often be found using this traditional “women’s work” to create feminist, political, and other social commentary based artworks.’

As my first image implies – I can’t imagine a world without art – in all its forms!

 

36. undulate quilt.jpg
UNDULATE

Kim Boland’s chosen word ‘undulate’ transformed into four colourful and charming panels. “Undulating, curvy, wave-like lines, found all around us, are peaceful and calming.”

 

Her depictions: blue ocean waves, rolling green hills, red desert dunes and yellow fields of canola. Specifically shaped pieces portray the movement of air and water across flowering fields, sandy dunes, grassy fields and ocean waves.

Carolyn Sullivan’s Retrospective

Mairi Neil (a found poem from AQC 2018)

Australia’s climate captured
cool and hot, clear and misty
searing heat, sleet, and storms
flat plateau country and
eucalypt and deciduous forest,
garden parks and deserts of
thousands of kilometres…
changing environment evoked
and expanded on cloth canvas
lovingly dyed with colours
of plants from Aussie desert and bush.
Plainness transformed
into earthy and warm
tantalising textures,
tree trunk tracks of insects,
lichen, leaf and fungi patterns,
depictions of diversity –
native animals, trees, birds,
and beautiful grasses…
hand stitched close, straight,
the vastness of the landscape
and love of country
honoured in every stitch.

Retrospective.jpg

There was another evocative reflection of the world by quilter Gillian Travis which if I was talented with a needle, on any level, I’d love to do!  She has created quilts from her travels to exotic, and not so exotic, places like Uzbekistan, India, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, South Africa, Europe, Israel and Jordan.

These quilts focus on people and place and beg for stories to be imagined and written!

Observation and attention to detail important for quilters, photographers and writers. At the convention, you could do a course on turning your favourite photograph into a quilt and intrepid traveller Gillian’s work offered walls of inspiration.

Journeys In Stitch

 

Turmoil And Tranquility

“Presented by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), this museum-quality exhibition features quilts created specifically as art pieces. Work brought from the USA explores two fascinating opposites…”

Again, what was fascinating was how each artist interpreted the words and I loved reading the stories behind the quilts.  Just as we become comfortable or can relate to particular stories or genres in our taste of books, so too how the artists depicted the theme is influenced by our ideas of what the words could mean.

Sometimes what the artist was trying to do resonated more than the finished piece, and at other times little explanation was required.

Jill Kerttula from Virginia chose the turmoil of a woman’s first pregnancy: ‘physical, emotional, cultural, and mental changes and challenges, both internal and external.’ Jill used sketches from ancient medical texts, copies of cards her mother received and original images to portray turmoil and angst.

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BABY QUILT

Jennifer Day from New Mexico chose Donald as her subject for Tranquility. He has ‘led a life full of twists and turns… his adulthood serving his country in the French Indonesian War in 1956 – almost 70 years ago. He later served in Korea, and in another war that he will not talk about. He has had cancer numerous times and is still fighting lung cancer.’

Jennifer took a photo of Donald as he sat in the window of an old barn in New Mexico. She captured the light of the setting sun gracing his face and “his expression leads us to believe that he is content. At age 86, I believe that he is satisfied with life and that his future holds promise.”

I was charmed by this quilt, by the subject matter and outlook of the artist and my photograph does not do it justice – each strand of hair is stitching – the artistry seamless connectivity in this work truly impressive.

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DONALD IN THE LIGHT

Carol Capozzoli from Connecticut captured the insidious spread and effect of cancer. “From the first pathological cell division, turmoil begins… (it) spreads to surrounding tissues and possibly other body parts. With a diagnosis, the turmoil spreads to the person’s emotional and spiritual being, and to those close to the person.”

cancerous turmoil quilt.jpg

  A CANCEROUS TURMOIL

Lots of the pieces celebrating nature or the seasons understandably focused on tranquillity. Judith Roderick from New Mexico chose the endangered Whooping Crane.

“There is something very compelling about a human-sized, ancient bird who has been on the planet since the dinosaurs. the Whooping Crane, one of the two North American Crane species, is the world’s most endangered crane with about 600 now in existence. This quilt was hand-drawn from some of my own photographs. It reflects my hope, intention, and prayer that they may continue to grace our skies and landscapes for ages to come.”

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Whooper

Illness is probably the most common disruption many of us experience and as our population ages, statistics reckon more of us will be living longer and coping with Alzheimer’s.

Diane Born from Oregon seemed to reflect from personal experience when she wrote, “That fine, immaculate woman is now mismatched and muddled. She withdraws from loved ones, snarls at children. plaque invades her brain, erupting in tangles, robbing her of memories. She mutters and mumbles, rarely smiles. paranoia stalks her, evident in mood swings, delusions, and apathy. Her sewing, hand or machine, fragments and disintegrates. Brain waves slow and falter, losing a rhythmic pattern. the lady vanishes into the disease.”

My father succumbed to dementia. It too was slow and insidious and painful to watch. Occasionally, flashes of the father we knew and loved appeared – the effect on the person and their family is indeed turmoil!

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A SLOW DEATH BY ALZHEIMER’S

Another piece that resonated was by Michele Lea of Ohio. who admits to constantly searching for peace and tranquillity.

“Trying to find a place of light, rather than focusing on the cloud of darkness that looms over me, is a daily ritual. I suffer from chronic mental depression, which is a disease with no cure. More than 40 million people suffer from it and suicide is an ongoing threat for those of us who want to escape. The image of me floating, with butterflies draping over me as a blanket, is tranquillity. For me, it is an end to torment – a place of safety and peace; my original home where I could join my creator and become whole again.”

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TRANQUILLITY THE END

It is a reflection of the times and the pervasiveness of the 24-hour news cycle that the turmoil of the world refugee crisis is never far from our screens or minds. Sandy Gregg from Massachusetts observes:

Since the beginning of time, people have left their homes to begin lives as refugees for a myriad of reasons, including war, discrimination, crop failure, and religion. This piece represents borders crossed, obstacles faced, and the turmoil that these brave people face during their travels.”

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CROSSINGS I

Another quilt that appealed to me used vintage postcards (collecting postcards a hobby of mine) and image transfer a technique I’d be tempted to use if a quilter.

Patricia Kennedy-Zafred from Pennsylvania is doing a series portraying women from all over the world with ‘strikingly varied concepts of beauty‘.

The images are of Japanese geisha who ‘despite the typical connotation, true geisha were highly trained in dance, music and various forms of art.‘ Their calm facial expressions ‘part of their allure, as their rigorous training was designed to create a presence of subtlety, strength, and grace.’

geishas.jpg
A SEPARATE REALITY

I have to feature Donna Deaver from Idaho who although we are living on separate continents, we have a similar way of relaxing and finding that elusive tranquillity.

I have a deep love of the sea. It draws me in an unexplainable way, calling to me when I least expect it. Even though I no longer live by the ocean, I feel at home whenever I return. One of my favourite times of the day is early morning when the beach is empty. Listening to the infinite rhythm of the surf is a form of meditation.”

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MORNING WALK

Believe it or not, the images featured are only a tiny selection of what was on offer at the AQC 2018. I’ve written about some that caught my eye, or touched my heart as a writer and haven’t done any justice at all to the array of fabrics, threads and techniques the artists applied.

Suffice to say the convention has lots to offer to those not expert or involved in the art of quilting, and from what I’ve observed the few times I’ve attended it is only going to expand and become more eclectic.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and seen in this post, I hope you attend one day, you won’t regret it.

Having firsthand knowledge of the quilting community via my older sister I know they have a sense of humour too and I love the self-deprecating quilts like this one – the three women are staring at the latest super duper sewing machine and asking “But does it make the coffee?”

quilters - but does it make the coffee.jpg

After this marathon writing effort, I’m heading to the kitchen to make a cup… but will leave you with one of my personal favourites from the convention with a message for all those who struggle to achieve their dream…

 

nevertheless she spersisted.jpg
A tribute to Senator Elizabeth Warren.

 

A Day Spent Gathering Kindness

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It began with an email from the Health Issues Centre, where I’ve attended many workshops and forums as a consumer representative. The sender was Safer Care Victoria, an organisation I imagine few Victorians outside the health circle know much about unless they listen regularly to Radio National’s Life Matters.

You are invited to attend a day of kindness – bringing together a wide group of influences and change agents from across the health service sector, to focus on activating engagement at the local organisational level. The theme of the event is: “Continuing the Conversation” – kindness between everyone in healthcare.



Re-imagine a healthcare system that has kindness, trust and respect as core components. This is based on the evidence that there is a direct relationship between staff well-being and patient well-being.

An interactive day, featuring inspirational local and international experts such as:
• Dr Lorraine Dickey; Neonatologist The Narrative Initiative
• Dr Catherine Crock AM; Chair and Founder of The Hush Foundation
• Assoc. Professor Michael Greco; CEO Patient Opinion Australia talks
• Mike Farrar; former Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation
• HUSH Kindness Play “What Matters” facilitated by Dr Catherine Crock AM
• Internationally renowned performers, the Grigorian Brothers
• Dumbo Feather – a platform for storytelling

Friday marked day five of a successful Gathering of Kindness Week.  A day, full of thought-provoking conversations and activities, designed for a better way forward for healthcare.

I lost no time in registering because not surprisingly they had a waitlist of people who wished to attend this complimentary event which included catering, entertainment and thought-provoking conversation.

A bonus was the venue at the Docklands, a part of Melbourne I don’t visit very often. There was also the opportunity to catch up with health professionals and consumer reps I’ve met at other events.

Consumer Voices Important

In recent years, I’ve had more experience with the health system than I’d like, which motivated me to become involved and do what I can to improve the quality of care.

It is important to applaud what is working and the good outcomes achieved as well as criticise failures.

There was so much packed into the day at Docklands, it’s difficult to know where to start so I’ll share the highlights that appealed to both my hats – the writer as well as health consumer representative.

Time and again speakers emphasised the power of individual stories to change procedures, attitudes and perceptions. The forum was about patient experience and there is a variety of ways the stories can be told.

Being in hospital is like being in a play you haven’t read. There’s bewilderment, you’re on stage and don’t know the outcome.

John Clarke

The opening segment, a film of Clarke & Dawe used humour to start the conversation about the different perspectives of a hospital experience for staff, administrators and patients. The two satirists are renowned for their great play on words and they didn’t disappoint:

gown, discharge, night register, waterworks, running at low cost

Take a few moments to ponder the different interpretations and uses of these words…

A fitting introduction to begin a conversation about the perceptions of all the players in a health system and the need for empathy and kindness.

Everyone has a role to play: kindness starts within all of us.

One of the key people behind the Gathering of Kindness Week is Dr Catherine Crock AM, Founder of the Hush Foundation.  A medical pioneer, she is a longtime advocate for culture change in hospital care and has put into practice what she preaches!

I bought these CDs years ago when coping with caring for my dying husband – they work!

Working with patients, families and healthcare professionals, Hush transforms the culture of healthcare by harnessing the power of the Arts to educate, inspire and create change for better outcomes for everyone.

She developed a music collection to reduce stress and anxiety felt by both patients and their families in hospitals, transforming the environment through the use of carefully curated music from some of Australia’s foremost musicians and talents.

Working at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Dr Crock said repeated surveys showed parents valued kindness and care. The atmosphere improved when the creative arts (musicians, composers, actors) were harnessed to improve the well-being of families, patients and staff.

The Gathering of Kindness aimed to build, nurture and instil a culture of kindness throughout the health care system. The key theme being “The Power of Kindness”/”Continuing the Conversation” to better understand how to improve the healthcare environment for all stakeholders, including staff and consumers.

Three CEOs discussed and shared stories of why and how they initiated change in their organisations:

Dr Sue Mathews, The Royal Women’s Hospital, Frank Evans, Central Gippsland Health and Adj Professor David Plunkett, Eastern Health.

Women's Hospital sculpture

Remodelling is required to meet today’s patients’ needs

Dr Sue Mathews told a story that was a turning point for her to rethink her attitude to hospital administration and rules.

Like many working on hospital wards, she said, her favourite announcement was “all visitors go home” until one evening a man sitting by his wife’s bed explained they had just lost their baby after trying for seven years and spending $35,000 on IVF treatment.

I can’t grieve with her?” he asked.

Sue has introduced leadership walks around the hospital asking patients in real time how their experience is to learn how to design a toolkit to draw out information from patients and improve the system.

For example, she discovered that for one woman who works full-time when the hospital calls regarding appointments within working hours she will always be busy to take the calls or miss them, and vice versa if traditional business hours are adhered to as far as women contacting the hospital when they may be available to speak.

Health is a policy-driven sector and many policies are 25 years old or more – hospital culture had to change.

The Women’s Hospital employed a Chief Experience Officer who has guided more than 600 staff through a course that uses videos, workshops and discussions to remind them why they are in healthcare.

By watching or listening to patients about their experience the staff go through what they ask female patients to do. They then list what needs to change whether it be policies, visiting hours, outdated and stupid rules preventing good patient experience or rules that create staff problems.

They discuss what rules are broken or need to be.

The Women’s Hospital is bringing kindness into everyday practice and Dr Mathews works hard to be a good role model. For example, it is important to remember people’s names so people feel valued.

She uses the model way – show how kindness can be and help staff and patients to see and behave in a positive and kind manner to improve everyone’s wellbeing.

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.”

Alan Alda

Unpack Your Assumptions

Over lunch, I experienced one of the exercises the Women’s Hospital has used to change their culture: Unpack Your Assumptions.

It was a working lunch – we had a few minutes to digest our food and then down to work!

We teamed with a partner and I was with Ruben, a young man from the Department of Health whom I’d never met.

Choices, Choices Choices.

The exercise designed to challenge our own beliefs and choices and the assumptions we make about others solely on appearance:

Are they like us? If different, how and why do we think so?

PART 1 – instructions to be read and carried out in silence

The situation: You are an expert camper. You love camping and have camped every summer for as long as you can remember. You are packing for a week solo camping trip at a site with no electricity. You will be able to park your car at the site so the weight of what you pack is not an issue however, you will not be allowed to use your car to go and get anything for the entire week. As you finish packing the car you realise that you have room for 5 more items.

The task: select 5 items from a list of ‘extras’ that you would choose to bring with you. (There was a list of 13 items including mobile phone, book, e-reader, alcohol, extra clothes and food, batteries, matches…)

PART 2 – The situation is the same but this time it is your partner who is going on the trip. You are not going together. They are also going alone.

The task: Maintaining the same assumptions you select 5 ‘extra’ items for your partner to take on their trip. (From the same list of 13 items)

PART 3 – without speaking to your partner, consider the following questions:

  1. Is what you chose to bring for yourself exactly the same as what you chose for your partner?           (a)  If yes, why?       (b) If no, why not?
  2. What was it like to make choices for your partner without consulting with them or knowing their story?
  3. How did it feel to consider yourself an expert?

PART 4 –

  1. Compare lists with your partner
  2. If there are differences between what they chose either for themselves or you – justify your choices to each other
  3. Discuss the questions in Part 3.

The facilitator, Sherri Huckstep, the Women’s Hospital Experience Officer, led an interesting discussion encouraging people to share their choices and reasons.

Ruben picked 3 out of 5 correct for me and I picked 4 out of 5 for him. (Maybe writing all those character profiles helps?)

  • We both agreed we did not pick the same items for the other person as we chose for ourselves because we considered gender and age differences. (He is younger so I chose more tech-based items, he said he considered my gender and age and added more warm clothes!)
  • We both found it difficult to choose extra items for the other person while not knowing anything about them. I felt unskilled and nervous.
  • We both felt uncomfortable setting ourselves up as experts and making decisions in the dark with limited knowledge.

Sherri then read aloud the poem The Cookie Thief, from Chicken Soup For The Soul, edited by Jack Canfield.

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Assumptions can be wrong and are the source of much of the conflict we experience in our lives. We may all have assumptions we need to question!

The lady in the poem attributed the cookie thief’s behaviour to rudeness never considering he may have had a good reason to take the cookies. She never gave him the benefit of the doubt or considered she may have been wrong. He never stopped her helping herself.

How they both reacted to the situation speaks volumes about attitude and how to deal with certain events and people.

It pays to keep an open mind! Do what you can to discover all the facts.

People want to be called patients, not clients.

The CEO of Eastern Health, Adj Prof David Plunkett said that time and time again patient surveys said courtesy and kindness was what really mattered. They focused on improving communication and customer service but still, patients said courtesy and kindness: “If I’d just been treated with kindness” a common response.

Eastern Health has 5 million pieces of data to say that kindness must be an organisational value – they don’t need any more surveys to measure!

Accountability and humility core values.

He asked the 10,500 staff and volunteers how they could support each other and how to create a safe working environment.

They got prompt cards “I will smile”.

When the staff discussed how they treated each other and made a commitment to kindness, respect and excellence, it led to kindness with patients.

All in it together!

Prof Plunkett suggests questioning the data – it’s qualitative information about what is going wrong but when you go past the data argument and use stories from patients’ experience and effect change, it works.

They collated 400 stories; they didn’t resonate with all staff but the good and bad feedback worked to motivate and accept kindness as an organisational value.

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The Kindness Tree at the forum where you could write suggestions on how to show kindness

 

Leading with Care

Frank Evans from Sale explained that in 1997-1998 there was a conflict that divided the community, families and staff at the hospital. One afternoon there was a knock on his door. A man had a petition to get rid of the hospital CEO. He asked Frank to sign, completely unaware that Frank was the CEO.

Frank invited the man in for a cup of tea and they had an interesting chat. (I’d like to have been a fly on the wall!)

Another turning point for Frank was the sad, powerful, personal story of “Claire” who wrote a book Dying For A Chance. He bought a copy for all staff, and also had Claire address staff. His philosophy is to engage with people and try and understand them, accepting there are difficulties providing quality care.

They now have a new model for their integrated health service and are trying to build a culture of caring and kindness. There is more conflict this year with the push for change.

  • All staff are involved in writing a Communications Charter.
  • There is a new leadership framework – “Leading with Care” and they are preparing a leadership matrix.

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Aas a consumer, it was heartening to hear from CEOs who are listening to the patients and their workforce before implementing changes and actively trying to alter the culture of decisions from being only financially or resource driven.

It was an ideal time to watch the Hush Kindness Play – What Matters, written by well-known writer and actor Alan Hopgood.

Alan and his team of actors aimed to make kindness matter to staff and patients and through this Hush Project after the play is performed, they have talked to 9000 people about the particular issues it raises.

There have been over 140 performances of health-oriented plays raising issues such as

  • the devastation of a medication error
  • different aspects and challenges of aged care
  • and this latest one – focusing on small acts of kindness that make a difference, or what happens when kindness and empathy is lacking

Ironically, the role I remember Alan Hopgood for was the small town doctor in Bellbird, an ABC 70s soapie my mother wouldn’t miss!

I recognised him straight away when he appeared on stage, especially his deep but softly reassuring voice.

He has wanted to make a difference in the area of men’s health with his writing and has written several plays and a book in 1996, Surviving Prostate Cancer – One Man’s Journey. He often gives talks using his wonderful sense of humour to tell his story and encourages others.

Alan and the players thanked the audience restating the strong message of What Matters that kindness is not elective, not a weakness but a choice we make.

And it doesn’t stop in the confines of a medical setting.

The value of and sharing stories of kindness often doesn’t rate because positive news stories don’t get traction.

Fiction writers know this too well – we are taught from day one that it is conflict that sells, and it doesn’t have to be resolved to make a book a best seller!

However, when you are ill, perhaps fighting for your life, perspectives can change. Or when you are a health professional burnt out or traumatised. (Read a transcript or listen to the podcast about compassion fatigue and mental health.)

Even the smallest act of kindness makes a difference.

A doctor stepping outside boundaries with “Mother Theresa” actions or advice should not be accused of ‘being too kind’ and ‘unprofessional’.

Patients taking the time to write a ‘thank you card’ or leave flowers or chocolates for staff: doctors, nurses, administrators, cleaners, volunteers – all the people who have a part in making our health system function – are sadly rare, but do make a difference.

The Power Of Story To Engender Kindness Within Organisations

The impact of kindness should never be underestimated and discovering how many people and organisations are promoting positive changes in behaviour, attitude, and workplace culture is an uplifting experience in itself.

Associate Professor Michael Greco who worked with Father Brosnan to bring kindness into Pentridge Prison interviewed two CEOs from the UK with experience of improving patient experience of the NHS.

He quoted the definition of civilisation as being a slow process of society learning to be kind.

Perhaps he offered the best quote of the day –

Kindfulness is fundamental to human growth.”

A more civil society is society being kind and unfortunately, we have too many examples in the wider community where our political leaders and the general population are not being kind or civil.

How we treat asylum seekers and refugees only one example that has been in the news recently!

quote about loss

Participants at the forum expressed again and again, through fantastic examples from their workplaces or life experience how powerful the gift of stories can be.

The importance of listening and recording stories whether positive or negative to learn from them.

These stories from staff or patients when aided by the creative arts  – whether by poetry, plays, film, memoir or short story – can hurry along the all-important change towards  ‘kindfulness’.

  • The Narrative Kindness Project my next blog!

Stories and Storytelling – There’s a Quill in Quilting.

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There are many ways to tell a story but as a writer, I prefer words. Photographers, painters, and sculptors tell a story with their work by artistically expressing whatever they are seeing, feeling, thinking about, or wanting to share.

Interpreted by the beholder there may be more ambiguity than if the story told in words. However,   freedom of expression, in an artistic way by whatever medium, creates a narrative.

Poetry and prose may have diverse interpretations too, especially in English. Obscurity, double entendres, irony, and satire, can have readers and listeners scratching their heads and debating meaning.

Another way to have artistic expression and tell a story is craft. Craft takes many forms. In my Facebook newsfeed, I discovered a Scottish artist making political statements and commenting on the human condition through book sculptures.

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The words read: “Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really good BOOK.”

The artist’s story plus the story of the sculptures are in a book available at Book DepositoryThese powerful visual stories began several years ago when an anonymous artist despaired at talk of the death of the book and public libraries!

“One day in March 2011 staff at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh noticed a wonderful paper sculpture left on a table. Carved from paper and mounted on a book, it bore a tag expressing support for the Library’s work. From then until November 2011 nine more mysterious paper sculptures appeared in arts venues throughout Edinburgh, including the National Library of Scotland, the Filmhouse cinema, the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish Storytelling Centre.”

I’ve written about Yarn (Bombing) Art and local groups Urban Yarn Art and their creation of a Storybook Yarn Art Trail using knitting as an expression of artistry and storytelling skills. This year community house Longbeach Place prepares to turn their garden into a delightful place to retell stories of elves and fairies. When I was teaching this week the props were being prepared:

As mentioned in my last post, my older sister stayed with me this week and as usual she brought her current quilting project. I’ve written before about the wonderful stories found in quilts. Today quilts are pieces of art with quilting a popular craft. However, in earlier times, quilts kept people warm, were used for bedding, or hung as a screen or protection against intruders when communal living was the norm. The majority of people too poor to buy blankets made their own.  If you wanted warmth, the women in your family, made a quilt from old clothing and scraps of cloth.

Cate is a dedicated and talented quilter and I’ve written about her ANZAC block, which is now on an international tour – one of many exhibitions commemorating the centenary of WW1. Cate told the story of my Father’s cousin George who died on active service and is buried in Egypt. The other quilters honoured relatives too, illustrating that quilting, like writing serves to record our stories and keep memories alive.

In the past and in some cultures today, special quilts are made for newborn babies, for aged or sick family members and for those dying or dead. Quilts provide warmth and comfort – physically and emotionally – gifts on special occasions like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and to emigrants or travellers as reminders of home. The quilts made by African slaves in America were believed to contain secret messages – the patterns providing information and direction to the ‘underground railway’ and  freedom.

My mother made a quilt for our journey to Australia using scraps of material from clothes we’d outgrown or earmarked for the ragbag. If I close my eyes, I see Mum, Cate and myself sitting by the fireside hand sewing the quilt. (My stitches easy to pick, more like tacking!) When I look at or touch the material, I remember the item of clothing and a story is triggered. Historically, traditional quilts were made by hand. The quilt from Scotland in need of repair, not surprising after half a century (and my poor sewing skills), but the emotion it cradles timeless.

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On the night my mother died, the palliative care nurse suggested we put on the bed the beautiful quilt Cate had made  Mum. (I can picture Mum now sitting in her armchair with the quilt over her legs.) The lovely colours and patterns softened the harshness of the white hospital bedclothes, made the clinical environment more homely. That quilt forever entwined with Mum’s life and legacy and the love between her and Cate.

Quilts painstakingly hand sewed in various patterns and styles gave talented women an outlet for their imagination to make intricate patterns and tell stories about family or community through the materials and styles used. There are great quilts, many in America where quilters are a huge community. Immigrants contribute their traditional patterns and skills: the Japanese and Chinese expertise with silk fabrics, the European links with embroidery and design.

Quilts are an important part of our heritage. It’s not surprising that Cate’s latest project involving the making of an international quilt is dominated by American quilters because of the popularity of quilting in the United States.

My sister joined a Facebook page where quilters swap quilt blocks. When I googled hexagon quilting on Facebook it returned  396,000 results in 0.44 seconds!  Cate is in one of three groups that limit membership to a manageable 300. You must apply to join the closed or secret groups and currently the one she is in has 105 members. They make hexagon blocks or hexis to insiders.

They aim to make an international quilt – you make a quilt block and post it to others in the group and they return the favour. This block swapping will result in everyone having enough blocks to make a quilt to use, to hang, to frame, to gift or to enter in exhibitions. In a folder you can choose preferences – some people prefer floral material with pansies, others nominate a particular colour, Cate’s criteria: ‘I’ve never met a hexi I didn’t like!’

She showed me the blocks received already and the ones she will post in return:

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There are parallels between quilting and writing. Quilters and writers both express themselves depending on different perspective, viewpoint, life experience and emotion. They work alone or collaborate as imagination dictates to produce an artistic unique artefact.

  1. From a central idea, a design or pattern for the quilt and a theme or keyword or character for a story – the project begins.
  2. Quilters and writers begin brainstorming. For quilters its shapes, colours, fabrics to use and whether to do appliqué or patchwork. For writers, it’s outlining, collating research and piecing ideas together for a story, the characters’ traits. There is an initial prompt, trigger, idea, burst of enthusiasm, desire to create, a vision of the future.
  3. Organising begins of the blocks whether material or words: what is the desired impact on the viewer or reader, the layout and setting, the personality or substance of material or character, is the desired effect mystery, humour, traditional or innovative, past or present tense, will it engage emotions, be memorable, be valued…
  4. The quilter collects and coordinates fabrics and templates and starts to stitch towards the overall effect. The writer develops the outline and works out the characters and their journey. Always the possibility of change and rearranging.
  5. There will be cutting, trimming, swapping of blocks – cutting and pasting, editing of words.
  6. Layers are organised and final stitching brings the quilt together. Writers move from rough draft to corrections to final edit. A finished quilt, a completed story, both a journey and a gift to the receiver and the creator.

Memorial quilts commemorate lives, increase awareness of a particular event and even raise money for a special cause. Cate’s ANZAC block similar to my poem for the Calais refugees.

Cate's entry
Cate’s entry

Quilting and writing both have a long and unique history. The powerful symbolism of quilt patterns and the power of words to record stories show humanity has more in common than what separates us.

Check your linen cupboard or perhaps your bed and think of the stories that quilt is telling and pick up your pen and write because as this quote doing the rounds of Facebook suggests stories do indeed bring us together and make the world a better place.

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