As a nurse midwife, Jen Kingwell helped bring lots of babies into the world. But when Gardenvale appears in April, it will be the first time she’s “birthed” a line of fabric.
Jen couldn’t be happier about this bundle of joy, though when Moda first approached her about designing fabric, she hesitated. “I’m such a scrap quilter I wasn’t sure how to design a range of fabrics that would fit,” says Jen, who’s known for her rich, mosaic-like quilt designs. “But Moda’s been fabulous, letting me do multiple stripes and spots across the width of the fabric. I’m really chuffed with it!”
For the Yanks amongst us, “chuffed” is Aussie-speak for “quite pleased.” While Jen hails from Australia, she’s lived for the past two years in the city of Al ‘Ayn in the United Arab Emirates, near the Oman border. She and her husband, who manages a manufacturing plant there, have three daughters and return to Australia several times annually to visit them. Their youngest daughter Lucy manages Jen’s quilt shop, Amité, which is located in the Gardenvale section of Melbourne, and sends large boxes of fabric to her regularly. “We call Lucy the fabric fairy,” says Jen. “The boxes have to be opened at the post office and the women who see them love the fabric, though because it’s often just quarter-yard cuts, they probably wonder what I’m doing with them.”
A self-taught quilter, Jen stitched her first quilt during her nursing training. “It was paper-pieced hexagons and I didn’t have any idea of what I was doing,” she remembers. She used all kinds of fabric, including corduroy and crimplene (a heavy polyester). “I love it because it’s the first thing I did. It’s definitely eclectic!”
Jen’s love of quilting grew and she bought into an existing fabric shop in the late 1990s, while still working part time as a nurse midwife. Her first patterns were for her shop’s customers and used six fabrics and big block quilts, but she found she didn’t enjoy it. “I decided to go against the trend of fast quilts and do what I love—hand piecing and hand quilting,” she says. Jen likens working by hand to mediation. “When I sit with my needle and thread, I can feel my blood pressure go down.” Her love inspired others. “We’ve got quite a hand-piecing culture at my store,” she says. “It’s so portable, so sociable, and people love the serenity.”
Asking Jen about her creative process and how she designs her complex quilts elicits a laugh. “The idea I start with is often not the way the quilt ends up,” she says. “For me, fabric is key. I base my designs around fabric and color and things grow and change as I work on them.” She appreciates when quilters change her patterns to suit their own work style. “I design for myself, but everyone enjoys doing something different,” she says. “If you’ve got mad machine skills, use a sewing machine. You don’t have to do needle turn applique, you can fuse.”
If you’ve been considering giving handwork a try, winter is the perfect time to practice those skills. And you’ll be prepared to give Jen’s aesthetic a try when Gardenvale debuts in the spring.
For more about Jen, visit her blog.