In early September I had the immense pleasure of heading to Amitie Textiles in Torquay, Victoria (Australia) and participating in two classes with Denyse Schmidt. I feel like there were two components to my visit and so I’m going to tackle them both separately, so you can skip to the bits you’re interested in.
I was lucky enough to have visited Amitie Textiles in Gardenvale a couple of years ago to attend a sit and sew with Jen Kingwell and I remember at the time just being so enveloped in good feelings when I was in the store. It was light, it was bright, it was full of amazing fabrics, tools and notions and the staff made you feel like you were part of the family. When they announced they were moving I lamented the fact to my husband that I wouldn’t be able to get back to Gardnevale to say goodbye to one of my favourite stores in Australia before it transformed into it’s new space. I don’t know why but I had this irrational fear that a little piece of something special was disappearing.
Slowly photos of the new space that they’d found started to be released and curiosity got the better of me and the desire to head to Torquay became nearly unbearable. The hints were of an industrial space, with high ceilings, wide open spaces and a cafe – they had me hooked. So when the opportunity arose to head to Torquay I lunged at it. (It was the most exercise I’d done in months!) By the time I headed down there the store had been open for a few weeks and we’d been given images and videos of what the space looked like and I was addicted. I’m not sure whether it was the thought of cake and fabric together or just the seemingly endless bolts of fabric but either way I knew it would be my kind of place.
The store is so unassuming from the front; there’s just a modern rust covered (looks like rust, I’m sure it’s not…) sign out the front that proclaims “Amitie” and that’s it. It looks like a building in an industrial part of town. I half expected to open the door and find my Father in there making fishing lures. For a girl who grew up spending time in factories it felt a little like coming home. Once inside it didn’t disappoint. You’re immediately greeted by the space that will be the Amitie Cafe. There’s tables, a coffee machine, a display case and a small kitchen. Walking in a little further and you’re welcomed by the smiling staff at the cutting and register counter. There’s a big display table of the latest fabrics, kits and patterns and behind that there’s the endless magic of bolts and bolts of fabric. Walking into Amitie Textiles is how I imagine those kids felt when they walked into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
The industrial concrete floor is covered with a mix of rugs, there’s long communal tables for classes or sitting and stitching and there’s light coming in from the glass doors on the back of the building. The double height bare brick walls are adorned with quilts from the Jen Kingwell Designs Collective so your eye travels from the two rows of bolts, one row of fat quarters and on to the pillows and quilts all the way to the ceiling. There’s a fun playlist of music always being piped through the speakers and there were so many times over the two days where members of the classes and customers were found to be singing along.
I was there for two days and I didn’t once get tired of looking through the bolts. It’s one of the things I love most about Amitie – the fabric is well sourced. Sure there’s the big popular names, but in amongst it all are those great Japanese prints, the interesting novelty fabrics and the prints that you need to help elevate those popular fabrics from the same-same you see everywhere to something extra special.
The food provided as part of our classes was top notch. I’ve never drunk coffee or tea (literally never) and so this isn’t a big draw card for me (they do a good water though!) but I’d crawl over broken glass for good food. As well as not being a coffee drinker I’m not very adventurous or healthy with my eating (yes, yes I know – won’t someone think of my arteries) but Amitie Textiles helped me get out of my food comfort zone and I confess rather sheepishly that I came home from the event and googled one of the dishes to try and replicate at home. (Poached chicken, roasted beetroot and quinoa salad – if I get it right I’ll share the recipe.) The food is so fresh and delicious. The cafe was not fully up and running while we were there, but it will be shortly and I’m confident, based on the food we had over the weekend, that once the cafe is up and running it’s going to be a massive drawcard.
Now, fabrics and class rooms and coffee is all well and good but for me a truly great quilt shop lives and dies on the back of its staff. I don’t care how fabulous your space is, if you don’t respect how hard I work for my money that I’m choosing to spend with you then I won’t frequent your store again. For me that respect is shown through asking me if I need help, helping me to find what I’m looking for, being pleasant and smiling while you work and going that little extra mile to make sure I leave your store feeling valued. I don’t need free stuff to make me feel valued, I need you to actually enjoy what you’re doing and let that radiate out through our encounter. I need for you to love fabric and quilting as much as I might (well maybe two thirds of how much I love it because let’s face it, I’m kinda obsessed). For me, this is where Amitie won my heart – the staff.
It comes from the top down at Amitie Textiles. Jen, Richard and Lucy all love what they do, love working with people and give of their time freely and their staff reflect this. It was fabulous to spend time in the store and silently observe their customer service. On a number of occasions I saw Jen and Lucy get up from what they were doing to check on customers, help the staff and make sure things were happening as they were supposed to. They’re hands on in their business. It could be so easy for them to hide out the back or in the office and leave it to others, but they’re there making the time. In this day and age of internet shopping it’s this hands off respectful approach to customers and their needs that will keep stores in business. This is the key to competing with the internet; make it all about the people. Both the staff and the customer.
I’m really looking forward to heading back to Amitie Textiles in 2018. I’ll be teaching down there and I’ll be attending more events. If you can get yourself down there I highly recommend dropping in for a coffee, some great cake and fabric fondling.
For me, Denyse Schmidt was my gateway into quilting in a lot of ways. In my early days, when I was growing in confidence and starting to explore what was out there I purchased my first quilt pattern. It was Denyse Schmidt’s Single Girl Quilt. I was looking for inspiration and I bought my first quilt book. It was Denyse Schmidt’s Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration. I started to collect fabrics and one of the first collections I bought a lot of prints from was Denyse Schmidt’s Flea Market Fancy. While my style might be slightly different to the work of Denyse Schmidt (and no, I can’t just call her Denyse, in my head she’s a two name worthy designer) her works and career has influenced my work and career.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Cog + Wheel Quilt Class and the Proverbial Quilt Class. Now this is where I reveal my deep dark secret, I rarely attend a class to make the thing that’s being taught. For me I like to go to classes to learn from the person teaching the class. I want to hear them talk about fabrics, colour, design, inspiration and how they work. I want to see how they teach and how the do their techniques. I have enough WIPs that I rarely want to add another to the pile, so I never went into the classes thinking I would make more than one block from each quilt.
The Cog + Wheel class was interesting because I’d not worked with curves before, but the block went together so quickly (like ridiculously quick) and the discussion about how fabrics change the impact of the block was really valuable. I was happy to have made 2/3’s of one block by the end of class. (I didn’t pack enough background fabric to finish my block). Others in the class powered through and had 2 blocks by the end of the day and I’m looking forward to seeing their finished quilts on social media.
The Proverbial Quilt class was the one that I went into thinking, if I’m going to add another quilt to the WIP list then it’s most likely going to be this one. I’ve been thinking about a text quilt for a couple of year now without a really clear plan on how I’d make it happen. I started the class thinking I’d make one word and turn it into a cushion. Ten minutes into the class I decided it was time to make that quote quilt – shame I hadn’t packed enough supplies to make it happen! But I was lucky enough to find what I needed on Amitie’s shelves and I made a start.
I’m so not comfortable with improv. I’ve always felt that when I’ve done it (except for improvisational fussy cutting for specific projects) that it comes off as forced and looking more like poor patchwork technique then true improv. I listened with intent as Denyse talked about how she worked and shared examples of other quilts made from the Proverbial Quilt pattern. I was hooked. My mind was racing and I saw clearly the quilt I wanted to make. I started making my letters and I was having fun. Right there in the middle of that class I realised just how far I’ve come when it comes to sewing and patchwork. It was so weird.
I put my letters together, formed my first word and put it up on the design wall. I stood back and looked at what I’d done and for the first time in my life I felt like I’d made something that I’d seen on the blogs and social media of the Modern Quilters that I have long adored. It was the most amazing sensation. Right there in that moment I felt like a quilter. I know that I’ve been quilting for at least 6 years now, but I’ve always felt like I was dabbling, I was on the outside of it all. Even in the midst of writing a book about quilting and sewing I still felt like I wasn’t really part of it, but standing there looking at that word I’d made it hit me. I am actually doing this. I’ve grown, I’m changing and I’ve got something to offer. I came home and put that word up on my design wall which I can see from most parts of the house and I look at that word and I feel confident in the future. I have a plan for finishing the quilt (hopefully by the end of 2018) and I’m really excited to see it come together in amongst all the other things.
I also attended the lecture on Saturday night and it was a pure moment of pleasure to hear Denyse speak about her work, her life, her inspiration and her unique path in this world. When the lecture ended it was like I had awoken from a dream, I was so mesmerised by what was being spoken about the rest of the room just disappeared. I’ve only had that happen one other time in my life and it was at a Nick Cave concert. I think I could have happily stayed in my seat listening to Denyse talk about her life for hours more. She comes alive when she talks about the work and where she draws her inspiration from. Her background in graphic design is a heavy hand in her work and it’s the thing that draws me to her style. The juxtaposition of her simple, graphic quilts against the scrappy quilts hanging on the walls was stark, but it was also really beautiful to see the commonality in them all.
The quilts in the Jen Kingwell Design Collective are often referred to as scrappy, but this term robs them of their complexity. The quilts aren’t just a random mix of fabrics pulled from a scrap bucket they’re curated collections of fabrics picked for their harmony, design, print and pattern. The quilts work well because they are considered. The same is applicable for Denyse Schmidt’s quilts, where the JKD quilts are an abundance of print and colour the DS quilts are a very controlled palette. It’s what is missing that gives them their power. I wish I had the words to articulate it fully. To steal a phrase from our holiday to Thailand, they’re “same same, but different”.
I thought about the quilts I’d seen, the information I’d been provided with and what it would mean for my own evolution the entire 9 hours of our drive home. I felt like I’d been provided with a massive lesson and I know that it will impact how I work for years to come. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of hearing people who are passionate about what they do and truly love it talk about their passions. It’s such a rare and special gift and to have been provided with the opportunity to be a part of that is something that I will always cherish.
Disclosure: Amitie Textiles are a sponsor of GnomeAngel.com. All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced by the businesses involved. For further information about my disclosure policy please click here. This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase those items through my links I will earn a very small commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link, in fact in some cases I can offer you a better price via an affiliate link. I will not recommend something that I do not use myself. These commissions help me keep being able to provide you with great content for free. Thank you, in advance for your support!
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