By Catherine Mollica, member
For this project, the Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild design team was gathered together from a handful of volunteer members. We started by thinking about the landscape of our state, and soon turned closer to home. Our inspiration pictures were those that featured as part of the 5000 Poppies Project commemorating the ANZAC campaign centenary 1915-2015, which marked a significant nation-building time for the new federation of Australia and the sacrifice of young men in the trenches of Europe and the Middle East during WWI. During the First World War, red poppies were among the first plants to spring up in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium. In soldiers’ folklore, the vivid red of the poppy came from the blood of their comrades soaking the ground. The sight of poppies on the battlefield at Ypres in 1915 moved Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to write the poem “In Flanders fields.” In English literature of the 19th century, poppies had symbolised sleep or a state of oblivion; in the literature of the First World War, a new, more powerful symbolism was attached to the poppy — the sacrifice of shed blood.
Many a quilter has looked at Federation Square in the heart of our city and wondered how they could recreate its angular features in fabric. We quickly realised that the images from the 5000 Poppies Project presented a unique inspiration: The background of Fed Square (as locals fondly call it) places us wholly in the present; the sea of poppies represents remembrance for heritage, respect for history and a nod to our traditional quilting roots. In addition, the actual sea of crafted poppies was created by a global creative volunteer collaboration.
This translated beautifully to the colour palette chosen for the MQG challenge this year. The grey, cream and black showed the glass, frames and unique shapes of Fed Square, and the yellow and blue represent the reflected sky and neighbouring Flinders Street Station. We asked members to contribute shades of red to allow great variety in the petals of the poppies.
We were inspired by the challenge to improvise with intent, and ran collaborative construction sessions so that we could explore our framework and try to develop the design as a group. At first many of us felt daunted at the task, but once we started to get some shapes on our floor-based ”design wall” we felt excitement at seeing the concept develop. We had “check ins” periodically during each session, to gather round the blocks and see where it was heading, and to discuss what we liked and didn’t like. The discussion and exchange were what moved the quilt forward, and these moments of re-examining and evolving were wonderful! It was exciting to hear everyone’s observations and be open to changing what we had done as we made new discoveries.
Our final quilt reflects input from everyone who worked on it and problem solved when everyone became very aware of the extra time needed to improvise and fit irregular pieces together, rather than following a repeating pattern. We’ve enjoyed the process of developing this quilt together — working outside our comfort zone at times but discovering new ways of working and improvising. We’re very proud of our finished quilt, which will ultimately benefit a local charity in the coming months.