The artform of quilting

Quilters immersed in their product: Helen Purllant and Helen Manning. Photo: John Borren.

Their handiwork is in bassinets at Tauranga Hospital’s neonatal unit.

They offer warmth, comfort and colour to the babies struggling at the beginning of life.

You’ll also see them on the beds at the Awhina House women’s shelter and Takitimu House men’s night shelter – bringing a little homeliness to the homeless. And a dying man chose one for a shroud rather than a coffin as he neared his end.

They’re quilts – the creation of about 65 members of the Tauranga Patchwork and Quilters Group.

“They’re comforting,” says 43-year-quilter Helen Purllant. “They’re something very personal. They’re also a very individual artwork.

“Each quilt is based on the maker’s personal experiences, imagery, colour preferences and ideas rather than just traditional patterns.”

Helen prefers her subtle, earthy tones. And the other Helen, Helen Manning, likes her bright colours.

Quilts – those multi-layered textiles – traditionally two or more layers of fabric with a filler material. Originating in the 15th Century in Sweden, quilts were made from silk, wool and felt and were designed to be both decorative and functional.

So nothing’s really changed in the intervening centuries, except that quilting enjoys immense popularity with more than 21 million quilters worldwide.

And there’s a hard core group here in Tauranga.

Twice-a-week, more than 60 members of the Tauranga Patchwork and Quilters Group meet at the Elizabeth St Community and Arts Centre. Some patchworking, some quilting, and lots and lots of camaraderie.

Statistics tell us the average quilter is 65 years old, has been quilting for 10 years and spends at least six hours weekly at their craft.

The USA is still the home of quilting – that’s why quilters the world over still work in Imperial feet, inches and yards. But there’s a crossover.

“So we end up with three or four metres of yardage,” jokes relative newcomer Helen Manning.

She’s only been quilting for six or seven years.

“At first I couldn’t be bothered. Too fiddley. But chopping up stuff and sewing it together is therapeutic.”

That ‘stuff’ is pure cotton fabrics, which can cost the thick end of $30 per metre...of yardage.

And there’s lots of yardage.

“It’s hoarding,” says Helen Purllant.

“Cupboards full of collected material that maybe one day will be used for patchworking and quilting. We call it a stash.”

“You go to a show, or a fabric shop, something stands out and you think: ‘Gotta have that’,” says Helen Manning.

The annual International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas, attracts 55,000 devotees from 35 countries, 1000 vendor stalls and more than 1600 quilts. It’s big business.

Even here In Tauranga, the group’s quilt shows attract more than 600 people during a few days.

It’s an artform, a hobby that’s endured and flourished. Email Tauranga Patchworkers and Quilters Group at: Or phone 0274177581.

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