The Shamrock Quilters

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During September 1986 the Committee at the Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau – then situated in Smith Street Collingwood – was endeavouring to generate some input and support. Its members were in short supply and so were funds, with virtually no working capital.

Pat Ryan, the then secretary, came up with the suggestion of forming a support group for migrant Irish women, where they could meet once a week for tea/coffee and a chat. The previous March, Margaret Devlin had included a couple of here quilts in the lace exhibition at Gaelic Park. Interest was shown by some of the women so Margaret suggested maybe they could start a patchwork class. The idea expanded on and Pat offered her services teaching crochet. We became so enthused with the idea, we decided to meet the next Tuesday evening at 7.30pm.

The five founding members present that evening were, Pat Ryan, Pat & Mary Cushnahan, Phillis McGrath and Margaret Devlin.

Pat brought in her crochet books and cottons, Margaret her scraps, sewing machine and cutting tools. Word spreads quickly in the Irish Community. The next week new members, Ellie Howe, Myrtle Burke, Evelyn McDonough and Mary Kearns joined us.                                                                                             

At this time any sort of material was acceptable, we’d “ooh and aah” over scraps. Thick, thin, cotton, polyester, even the off bit of shiny satin was sewn in, we were not fussy. We didn’t know any better, as long as there was plenty of colour we were happy.

The strip quilts we churned out were a very simple art form. Some of us did try to co-ordinate our colours and mitre our corners, others just wanted the finished product adorning their beds.

Loose threads and puckers were of no consequence, there are even quilts out there with pins sewn into the batting, never again to see the light of day.

We improved quickly, two months down the track produced our first quilt which was raffled for funds to tide the Bureau over our Christmas break. The amount raised was $600, a fair amount in 1986, and at the time a financial lifesaver for the Bureau.

Some of our early members attending patchwork workshops, returning to share their new found skills.

In 1989 we made our first quilt for presentation. It was an Irish chain design presented to Ambassador James Sharkey and his wife. Quilts were also made as gifts for Ambassador Martin Burke and Mrs Burke (who were interested and supportive of the patchworkers) Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.

Our work was displayed at Gaelic Park Keysborough on National Day. Our first display was March 1987. We worked from the crack of dawn, hanging quilts and setting up our work.

Thanks must go to those husbands who over the years helped us out no end. Without their help we could not have achieved so much.

We often look back and cringe at our colour combinations. Green, yellow- orange- brown etc. At this time we thought they were lovely.

Two of our early members have passed on, both were wonderful contributors and talented needle women – Deirdre O’Malley and Aileen Pearse. Aileen was excellent with hand sewn hexagons and of course her wonderful cooking, especially her apple tarts.

Deirdre had not previously attempted patchwork but with her talents she was soon producing very professional work. We have Deirdre to thank for the lovely wall hanging, which is currently hanging on the Bureau wall.

In 1996 we celebrated our 10th birthday with a dinner at the Bureau in Gertrude Street. A great night was had by all. Members of the quilters (on the quiet) had made and Irish Chain quilt in blue and cream to present to Margaret Devlin. This was our last night at Gertrude Street before the shift to our new premises.

To accommodate patchworkers unable to come in the evening a daytime class was commenced. It is held the first Wednesday of the month between the hours of 10am and 3pm. Please come along and join us we would love to see you.

From humble beginnings the patchworkers have gone from strength to strength. Enjoying exposure of our work at exhibitions in the Northcote Town Hall, Cathedral Hall, Council of Adult Education, Gaelic Park and S Patrick’s Day floats.

Over the past years we have contributed in many ways to the upkeep of the Bureau, through the running of the refreshment stall in the gardens on St Patrick’s Day and supplying quilts for raffles etc.

We, the Shamrock Quilters, look forward to continuing our work and welcome new members.