One of the things I'm going to do with this blog is to introduce you to quilting professionals who I admire and respect. The first of these is my friend Raylee Bielenberg of Sunflower Quilting. I first met Raylee five years ago when I moved to Canberra. Whilst still living in Sydney, I put a callout to the online quilting forum we were both part of saying I was moving to Canberra and that I didn't know anyone; could anyone please recommend a church? Raylee replied and invited me to contact her and have a cup of tea when I arrived, and we have remained friends ever since. I have had two of my quilts quilted by her, one of which is pictured below.
I do hope you enjoy meeting Raylee.
1. What’s your earliest memory of sewing/craft?
I remember Mum sewing clothes and she made many of my school uniforms. I would practise spelling with Mum while she sewed, my list of words beside her machine and me on the other side, this was when she told me I needed to spell in capitals rather than the sounds of the letter.
2. When did you start quilting?
My first quilts are made of whatever fabric we had left over from clothes or anything else. Not purely cotton that’s for sure. I used a square cardboard template and traced around with pen, cut out with scissors, no rotary cutters for us. Those quilts are still around today although they are showing their age, the binding was done with satin ribbon like that found on woollen blankets, but I did not do it well and it has frayed a bit.
3. Tell us a bit about you?
My father was in the military so we moved a lot growing up. This has positives and not so positives on my life. I never had the girlhood friendship that went all the way through school, but I have a great relationship with my Mum and I remember wondering how other girls managed without their Mum to talk too. I saw a lot of Australia that I know my peers did not at that age.
Thomas and I married in 1995 and we have four boys, at this stage two in high school and two in primary school. In a few months we’ll be researching colleges for the oldest. Over our marriage we have had a couple of overseas postings, a year in England and two yrs in New Zealand.
Our home is fairly busy between school, work, church and extracurricular activities such as cricket, soccer and Tae Kwon Do.
4. How long have you been in business?
I researched longarm machines for a number of months and then was able to have a look at the A1 Quilting Machine. Thomas is an engineer and also came with me to test it. He was impressed with the construction and the ease of use which also helped with my decision. A longarm is not a small investment so I was thankful for his opinion. My machine was setup in June 2009 and I practiced on some charity quilts and made my first quilt show entry after having the machine for a month. I had my first customer a couple of months later and she is still a client now.
5. Why did you decided to go into business?
Initially Mum and I had purchased a short arm machine but had trouble with the speed. Between my Mum and I we had quite a few unfinished quilts and I wanted to work but still be available for my kids. One of my best memories from my schooldays is coming home to Mum and some afternoon tea, rather than an empty house. So I did a bit of looking and decided there was room for another quilter in Canberra, I’ve never been without a client’s quilt since then. I love seeing what others have created and their colours choices. I do get to make my own quilts still but I also have the pleasure of seeing so many others that I would never have time to create.
6. Do you find it hard working on someone’s quilt for so long and then having to hand it back at the end?
There are different types of quilting and knowing when to use which type is the key. Pantographs (all over patterns) are perfect for many quilts. It is more functional, adding some texture and sometimes adding to the theme but still allowing the fabric and piecing to shine through. When a quilt requires custom quilting designs, yes I spend long hours working on the quilt and also before that in working out the designs and how to make them work well. It’s wonderful that clients trust me with their quilts; I know they’ve spent hours working on them too. Some quilts I would love to keep but I love that I can help complete them and I enjoy them while they are here, then they go home to be enjoyed by the owner or given as a special gift.
7. What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone preparing their quilt to give to a long arm quilter?
There are a number I can think of but one that really ensures a great result is making sure your quilt is square and flat. By square I mean that if it is 60” across the top then it is also 60” across the bottom and the borders are not too tight or too wavy. This will ensure the best result possible.
7. What about someone who says they couldn't possibly quilt their own quilt at home on their domestic machine? Where should they start?
Look at your quilt as a whole and decide how you want to quilt it, and then break it down into sections, just like when you pieced it. Work on a smaller area at a time, make sure you have it stabilised so the layers don’t move. Many award winning quilts have been quilted on a domestic machine. In many ways the same principle applies, whether you have a domestic machine or a longarm – practice is the answer. If you can leave your machine out and practice a little each day you will notice steady improvement. You will better understand the relationship between the machine speed and how fast to move the quilt sandwich to achieve the look you want.
A great way to practice is to make some small quilt sandwiches and use these to try different techniques and then practice, practice, practice. Look at videos on YouTube and Google, there are lots available. Also don’t be worried if yours doesn’t look exactly like the demo, you have your own style which will develop as you do more.
8. What project of your own are you currently working on?
I have a few long term projects and have just finished some smaller ones. I was part of a swap making mug rugs, which is just a little quilt really. For a significant birthday I was given some fabric to make a quilt and I am slowly making progress on this. It’s an interesting arrangement of the Drunkard’s Path block and I am making it in reds and white. I am also helping my 8-year-old to make his first quilt using a Layer Cake of pirate fabric.
9. Where can we find you? (FB, Instagram etc)
Yes I am making the most of technology and learning as I go. Quilting is very visual and so pictures are a wonderful tool to share with others.
Pinterest: Sunflower Quilting & Sunflower Stitcheries