Sunday, December 09, 2007

Patchwork Shopping Down Under

I belong to a couple of overseas patchwork internet lists and, every once in a while, someone posts that they (or a friend) are coming to Australia or New Zealand and want to find out about patchwork shopping. I have some small experience with fabric shopping in both Australia and New Zealand, so here's what I have found.

What to Buy
  • Aboriginal-inspired or -designed fabrics in Australia
  • Maori or Pacific Island designs in New Zealand
  • Hand-dyed fabrics
  • Hand-dyed wool or silk tops
  • Wool for knitting (although I prefer it in jumper-form myself)
  • Charms of native flora or fauna
  • Greenstone earrings from New Zealand make excellent quilt embellishments
  • Wooden buttons, crochet hooks and knitting needles from native timbers
The Fabrics
There is something you should know about Aboriginal-inspired or -designed fabrics. The colour palette and scale of these fabrics can be a bit different from what you are used to wherever you came here from. Try to keep an open mind. They grow on you and can make even the most average quilt just sizzle with excitement.

Fabric shopping in New Zealand can be different again, but while we have Aboriginal-inspired fabrics or ones with wallabies and waratahs on them, theirs have Maori-inspired fabrics and kiwis and silver ferns and pohutukawas on them. I know, because I've walked out of shops there with armfuls of the stuff. And it has pride of place in my stash and are simply too precious to cut into.

Hand-dyed and painted fabrics will be different again, partly because we are inspired by the natural environment around us and this place is different than just about anywhere else. And New Zealand is different yet again, in terms of the landscape, flora and fauna that is found there.

The Shopping
One thing to remember about Australia is that we have the population of Los Angeles proper and the country is about the size of the continental US. So we do pay more per metre for fabric than you would in the US per yard ... fewer shoppers, higher transport and petrol costs, wages for shop workers are higher than in the US, different tax structure and lots of other reasons that it costs more. Or maybe costs in the US are artificially low ...

And our shops are usually much smaller than in the US and have a much more limited selection, partly due to the price of fabric and partly because some distributors don't make all lines or all fabrics within a line available to shops here. One of my favourite fabric shops is actually in the converted garage behind the owner's house smack dab in the middle of a residential area. So if you are used to Wal-Mart style shopping, you will have to shift gears a bit.

Think of fabric shopping in Australia as more of a treasure hunt. You will find fabrics here that you simply won't see anywhere else. But you are going to have to work to find those treasures ... they won't just fall into your lap or jump out at you. And as your reward, you will prize each one that you find. And none of your friends will have it or anything close to it unless they are shadow shopping you.

Good Sources of Information
  • Southern Cross Quilters (SCQuilters) is an internet group for Australian and New Zealand quilters and they have a site of shop info that I use when I travel.
  • Every country has its own yellow pages. For Australia, it's at For New Zealand, check out Try searching for patchwork, quilting, sewing, needlework, embroidery, craft, art supplies or anything along these lines. It can be expensive to advertise in a lot of categories so a bit of lateral thinking will come in handy.
  • Most shops will have a link to where they are and can give directions if you call them. For Sydney, I use to find out exactly where they are (which works for the entire country I'm guessing) but I don't know what the equivalent for New Zealand would be.
Major Quilt Shows
This is, of course, subject to change, but, in 2007 in Australia, this is when the big quilt shows were held in the various capital cities:
And for New Zealand:
My Personal Favourites for Shopping
Here are the places that I shop in Sydney. No brown bags have changed hands ... just speaking as a satisfied customer.
  • Dyed and Gone to Heaven is worth checking out if you love hand-dyed and hand-painted fabrics or beads. I have done exhaustive research into Lisa's stock over the years and have been a very satisfied customer.
  • Logan's Patchwork is in Balmain. I often take my American friends and family shopping there and they usually walk out with armloads of Australian fabrics.
  • Material Obsession in Hunters Hill has lots of fresh and exciting fabrics.
  • Buttons, Buttons, Buttons in Nurses Walk in The Rocks has the most amazing collection of buttons, especially antique and period buttons. I love this shop.
  • Tapestry Craft on York Street. They have some wonderful Australian needlework and embroidery kits as well as threads, beads and knitting yarn.
  • The Bead Bar in The Rocks, is small but packed full of beading treasures waiting to be discovered.
  • Virginia Farm Woolworks is a great place to find a wide range of dyed wool and silk tops, mainly catering for spinners and weavers.
  • The Thread Studio. OK, this one is in Perth, way on the other side of the continent, but let's not quibble. I've shopped here via the internet for a couple of years and Dale has the best stuff for art quilters that normal patchwork shops usually don't carry.
And my favourites in New Zealand:
For those of you who were wondering:
  • Wallabies are a species of small kangaroo and the name of the Australian national rugby team
  • Waratahs are a native Australia flower and the state flower of New South Wales (and the name of the NSW rugby team)
  • Kiwis are small nocturnal birds in New Zealand, one of the few flightless birds in the world which makes them vulnerable to feral cats and other introduced species. It is also someone from New Zealand
  • Pohutukawa is the New Zealand Christmas tree
  • Silver tree fern is a native New Zealand plant and the symbol for the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team
  • Wool is another name for knitting yarn
  • Jumper is another name for a sweater
  • Wool tops, also known as wool roving, are wool fibres that have been cleaned and dyed but not yet spun
Update 10 December 2007: Just for fun, I've also posted information about patchwork shopping in Fiji.

Update 6 October 2008: I added the links to Jennifer Pudney's site. Can't believe I left it off the first time.


Alison Schwabe said...

Very good comments and well put together - I am bookmarking this one for future inquiries - I probably get several per year, too. I think you should amend your comment about the kiwi - it's main claim to fame is that it is one of the few flightless birds of the world, which of course has made it hugely vulnerable to feral cats and other introduced species.

MG Quilts said...

Very good suggestion, Alison. I've already made the change.

Jan Bode Smiley said...

Thanks so much for putting all this info together! I have an Aust/NZ trip I'm planning for May and will definitely use this info.

Jan Bode Smiley