How do you display 1,000+ quilts in just two moderate sized church halls? It was the challenge faced this weekend by the Springwood Salvation Army Quilters and their inspirational co-ordinator Tracey Greenaway.
After last October's devastating fires burnt out huge areas of the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and destroyed hundreds of homes, Tracey sent out an Australia-wide request for quilts for those who had lost everything. She dreamt of having 400 quilts by March, enough to give every schoolchild whose family home had burnt down a quilt of his or her own.
This is just the kind of project we love at St Mark's Quilters, so before you could say "disappearing nine-patch" we had rummaged in our stashes, whipped out our rotary cutters, and joined with dozens of other quilting groups and individual quilters to help make this dream a reality. Regular readers will recall that Di B and I delivered our group quilts to Tracey in January.
Today's display was the culmination of 5 months of frenzied activity, with the final total a whopping 1,020 and more finished quilts still arriving this morning!
So how did they display all these quilts? They were hung from the walls, inside and out, and from nets down the centre, and they were folded and draped over rows and rows of chairs, tables and racks. Every single quilt was displayed somehow.
Di B and I kept our promise, made to Tracey back in January, that we'd be there for the final display, and this time Gillian came, as well as Di's mother Margaret. We were pretty excited to see one of Gillian's quilts hanging outside the hall as we arrived.
The range of quilt styles was breathtaking. From country-style to Baltimore, traditional and elegant to modern and bright, pastel and feminine to strong masculine colours, there is something for every taste.
A steady stream of visitors admired this amazing result, and I went quite snap-happy with my camera. What a feast of colour!
At one point I was even photographed myself!
There was a huge table of cosy, snuggly knitted rugs too.
And another of crocheted rugs.
Every patchwork quilt and rug had a blank tag attached, and the plan is that tomorrow the display will be closed to the general public so that the local residents can go along, choose quilts of their own, and write their names on these tags.
In case they think a quilt is just a bed covering, there's a list of other uses including as a tablecloth, a picnic rug, a play mat or a cubby.
There was even a table piled high with sewing bags stuffed with basic sewing supplies, for those quilters and crafters who lost everything. Nearby were baskets of pretty buttons, rolls of ribbons and zippers for them to take and replenish their supplies. How thoughtful.
Everyone, it seemed, wanted to speak to Tracey, the livewire organizer at the centre of this mammoth task, so we were delighted when she took time out to come and sit with us. While her husband Ryan kindly fetched our lunches Tracey told us a little about the journey.
"I was surprised to learn that lots of quilting groups have a little supply of quilts standing by ready for an emergency like this one", she said. "The very first quilts that arrived were sent by one of these groups, in Western Australia."
These quilts came from furthest away, but the greatest distance quilts were driven for delivery was from Toowoomba in Queensland.
A team of around thirty quilters met at the Springwood Salvation Army headquarters every Wednesday evening and Thursday morning to sandwich, quilt and bind the many unfinished quilt tops donated, and many quilters who couldn't send quilts instead sent generous financial donations to cover expenses like battings. Lots of other quilters made the trip up the mountains to work alongside Tracey's group on Thursday mornings too.
"Tomorrow could be quite an emotional day", said Tracey. "We anticipate that some people are going to be overcome when they see all the quilts. There could be particular quilts that bring back sad memories and remind them of what they've lost. But at the same time it will be a happy time as they choose quilts to use in their new homes. I know one lady who has her colour scheme all planned and knows just the kind of quilt she would like."
The response has been so overwhelming that now every member of each family who lost their home will be allowed to choose a quilt.
Rebuilding has already begun, and with several new homes rising from the ashes the hopes of the Springwood Winmalee community are brightening.
What a blessing compassionate people like Tracey and her team are. I pray that the quilts we saw today will help bring comfort and happiness to their new owners in their "Home Sweet Home".