There is a magical outdoor quilt show that peacefully descends upon a small Pacific Northwest town, about 30 minutes North of Bend, OR every Summer. We look forward to following along year after year, eagerly scrolling Instagram accounts, soaking up the beauty of the artfully hung outdoor quilts, absorbing stories of classes, artist talks, and get togethers between long-distance friends.
From what we hear we hear, it’s clear that the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show is every bit as inspiring and gratifying as we’d expect it to be. Perhaps next year, we can pack ourselves into the carefully packed boxes holding class threads and call ourselves quilty stowaways;). Until then, we’ll rely upon the words of our beloved Aurifil Designers like Sarah Fielke, who makes the journey from her home in NSW Australia all the way to Sisters every year. Sarah was the Featured Artist for 2023, sharing an epic quilt show of her own after the close of the regular Sisters event. She is here today to share some of her experience, talk about her quilts, and tell us what she has coming up next.
Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today. We spotted some of your posts details your experience at the Sisters Quilt Show out in OR and just had to hear more! Before we dive in, however, could you give us a quick introduction to you– how you got started in this creative business and a little about what drives you forward?
I’ve been sewing since I was very tiny! My mum was a quilter and she also made all my clothes, knitted, did tapestry and embroidery and pretty much any kind of stitching you can think of. She taught me to sew very early on and I’ve been sewing ever since. I never considered it would become a career but it crept up quietly from behind and before I knew what was happening I was a teacher and owned a store… crafting does that to you!
I love what I do. If no one ever bought another quilt pattern from me I would still make my quilts exactly the same way as I do them now. I’m always four designs ahead of what I have time to stitch! I’m driven only by my own joy in creating, and that’s why I still love it after all these years I guess.
You are somewhat of a regular at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, which is no small thing considering that you travel from your home in Australia to attend. What makes this show so special and why is it so important for you to attend year after year?
I LOVE Sisters. Not only is the show itself such a spectacle – a thousand quilts hanging outdoors in a tiny town in the Oregon mountains – but it’s so beautifully organized and it has such a wonderful community spirit. The week of classes before the show itself, which is called Quilters Affair, is held in the Sisters High School. The kids are involved, helping to carry sewing machines from your car to your classroom, and guiding you around the campus. All the shops in town have quilts hanging on them – there are even quilts at the airport when you land in Redmond. I spend a week with the happiest, friendliest students and it’s just all such fun. I can’t recommend it enough.
In fact, I have retired this year from international teaching – I won’t be teaching outside Australia any more. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and truth be told, although I love the classes themselves I really really hate travelling by myself. However I WILL travel to teach at Sisters, as long as I’m invited! So if you want to take a class with me in the USA, you’ll need to pay Quilters Affair a visit.
What were your favorite bits of the Quilt Show this year?
I always love seeing the quilts going up on the side of The Stitchin’ Post – that’s always my favourite bit. The first quilts of the show are hung by the fire brigade on the side of the quilt store, at 7am. If you’re in the know about the show, you’re there at 7am with a cup of coffee to watch!I love the whole atmosphere of the day, but my other favourite thing is always the Teacher’s Pavillion. Meeting and getting to know the other tutors is a highlight of the week, so being able to see all of our work hung together in one place, and seeing the talents everyone else brings to the show is the icing on that.
The very, very best thing about going to Sisters for me personally is that so many wonderful friends are there, and its the only place I get to spend time with some of them. It’s the biggest treat in my working year to spend the week rooming with one of my besties, and hanging out with people I love and respect. I look forward to the next show the moment the current one is over.
We noticed that you were the featured quilter at this year’s show. Can you tell us a little more about how this works and what the experience was like for you?
After the week of classes and the show itself on Saturday, there’s an event at Five Pines which is a little out of town on Sunday. The venue itself is truly lovely, a walk along a creek through the woods with wildflowers blooming and chipmunks everywhere. Each year a different quilter is featured. You can go along and just see the quilts ithout booking, but there is a lecture by the featured quilter you can book for in the conference centre, and also two guided tours through the quilts led by the quilter themselves.
I’ve seen a few other quilter’s displays and its so special, and such an honor to be singled out for the exhibition. It was amazing for me to see all my quilts hung together in that setting, and such fun to walk through them and tell the people on my tours their stories.
How many of your quilts were on display?
I had 38 quilts hanging throughout the forest, and a couple inside. It was quite a logistical juggle getting them all to the US and back again but we managed!
We’d love for you to share some of those images and tell us a bit more about each included quilt.
The quilts I showed were across a long period in my quilting career – one was even from Material Obsession, which was published in 2006. Some of my very favourite quilts I’ve ever made were there, including some of my Block of the Month quilts.
This quilt on the left is Coming Home… and the one on the right is Down the Rabbit Hole.
Both are from my previous Block of the Month programs, 2017 and 2019 respectively. They were the two quilts I knew I couldn’t leave out of the show, because people seem to love them the most! Down the Rabbit Hole was inspired by the book Watership Down, one of my favourites as a kid. The rabbit hole is in the centre of the field where the rabbits live, and thats the village in the book surrounding it.
The three pretties in this pic are all from different places and times in my career! Maple Leaf Rag is almost the oldest quilt in the show, having been made in 2006. It was inspired by a piece of music, as my quilts often are – Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin. The piano in the piece has two very distinct parts – one goes around and around, and the other jangles underneath. And thats the quilt. 🙂 You can listen to the music HERE to see what I mean. The other two quilts in the photo are called 32 is a Bushel and Plantings.
These two quilts are called Windswept and A Fair Question, they are both explorations in using text for quilting. Windswept uses appliqued lettering while A Fair Question is improv pieced. Windswept is my own quote, but A Fair Question is made using a quote from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. You can’t see the backing fabric here, but it’s printed with the names of all the characters in the book, and the label has Mr Darcy’s shadow profile drawn on it.
L: Growing Wild, The Improv Army, Homeward Bound, A Little Wilderness | R: Made to Measure and Coming Home
L: Hop, Skip and a Jump, The Burbs, All That and the Hatter, The Night Garden, Lady Marmalade, Made to Measure, Coming Home | R: Centenary, Mosaic
Hop, Skip and a Jump (below, left) was made for a friend’s book, but it’s just the sort of thing I like to play with in my studio at home. Things I do when I’m not quilting for work. I had so many people ask about it at the show though, that I’m going to teach a class in it next year. It’s always interesting to me what spark people’s interest sometimes! I nearly didn’t bring this quilt to hang because I didn’t feel it was “Sarah Fielke” enough. 🙂
This quilt (above, right) was inspired by those beautiful little Italian glass paper weights with flowers inside. The flowers are called Millefiori, and so is the quilt – a thousand flowers. There aren’t a thousand in this quilt but I think it gives the flavour. One day I’ll make one with tiny pieces and see if I can get a thousand in there…. One day!!
In other news – we love your newly launched pattern, Tiny Town! Where can readers find and why will they love it?
I hope they love it! Tiny Town is available at my website and also select quilt shops. It’s available as a PDF download or a hard copy pattern, and there is also an optional template and papers set that goes with it.
The little houses are English Paper Pieced together and the trees, dog, and bicycle are appliqued. If you haven’t ever tried EPP it’s a REALLY easy one to begin with – just one seam to join the houses and then they are stitched down to the background along the top edges. It’s a great quilt for using up your precious little bits, because you can feature them in the houses.
The pattern is for a cot sized quilt, but there are instructions for making the quilt larger at the end. I had so much fun making the little one that I’ve started a Queen sized one now! I actually taught this quilt for the first time at Sisters and it was such a fun class, a little hand stitching and lots of fun playing with fabrics.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of this year?
Oooooh I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. 😉 I have some really exciting things coming up! TWO new programs for 2024, one that will be announced on October 15 and the other at Houston Quilt Market at the end of October. I am SO excited to reveal them both, I hope people are going to be as excited as I am.
I have a new pattern coming in the next few weeks too – for a lovely quilt called Courting that I made for our bed. My poor long suffering hubby, he realized a long time ago that his bedcovers would be pink! I don’t have a professional pic of it yet but here is one of it hanging in the lecture hall at the Sisters show!
I have some new online classes coming up and some other new patterns in the works for 2024. The other thing that’s coming later this year is my annual Christmas Ornament Swap. This will be the fourth year I’ve run it and I really look forward to it. It’s a lovely, positive swap for the holiday. Details are usually released in early October so that people have time to make and post an ornament to their partner. People can find out about everything by signing up to the newsletter at my website, www.sarahfielke.com, or by following me on Instagram @sfielke or Facebook, /sarahfielkequilts. Stay tuned really, I’m always planning something.
- Down the Rabbit Hole, Coming Home, Growing Wild, A Little Wilderness, and Simple Folk are all previous Block of the Month programs. They are available in pattern book format and come with access to full video instruction.
- The Burbs is from Sarah’s book, Material Obsession which is out of print. The pattern will be released as a single pattern in early 2024.
- Maple Leaf Rag is from Sarah’s book, Material Obsession Two.
- The Night Garden is from Sarah’s book, Quilting: From Little Things. Made to Measure, All That and the Hatter and Lady Marmalade are from Sarah’s book, Quilted with Love.
- Plantings, Centenary, and Mosaic are from Sarah’s book, Old Quilts New Life.
- Wind Swept and A Fair Question are both from Sarah’s book, Stitch Your Story, which contains 6 full alphabets and is all about using text in your quilts.
- 32 is a Bushel is a PDF download pattern from Sarah’s website.
- The Improv Army is an on demand video class available from Sarah’s website.
- Homeward Bound is the 2023 Block of the Month program for The Quilt Show. You can join the BOM at www.thequiltshow.com
- Hop, Skip and a Jump is an upcoming class, and is not currently available as a pattern.
Sarah is available for online lectures and classes, including a slide trunk show about her quilting inspirations, featuring many of the quilts shown here. Contact email@example.com for prices and availability. All patterns, pattern books, corresponding template sets, tools for applique and hand quilting and Sarah’s hand quilting and applique Aurifil thread collections are available from www.sarahfielke.com.