Australian quilter travels Manitoulin to experience the Manitoulin Circle Project

Jane and Peter Milne stand in front of ‘Layers of Time,’ one of the four panels at the Little Current United Church that were created during the Manitoulin Circle Project led by Judy Martin. Ms. Milne and her husband Peter travelled from their home in Australia to view the collection. photos by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—Australian quilter Jane Milne has been following the Manitoulin Circle Project since its inception several years ago and made the 7,248 km journey to Manitoulin to see the completed collection in person last week.

“I learned about the project from a link in a blog I follow,” explained Ms. Milne. “I really like reclaimed textiles and I have been following the project for years so I made the three-plane trip and 1,000 km drive to Manitoulin to see it. My husband peter wanted to go to New Orleans and I said I would only come if we could come here to see it (the quilt collection).”

In her community in western Victoria, Ms. Milne has been a part of two community quilting projects—a Korean war quilt and the second, a quilt of the townscape.

“I’ve been sewing since I was eight,” shared Ms. Milne. “My sister taught me. In 1975 I started quilting after I won a quilt in a raffle while on an exchange in the Catskills (Mountains) in New York. The quilt got me interested, and I actually still have it to this day.”

Julia McCutcheon of Little Current, who was an active participant in the Manitoulin Circle Project, met the Milnes during their visit to the Little Current United Church where the collection is on permanent display. She showed Ms. Milne the quilts and shared memories from the creation of the pieces.

“They are even better in person than on the computer screen,” said Ms. Milne. “I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Seeing them in person allowed me to see how sculptural they are and the way the light hits them.”

The four-year Manitoulin Circle Project was born out of an assignment by Manitoulin fibre artist Judy Martin through the Julia Capara School and a course she was taking on Liturgical embroidery.

Though the original assignment was simply the planning and consultation on a project, which Ms. Martin did with the former reverend of the Little Current United Church Faye Stevens, Ms. Stevens and members of the congregation became so passionate about the project that Ms. Martin decided to take the project on, thus the Manitoulin Community Circle Project was born.

Over the four years, a total of 140 women met at the church Thursday afternoons to work on the project. The result was a collection of four large panels—‘Layers of Time,’ ‘Mended World,’ ‘Precious Water’ and ‘Earth Ark.’

After they viewed the panels, Ms. Milne and her husband visited Ms. Martin at her Sheguiandah home.

“It blew me away when I got her (Ms. Milne’s) letter saying that she was coming,” Ms. Martin told The Expositor, “but she did and they were a very nice couple.”

The two will be reconnecting again next year when Ms. Martin travels to Australia to teach a fiber arts class, with Ms. Milne already having registered to take the workshop.

“I was invited to teach a workshop at Fibre Arts Australia, one in Ballarat and one in Gippsland,” said Ms. Martin. “I will also be teaching at Fibre Arts New Zealand and will be spending April 2017 between the two countries.”

The workshop that Ms. Martin will be teaching is called ‘Y-O-U and Hand Stitch.’

“Over centuries and across cultures, cloth and thread have been used for shelter, protection, ritual, politics, identity, warmth, spiritual enlightenment, storytelling, decoration and daily life,” states the course description. “The potential for re-invention and subversion is boundless.  This workshop is not a design workshop.  Instead it offers guidance towards a sensitive yet conceptual approach to found, saved, gifted or newly purchased cloth and threads.  Through close observation and hands on exploration of materials and techniques, ideas for poetic art become evident. This is an idea workshop. Textiles have power and beauty when they can be understood on several levels. Hand embroidery allows Y-O-U to make art that is conceptual and real.”

“Other tutors that are going to Austrialia and New Zealand that I am looking forward to meeting are Donna Watson, Caroline Barlett and Claire Wellesley Smith,” said Ms. Martin.

To view the Manitoulin Community Circle Project panels attend a Little Current United Church service on Sundays at 10 am, or come directly following the service at 11 am.