Thursday, December 3, 2009

Travels Down Under and Around the UK with Vikki Pignatelli

Vikki Pignatelli, founder of the Sacred Threads Quilt Exhibit, is also the Crazy about Curves lady who introduced her innovative easy, frustration-free way of sewing curves. Now she brings a delightful new element to quilting and teaching -- travel.

More and more fabric loving teachers are finding ways to visit  horizons on various continents, but in today's blog, Vikki lets us travel vicariously through her. She shares her experiences and provides inspirations from various cultures. Her enthusiasm and joy in her experience are contagious. Note the photo of Vikki posed in front of a Maori carving in New Zealand.

Please give a warm welcome to Vikki Pignatelli! -- Dawn

2009 has been such an exciting year for me as a teacher and a person.

My husband, Denny, and I traveled down under to New Zealand and Australia this spring. I taught a month in New Zealand and a month in Australia for a total of 22 classes. This autumn I taught for a month in glorious Ireland and a week in England and we also had the opportunity to explore Edinburgh, Scotland. On top of all these wonderful experiences, we are grandparents again for the first time in 16 years…a very long dry spell! Danny and Allison, our son and daughter-in-law, gave us a beautiful new grandson in August, Miles Parker.

During my international travels I’ve come to the conclusion that quilters in particular and people in general are the same everywhere. The workshop interests of the international quilters are identical as those who reside here. They are excited by new gadgets, thread and fabric. During my travels in NZ, Australia, Ireland and England they requested the same classes…my basic curves technique (using a pattern), improvisation, fabric manipulations and color/design. (Photo of Vikki's class in Pukekohe in NZ.)

It was a dream come true to visit New Zealand and Australia. I was initially invited to teach at the Symposium that was held in Wellington. The Symposium led to invitations from guilds, asking me  to teach in Pukekohe (close to Auckland), Hokitika (on the Tasman Sea), and Levin. We absolutely loved New Zealand and both agree it is at the top of our favorite places on earth! The quilters are awesome, the people are awesome, and the scenery is incredibly awesome. I know that “awesome” is an overused word these days, but there just simply is no other word to describe it. (Photo of Maori motifs on picket fence.)

We arrived there about 10 days early so we could tour some of this magnificent country. We went to Rotorua, which is a town full of thermal activity…geysers and steam vents abound. It’s not unusual to see steam coming from people’s yards. It is also a town with a concentrated population of Maori people. Originally coming from Polynesia, the Maori were the first inhabitants of New Zealand. We also attend a hangi…a Maori banquet. Originally a hangi was banquet cooked underground sealed and covered over with earth, but because of health laws it still a bountiful feast, but now cooked in conventional ovens and on stoves. We brought back a beautiful Maori carved wooden mask and a souvenir of our trip. (Photo of Vikki and Denny discovering Maori heritage.)

We also went to Queenstown…where, by the way, the next NZ Symposium will be held in 2011. The Queenstown area is mountainous and is where the scenery from the movie Lord of the Rings was filmed. From Queenstown we went to Te Anau, the start off point for the fjord tours. This area at the bottom of the sound island of NZ is pretty remote with few people and mostly sheep.

Many times we felt we were truly at the end of the earth! From Te Anau we boarded an overnight “cruise” of Doubtful Sound …but not before we had to cross a huge lake and then board a bus taking us over a steep mountain pass to take us to the boat on the sound. (Photo of moody Doubtful Sound, NZ.)

The engineers and builders used this old road during the time the power plant was in construction and it is the only road in the entire area. As there are no residents in this remote area, the only thing it’s used for is to transport tourists to/from the Doubtful Sound tour. Over the mountain pass you’ll see a forest made up of trees and fern trees…literally a tree with branches shaped like a palm tree, but with huge fern fronds instead.

Anyone who is familiar with my work knows I am enamored with trees and THIS tree was incredibly fascinating. The trees in this temperate rain forest are enshrouded with moss/lichens and other plants, giving the whole forest a “haunted by trolls and elves look”. I expected a little troll to pop out in front of the bus at any time! The sheer beauty and stillness of Doubtful Sound is a testament to the divinity that resides there. We experienced a sense of awe….in the fjords the people on the boat were silent because they were spellbound by the beauty. I must say that this tour of this wonderful place was one of the top joyful moments of my life.

In Australia I taught in Sydney, Eaton Hill near Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Doncaster near Melbourne. Wow!! We saw the Opera House and harbor bridge in Sydney. We explored Brisbane for 4 days, walking until our feet were stubs and taking their river taxis all over the place. We both agree Brisbane is one of our favorite cities we’ve ever been to! Melbourne has a terrific marketplace that goes on forever…many, many blocks and took all day to explore. Every imaginable fruit, vegetable or any other food is available…everything and anything you could want was there. I was amazed at the number of fruits and vegetables that I’ve never seen before! On the Gold Coast, we saw and explored sub-tropical rain forests and banana plantations.

While in the rainforest, imagine Denny’s horror when he looked down to find a large splotchy blood stain on his sock…seems that a leech had found his leg and had a feast at his expense….a scene reminiscent of the African Queen movie. The leech had dropped off and was inching away from him on the floor. Leeches are common in the rainforest, especially after the flooding that had happened just before our arrival.

While in Ireland I taught in Donegal, Belfast, Ballyjamesduff in Co Cavan, Dublin and Galway…. In England I taught in Durham. Ireland was just as I imagined …green, lush countryside and friendly people who will go out of their way for you. Again the quilters were magnificent! (Photo: My class in Durham, England.)

Being in the classroom there is identical to being in class in the States....with ONE exception….come 10 AM and 3PM, no matter what, the students would break for tea. As an American and not knowing this custom, I would be talking, giving my demos and many just got up and left, leaving me talking to empty chairs and wondering what happened to my class It didn’t take me long to get into their groove and look forward to teatime. Teatime happened in all FOUR countries….probably a good idea here too now that I think about it!

I was able to see and do a lot of sightseeing during my month there. The most amazing thing for me was the old ruins—abbeys and churches that dated back to 400 AD. (See photo.)

In the USA, 200 years is old. But when you see these ruins that are 1600 years old it boggles the mind---You think about how many souls that have lived and walked on that ground before you and you wonder who they were…and what they were like as persons and how they lived during that era.

We had the opportunity to visit New Grange, tombs which are older that the Pyramids in Egypt. The people living there 5000 years ago built this in such a way that once a year on the winter solstice at sunrise the rays of the sun would enter a slit built into the hillside (where the tombs were) and flood the floor of the chamber with light…just for a short time.
The theory is that the ancient people thought that this was the only time the spirits of their dead could rise from the earth to the heavens…during this short interval of sunlight at the winter solstice. This is the only time during the year this phenomena happens in the tomb chamber….This idea is very similar to the customs of the ancient Indians in the Americas. It is strong evidence to show we are all connected in Spirit through the ages, place and time.

There were multiple carvings on the rocks in the tomb… among them the symbols of the spiral…symbolizing eternity…and the fern, which is the universal symbol for new life. (See photo above of New Grange with symbols on the rock.)
Coincidently, the fern is the symbol for New Zealand as well and is everywhere in their culture. (See photo for examples of New Zealand fabric.)

I found that students no matter where they reside are enthusiastic, excited to learn and eager to share everything…fabric, information and knowledge. (See samples of Aussie fabric pictured here.) In the same way quilters everywhere also share the same insecurities about their work, color choices and designs as well. We all share a common bond and I believe that is because our inspirations and creativity comes from a common Source.

One thing that I didn’t expect in Ireland…there are very, very FEW stand-alone quilt shops. Most Irish quilt shops are in an owner’s home or garage. I am not sure why…it just is that way. (See examples of Irish fabric.) They Irish quilters were also eager for books and threads, both seem to be in short supply. And I’ve also noticed that quilting books/fabric, quilting supplies (and just about everything else) are significantly more expensive overseas in all countries (that I’ve taught in) than in the USA…big time! I think this is due not only because of shipping costs from point of origin, but due to the huge VAT tax (some as much as 25%) that these governments impose (I’ve been told this pays for their health care systems). For instance, I taught in Denmark in 2008 (and will again next spring) and my book sold for the equivalent of $60 American dollars. And our usual batiks and cotton fabrics that cost $10 a yard in the USA were the equivalent to $30 USD a yard in Denmark. (Note Vikki's latest DVD based on her book.)

All in all this year we had 35 flight segments during this year (19 in NZ/Australia alone) with aircraft ranging from 747s to a 19-seater prop in NZ (We had to fly over the “Southern Alps” of NZ in that thing…the tanker filling the plane with gas was as big as it was!)

As with all things, there is a yin/yang to being a traveling teacher. I absolutely love what I do and consider myself richly blessed to be able to experience all this…my wonderful students and people I meet, the memories of the beautiful places and scenery that are emblazoned in my mind.

It’s not all glamour’s not easy living out of a suitcases and airports and hauling heavy baggage. Even as I compose this blog I’m on a plane to yet another teaching engagement. (See photo of Vikki feeding the lorikeets.)

My conclusion is that it is all worth it!! The really only bad thing is putting on the pounds from trying all the great food from these countries…Irish Stew, the great soups in Ireland, scones and lemon curd (my favorite) lamb, fish and chips, beer, the lamb …maybe that’s not so bad either as I think of it! Guess I’ll just have to hit the treadmill for a longer walk!
Now my traveling for the year is finished. Denny and I’ll look forward to relaxing and playing with our new grandson. Hopefully we’ll sort out the thousands (not kidding!) of photos we shot. With a little luck, I may even have the opportunity to quilt!

P.S. Vikki is planning a tour in Denmark in 2010. Check out her website for dates and other information. Please contact Vikki via her email for more information about her books, classes, lectures and workshops.


Lisa Chin said...

WOW! What an adventure!

Anonymous said...

I have admired Vikki's art quilts so much. I was happy to see her on The Quilt Show, Threads of the Spirit. The book, Quilting By Improvisation, is full of great info I have learned to use in some of my quilts.
Best Wishes for many wonderful adventures!


Anonymous said...

We hosted Vikki and Denny for a couple of days in Australia and took them into the rainforest (yes, we were responsible for the leech encounter!) I have to say that Vikki was the most inspirational teacher and delightful companion and we'd welcome them back any time. I'm now working on a rainforest quilt featuring a local iconic tree, the strangler fig, using Vikki's techniques and just about everything else I've learnt along the way as well as a few things I've had to invent to achieve what I'm after.

Lis Harwood said...

Wow, I loved reading about your trip, love NZ too. We're off there again in 2010, will be attending the mini symposium in Timaru in April and, spooky or what, my BiL lives in Pukekohe so I hope to meet up with some of the ladies in your photograph!

Jeanne Marklin said...

Hi Vicki, I was in Ireland at the same time and took your class in Dublin. I was told that during the 'Celtic Tiger' period of economic growth in Ireland, that people stopped sewing and crafts because they had money to buy whatever they wanted. Fabric stores couldn't make it.
Quilters started their own small stores. I visited one that was a small log cabin like structure in Howth. It was lovely! Packed with all kinds of fabric and notions, in a wonderful garden setting. Much nicer than a strip mall store. Since their economy has hit bottom, I'm sure the Irish patch worker will be using up every scrap of fabric.
I thought NewGrange was the most amazing place I've ever been. To be able to touch the same walls that were built 5000 years ago - very moving.