Way back in 1994, the founder of Southern Cross Quilters, Wendy Pang, was a member of the US-based group, Quiltnet. Much of the discussion was about US shops and sales, which really wasn’t very interesting to Australians. So Wendy contacted the other Australians in the group and, about 21 June 1994, started chatting with them about Australian quilting. These founding members were Nick Dal Molin, Judy Danz, Carol Denehy, Linda Diggle, Diane Routt, Penny Verrall, Cathy Langford, Agnes Miller and, of course, Wendy Pang.
By Christmas 1994, the group had about 30 members. At this point, Wendy was manually copying all the messages to everyone else but the limitations of this method soon became obvious. In June 1995, Liz Lewis of Perth volunteered her son Peter, an internationally-known Mac software author, to host the list on his computer, for free. It was a very generous act, but he was very startled to receive a flood of birthday messages from all over Australia, when he turned 30!
The very first swap was the Yesteryear Fabric swap, followed by the Christmas block exchange organised by Stacey Brown (Cook). In May 1995, it was still "Australia's online quilt guild", until the first Kiwis joined in June 1995. The first Trans-Tasman exchange was called OZ-NZ for a while. It was handled manually, and current moderator Dawn Scotting was involved.
The first online information about SCQuilters was on Jeanette Holkner’s personal home page. Photos of some SCQuilters appeared there, and also the logo block designed by Leanne McGill, which still appears on all SCQuilters activities, including the SCQ badges and this blog.
In 1996, Dawn Scotting organised lots of exchanges, such as the Kangaroo Kiwi Kwilting Klub, and the Birthday Block and Birthday Fat Quarter exchanges. Members began meeting in the real world, which was an exciting new experience and something of a leap of faith. The group reached 100 members in August 1996.
The first Christmas get together for Sydney SCQuilters was held at Jan Powell’s house. As an online group was still a novelty, photos of this gathering appeared in an early issue of Australian Patchwork and Quilting magazine. There was also an article about the group, written by Becky Peters.
In 1997, the size of the group doubled, with many well-known quilt artists, teachers, shop-owners and publishers joining the group. The great strength of SCQuilters has always been the diversity of its members, with quilters of all skill levels, country and city quilters, professional and amateur quilters, traditional and art quilters, all being made welcome. Wendy’s dream of a group of Australian quilters to chat with had become far more than she could ever have dreamed. By June 1997, the group had reached 280 members.
From 1998, the activity of the group broadened. At this stage, the group had 620 members. Dawn started the wonderful angel exchanges, which still occur today. Some members began chatting in real time using ICQ, often to the bemusement of their family members as they sang, laughed, cried and generally had fun in real time with anything up to 30 other SCQuilters from all over the world. Swaps continued to take place, including the benchmark signature square swap, inspired by the locations of SCQuilters around Australia and NZ. This monthly swap, originally organised by Wendy on a hand-drawn graphed chart, was passed along to Jan Powell and passed through many other hands before it closed in 2003. This swap still takes place at the annual Retreats.
The angel swap continued for many years and hundreds of angels and mortals were connected through the amazing memory of Michelle Watters, who took over the swap from Dawn and ran it for many years. Dot Ray ran a long term Nine Patch swap.
By this stage, there were enough members in each state to need List Keepers for each state. This job is now gradually changing into “daughter” groups in some states, allowing local activities and discussion to take place.
In February 1999, the group had outgrown Peter’s computers and moved to egroups. It was a big change to move to something much less personal than the wonderful service offered by Peter and his offsider Jeremy. By June, the group reached 870 – who’d have thought there could be so many quilters Down Under? The moderating job became too much for one person and was shared between Wendy, Michelle Watters, Dawn Scotting and Suzy Atkins. As more and more confused newbies asked questions on list, Nola Archer started the SCQ Guides, in October 1999, as an information resource for all, especially new, members. Henrijette Wood, Fiona McClintock, Helen Evans and Nola were the first Guides. In October 2001, Wendy retired as a list moderator, in favour of more quilting and family time, and Nola Archer replaced her on the moderating team. Later Guides were Stephanie McCarron, Chris Booth and Fiona Malikoff. Meanwhile, Sharron Shimbel had set up the SCQuilters Home pages, which later morphed into scquilters.com and, eventually, into this blog. The larger team running SCQuilters reflected the growing size of the list. The 1000th member joined SCQuilters in October 1999.
Meanwhile the face-to-face activities were gathering pace. In 1998, the first SCQ retreat was held, in Brisbane, followed by retreats in Adelaide, SA in 1999, Hobart, TAS 2000, the QLD Sunshine Coast 2001, Perth WA 2002, Melbourne VIC 2003, Auckland New Zealand 2004, Sydney NSW 2005, Canberra, ACT 2006, Bendigo VIC 2007, Perth WA 2008, and Adelaide SA in 2009. In 2010, the thirteenth Retreat was held in Bathurst, NSW and in 2010, the fourteenth Retreat will be held in Kiama, NSW. The number of “Die-Hards” who had attended all retreats is now in single figures, but they take their role very seriously.
SCQuilters has always held regional and city gatherings. Victorian SCQuilters have met for a decade at Carrum Downs, which emerged from earlier meetings held at Helen Evans’ Shed. Bathurst has been the home of several Bathurst Bun Fights, and there were several gatherings at Goulburn and in Sydney. Lunches were held in the Sydney CBD for many years and the Sydney SCQuilters have met monthly for several years, first at Pennant Hills, and now at Waitara. Smaller spin off groups like the SCQuilty Tarts and many other small groups continue to meet face to face.
Most state shows have been meeting places for SCQuilters, and these rowdy groups of quilters having fun together have often recruited yet more members. SCQuilters has always been a friendly group. We even had our own wedding, since Paul and Krissie met online through SCQuilters and married. Many great friendships have also been made through the group.
It might seem as if SCQuilters was all about pleasure. But the group has been involved in many different charitable activities over the years. For many years, the group has run a healing hearts program, in which members make heart blocks for other members who are facing tough times. In 2005, in response to rising numbers, Jan MacFadyen took over the co-ordination of these hearts, and, after her, Margaret Attrill. A small spin off group called SCQwayfarers also provides mutual support for members in crisis.
In 1999, the SCQuilters group made quilts for every refugee from Kosovo, when they came to Australia. This huge project was coordinated by Mary Anne Rooney and Jan MacFadyen. By the time the refugees arrived in Australia on April 9, 1999, there were quilts on most of the beds at the safe havens or in the distribution centres ready to be chosen. SCQuilters also made quilts for the Varuna Writers’ Centre, organized by Ruth Buchanan, and most recently, for everyone affected by the Victorian bushfires, again coordinated by Jan and Mary-Anne, with Christina Kuhne and other local coordinators. SCQuilters have also been great supporters of Jan’s charity quilting, in providing quilts to many overseas countries and within Australia, for Rural Drought Relief, women's refuges and many other charities.
By August 2000, the group had reached 1300 and concerns were expressed that the group was too big and likely to implode, as other large lists had done in the past. However, at this point Quilting Down Under (QDU) and another group, Aussie Quilters (since defunct) were formed, the first of many spin-off net groups. However, this had little effect on the growth of SCQuilters, which passed 2000 in July 2006 and in recent years has stabilized at about 2200 members. However, despite the huge size, SCQuilters continues to provide a supportive environment for quilters to talk about what they love most – quilting!