By Mark Svendsen | Posted on February 24th, 2018
How Kathryn Kerr Designed and Made a World Wide Quilt
Late in 2015, Kathryn Kerr had an idea. Not unusual, people have ideas every day. But this idea was powerful, powerful and stimulating and exhilarating, and ended up taking Kathryn on a journey she never dreamed she would be taking.
Kathryn’s idea was both simple and small. It was for a ‘challenge’ quilt for her group of a dozen or so local sewing friends.
The challenge was easy, but would require commitment: they would each make a quilt ‘block’ (a three inch by three inch section) every day for an entire year until they had built the sampler quilt Kathryn had designed for them.
Kathryn would provide a pattern for the day’s block to each of them, every day – small and simple, but designed to grow. Because some of the ladies interested in making the quilt lived outside the Australian city of Rockhampton, where Kathryn lives, she created a Facebook page to enable her to post the daily block patterns digitally for them.
But no sooner had she set up the page, than the quilter’s grapevine began to tremble with the news of Kathryn’s simple idea. The next thing she knew, quilters from all over the world were interested in making her quilt! Kathryn watched her Facebook page in amazement.
Even before she’d published the first pattern there were 100 … 275 … 1250 … 1727 … and rising.
Her idea had found a means of propagation. What a grapevine accelerator that internet thingy is. The 365 Challenge was trending big time!
Realising she’d spawned a monster, there was no way to go but forward. Kathryn flew into an organized panic. She created a webpage and learned how to use mailing lists – all the while researching and designing 365 quilt blocks. Added to this workload was the pattern testing. Each block was sewn as a prototype by a number of her local friends who searched for errors and offered feedback – a very time-consuming exercise for which thanks were profuse but remuneration non-existent – a condition shared by them all, including Kathryn. This was a project from the heart, not for the wallet.
On 1 January 2016, Kathryn had literally thousands of Facebook followers wanting to make her quilt. The first block went out at midnight.
Within minutes, the website was flooded. The server went down in a smoking heap!
Somehow that night, by posting images in multiple places – on the mailing list and on Facebook – Kathryn ensured that most of the quilt-makers received the pattern.
While she was sailing smoothly on the surface, Kathryn was paddling for dear life under the water. When she began the project she was three months ahead of the participants in designing and testing blocks but, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages and queries, she was was inexorably falling behind. It felt like drowning in slow motion. Errors crept in. The dedicated ladies in her local group had lives to live and couldn’t test blocks fast enough. Kathryn’s stress levels were 10 on the Richter scale, and she was missing out on a lot of sleep! It got to the point four months in where she was sometimes only days ahead of her, by now, over 20,000 Facebook followers.
Unable to continue this way Kathryn put out a call for others to help to test the patterns before they went public.
Four ladies immediately volunteered to join her in a close-knit, private Facebook group where she could post the patterns as soon as she drafted them. With amazing speed they came back with errors corrected and suggestions for improvements. The group was appropriately called The Amazing Pattern Testers comprising: Charlott from Sweden; Rebecca from the USA; Brenda from England and; Bronwyn, another Aussie.
This group were soon joined by Liliana Soli from Italy, who was, instead of a tester, the personal assistant who would alert Kathryn of some detail or query to which she must attend, then act as liaison between Kathryn and her world-wide quilting family. Amazingly, Liliana speaks very little English, and Kathryn very little Italian. With on-line translators, and both of them taking language courses, they gradually began to understand each other. Which was kind of helpful given the circumstances and the needs of thousands of quilters.
Every day, subgroups of the main Facebook page formed spontaneously to discuss, share and, translate Kathryn’s pattern details into Dutch, Italian, German, French, Icelandic, Czech, Slovene, Indonesian, Hungarian and Swedish! The internet grapevine was aflutter with beautiful, multilingual, creative butterflies.
Next week I will be 81 years old. I started quilting six years ago. Thanks to the 365 Challenge, I have made many, many blocks that I would never have attempted. You are the greatest!
Somehow, the team made it to the end of 2016 with a grand total of 22,600 followers. Of this number, quilters in the USA make up about 50%. Statistically the other main participants are The Netherlands, Canada, Australia and the UK, with smaller groups in Italy, Hungary, France and Germany. By the end of March 2017 the number is 26,575.
Not content to merely make their quilts, participants in the US are holding an exhibition including Kathryn’s quilts in their myriad of colour and texture combinations from international participants in the 365 Challenge as part of the North Carolina Quilt Fest April 7 & 8, 2017 in Fayetteville NC. This exhibition will be followed by a showing of 365 Challenge quilts from across the European continent at Fiera Creattiva in Bergama, Italy on 5-10 October 2017. It seems appropriate that the exhibition is in autumn when the grapes are harvested from the vine and when last year’s vintage is tasted for the very first time.
A huge thank you to you! What a joy this project has been. I’ve told people this was my daily (quilt) vitamin pill. I’ve felt like Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail – so excited to check my email every day. I will miss the daily discipline, the beautiful colorways of people’s creations, the feeling of connection to quilters everywhere. This has been a beautiful gift. Thank you. Martha USA
But of course this is only the beginning. The success of the 365 Challenge gave Kathryn the courage to design other quilts as a business while running the Challenge again for free in 2017. Her new business is Green Avenue Quilts. Finally she will be paid for all her work. But Green Avenue is not all about money. For Kathryn the magical part of the 365 Challenge was working on a project with like-minded people, sharing their ups and downs, and making friends around the planet. Kathryn’s aim is to bring quilters new projects which recapture the magic of the 365 Challenge so Green Avenue Quilts’ catch cry is – Make Quilts: Make Friends.
If you’d like to join Kathryn, or simply follow her journey, please use the contacts below:
Photos supplied 365 Challenge website © Kathryn Kerr, Green Avenue Quilts
Image Credit:Photograhs: Kathryn Kerr