The Strawberry Thief 4

Designer Profile: The Strawberry Thief founder, Robyn Shapiro

For as long as Robyn Shapiro can remember, she has had two creative loves — sewing and Liberty fabric. “My first memory is of sitting on my Ouma’s lap with a sewing machine going in front of me — I always grew up with pieces of fabric in my hand and I was always stitching,” she recalls. Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, Robyn remembers there was a strong craft and sewing culture in the family. “I basically grew up on my grandmothers’ lap. She was a seamstress who made women’s clothing,” Robyn explains. “My mum was a very keen knitter and crocheter, and all of my toys and clothes were handmade by my mum and my Ouma. It’s just how my family was. At family gatherings, the women would get the salads made and then everybody would get out their sewing and we would sit their nattering away while the men were barbecuing. So sewing for a living was a really natural thing for me to move into.”

Robyn’s second creative love is Liberty fabrics. “I was introduced to Liberty fabrics by one of the craft groups I belonged to in Cape Town. We used to make dolls for the Steiner school that my son would later attend,” says Robyn. “Whenever one of us would go overseas, we would all scrimp and pool our pennies together and buy a fat quarter of Liberty. Then we would cut it into small pieces and share them out. They were very lovingly and sparingly used … I would do anything to match my other fabrics to the Liberty — even tea-dying some of them! Even though Liberty was, for the most part, geographically and economically out of my reach, my fabric choices and tastes were always Liberty-inspired.”

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Create Robyn’s Strawberry Fields Hexie Quilt, featuring Liberty fabrics

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In 2006, Robyn and her husband Graeme moved their family to Australia. “Given the environment of South Africa at the time, Australia was just the better place for us to be. We wanted our children to have the freedom of choice over what their futures could be.” Meanwhile, Robyn harboured a desire to open her own quilt store. “I always wanted to open my own quilt shop in Australia,” Robyn admits. “After being in hospitality for 20 years, we sold our last business so that my husband could move on to further his studies. I tried to buy a local quilt store but when that didn’t work out, my husband suggested opening my own. What I really wanted to do was stock Liberty fabrics, so my husband said I should contact Liberty directly — maybe I could become a wholesaler? So I did! And I must have asked the right question at the right time because they got back to me immediately and said they would love for me to be a wholesaler! So here I am.”

So what is it about Liberty fabrics that so appeals to Robyn? “Oh, the feel and the quality of the fabric, but also the saturation of colour! The way that the colour sits on the surface of the fabric is so intense and almost reflective. Also, the beautiful designs in such a variety — from small delicate flowers and traditional Liberty prints to the crazy wild seasonal prints that are so amazingly exciting. So you can do traditional quilting with it or you can go into the real modern quilts. You can use it for any kind of quilt — it’s just so versatile. It doesn’t matter how simple or how busy your quilt is, Liberty will always make it look fantastic.”

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Robyn’s hexi quilts that we are featuring this issue are her favourites in her collection. “They contain so many different fabrics that I love, but it’s not just that … when you are hand-stitching a quilt like these, it’s as if you are stitching a part of yourself into it. They take so long to make that when you look at them, you can remember all the things that happened in your life while you were creating it. They become a representation of a particular time in your life. When I was making my 2in hexi quilt, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I flew back to South Africa to spend time with her, all the while working on the quilt. It’s very special to me.”

If you love hexies and English paper piecing, you’ll love the Hexie Sampler Quilt

Reflecting on when she first began making quilts, Robyn says, “My first quilt was probably a doll’s quilt when I was very young … but I think I really became fascinated with quilting when I was a teenager and was in love with the ‘60s. Whenever I looked at books or images of the ‘60s there were always these incredible quilts. That was the beginning of my ongoing love for the scrappy bohemian style of quilt making. The more pattern and the more colour, the happier I am. That’s what really inspired me. I thought of myself as a little hippy and I just wanted to relive that time! I was transported by those images.”

Robyn learnt to quilt by trial and error. “When I was a teen I used to stitch pieces of fabric together and it would be SO wonky … I didn’t really have any quilters around me. But I think because of my horrendous — charming, but horrendous — attempts at quilting my mum became interested and we joined a quilt guild together. We did our first quilting lesson together, which was incredible. The teacher who taught me gave me one of the most important tips that I still think of whenever I start a new quilt, that “if you always choose pretty, pretty fabrics for your quilt, you will end up with a pretty, pretty boring quilt”. It honestly stayed with me because she made me use fabrics in my quilt that I definitely would not have picked — and it worked so well! It really is a way to make the other fabrics sing.”

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While quilts are at the core of Robyn’s sewing and designing, she is always working on something else at the same time, be it knitting or embroidery. “Right now I am working on making a bag which uses Japanese boro stitching, and I have just made a skirt. Even with my quilting I like to have a few different things on the go, both machine quilting and hand quilting. I always have at least one paper-piecing project happening, although right now I have three!”

Robyn enjoys designing her own quilts and is aiming to create her own range of patterns which use Liberty fabrics. “I guess my style would be more of a contemporary take on traditional quilts,” Robyn explains. “I admire modern quilts and the people who can make them, but I’m not a fan of negative space in my quilts — I have no idea how to make it work. I like to fill every space with lushness.” While Robyn’s quilts use predominantly Liberty fabrics (and why not — she has a warehouse stocked with the stuff), she also enjoys working with Japanese fabrics and soft linens. “I encourage people to mix Liberty fabrics in with their stash and good-quality linens. Liberty fabrics don’t have to be worked alone. I want people to realise how fantastic Liberty is to work with. I want to make Liberty Tana Lawn very accessible to people, especially quilters. In Australia I think Liberty has been seen as a product that is very difficult to get hold of and is out of reach, but I think that all quilters should have access to it.”

Make this patchwork quilt pattern by Jemima Flendt

Behind the scenes, Robyn says she is very thankful for her supportive husband Graeme. “I sew and create every night because I have a very supportive husband who understands that my stitching is part of my business, so he does everything he can to help me do it — from cooking me dinner to just being there to give me encouragement. I am lucky that I can run my own business and call my craft and hobby part of my business — it goes hand in hand.” During the day Robyn has the assistance of Jennie, a designer who is enjoying learning how to quilt with Robyn. “At the moment I am teaching Jennie how to quilt,” says Robyn. “We have set aside space in the warehouse for a little sewing studio — it’s really relaxed and fun.”

Robyn loves to share her creativity online. “I adore the online quilting community — they are awesome,” Robyn enthuses. “I interact mostly on Instagram, which has a very generous and supportive community. I feel blessed to be a part of it and have been welcomed with open arms.”

And what of her quiltmaking goals? “To stitch until I die,” states Robyn. Sounds good to us.

To contact Robyn Shapiro from The Strawberry Thief visit the website:, or follow at

Instagram: @the_strawberry_thief

Facebook: @thestrawberrythief

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