In the studio with Sharon Burgess
Sharon Burgess is a self-confessed English paper piecing and fussy cutting addict. We spoke to her about her quilting and sewing journey and how she now runs her business, Lilabelle Lane Creations.
Sharon Burgess’ work is a mix of traditional and modern quilting with a huge emphasis on English paper piecing (EPP) and fussy cutting. Since taking up quilting in 2009, Sharon has built a business, Lilabelle Lane Creations, selling her beautiful and colourful EPP and fussy cutting quilt patterns, is an author and also runs workshops.
But Sharon’s crafting journey did not begin with sewing and she actually did not start sewing until after the birth of her fourth child in 2009. She has very vivid memories of her mother spending many hours at her sewing machine making clothing and even a wedding dress. Her family relocated to Australia from the UK when she was still young and “to this day I will still send my mum any clothing that needs to be fixed or altered. Clothing is her thing, quilting mine,” she says. Sharon’s father was a mechanic by trade but in his down time he would drag the kitchen table into the lounge room so he could do macramé or paint while still being with the family. “Sadly, he passed when I was very young so he never had the chance to share his talents with me or to see where my journey has taken me. So I guess the creative gene was there — it just took me a while to find mine and my passion,” says Sharon.
Before taking up quilting, Sharon used to be a “reborn artist”. She explains that a “reborn baby” is a vinyl or silicone life-size baby or toddler sculpt that is painted with many thin layers of paint to build up skin depth to create a realistic baby. “The hair is painted or micro-rooted to be as real as possible and the babies are weighted to feel like a real baby,” she explains. “I have many babies living all over the world. Some are even used in nursing homes with dementia patients as the weight, feel and look helps to soothe and settle them. Some are used in hospitals at prenatal classes where girls and young ladies, who may have never held a baby before, practise holding them to feel more confident when their baby arrives and learn how to hold a baby when breastfeeding.”
While making these babies, Sharon borrowed her mother’s sewing machine as she wanted to custom-make the doe suede bodies for her babies. To source the fabric, she walked into a local quilt shop where she saw a sign for a beginner quilting class. “It was always in the back of my mind that one day I would like to make just one quilt, so I signed up. The rest is history, so to speak.”
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Sharon was hooked and says “the ability to take a designer’s fabric, cut it up to make a new design and make it something that is your own is pretty special”. English paper piecing is really where Sharon’s heart lies and there are not many days when her needle and thread do not meet over an EPP project. These always start with a sketch or a photo that she has taken. She then draws a design, refining it until she has the right balance. “A huge majority of my projects are English paper pieced so I then turn to my Scan N Cut and start making some papers. If I really like it, this will usually lead to a fabric pull for a colour palette and then to the sourcing of fabric, and the making process begins,” explains Sharon.
If she likes the idea of a project but no fabrics are talking to her, she prints the design and hangs it on her design wall, which she looks at daily, slowly formatting a plan as she works away on other projects. It’s not uncommon for a project to come off this wall and jump to the top of her to-do list.
Sharon believes her style has changed as she has grown in confidence. “I live by my own motto, ‘Create what you love’. I am not going to sew with a fabric just because it is in front of me. As a lot of my work is hand-sewn, I must love the fabrics because I am going to be spending a lot of time with them.”
Sharon’s main inspiration comes from architecture, where the smallest detail on a building can trigger a design. Sometimes, though, it can be a memory. “Take, for example, my Tenderness quilt. That was inspired by memories of my father and his rose garden. I do find that the design of a project speaks more to me rather than the fabric.”
When it comes to fabric, Sharon loves to mix textures, so her stash contains many linens, chambrays, quilting cottons and Liberty. Her stash also has a large assortment of Bonnie and Camille fabrics, which are her first love, and it includes a jelly roll from every one of their collections. Her other special fabric is Tula Pink. These fabrics are stored separately and are not mixed with the regular stash — they even have their own scrap containers!
“The remainder of my stash is filled with pieces that I just fell in love with and know that one day I’ll use. I tend not to buy precuts unless I have an immediate use for them.”
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To go with her enviable fabric stash, Sharon has a few favourite tools she uses regularly. “One is my Scan N Cut machine, especially when developing a new design or playing with a new shape. I am a glue baster, so I have a little collection of Sewline glue pens and a healthy supply of refills at all times and the only thread that I use for my EPP is Superior Bottom Line thread in the 60wt. Another of my favourite tools is my sand paper board as it stops my fabric from moving as I trace my templates,” she explains.
Sharon enjoys teaching at workshops and tries to make them all very hands-on and small, so each person gets what they need from the class. She enjoys teaching and sharing a creative outlet. “Having the ability to show someone how rewarding hand-piecing can be, topped with its portability, is exciting. Then to see someone’s project come to life and to see them express themselves through their work is amazing,” she enthuses. “When I teach, I tell the students to have fun and play. Play with the fabric and do not be scared to cut into it. If you are having fun, you are doing it right.”
Sharon’s studio space, located in the open-plan kitchen/dining/living area of her home, is a little unconventional but functions perfectly for her and her family. “Being in the heart of the home allows me to be productive and in touch with what is happening with my children as they come and go. For me this works better than being locked away in a room. It also makes me accountable for keeping it tidy!” she laughs.
Sharon has organised her studio be very functional as she is a firm believer in having everything in its place when you need it. “If I am at my cutting table, immediately to my right are my rotary cutters and rulers. Immediately to my left is my Scan N Cut machine ready to be put into action. All my threads and needles are there, ready for me to start EPP.”
On one wall of the studio space, shelving units hold all her fabrics so she can easily see what is available. Under a large window is her cutting table and there is a little nook where she has her design wall and ironing board set up. “I would be lost without my Scan N Cut machine, my design wall and my cutting table that is ergonomically set up to the right height for me. I then have my sewing machine in the centre. Now that I am used to it, I think I would be lost if my sewing machine didn’t have a table of ‘her’ own. Also having a studio space right near the kitchen is very handy for coffee!” quips Sharon.
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Sharon then has an office that she retreats to when the computer and design work needs to be done. “Because I mostly EPP, which is all by hand, I can spend a lot of time in the office piecing and a little Netflix binging — although it has to be something easy to follow as I am always looking at my work, not the screen!” she says.
“I live in the beautiful heritage town of Bendigo in central Victoria. I am always inspired by the architecture of the heritage buildings and how they sit within the modern and hip cafe culture of this beautiful town,” enthuses Sharon. “We have so many beautiful parks and gardens, which are great to relax in for peace of mind. Inspiration can come from the quietest of moments or the tiniest of things. I feel very lucky to live here.”
Sharon believes that the people she lives and surrounds herself with have a big influence on her work. “Having such a supportive husband has been a major factor,” she says. “He has encouraged me to follow my creative dream and he is there to ground me when needed. Having the ability to show our children that dreams can be chased and that through hard work almost anything is possible is a huge thing for me.”
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As with most mothers, Sharon’s day begins with getting her youngest two children off to school, which sees her home by 9am. “That is when my ‘work’ day starts with the checking of emails in the office,” she says. “I then usually venture out into my studio space and do preparation work for my projects — fabric pulls, cutting fabrics, preparing/glue basting my EPP shapes etc. My afternoons are filled with either time at my sewing machine (project dependent), sketching new designs, pattern writing or a bit of Netflix and actual EPP. My afternoon work stops at 3pm when I kick back into ‘Mum mode’ with school pick-ups, activities etc. I always have some form of EPP with me in the afternoons to make the most of the time spent waiting at a swimming lesson etc. I will sneak in more actual EPP while the evening meal is cooking, and then when the night rolls around you will find me wherever my family is. It’s all about time management and I think that is why I love EPP so much. It is so portable that it goes where I go.”
Taking Sharon into 2018 is her current project, her second book. “It will have a different feel to my first book, Quilting on the Go … English Paper Piecing, with smaller projects all with a touch of EPP,” she explains. “I also have several quilts in the works. At the moment there are three in various stages of construction and many more drawn and pinned on a board in my office, waiting for the right inspiration or fabric to come so that they, too, can come to life.”
To find out more about Sharon Burgess:
Facebook: Lilabelle Lane Creations
Wholesale quilt designs with complementing paper kits can also be found on http://www.creativeabundance.com.au