In the Studio with Wendy Gleeson
In the quaint Victorian town of Colac, the studio of renowned Australian quilter and owner of Clever Ducks Quilting Co, Wendy Gleeson, has a warm, homey appeal that is just perfect for stitching away the hours.
Words by Casey Ioannou, Photographs by Wendy Gleeson
When she moved to a new home in 2005, Wendy was thrilled to have a dedicated sewing space. “It was very decadent,” she recalls. Over the years her workspace has developed, along with her passion for quilting and patchwork. “I have a big custom-made sewing bench to work on,” Wendy enthuses. Her studio features large windows with views out to beautiful Lake Colac, and they also overlook the back garden, for which Wendy won an award in 2012. “There is also lots of bird life,” she adds.
It is not just the views that give this creative space so much charm. Wendy’s studio features an eclectic mix of projects, trinkets and keepsakes, making it a smorgasbord of interest every way you look. Quilting projects adorn the walls in both large and small format, showcasing an inspirational array of designs, techniques and colourways. Delightful sewing projects, quaint handmade dolls and bears, and an eclectic collection of new and vintage haberdashery all meld together for a modern vintage feel.
It is not all just decoration though, with Wendy’s studio having a very practical layout to accommodate those who now regularly share her workspace. In this very room Wendy started a quilting and patchwork business that is now renowned in the area and in the industry. Quilts arrive regularly from across regional Victoria, Melbourne and even interstate to be quilted by Wendy. The business has grown purely through word-of-mouth, a tribute to Wendy’s high standard of work. Grid boards adorn the walls of her studio, tools are all well organised, fabric bolts sit neatly on shelves and of course the long-arm quilting machine is centred for easy operation.
Wendy acknowledges that her personal sewing space has shrunk significantly since starting the business, but she still finds it a great place to indulge in her passion — although she has had to change her approach a little when completing her own projects. “I have to be quite tidy these days and clean up after I sew,” she admits.
Introduced to sewing from a very young age by her mother, it was not until much later that Wendy discovered quilting. “Mum was a very practical sewer. All of our clothes were handmade, until one day I picked up a store-bought piece of clothing from an op-shop,” she laughs.
Wendy first dabbled in quilting when her son was born. “I received some 2½in charm squares in colourwash on the front of a magazine,” she recalls. “Being a clothing sewer, I took the time to press out the seams of every single square I stitched together! Then when I went to the patchwork shop to buy a border, the lady was quite impressed with what I had done.” From there Wendy’s quilting journey began and she has now been involved with the craft for more than 25 years.
As Wendy’s interest in quilting continued to grow, she began teaching herself new techniques. “I have done some classes along the way, but most of all I just like to try new things,” she reveals. She describes her style as eclectic as she likes trying different things, but she does have a passion for machine piecing. “I will even piece English-piecing on the machine if I can,” she says.
Another thing that Wendy is passionate about is sharing the craft with others. “I love teaching beginner classes and seeing their faces at the end of the class when they go home with a finished project they’ve made,” Wendy says. Not a fan of students leaving her store with an unfinished project, Wendy offers incremental classes over several weeks where crafters will complete a project in stages, allowing them to leave with a completed product. “I like seeing the little light go on when they see how things come together,” she enthuses.
Wendy has taught patchwork for many years, both locally in surrounding areas and even interstate. Many of her quilts are her own unique design, and there are many admirers of her colour selections. “I can be inspired by anything, but it is often the fabric that inspires my projects,” continues Wendy. “It does vary though. One of my previous projects was inspired by ugly orange carpet.”
Wendy also likes to get involved with the community and is president of the Colac Quilters Group. “We meet once a month and will either do an activity or just have a sit and sew,” she says. The group also arranges exhibitions for the work of local artists.
When asked if she has a favourite piece from her collection, Wendy admits that it changes regularly. “I think your favourite project is often the last piece that you finished,” she says. Her favourite right now is a recent Magpie quilt she completed for a Brimfield display in America. “It features Kathy Doughty Horizons fabric and the magpies are framed in the Brimfield block design,” she explains.