Polka Dot Tea

We *heart* our sponsors!   We recently caught up with Danielle from one of our sponsors, Polka Dot Tea, to discuss all things modern quilting.

Polka Dot Tea was started by two friends, Danielle Aeuckens and Jeannette Bruce, with a love for modern, interesting and quirky fabrics. Their aim is to bring you a collection of beautiful fabrics from their favourite designers and manufacturers, including Yuwa, Kei, Lecien, Liberty, Art Gallery and others.

Midnight at the Oasis (pattern by Jen Kingwell) by Jeannette
Midnight at the Oasis (pattern by Jen Kingwell) by Jeannette

How long have you been quilting for?  Can you tell us about your first quilt? 

Danielle: I started dabbling in quilting around 16 years ago. My Mum had always sewn (she made all my and my sister’s clothes when we were little), and became a quilter when a friend introduced her to it when we moved to Canberra over twenty years ago. I was always crafty as a kid, doing lots of knitting and cross-stitch, but didn’t start quilting until I left uni and got a real job (I guess I must have known the financial commitment it was going to take!) I started hand piecing a quilt from a magazine pattern which I think would be what we now call the granny square. I never finished it and doubt I ever will. But I did make a few quilts for friends having babies – I don’t think I even took any photos of them, I’m sure they were pretty dodgy. I didn’t become hooked though until I discovered there was such a thing as quilting blogs – this opened up a whole new world of possibilities of fabric and pattern that I hadn’t seen before, and I haven’t put down my needle and thread since. It was helped a little by having my daughter around the same time – after having had two boys I was suddenly so excited to be able to buy pink fabric!!

Can you tell us a bit about your transition into more ‘modern’ quilting?

In my early quilting days I did a lot of blanket stitch appliqué, using country-style fabrics – very far-removed from my style these days. I started to become more attracted to brighter and saturated colours, pinks, oranges, reds, greens – and designers such as Anna Maria Horner really captured my imagination. Before that, my fabric stash was very much at the repro end of the spectrum, soft pinks and tans, and very floral – I still have a soft spot for those fabrics but I don’t tend to buy them anymore. I do value their place in quilting though, and there are plenty of repro fabrics that work well in a more modern setting – the best example is shirting fabrics – these slot nicely into a low volume and texty palette.

How do YOU define ‘modern quilting’?

Ooh, loaded question! It means something different to everyone. To me it’s about thinking outside the box, you might still use a traditional block pattern, but you’ll put it a twist on the setting, or you’ll blow it up into a big sized block, and perhaps you’ll use unexpected fabric combinations. I find it really interesting that there are so many interpretations of what modern quilting is. Recently I discovered a book of antique quilts which were all made in solid fabrics and could easily have been made last year, not a hundred years ago. I think we too often assume that what people are doing now is completely new, but the reality is we’re just reworking and reimagining the quilts of the past, which I think is a wonderful thing to do. I love going to our [Canberra] MQG meetings for the show and tell, there are so many different styles and interpretations! It’s endlessly fascinating and inspiring to see what everyone is working on.

Liberty and Sketch Hexies by Danielle
Liberty and Sketch Hexies by Danielle

What led you to start up Polka Dot Tea?

Jeannette and I met as so many quilty friends do through a Flickr bee, about four years ago. After meeting in person we became good friends and of course quickly discovered a mutual love of all things Anna Maria Horner. Jeannette introduced me to the incredible range and style of modern Japanese fabrics and quilters, and we vaguely toyed for a while with the idea of setting up an etsy shop to sell these unique fabrics. We also wanted to be able to stock a great range of solid fabrics as we thought this was something that was really missing from Australian quilt shops. Ultimately, we really wanted to sell fabrics that we loved and would use in our own quilts, and that we knew other modern quilters and sewists would want to use.

What makes your customers unique? Or Polka Dot Tea unique? 

We’ve worked really hard to curate a range of fabrics in our shop that represents a slightly offbeat, eclectic mix that appeals to modern quilters with a good sense of traditionalism. This means quilters who love to mix pretty florals with a geometric check or stripe – anything goes! We love putting together bundles for customers who come to us asking for something to get them started on a particular pattern – usually something that has a particular scrappy look that they’re going for.

With a busy business to run, do you still get any time to quilt?  Can you tell us about your latest WIP?  

Jeannette also runs her own long arm quilting business, while I work (almost) full time in the public service. I don’t get a lot of time to sew (many a week goes by without my machine seeing the light of day), but I do a lot of hand sewing instead – I’m rarely sitting down at night without some hexies or appliqué on the go. Jeannette has a little more time to sew during the week (and her productivity is extraordinary! I can’t keep up!) but she also runs a big sheep and cattle farm with her husband, and has two busy little boys, so there’s never a dull moment.

As for WIPs, there are too many to list! We are both working on projects to use our Liberty stash, accumulated through our monthly Liberty Club that we run. Jeannette is working her way through a farmer’s wife quilt, while I’m doing a hexagon Flower Garden project, as well as a 16-patch block combining Liberty with natural chambray.

Red Letter Day in Kei, Yuwa and Liberty by Jeannette
Red Letter Day in Kei, Yuwa and Liberty by Jeannette

What are the latest or upcoming trends in fabric.  (We NEED to know!)

One of the trends we’re seeing more of right now is the emergence of lots of very interesting neutral and low volume fabrics – small geometric prints in a wider range of neutral shades. Another one is the use of fabrics with a little more texture in them – chambray has been hugely popular this year, it really makes a wonderful alternative to linen and gives a different look to using a plain solid. We think there’ll be more chambrays on the scene, as well as other types of shot cottons and textured solids. Speaking of solids, the use of solids has grown to be a huge thing – we’re seeing lots of beautiful quilts made wholly in solids, and with such lovely solid fabrics available now it’s a great time to be trying a project just using solids. We can’t speak highly enough of the Michael Miller Cotton Couture range, they are quite simply beautiful fabrics to work with, with a soft, fine hand and gorgeous saturated colours. Recently I’ve been enjoying backing my quilts in a solid (or two!), I love the look and the quilt is extra soft!

For all their up to date arrivals and sale information, visit Polka Dot Tea’s shop at polkadottea.com, follow them on Instagram (@polkadotteafabrics), sign up for and like them on Facebook (polkadotteafabrics).