Designer profile, meet Janelle Noack
Janelle Noack lives in the very rural NSW Riverina town of Dirnaseer. In fact the town has a population of just 170! It is farming country and that’s exactly the life Janelle has led.
“Growing up on a farm you learn to make do and use what you have,” Janelle says. “My mum was a great inspiration to me (along with a large extended family with many craft talents), teaching me basic skills that I still rely on and treasure today — cooking, gardening and sewing were and still are part of everyday life.
Our clothes were nearly all handmade, even hand-knitted school jumpers, and homespun wool was knitted and crocheted into jumpers, beanies and rugs. I learnt at a young age how to use a sewing machine to make clothes for myself, skills which I continued to use when I had my own family on the farm, which unfortunately also meant piles of mending!”
Quilt making for Janelle began when her youngest daughter started school. “I always had some needlework, knitting or sewing on the go; but now it is all about making quilts,” she reveals. “My first quilt is about 20 years old, a log cabin that I made from leftover dress fabrics.
I measured the strips with a tape measure and chalk, cut them out with scissors and sewed them up — no !/4in foot or proper cutting tools. It has two quilting lines through it, no binding, and is still in one piece adorning the freezer in the laundry.”
The next quilts Janelle made were the wonderful Everyday Angels and Matilda Station quilts by The Chook Shed Pattern Co, and several quilts later Janelle began to get the confidence to experiment and try her own ideas.
“My earlier designs where mainly machine pieced, but I have moved towards adding more appliqué to reproduction- and medallion-style quilts, and now I just love English paper piecing — I use it on everything!” she admits.
“I made my first hexagon quilt in 2007 with 1in hexagons, but I didn’t really know what I was doing and papers weren’t available then like they are now, so most of the papers I cut myself. Several other quilts have since been done, and now I really want to get my ‘Lucy Boston’ quilt finished after having it on the go for so long — but only so that I can start or finish something else of course!”
Janelle says she likes her quilts to be a mix of techniques, which makes them good projects for beginners or more experienced quilter. “I have used the quilt-as-you-go technique for some of my quilts,” she explains.
“The first quilt I tried it on was Whirlygig, mainly as I wanted to be able to quilt it myself, so I searched for a method that suited the look I was aiming for. Now I have a few designs with quilt as you go — including this month’s project, Pinchgut Valley.
The end result is a large medallion-style quilt, put together in sections that you can quilt yourself on a domestic sewing machine. There is great feeling of satisfaction when you can make and quilt it all yourself, and maybe save a little money as well.
“Quilting has always been there to fill in the gaps around farm life and raising a family, something to do at night in front of the TV. Now as the children are growing up and beginning to leave home, I have more time to quilt and more time to teach retreats and workshops away from home.”
For nearly 10 years, Janelle has been sharing her knowledge and designs with students. “I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to teach and run my own classes in local fabric shops, and I have been producing patterns for class projects ever since,” Janelle explains.
“I hope that I can keep the ‘girls’ coming back each week, to sew and chat and solve all the problems of the world in just a few hours. There have been some wonderful friendships made over the years from the sewing classes, complete strangers coming together and becoming lifelong friends, doing a little sewing and a lot of talking about life. That is what quilting classes are all about really.
“Making a quilt can be quite a journey for some, whether it is their first quilt or returning back after a break,” Janelle continues.
“The decision to come to a class and learn patchwork is quite a commitment; usually you have to put in a lot of effort and time for a quilt that is often given away as a gift to friend or family.
I am very thankful for the ladies who keep coming back each class and have supported me over the years.
Like everyone, I need something that makes me get out of bed in the morning that gives me joy and pleasure.
“And it gives me great pleasure when one of the group has finished their quilt and brings it in for show and tell and I see how happy they are with the final result,” Janelle says smiling.
“They will then already have the next quilt or two thought about and planned and may need help with choosing their fabrics, a process I really get a buzz out of, knowing I can be a part of it and help them achieve something.
They tell me this is one of my strengths as I have a knack with colour.”
Janelle’s aim is to have relaxed classes, with no pressure to have a quilt completed in a hurry or to be perfect. “I believe you should try several ways of doing things and then find the method you like and feel comfortable with — getting the best result you can,” Janelle explains.
“I take enormous inspiration from the women of our past, who made their quilts on the ships coming out to Australia, making do with whatever they had. We have it so easy now …”
From a humble life on the farm, Janelle has found a whole new career and with it awards and acknowledgement of her talents.
“There have been a few brilliant moments over the years, including a prize for Retreat Station at the Sydney Quilt Show two years ago.
That was most unexpected and I was absolutely thrilled to make the five-hour drive to collect my prize!” Janelle says.
“Last year the Cootamundra Arts Centre held an exhibition called Fabrics and Fibres, featuring my work. It was a great honour to be part of it, and to be recognised and supported by your local community is very special.
It will be held again this year, in the first week in August, with some more of my work along with other exhibitors. There was also great excitement last December as, while helping with the harvest, I received an email securing stockists in America for my ‘Country Matters’ patterns.”
Janelle explains that her designs are inspired by many things but nothing in particular. “Tiles, gardens and old buildings, other fabrics, and a small pile of colouring books is always good to get out and thumb through for inspiration,” she advises.
“I guess my style is best described as scrappy. I love combining lots of colour and fabrics with hand and machine piecing — with a medium amount of quilting — just enough, as I like to let the design of the quilt do the talking.”
According to Janelle, quilting is her therapy. “I get great enjoyment from others getting addicted to quilting too, especially hexagons,” she says. “Like many quilters, I will need to live a very long life to sew all that has been sketched out and boxed up for future projects.
Not to mention my huge stash of Judie Rothermel and reproduction fabrics that is in the sewing room!”