IN BED x Heirloom Quality Supplies

Images by Morgan Sette

This week we’re thrilled to welcome a collaboration our team have been looking forward to for quite some time; A series of one-of-a-kind quilts made by the lovely and talented, Sherrin Koch, founder of Heirloom Quality Supplies in Adelaide. Each quilt is handmade by Sherrin from offcuts and ends of our linen bedding with the end result being a truly unique piece that is functional, sustainable and beautiful to look at. We caught up with Sherrin at her store to chat about starting a business mid-pandemic, her creative process and working with us on this project.

Hi Sherrin, can you start by telling us a little bit about you and your store?

Sure! I opened Heirloom in October of last year (mid pandemic - hooray!) I had been planning to leave my previous job in the middle of 2020 to open the store that I’d been conceiving for years, and I guess my determination to see that through was stronger than the genuine unassuredness that people would ever leave their houses again to shop!  It feels a little strange that, while every business on the planet has been frantically “pivoting” their offerings in to the digital space, I’ve been actively backflipping in to the bin fire that is bricks and mortar retail because I believe that there’s still a place for interestingly curated and expertly staffed places to browse and shop. I like the idea that it allows the owner and customer to build a genuine relationship over time.

At Heirloom Quality Supplies we specialise in quality, utilitarian products for the home and the individual. We offer a small range of simple and timeless products, with our emphasis placed on function and longevity. We operate with the understanding that well-made, well-loved and well-used possessions are always better for the individual, the community and the environment. The shop also doubles as a studio space for me to practise and showcase my quilt making. If you visit the shop on any given day, you can see my quilts at different stages of construction (and probably my work bench in various states of disarray!)

The shop also doubles as a studio space for me to practise and showcase my quilt making.

What I love most about the shop is it’s physical location. We’re so lucky to be situated in Adelaide Arcade which is the most historic (and beautifully architectural) shopping precinct in the CBD. It was built in the late 1800’s and now it’s home to some of Adelaide’s most interesting independently owned and operated businesses. I almost always work by myself, so it’s been a real delight to form relationships with the other tenants, many of whom are also skilled artists and craftspeople in their own right.

When did you first start making quilts and how did your creative practice evolve to where it is today?

Effectively, I’m self-taught when it comes to textiles. My actual degrees are in film-making and photography, but I guess it’s all in that “art school” vein of education.

I was interested in making everything and anything when I was young, and that naturally included picking up the ability to sew from somewhere. But it wasn’t until I was half-heartedly meandering through my university studies back home in Adelaide, that I started to sew with more intent. Given that I was a student at the time, my quilts were patched from pieces of fabric I was finding at second hand stores. They’re weren’t anything I’m particularly proud of now, but what they did do, is allow me to make literally hundreds of mistakes - choosing wrong fabrics, dyeing things I shouldn’t have, quilting over puckers in the fabric, not paying attention to the fabric’s weave or bias, pricking myself and bleeding all over a 95% completed quilt, and the biggest of all sins (in my opinion) using basting spray from a can. Never do that - you’ll end up crying over a wonky, puckered mess that makes your needle all sticky and you’ll be too upset to ever summon the patience to fix it.

After all of that, as one would hope, you inevitably reach the point where, having paid heed to the mistakes, you acquire some competence with what you’re doing. It was 2019 by the time I eventually fumbled my way into the process that I now use for all of my works. I had been accumulating bags full of linen scraps from making my own clothes when I realised that I should try making them into a quilt, instead of using the recycled, naturally dyed cotton I was slaving over (to little avail) at the time. I switched to patching with linen and I haven’t looked back.

Quilts are often seen as legacy items; special pieces to be passed from one generation to the next. Is this idea something that you were drawn to when you first started making?

Absolutely, but I think, the more prevalent idea for professional quilters at the moment is actually re-introducing and re-framing the concept of quilting for modern life. I’ve been surprised by how many people I meet who don’t actually know what a quilt is in the context that I’m speaking about. It takes some people a minute to realise that when I say quilt, I’m not talking about the down-filled doona you put on your bed. A more contemporary or descriptive term might be “blanket”, but for me that ignores the incredibly long and unique history of quilt making as both an art form and a utility, the practise of which is intrinsically and proudly linked to the idea of “women’s work”.

Quilt making, as a craft today, isn’t an insubstantial industry, but I personally find that it’s dominated by the consumption of materials and the act of quilt making as “hobby” (in the sense that the finished object is merely a byproduct of the process). What I’m interested in is creating objects of duality that are both utilitarian and artistically expressive. For me, if I can achieve this balance, then the idea of legacy is an exciting one.

Can you talk us through your process when making one of your quilted pieces and in particular how you went about making the pieces for IN BED?

I follow roughly the same process for all of my pieces - design, measure, cut, piece, baste, quilt and bind. The only difference with these IN BED pieces was in the designing stage. Because we’ve made them entirely from IN BED offcuts/ends, I was bound by how much I had of each colour to work with.

I found the work to be an interesting new challenge because I’m used to having access to virtually unlimited amounts of linen in whichever colour I choose ( I design carefully first and then buy my fabric). So this was a nice way to connect to the roots of quilting - using only what fabric you have on hand and thus effectively designing in reverse. I also work with quite saturated, bold and contrasting colours, so it required some extra thinking on how I was going to make the lovely washed, muted and complimentary tones of the IN BED linen work in a patched design.

All of the fabric is cut by hand, pieced together on the sewing machine, and then basted to the inner wool layer and the quilt back. Once the layers have been pinned, I put the work on my quilting frame and quilt it by hand with Japanese Sashiko thread. Lastly, the binding is attached to the quilt top and hand-stitched to the back. They take a lot of work! I think I roughly timed that the khaki and natural piece took me around 45 solid hours of sewing.

All of the fabric is cut by hand, pieced together on the sewing machine, and then basted to the inner wool layer and the quilt back.

Are there any groups or resources that you could recommend to budding quilt enthusiasts? Either to learn the craft or share their work?

Yes! There’s so much information out there if you want to go looking for it. Obviously there’s heaps of information and resources online - Instagram and YouTube (I swear there’s a million little old Southern ladies on YouTube who have videos covering every quilting technique you could ever want to learn!)

If you don’t know where to start at all, make sure you check out any independent and local quilting/fabric stores in your area. The people there are always so helpful and you’ll be helping them by not shopping for your equipment at big craft store chains. They’ll also be able to put you in contact with local quilting groups and guilds if you’re interested in learning more.

Other than that, the key is to experiment and practice. Start with what you have on hand and see what you can make!

What are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2021?

In what’s left of 2021, I’m looking forward to making more meaningful connections - both with my customers in-store and with other potential collaborators. I don’t sell online, so I’m looking at ways of getting my pieces into other stores around Australia. My pieces are an investment so it’s important that people get to see and feel the work in person. Quilts are objects of scale and texture, so I’m so excited to have these pieces in the IN BED flagship store where more people can connect with them, and hopefully they will all find loving homes!