What are Oz Comfort Quilts?

Jan MacFayden, a quilter and blogger from Victoria, Australia is collecting donations of quilt as you go blocks, sashing strips and completed quilts to give to people affected by the horrendous floods in Queensland. This has become a worldwide effort, quilters from many countries have agreed to help by sending blocks or other items to Jan for distribution to the worst affected areas.
The Daily Telegraph reported this morning (17/1) that "Queensland is still struggling to recover after floods the size of France and Germany combined killed at least 31 people and inundated scores of towns over the past three weeks. Last week, a flash flood in the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane killed 20 people and destroyed entire towns. More than 10 people are still listed as missing. The state capital itself was hit by major flooding and is facing a clean-up operation that could last for months."
Jan says that she is very grateful that she has not been personally affected by the flooding yet this year, "We've been very fortunate to avoid our property being flooded again. We live on the Broken River in Victoria and the river rises and falls very quickly normally, and it fills when we get rainfall in the hills to the east of us. This time the floods have come from the west of our State and 43 towns have been flooded but not us this time. If we do have a flood we have our whole farm flooded but we haven't had the water through our home and we are very grateful for that."

Pretty pinks and greens made from blocks donated by Kaite and Coralie from Bathurst

Jan is aware that a quilt is not necessarily the first thing those affected by the floods need, "I know that some people have said they won't want quilts in Queensland and that the clean-up will be needed first, but I think they are forgetting how long it takes to make enough quilts to make a difference. I learned from my experience with the bush fire quilt appeal that the quilts meant a lot to people not just for warmth but for the tangible evidence that someone cared enough about them to make a hand-made gift from their heart. This comfort and support were what kept them going through some very dark and difficult times. We needed to wait for them to be ready to accept quilts after the fires too and for me making and donating quilts is part of the recovery process- where people can start to look forward to the future and not dwell on all that they have lost. I believe that over 10,000 homes have been affected and to date 31 people have been confirmed dead with still many missing, and the magnitude of it is still staggering."

What can I do to help?

The quilt as you go blocks used by Jan are very simple and quick to make. Jan usually puts these together in 5x7 sets of 35 blocks to make a complete quilt. However, donations of any number of blocks are acceptable,  so don't worry that thirty five blocks seems like big commitment. The blocks are to be made to 10.5" square. Sashing strip donations are also very welcome. Jan needs strips to join blocks cut width of fabric and 2.5" wide,  21 strips are needed to make and bind a quilt with a set of thirty five blocks.

How do I make Oz Comfort Quilt Blocks?

The instructions for constructing the simple quilt as you go blocks are given below. If any international quilters wish to send blocks without the wadding to cut down on postage costs then that would be fine. Jan will just join the blocks sent and make more if needed to make the quilts in sets of 5x7 or 6x8.
These blocks are very easy to make using scraps of batting and string pieces of fabric. By making them this way we can make a lot of quilts quickly without needing to buy a lot of batting. The blocks are made as 10.5" finished squares, by starting with an 11"square and then trimming to 10.5" when the strips have been added.
  1. Start with any 11in square of fabric for the backing, all different colours won't matter and you can even piece the backing square.
  2. Lay batting scraps across the backing, on the wrong side, enough to cover the square and without overlapping the batting. Cut the batting away from the corners to make it easier to join the squares without extra bulk.
  3. Pin a string piece of fabric diagonally across the square.
  4. Then start sewing strips of fabric across the square and covering the seam allowance of the previous strip. Jan uses any width up to 2.5" across the squares. Make sure the strip is long enough to cover the backing. You can also join smaller pieces to make a long strip
  5. Keep sewing until the entire square is almost covered. Use larger triangle pieces for the corners so that there is less bulk in the joining seams. Press the seams as you go.
  6. Sew down across the triangle corners to make sure they lay flat.
  7. Press the block again before trimming. Turn reverse side up to check that the backing will be trimmed correctly. Measure it to 10.5" square and trim the sides.
  8. If making these blocks without the batting, use thin fabric such as old sheets and sew the strips down in the same way using the thin fabric as a foundation. Then trim as before.

More hints on making Oz Comfort Quilt Blocks...

There aren't many rules to follow in making these blocks, but Jan has compiled a handy list of hints to follow which may help. She's made hundreds of these blocks, so she certainly knows what she's talking about!
  • Try to make the blocks either "pretty" in colours for girls or with "boys" fabrics. The people who receive them don't really mind. They just want something sturdy, bright and cheerful. They appreciate the fact that the quilts are handmade especially to comfort them.
  • Cut the background fabric to 11" square and then trim them down to 10.5" after sewing down all the strips of fabric over the batting. During the quilt as you go process, the background fabric may creep a bit and the block may measure smaller than you started with. Starting with an 11in square also means that you will completely cover the background and batting with the fabric strips and not have any seams not covered by the binding strips.
  • It doesn't matter what batting you use- it doesn't have to be lightweight and it doesn't matter if it doesn't match the other blocks. The batting will be completely enclosed by the fabric and as it is stitched to the backing as a foundation, it will not move when the quilt is assembled.
  • You can also use polar fleece or tracksuit fleece for the blocks as they will work in the same way that the batting does.
  • If using thicker batting, trim a triangle off each corner of the block so there is less bulk at this area, ready for Jan joining the blocks.
  • Work with strips of fabric from 1" wide up to 2.5" wide if using batting strips for the block. This makes sure that the wadding is securely anchored, and the blocks look prettier with a wider variety of colours and fabrics.
  • Use triangles of fabric in the corners to lessen bulk.
  • Try not to use the same fabric more than once in each block.
  • Join smaller pieces of fabric and cut them into strings to add interest to the blocks.
  • Make the blocks in a variety of bright and dark fabrics so they don't look murky! The binding strips allow the eye to focus and tiess all the different fabrics together.
  • Binding strips are cut 2.5" wide and across the width of fabric. Plain or tone on tone fabric work best to tone down the rest of the scrappy colours. It takes 21 strips of width of fabric to join the QAYG blocks set 5x7 as well as to complete the binding of the quilt.
  • Have fun with the process as Jan says "It's like eating peanuts and it's hard to stop at just one"

Where do I send my Quilt Blocks?

Send your blocks or sashings strips to Jan MacFadyen, 35 Trevaskis Rd, Kialla East, Vic 3631, Australia. Jan will be ensuring that all quilts are distributed directly to those who would like to receive them. Jan says, "Please don't feel pressured to make and send blocks quickly as it will be some time before the people are in a position to accept quilts as they have no where to store them at present. I will be delivering the quilts through local contacts so they don't become stockpiles in storage, but actually end up with the people who need them. I found that this was a vital part of the bush fire quilt appeal, that I gave them directly to locals who worked with their community and I knew that the quilts were given to those to whom they were intended."

Where can I find out more?

You can read up to date information about Oz Comfort Quilts on the dedicated blog, ozcomfortquilts.blogspot.com/, and at Jan MacFayden's blog, sewmanyquiltstoolittletime.blogspot.com. Thanks to Jan MacFayden for all the information included here, we hope having access to all the information in a single article will make it easy for people to contribute.