It was early on a Wednesday morning at the beginning of September 2015 when I heard the news on the radio. I had just dropped my 4-year-old son off at kinder. In the car on the way home I heard a news report about the violent death of Tara Brown, allegedly at the hands of her ex-partner. More harrowing were the details. Tara had dropped her 3-year-old daughter off at childcare. On her way home she was followed by her ex-partner and run off the road. While still trapped in her overturned vehicle, her former partner beat her with a cast iron water hydrant cover until she was unrecognisable. Her life support was switched off the next day.
I was devastated, for Tara and for her daughter, Aria, who will now grow up without a mother. Later that day another woman, Katrina Lock, was shot and killed by her ex-husband in a crowded McDonalds in front of shocked onlookers.The deaths of these two women saw the death toll rise to 62. In the 36th week of 2015, 62 women in Australia had been killed by intimate partners or in familial circumstances. The appalling figure represented almost 2 women every week.
I was left feeling angry. More than that, though, I felt hopeless and helpless. I decided that I really wanted to do something positive. I wanted to make a tangible difference in the lives of those women and children who suffer such heartbreaking violence at the hands of men who are “supposed” to love them.
I’m quite active in the crafty community – I started quilting when I was pregnant with my second son. I decided to put out a call for the donation of quilt blocks amongst my circle of friends on Instagram and Facebook. My hope was that at least 30 people would donate a quilt block and this would mean I could put together one quilt to donate to a domestic violence refuge in Victoria. What happened next, though, was extraordinary – a testament to the generosity of people. The idea of donating quilts to domestic violence refuges resonated with so many people that within the first week I had received 100 blocks and the promise of hundreds more. My goal of making one quilt for a refuge soon morphed into one for each Australian state and territory.
The project, dubbed #quiltblockstohealviolence, has garnered an enormous amount of support from crafty people all over Australia. I have also received blocks from the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Holland, the UK and Singapore. Women have donated fabric to cover the back of the quilts and small business owners who offer long arm quilting services have offered to professionally quilt them as well. Fabric stores across Australia have also donated fabric and batting and I have received more than 25 fully completed quilts and quilt tops from quilters who want to make a positive contribution.
At this stage I have received 572 block donations from over 120 women. This will be enough to make at least 20 quilts. A couple of the modern quilt guilds in various states are also making their own entire quilt to send across and at least 20 women have assisted with piecing and quilting. I am humbled to be a part of this wonderful group of people – our aim is to wrap women and kids escaping violence in quilts that have been handmade with love.
Men’s violence against women is at crisis levels in Australia. Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) in its recently released report, built on data collected in the 2012 Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey, shows that 1 in 4 women in Australia has experienced violence from an intimate partner – which equates to around 2.3 million women – as well as a raft of other similarly shocking statistics. To give this figure some perspective, of the 120 women who have donated blocks to the project, at least 30 of them will have experienced intimate partner violence at some point since the age of 15. Some of the letters I have received with the quilt blocks bear witness to this fact as does my own personal experience. I am grateful to be able to provide a way for women to contribute in a positive way and to raise awareness of the pervasive nature of this most gendered form of violence against women.
At this stage, I am finalising the binding and labelling of the quilts. I hope to be in a position to donate all of the quilts in the next month.