Eaglehawk history all stitched up

Alison Bacon knows a thing or two about patience.

Take, for example, her current project... when WE drops into Alison’s Canterbury Quilts cottage this week, we find her in stitches... with around three hours’ work to go on finishing a quilt that’s been four years and around 300 hours in the making.

Such is the bewitching power of the Dear Jane quilt. Dubbed “The Quilt” in crafty circles worldwide, it has the power to make or break a woman.

“I’ve got two daughters and I’m always very careful with what they’ll get but I can assure you, there’ll only be one of these,” laughs Alison.

“They can toss a coin for it.”

The famous quilt is attempted by many, but finished by few. The sampler quilt was first made in 1863 by Vermont woman Jane Stickle during the American Civil War.

It contains 225 patterns and more than 5600 pieces of fabric, and even to an untrained eye, this work of art is awe-inspiring. 

It’s the Mount Everest of the quilting world and Alison’s just about at the summit.

“I wanted to finish it so I entered it into an exhibition so I had a deadline – it’s got to be in Melbourne in a week,” she says.

Alison’s quilt will join with other completed Dear Janes on show in the Box Hill Town Hall.

Four years seems a very long time to get around to finishing something. 

But then again, Alison has been busy, re-constructing another historic gem, the goldfields-era shop front of J. Baldock Boot Maker in Sailor’s Gully Road, Eaglehawk.

Just as in one of her beloved quilts, the devil was in the detail when it came to this place.

When Alison began looking for a premise to expand her longarm quilting service from home-based business to retail shop front, her heart was set on the Borough.

“I grew up in Eaglehawk, which was probably the starting point for it all,” she says.

“The furthest I’ve moved out of Eaglehawk – apart from a year overseas – was to Woodvale.

“Choosing this place was a no-brainer. 

“I love Eaglehawk and I want to see this place develop.”

Alison spent some time searching for the perfect place, large enough to take her 14-foot industrial longarm sewing machine, plus a showroom for fabrics. 

The quirky old boot maker’s cottage seemed far from ideal, but Alison fell for it regardless.

“I went home and said to my husband, ‘I’ve found the place, in Sailors Gully Road’. 

“It’s the one next to the pub.

“And he said, ‘Are you serious?’”

The cottage was in the street Alison had grown up in, just across from the Eaglehawk Town Hall, where she began her working life.

“To me, this area is the heart and soul of Eaglehawk,” she says.

At the time the for sale sign was put up, the cottage was boarded up and on a lean. 

Alison can’t remember a time when it looked any different.

Only historic photographs can show otherwise.

The tiny cottage, with tiny rooms, fell under a heritage underlay, but Alison believed she could renovate.

That was before a structural engineer’s report deemed the building unsalvageable. “At one stage it looked like we had bought a building that we weren’t going to be able to do anything with,” she says.

It took 12 months of negotiations between builders, council officers and a heritage advisor before Alison gained approval to demolish the cottage and start anew. 

Under the condition that she replicate the original facade.

“That was just unheard of, the fact I’d been given permission to demolish in a heritage area,” she says.

“And it was unusual to be asked to replace the facade, but it was great to do that and it just looks so good for the industry I’m in.”

A glass cabinet in a back corner of the shop is like a little shrine to the boot makers – it contains a boot and shoe found during demolition, as well as paperwork dating back to the 1850s.

Alison’s dedication to the site and tenacity to achieve her goal was recognised in last year’s City of Greater Bendigo Heritage Awards, when she received the award for the best new work in a heritage area.

“It recognised the fact we were in a heritage overlay area and that what we’d done was sympathetic to the area,” she says.

“For me it went somewhere to saying yep, all of that work was worth it. 

“And I’m only one person – there must be others out there doing similar things who deserve that recognition of maintaining heritage values.”

The 2013 awards are now open for submissions. 

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