A Patchwork Economy should be a strength, not a weakness

4 05 2013

Those of you who follow my Unique Stitching Facebook page will have seen that I took exception to the continued reference by members of our Government to patchwork as a negative and problematic part of our economy, our health and education systems and the delivery of disability care and so on.  That comment and this post does not reflect a position on the Government, positive or negative.  I don’t agree that ‘patchwork’ is the term to be used to describe difference, diversity, inconsistency or the requirement to make do.  Yet then again that is exactly what it is.

The Oxford University Press defines patchwork as:

noun [mass noun]

  • needlework in which small pieces of cloth in different designs, colours, or textures are sewn together:a piece of patchwork [as  modifier]:a patchwork bedspread

  • [count noun] a thing composed of many different elements so as to appear variegated:a patchwork of stone walls and green fields

Your Dictionary dot com defines it as:


  1. anything formed of irregular, incongruous, odd, or miscellaneous parts; jumble
  2. a quilt or other covering made of patches of cloth, etc. sewn together at their edges
  3. any design or surface like this

Interesting that both dictionaries state it is a noun, yet our Government uses it as an adjective.

My view is that being patchwork, whether a noun or an adjective should be something seen as a positive.  If we go back to the very reasons behind patchwork, it was about making do with what was available.  Fabrics were recycled and sewn together to make utilitarian, functional items.  At the same time, fabric was put together in patterns so that the utilitarian items also were visually pleasing and beautiful as well as functional.  In times of poverty, such as the great depression, patchwork became both popular and essential.  Patchwork was about saving money and reuse of what we had. Doesn’t that sound like something to be venerated, not condemned, particularly in the wake of the Global Economic Crisis?

To illustrate what I am talking about, I went to the scrappiest quilt I have ever made.  I like scrap quilts because they have this order out of chaos thing going on.  I like that.  In this case, I used a pack of 50 six inch floral charm squares.  This pack was one of those what on earth was I thinking packs.  There were, in my mind, some truely hideous fabrics in that pack.  My challenge was to make it work, so I divided the pack into value – light and dark – completely ignoring colour or pattern.  It got a bit dodgy around the middle and calls had to be made on just how dark the mediums could be and still be classified as lights.  Compromise had to be made and the groupings worked because when viewing the quilt, the pattern dominates the individual parts.  The process of making the patchwork caught up the weaker areas and bought it together in harmony.

Although I hate half the fabrics in here, I love the quilt.  It works because of the compromise and the integration and the harmony that is then created.


In some cases, the pattern over rode fabrics that were just not nice:

scrap 2

Or just did not belong:

scrap 4

But overall the sense of balance and coherency wins.

scrap 3

So, with some reflection and thought, I think it is good that we have a patchwork economy and health system etc.  It is the very diversity of all the disparite parts that make us strong.  We just have to find the unifying pattern.

Patterns for this and seven other scrap quilts can be found in my Stashbuster Book:  http://www.uniquestitching.com.au/p/1025033/stashbuster-quilts-by-cecile-whatman.html

The Magic of our postal system

12 09 2011

You know, after eleven years as a mail order business, the fact that the postal system works 99.9% of the time still amazes me.  It seems like magic right out of Harry Potter that I can pop something into the little red or yellow box, and some time later, it arrives at a totally different place where it is needed or wanted.  The faith we have in this process is astounding and the system behind it, which makes the process so effective should be lauded.  I recently had a son looking for work who looked at the Australia Post website.  The description of the mail sorters is a must read and indeed, I think the unspoken criteria is experience as a junior wizard.

Our faith in the system is so great that it is news-worthy when the system breaks down.  Every six months or so and as recently as last week or the one before it, we heard of a postal worker who was stealing mail.  This breach of faith seems so great that it must be widely reported and commented on.  I find it interesting and a bit sad, but not exceptional.  The system, as wonderful and reliable as it is, is not infalliable.  There are humans at every part of it, sender, sorter, deliverer and receiver and all play a part in the system, creating room for human error and failings.

As a long term mail order business, I have seen a lot of examples of “mail failure”.  About nine years ago, my first experience with the system failing on a grand scale, there was an elderly postal worker in the Sydney area who, as he neared retirement could not finish his run every day, so rather than acknowledge his weakness, hoarded his mail in his garage. About five years ago a mail truck was involved in a major accident on the Hume Highway damaging and losing a significant amount of mail.  About six years ago I was effected by another mail sorter in one of the large Metropolitan sorting centres pocketing mail that looked interesting and about three years ago I had about 200 monthly clubs in the local post box when some young ones decided to see what happened when you put multiple fireworks in the big red box.  Needless to say what ever happened it was not good for the mail.  That same box was set on fire about a year later, again apparently for sport.  We have seen delays for major natural disasters such as floods and fires.  As someone who posts large numbers of items and is using the postal system every day of the year, you see a lot.  Most of the time when something happens, Australia Post let you know and you get on with replacing it.  That is fine, you know what happened and your faith remains firm that it is the exception rather than the rule.  I also wonder about the packages that take a magical myster tour and show up months after they were sent, but at least they show up – explicably.  Sometimes a package goes into the system inexplicably never to be seen again.  I don’t like those.  They confuse me and make me question my faith in the magic of the system.

But it is when there are failures at the receivers end I don’t quite know how to react.  Sometimes mail gets stolen from letter boxes or delivered to the wrong address suburbs away.  We usually work this out.  I had one customer who wanted to exchange an item – no problem – but she took six months to send it to me and I replaced it within a week. Months on she only remembers it took nearly seven months to get her item. Amusing, a bit frustrating, but explicable.  This year I have had one address in WA that the package keeps getting returned to me.  It is like a long distance game of ping pong.  Does the person have a neighbour or relative that does not want the goods to arrive?  Is the address so obscure no one can find it?  Am I losing the plot?  Why is this happening.  At the other end of human behaviour over the years I have had two customers who repeatedly claimed that the goods did not arrive, but were not telling the truth.  In both cases Australia Post got their fraud people involved in that.

In all these cases I have cited, it is the exception rather than the rule.  A handful of parcels do not arrive at the expected time each year.  Most of the time they show up a bit delayed, no doubt with a story, should they be able to talk.  And every time something very odd happens, the system is the solution.  In the events of catastrophe I described above such as fire works and truck accidents, Australi Post have notified me of the event.  When ever there are delays or questionable activities, my post office rings the local post office, sometimes tracking all the way through the mail centres that the item should have transited, almost always getting to the local postal worker on your street or post office.  What these guys know about us is scary.  Many of them have been delivering mail to the same addresses for years and remarkably can remember whether a package was delivered last week or not.  It proves that the system is not magic, but in fact a labyrinth of individuals, the vast majority of whom take their job seriously and do it well.  They also don’t like it when the system is blamed for other human frailties such as dishonesty or theft.

Obviously with increased tracking and technology, finding the wandering and delayed should be easier, however most customers do not choose a trackable option.  Probably because our faith in the system is so great.  I should insist on certified mail in a lot of examples but it adds to the cost of delivery and I try to keep that down.  This is despite the cost of mailing something generally being less than the cost of fuel and parking if you were to drive to the local shops to collect it.

I love our postal system.  I love that I can still feel awe when I pop something in the post.  And I love that when things go wrong, 99.99% of the time I can explain it.  I now need to go back to my game of Ping Pong.



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