Cooloolabin quilter Dianne Johnston was invited to show her quilts to royalty in Abu Dhabi.
Cooloolabin quilter Dianne Johnston was invited to show her quilts to royalty in Abu Dhabi. Contributed

'Quilting took me into the Royal Palace'

I RECEIVED an email in 2015 from the then president of the Abu Dhabi Quilters Guild, Larisa Miller.

The email asked if I would be interested in teaching at their annual retreat, held each year at the British Club in the heart of Abu Dhabi.

It mentioned that the writer had purchased patterns from me, which had been posted to her address in the US over past years. She is an avid applique lover and liked my floral designs.

She had moved to Abu Dhabi, and had taken a job as a personal assistant to Princess Sheikha Sharma, a grandaughter of the King of Abu Dhabi. The princess is also a lover of applique and suggested she too would like to see my quilts.

How could I refuse! I have never travelled in that part of the world, and the invitation was too good to turn down.

The trip was organised for October/November 2016. I was to do five days of teaching and a presentation of my quilts at the annual general meeting of their quilting guild.

But most exciting was an invitation from the princess to attend the palace and show my quilts to her.

The planning for the trip was enormous. I wanted to take as many quilts as possible, so packing to fit as many quilts within the airline weight limits was a priority.

I test packed two large suitcases over and over again, finding I could fit the most quilts by rolling each quilt separately and laying them side-by-side in the cases.

I managed to fit 19 large applique quilts, plus class samples and teaching requirements. A small cabin case would carry all my clothes and personal items.

My husband and I flew to Singapore, where we have our son, his wife and our two little grand-daughters, so we had a few days with them before I went on to Abu Dhabi.

My husband stayed in Singapore. It was quite daunting for me to go on to Abu Dhabi on my own, with so much luggage that I could not even lift!

The flight to Abu Dhabi went well and everybody was so helpful and obliging when it came to lifting the two 32kg suitcases. My hostess met me at the Abu Dhabi airport and took me home to lovely apartment.

My first commitment was to attend the annual general meeting of the guild and show and talk about my quilts and the history of my quilting career. I showed 20 large quilts, which were well received.

My second commitment was teaching for five days - a different class each day varying from hand needle turn applique to my shattered glass technique and some floral machine applique.

The students were from all over the world.

The Arab States have a large ex patriot population and there were ladies from Oman, India, Dubai, the US, Belgium, Great Britain, one Australian, Holland and, of course, Abu Dhabi.

The classes all went well and the participants produced some really lovely pieces. All items would need to be completed in their own time after the classes.

The visit to the palace to show my quilts to Sheikha Sharma was a highlight of the trip.

Larisa, my hostess, and I were invited to the palace one evening where I displayed and talked about each of the 20 quilts.

The princess was very interested and asked questions regarding different quilts. Her older brother and his wife also joined us to view the quilts.

His favourite was a quilt named "Geisha Fans" which I made in 2010.

We enjoyed a four-course meal at a 14-seat dining room table, decorated with multiple flower arrangements and candelabra.

The décor and artworks in the palace were absolutely magnificent.

Dinner completed, we enjoyed a walk on the balcony which overlooks Abu Dhabi before it was time to leave the palace.

The princess gave me a small gift for showing her the quilts and I gave her a quilt pattern, and one of my books.

I hope one day she may have the time to sew one of my applique designs.

When my work commitments were completed, I still had a few days to do some sightseeing. Once again the ladies came to the fore and took me to Dubai for an amazing day of shopping, eating, and most of all, friendship.

I left Abu Dhabi with many new friends and I hope we will keep in touch in the future.

My life as a patchwork tutor has been so rewarding in many ways but the friendships with women from all nations around the world will remain a highlight in my life.

I hope the friendships will continue and flourish for many years to come.

Dianne Johnston, who lives at Cooloolabin, has been a quilt maker and teacher for 30 years.

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