Walking through the front door into Blueberries is like stepping through the black and white farmhouse door into the colourful land of Oz.
Okay, so Wyong, on the NSW Central Coast, doesn’t look much like Dorothy’s dreary, monochrome and landlocked Kansas. But the bright and airy interior of Blueberries, with its rows and rows of fabric bolts, jelly rolls and eye-catching displays, does conjure up something of the vivid colours of Munchkinland. And yes, some of the magic as well.
Established in 2006 by Jackie Leybourne, Blueberries has quickly established itself as one of the country’s leading quilting and patchwork shops. It’s one of only 12 stores chosen nationally to participate in the Quilt Aid Project, and is constantly humming with a whole calendar of daily classes by some of the country’s most experienced and knowledgeable professionals.
As well as all this, Blueberries’ online newsletter, Midweek Moments, keeps over 2000 of the faithful both informed and enthralled every week with its hot deals, bargains, specials, competitions and fundraisers. There’s also the so-hot-right-now ‘Material Girl’ column, where Jackie’s alter ego gets passionate about fabrics, while staff members Linden Airey and Rachael Porter share their knowledge with their respective ‘Pattern Princess’ and ‘Go-Go-Gadget Girl’ columns. There’s also juicy extras like the soap operatic story of the invention of the sewing machine and a nine-month, globetrotting history of hats. Anyone can subscribe to Midweek Moments for free. It’s where the craziness and fun begins.
Blueberries’ home town of Wyong is situated on the picturesque NSW Central Coast, about twenty minutes drive south of Newcastle’s southernmost suburbs and forty five minutes north of Sydney’s northernmost. The F3 Sydney Newcastle Freeway is your Yellow Brick Road to quilting nirvana (although the traffic is a bit heavier), so finding Blueberries by car is very easy.
The Central Coast itself is sometimes laconically known as “Nanna Central” due to the large number of retirees who’ve been settling here for decades. But the nickname belies the rapidly growing number of young families and workers of all ages who are also settling here away from the pressure cooker lifestyle of the city.
Blueberries is open five days a week, with its sell-out classes and group activities scheduled for every day. Visitors and out-of-towners are always welcome, even if you’re just passing through. Come and chat with Jackie and the staff and feast your eyes on the mesmerizing displays of fabrics, kits, patterns, haberdashery, books and associated quilting goodies. You certainly won’t be in Kansas anymore.
Visit the Blueberries Wyong Shop today, directions are below, or browse the Blueberries online shop. Quilting and Bus groups are welcome with plenty of parking available. Keep reading to Meet the Blueberries Team and Tutors.
Address: Unit 6, 4 Dulmison Avenue Wyong NSW 2259 | Postal Address: PO Box 686 Wyong NSW 2259
Telephone: 02 4355 4400 | Fax: 02 4355 4411 | Email: email@example.com
Blueberries is located on the Central Coast of New South Wales, approximately one hour north of Sydney and 45 minutes south of Newcastle.
From Sydney travel north on the F3 Freeway for approximately 45 mins, then take the Wyong exit. Follow the signs to Wyong which will take you on the Pacific Highway north through Wyong CBD for approximately 2 km, then you will come to a T intersection with a roundabout, turn right at the roundabout, which leads onto a bridge over the railway line, then take your second left which is Lucca Road then immediately turn left into Dulmison Avenue.From Newcastle travel south on the F3 Freeway to Sparks Road Exit, which is sign-posted as Wyong/Toukley. Follow Sparks Road for approx 4kms then turn right at the lights onto Minnesota Road. Follow Minnesota Road through to 2nd set of traffic lights at Pacific Highway and turn right. Follow Pacific Highway to North Wyong and turn right onto Lucca Road then immediately turn left into Dulmison Avenue.
Blueberries owner Jackie Leybourne cites her mother’s influence as the prime reason she originally became interested in sewing and patchwork. "Mum was always making clothes for my brother's and I when we were young" she explains.
The leap into patchwork came when Jackie's mum suggested they attend a patchwork class together. "I wasn’t too keen on the idea initially, but I went along and found I enjoyed it. The patchwork bug bit me and I was hooked" Jackie recalls.
In a few years Jackie's passion for patchwork grew from a hobby into a business venture when she opened her first patchwork store in 2003. Jackie mentions that she has found it important to keep the business modern and fresh by not only keeping abreast with market trends but also by implementing important business tools such as our website and weekly newsletter, things many similar businesses have not done.
“I like helping customers pick their fabrics when they come in with a particular project in mind. At times it is nice to work with a customer who is wiling to move out of their comfort zone. The best part about my job, however, is when customers bring their finished projects back in, you can really see the joy they had in making it.” Jackie says.
The description “fabric addict” is Rachael Porter’s own, and one she uses with pride. After many years of exploring different creative outlets, such as ceramics, folk art, machine embroidery and scrapbooking, patchwork has proven to be the “one mainstay”, the perennial constant she has returned to again and again. “Rather like that one enduring true love after lots of affairs,” she says with a laugh.
However, not unlike true love, the relationship had some rocky patches along the way, especially in the beginning. “I hated sewing when I was at school and my first sewing project, which was a skirt, ended up in the bin,” she confesses. “I did textiles and enjoyed screen printing and batik, but I could never quite get my head around using a sewing machine.”
That changed about 14 years ago when she went to a beginners’ patchwork class put on by a colleague and quickly became addicted. It was through her love of patchwork that she “finally made peace” with sewing machines. Rachael has now registered a business name and has written her first pattern, which is available at Blueberries.
“Working at Blueberries is the perfect job for me and I’ve learned so many new techniques here,” she says. “It’s been an exciting journey that’s opened up a world of opportunity.” Just like true love, really.
The most unexpected thing about Linden Airey’s journey to Blueberries was the big fork in the road that she didn’t see coming. Linden's background is in the hospitality industry and started at Blueberries last October serving the food and coffee at the first demo day.
Linden then started working at Blueberries serving in the shop. Her talent was not realised until a staff meeting when other staff members saw the sketch Linden had been quietly doodling in the background and they suggested she try her hand at embroidery.
“I had a little bit of sewing experience,” Linden says. “When I was a kid I used Mum’s machine to sew clothes for my Barbies and I made my cossies on the old tredle, but I’d never really done embroidery before. But now that I think of it, it kind of makes sense to me – you could say that embroidery is where drawing and sewing overlap."
Like the other staff at Blueberries, Linden really enjoys the enthusiasm of the ladies who come into the shop, and the excitement they have for the projects they’re working on. Linden finds their passion and enthusiasm “very infectious” and is able to use the inspiration for her own projects, which she says she has “a hard time putting down”.
For Carmel Leybourne, it was her mother in law who first got her started on her sewing journey.
"I hadn't been married for very long when she gave me my first sewing machine, an old 1950's Singer" Carmel recalls. "I'd never really done any sewing before, except a bit by hand at school, and hadn't shown any particular interest in sewing.
Carmel quickly developed an enduring passion for sewing, teaching herself through patterns, practice, and lots of unpicking. Before she knew it, she was making her own clothes, and then in time, her children’s clothes as well. Later on, she surprised herself when she completed a soft furnishings course with a high distinction.
“My maternal grandmother was a very accomplished sewer, making lots of clothes as well as costumes for plays,” says Carmel. “She was also very good at calligraphy and a passionate cook, so I’ve obviously inherited some of her creativity.”
Carmel sees her own passion for cooking as going “hand-in-hand” with the sewing. “They’re both nurturing, warming activities that bring people together,” she says. “And that’s one of the things I love most about what sewing has given me – it’s very much a ‘people’ thing.” The regular Blueberries customers would have to agree.
Carmel has been a familiar face on the Blueberries staff for five years, sharing her passion, knowledge and experience with dozens of new enthusiasts.
How did you start working at Blueberries?
I was sick of my regular job so I sent Jackie an email explaining how I love sewing. Then about a week later when I was in the shop, she asked if I was Emily and offered me a job interview.
How often do you work?
I’ve been working there for about a month now, just on Saturdays, and possibly Thursday nights as well when night classes are on.
What do you enjoy most about working at Blueberries?
It’s such a great environment to be working in. It’s so clean and organised and relaxed. It’s a great job because you’re busy all the time but the work is so interesting, the busyness doesn’t matter. It’s fun.
How long have you been a sewer?
I was bitten by the sewing bug when I was about seven and haven’t stopped since (I’m 16 now). Grandma bought me a sewing machine for my 15th birthday so I’ve been doing even more sewing than ever. At school I managed to top the year in the final report of textiles. I love making my own clothes and stuff like that.
Tutors at Blueberries
Monica Poole, who tutors at Blueberries on a regular basis, admits that handbags are her specialty. With years of design experience in the fashion industry and the owner of a successful pattern-making business, she explains that handbags have gradually become the items she’s most known for.
“My handbags evolved because of my fashion industry background,” she says. “While quilting means working with a flat surface, handbags have more dimensions and that utilises my pattern-making skills.” Not that Monica shies away from quilting, or indeed, from practically any form of sewing, as her passion for this kind of creativity is hard to miss. She started at age 16 studying fashion and pattern-making at TAFE and worked her way up to become a fashion designer.
“In the fashion industry I specialised mainly in evening wear and wedding dresses,” she says. “Then, after my first child was born I took a part time job at a sewing shop, where I started teaching sewing. That was also when I got into patchwork and quilting. After the shop owners closed the business, I started my own home studio, with a lot of the girls following me from the shop to the home studio.”
In 2002 Monica established Moonshine Designs, selling patterns across Australia. Monica explains that she tries to keep her designs interesting enough for people to want to make them, but also to include something unique in each pattern, like a new sewing technique. Her individuality also shows through in her quilting.
“I’m not a traditional patchworker,” she says. “I have more of a modern slant on it. I like to use modern fabrics with bright colours and machine-sewn, rather than by hand.”
Which brings us back to those famous handbags. Monica is philosophical about why they’re such a hit. “The good thing about handbags is that they don’t have to actually fit anyone,” she says with a smile.
Monica website is www.moonshine-designs.com.