My dearest childhood memories are of playing at my grandmother's house. She was from Russia and always seemed like a strange and beautiful alien to me. While mum was down to earth and dyed her own hair in the bathroom sink, didn't own or wear much makeup and always pushed me to study hard, my grandmother (my Babushka) was completely the opposite. To this day, she was the most glamorous woman I've ever seen in my life.
Babushka put so much effort into her appearance. She was never without lipstick, hair done, high heels, drawn-in eyebrows (surprised look! Pre-Botox!). Fur coats that smelled of mothballs and Chanel No. 5. Black stockings. Even her voice, rich and thick with a BIG accent peppered with lots of rolled r "darrrrrr-ling"s always a little too loud, a little too deep. A laugh that you could hear two suburbs down. She would say things like "now I wash the shits" and my brother and I would laugh and laugh. "Lobster and crap" she'd say. Delicious!
I never saw her without red lipstick and her hair done. And when I say done I mean DONE.
This is a woman who went to the hairdresser once a week, teasing and torturing her hair into a bright auburn beehive which would stay that way until her next visit. When the hairdresser washed her hair and I saw it wet for the first time in my life I burst into tears - I thought that she had shaved her head! This strong, powerful and beautiful woman turned into just a regular old lady.
I loved playing in her wardrobe, it was like stepping into Narnia. Full of silk dresses and scarves, lace and big fur coats. Hats and high, high, HIGH heels. I would step into that little world, switch on the light and emerge like a butterfly, smelling of her soft powdery smell and tasting the waxy red paint on my lips, doing the dance of the seven veils with her silky scarves emblazoned with foreign logos that seemed expensive and special.
But the thing that I loved most was her collection of things from Russia. Sweet painted wooden dolls, laces that her mother had sewn and made, quilts patchworked with pieces of fabric that told little stories of where she was from. A little painted forest, a teapot stitched in pink, embroidered initials of people I didn't know using letters that were fancy and formal. It seemed so foreign and so familiar at the same time. I could imagine her world, bright white with snow, animals like bears, tall green pine trees and icy frozen lakes. Even on a 30 degree Bondi day Siberia didn't seem so far away.
And what is this thing? What is this sense of something that is at the same time familiar and unfamiliar? Painted with a brush of colours that you don't recognise exactly but feel like home anyway? I think it's nostalgia. And I'm nostalgic for a past that may or may not have existed. A past that lives in my mind.
When I look at patchwork quilts, or charm bracelets full of a woman's memories, her travels to here and there, a photo album with faces I don't recognise in black and white or painted colours, I might not know these places or these people but they aren't so far away from my places and my people. Women's stories often have a thread that ties us all together.
A patchwork quilt sews squares of fabric from different places, ties them together and binds us all in their seams. Our nostalgia and our shared experiences can be woven together with thread that is so delicate and so strong at the same time, reminding us that the arts of the home, of sewing and fabric and colour and pattern are universal. That our stories from Siberia or Bondi, Thailand or Finland are unique and also comfortable and familiar.
I've made a lot of quilts in my time and we make a lot of quilts for Oobi. They've resonated with mums all over the world and I see photos of their homes, their beautiful intimate spaces, their couches with the funny photos of husband asleep under a mountain of pink squares of fabric. A little girl's bedroom, decorated with so much love, my quilt tucked neatly onto the bed.
Can you imagine the feeling, seeing the homes of people that have chosen my quilts to fill their domestic spaces? A little piece of my Babushka and a little bit of my memory and childhood shared with their families, warming them on a winter's evening, making a space to sit on at a summer's picnic. New memories created under those patches of fabric. Sick days and holidays, cots upgraded to beds - sad and poignant and exciting all at the same time. The comment on the photo says "the cot is gone, and here is her big girl's bed".
And there's my work, painstakingly put together, colours swirling into a coherent piece. Florals and stripes, patterns from my mind, the child becomes a big girl... but the childhood remains.
Alexandra Riggs is the founder of Oobi. She has been in the children's fashion industry for 12 years, starting her company from a garage in Sydney's Bondi. Oobi is a children's fashion label with ethically made garments for girls newborn to 11 years, all designed exclusively by Alex in Australia.
All fabrics are either reprinted vintage prints or exclusively drawn and designed by Alex for Oobi and hand screen-printed in Jaipur, India. Alex travels to India regularly and works exclusively with two family run businesses there, employing many women and artisans in the screen printing business.
And what you really want to know... Oobi the name of the brand comes from her mum, Freida, who had a store in Melbourne in the '60s and called it "Oobi Things" because... it was the '60s. Alex and her family always called anything different, quirky or hard to describe as "Oobi" so when she started a children's fashion line, well, it had to be Oobi. And it's pronounced... oo-be!