Elizabeth Pilkington Tells Escape Southern Highlands How A Major Health Scare Set Her Life On A New Course, Creating Beautiful One-Offs In The Backyard Of Her Bowral Home.
‘We moved here in 2008 just before our first daughter was born. Although we didn’t know anyone in the Highlands, it somehow made sense to my husband, Colin, and me to come here because we had both grown up in the country. I’d been raised around Orange and Bathurst, and Colin on the Monaro, and we both wanted more space as we started our family.
Ever since leaving university, I had worked in corporate communications in Sydney. But after buying our 100-year-old cottage in Bowral and becoming a mum to two girls, I could see that my corporate role wasn’t going to fit in with my mothering commitments. It was probably time for a career change. So I became accredited as a mediator in commercial and workplace situations, and by the time the girls were at primary school we were all set to move back to Sydney.
But life has a funny way of taking you unexpectedly in other directions, and in 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was absolutely terrifying.
Two years on I’ve been through all the treatments and surgeries and, although I don’t believe you can ever really say you are cancer free, I’ve got a good prognosis.
The cancer did lead to us reassessing everything, and one of the main reasons we decided to stay in the Highlands was because of the community. It really was just so amazing to us in terms of the support our family received during that time. And when I say amazing, I mean meals left on the verandah every day at 5pm. I felt such warmth and care and support, so we made the decision to stay, and then proceeded to do more work on the house, including adding a modern extension so I could have a studio.
This meant I could finally pursue my lifelong interest in fabric and design, which previously hadn’t been possible as something I could do as a fulltime job. I’ve always loved fabric, and I’ve been collecting it ever since I was a girl. I love the colours and textures, and working out combinations that might be surprising but look amazing together.
I started PieceByPieceHome a year ago, with the idea of producing a one-off piece every time I made something. So each and every one of my bags, cushions, throws and scarves is different and unique. I thought of doing it this way because I don’t like the idea of mass production and off-shoring, but even more than that, it’s about people having something unique. I really like that each piece is truly special.
I knew the standard of my sewing wasn’t as good as I wanted for my creations, so I work with a fabulous local dressmaker, Danielle Hewitt from Bundanoon. This means I can focus on sourcing beautiful fabrics and working on the design of my pieces.
My studio is home to the most amazing collection of fabrics. Last year I was lucky enough to go to Paris where I sourced some beautiful textiles, particularly from artist Nathalie Lete, and I’ve just returned from the US where I found so many treasures.
Since opening my backyard studio, I still feel very flattered every time someone buys something like one of the original paintings I also sell by my brother Matt Pilkington, who is an artist. It’s like a little endorsement in my head that others seem to like what I’m producing and that, yes, I’ve done the right thing.’