MADNESS, obsession, sharing, creativity, fun, self-confidence. These were the words that came up again and again in an interview with four women who last week achieved a dream: to introduce to Hong Kong a craft that has changed their lives. The decision to open a quilting shop and teaching workshop in Wan Chai - the territory's first - was less a business decision than a lifestyle one for Evelyn Shannon, Louise Scott, Wendy Goodwin and Linda Liljequist, together with two other friends. 'Some people think it's crazy - buying lengths of fabric, cutting them into little pieces and then spending up to a year sewing them back together again,' said Linda, an American who used to paint but who now admits she is 'obsessed' by quilting. 'And in a way it is,' she continued. 'But it is also a way to be artistic, to create friendships, and make something beautiful that, we hope, will be around longer than we will.' There is one big surprise about the business: it is a quilting shop, but, although the room is full of fabrics, cottons and patterns, the one thing they will not be selling is quilts. 'They take too long to make for us to sell them in a shop,' said Linda protectively of the huge pieces that can take one person up to a year to create. She has only ever given one of her quilts away. 'That was to my sister-in-law and you should have seen the fuss I made. I put the title - they always have titles - on a laminated card; I gave her washing instructions and a strict talk about how this is a family heirloom,' she said, laughing. 'You weave so many memories into these things; nothing can replace that.' The shop opened on Monday. By Tuesday they had 25 women in there, sewing and talking in what is planned to be a regular weekly meeting. By Wednesday they had regular customers and by Thursday people had already signed up for some of the many classes they are planning to run throughout the year. Quilting does not, to an outsider, seem as if it could be the key to adventure, but, as the four women stressed, this is not the staid stay-at-home occupation one might have imagined. Each of the friends has anecdotes about a funny thing that happened to them on the way to the quilting shop. Things that sometimes alarmed their families. Linda has a friend whom she jokingly calls 'the serial killer'. They met in a fabric shop during a holiday Linda spent in America, stayed talking for five hours, and she went to the woman's home several times even though it was three hours out of town. 'My family couldn't believe I went off with a stranger like that, they said she could have been a serial killer.' Evelyn once met a fellow-fanatic in the back streets of Los Angeles: she was so intent on discussing patterns, techniques and the way quilting had changed their lives that she stayed with the woman for three days, without telling her husband. How do you spot a quilter in the street? 'By the glazed look in her eyes,' Wendy suggested. 'Actually this woman was quite crazy,' Evelyn admitted. 'She turned up in a silk taffeta evening dress. My husband couldn't believe it.' Going off with strangers . . . it all sounds rather like a cult. They laugh. 'Well, it's addictive, and you're never the same afterwards,' Linda said. Wendy's introduction to quilting came as a total conversion 12 years ago, when she walked into a quilting shop in her home town of Preston in Lancashire. 'My daughter Sian wrote in her diary that night that mummy came out of the shop with a funny look in her eye,' Wendy said. She had been attracted by the colours, and the chance to make her own mark on the way the fabrics were patterned. She stayed because she found it was fun, and it gave her a much-needed sense of confidence. She said she had been very shy 12 years ago. 'I couldn't say boo to a goose. But then, by the time I left England two years ago I thought nothing about standing up in front of 30 or 40 people and giving a talk.' Coming to Hong Kong with her husband, she thought she might find a job in order to meet new people. But she found the local quilting chapter and that was enough. 'Roger came back one day and said there was a job for a bored housewife advertised on the notice board. And I said 'go out and find one then',' Wendy joked. Husbands can sometimes feel a little excluded. One, whom I talked to on the phone called quilting 'the female equivalent of golf', and referred to himself laughingly as a 'quilting widower'. But he, like the other husbands, has been supportive of the venture. Louise, who is originally from Scotland, took up the craft when the family moved to Australia. She had been working as a university chaplain, and juggling that emotionally demanding job with her roles as mother and wife. The mechanical, soothing occupation of sewing helped reduce stress. 'I found [quilting] was really like a woman's life,' she said. 'You cook, you clean, you wash, you sew, you look after people . . . it's quite monotonous, unchanging. Like stitching. 'But all that sewing added up to something concrete and lasting.' Just as, she said, her routine tasks helped to create a concrete form to her own family's life. The craft of quilting started in Europe and was exported to America with the pioneers. As it was becoming old-fashioned in the Old World, it became a living tradition in the New. Popularity surged in 1976 with the bicentennial celebrations, and even more when the rotary cutter was invented in Japan, revolutionising fabric cutting of up to 10 layers at a time. Although American men are becoming more interested in the craft, 'it appeals particularly to engineers, because of the intricacy of making things fit, and all the angles you have to work out. No Hong Kong men have come forward. 'Perhaps they feel it isn't macho enough,' said Evelyn. 'It was interesting when I gave a talk at Island School, the boys hung back in the beginning but when it came to leave, they were the last to go.' Almost all the quilters in Hong Kong are expatriates, although that number includes several Singaporean, Malaysian and American Chinese women. Several Japanese people have already shown an interest in the shop. The ancient tradition of sashiko involves making very precise patchworks with indigo dyes, and American-style quilt-making is now very popular in Japan. 'It hasn't caught on here, though,' said Evelyn. 'And it isn't part of the Hong Kong culture.' 'Not yet!' the others chorused enthusiastically. 'We'd really love it if some local women joined. That was part of the reason for opening this shop,' said Wendy. 'We'd like them to see us as we really are. Not the strangers they see on the streets.' Country Cottage. 404 Dominion Centre, 43 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai. Tel: 2540-7990.