I’ve just come back from several days in Melbourne and saw two terrific exhibitions and withstood two days of torrential rain!
The first exhibition was Making the Australian Quilt 1800-1950 at the National Gallery of Victoria. As I’m a “modern quilter” I wasn’t expecting to totally love this show, but how wrong I was! It was just stunning – beautifully curated, and some of the quilts took my breath away, such as the one below.
This quilt was made by an unknown sailor on a voyage by ship form England to Australia in the 1890s. It is absolutely beautiful and the workmanship was stunning, especially when you consider the circumstances of its making.
Then there was this one sewn by Prudence Jeffrey on board The Phoenix which sailed from Liverpool, England on 14 June 1857 and arrived in Melbourne on 26 November 1857. It is paper pieced and each hexagon is 1cm (.39 of an inch) in size. The stitches are exquisitely tiny.
There were over 80 exhibits and it was pleasing to see such a wide variety of styles on display.
The Misses Hampson
who were active in Australia in early 20th century made The Westbury quilt (Sampler quilt) c. 1900–03 which is cotton (flannel) (embroidery and applique)
200.0 x 300.0 cm. It is hand embroidered with animals and scenes from life with matching adages and moral exhortations.
You can see the fine embroidery stitches in this close up.
There were even quilts with cats in the border 🙂 . This beauty has 100 appliquéd cats and thirty -five appliquéd horses. It was created by Elizabeth Keen c. 1879 and consists of repeating blocks hand pieced over paper of squares and diamonds and made of cotton, silk and wool cloth. Elizabeth was a dressmaker and exhibited her quilts outside of the home. It seems that this quilt was exhibited at the Geelong Industrial and Juvenile Exhibition in 1879.
Then there were the Waggas which were rudimentary styles of Australian quilts. The term wagga was first used in the 1890s and refers to quilts, blankets and bedcoverings made from found materials such as grain bags and flour sacks and were associated with households experiencing poverty and hardship. By the 1930s old clothing and woollen suiting swatches from salesman’s sample books were regularly used to make wagga quilts.
The thriftiness and creativity of women knows no national boundaries and the wagga quilts reminded me of the much better known Gee’s Bend quilts of the USA, although they tend to be in brighter colours.
I also felt the quilts below (c. 1920-1930s) reflected design sensibilities of Amish quilts, although I doubt that the quilters would have been aware of Amish designs at that time. They also had a very “modern” aesthetic.
The book/catalogue from the exhibition is a treasure trove of historical information and details of styles and techniques, although I did find some of the colour plates disappointing compared to the quilts themselves. It includes a section on conserving quilts and processes for revealing evidence of makers and their techniques.
It’s not too late to see the quilts, but you need to move fast as the show closes on 6th November.
As this has been a photo heavy post I’ll leave the 2nd exhibition until my next post. Hope you are having a creative week.