If you find yourself near Melbourne between now and the 6th of November, do yourself a favour and head on in to the NGV Australia, at Federation Square to see Making the Australian Quilt. In an Australian exclusive the exhibition brings together more than 80 stunning quilts coverlets and patchwork fashion garments as well as examples of quilting techniques.
Not only are these quilts some of the finest examples of craftsmanship I’ve ever seen but they each tell very personal story about the women and men that made them as well as a broader narrative about Australian society at the time.
I went along with my mum last week and we were both at the skill, creativity and resourcefulness shown by the makers of these pieces.
The collection starts it’s story with some of the first English quilts that were brought or sent to Australia, informing and influencing the early quilting practices of local makers. These quilts are in astonishingly good condition for their age probably because the they were made of expensive fabrics, and therefore may not have been a piece for everyday use.
Many of the early colonies quilts were made by ladies of means with materials such as silks, velvets and fine cotton.
“Although access to quilting materials and leisure time was during this period the urge to remain connected with British culture and to emulate the fashionable pastimes of their home country remained a powerful on women. This desire to emulate and recreate British style was not only confined to quilting but was also reflected in a wide variety of activities, from cooking to gardening and fashion. Those who made the long journey to Australia in the first decades of the nineteenth century invariably brought with them all the articles of daily life and had no immediate need to make their own quilts. As a result few Australian quilts were made during this period, and even fewer.”
This miniature quilt was made on route to Australia each is tiny and only 1cm wide. ‘Stunning’ does not even begin to describe how beautiful this quilt is you really need to get up close to appreciate how intricate the work is.
Many of the early quilts were pieced by the English Paper Piecing method and still contain their papers. I actually found this quite interesting as it signifies that these quilts were more for display. There were also several unfinished quilts which were displayed with the reverse showing the paper templates made from newspaper and old handwritten letters.
Many of the examples of quilts from the gold rush era were made by women working in drapery shops and feature lustrous silks and brocades. There was quite an influx at the time so access to these luxury imported fabrics was accessible by those that had means or connections. This era’s collection of quilts was one of my favorites as the intense colors and geometric designs had a very contemporary feel. Mum and I both commented at how, without context, they could easily be assumed to be a modern quilt.