Making the Australian Quilt: 1800 -1950 – NGV Australia

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Amy Amelia Earl, born England 1867, arrived Australia 1884, died mid 20th century, Child’s nursery rhyme quilt 1925, wool, cotton (cretonne), hessian, 140.0 x 93.0 cm, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, Presented by Mrs Margaret Kent, 1995

Making the Australian Quilt: 1800 – 1950 presented by the National Gallery of Victoria at NGV Australia in the Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square at Melbourne from July 22 – November 6, 2016 will through the expansion of knowledge, be sure to enhance Australia’s rich heritage in textiles.

Tony Ellwood, Director of the NGV observed Making the Australian Quilt will uncover remarkable personal stories about the Australian character, our ingenuity and thriftiness through the lens of our nation’s quilting legacy” he said.

Annette Gero

Quilt Historian Dr Annette Gero, FRSA

Australian Quilt historian Dr Annette Gero co-curator with Katie Somerville NGV Senior Curator Fashion and Textiles, along with guest lecturers, will relate the story of how quilting was not only an activity exclusive to women makers, by also offering examples made by a sailor and prisoner of war.

Dr Gero has been documenting and collecting Australia’s heritage in quilts since 1982. She wrote her acclaimed book The Fabric of Society published in 2008 to “… not only reflect the heritage quilts found in Australia but also the social history of countless ordinary people and some quite extraordinary people from our past”.

A majority of the Quilts on show will be fine examples of intricate quilting techniques and have either been loaned from Dr Gero’s outstanding personal collection, or have been drawn for display from sources uncovered by her during some thirty years of research.

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Mary Jane Hannaford, born England 1840, arrived Australia 1842, died 1930, Good night quilt 1921 (detail), cotton (chintz), wool, silk, beads (embroidery and applique), 199.0 x 205.0 cm, Private collection, New South Wales

In an interview with Dr Gero she revealed early quilts in Australia “… were made by convicts, Governors wives, Gold Rush immigrants, wealthy shop owners, dressmakers, church ministers, WWI diggers, people who were forced off the land during the Depression, WWII Australian prisoners of war, rabbit trappers, artist’s wives and finally last, but not least, Mum who made all her children’s clothes and never threw anything away” she said.

Sleeping soundly under the stars with just a quilt for cover and comfort in the backyard is an experience that many Aussie kids have shared in common and it’s good to see them coming back into contention, favour and fashion.

The history and development of quilting around the world is a fascinating subject and with a powerful storytelling capacity these stitches in time reflect the development from the world of fashion to that of art and design.

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Mary Jane Hannaford, born England 1840, arrived Australia 1842, died 1930, Advance Australia quilt 1920–21, cotton, printed cotton, wool, silk, beads, sequins (embroidery and applique), 155.0 x 164.0 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased 1983

Quilts are creative counterpanes of comfort, which over the centuries have enveloped many people in their warmth.

Most of the Quilts on display have a significant Australian provenance, although the nineteenth century English quilts included will represent those brought or sent to Australia, informing and influencing the early quilting practices of local makers.

Leslie LevySpecial guest Leslie Levy, Executive director of the International Quilt Centre and Museum in the USA will attend the opening and give a talk at the opening weekend symposium exploring the evolution of Australian quilt making.

The International Quilt Museum is part of the historic East Campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has the world’s largest publicly held quilt collection – early 1700s – today from 45+ countries.

To make a Quilt a trio of textiles is brought together using different applique techniques, which when completed gives the finished object great strength as it provides the warmth and ‘coziness’ aspect quilts are renowned for.

The creative resourcefulness and innovation of makers using a variety of gorgeous fabrics will be evident when they are displayed alongside those made from flour bags, possum skins, suiting samples and flannelette; each having been transformed by the act of cutting, layering, piecing and stitching.

Many are treasured family heirlooms that have been carefully stored in Australian homes and attics for generations, alongside such fashionable items as an elaborate ball gown worn to the Mayor of Melbourne’s fancy dress ball in 1866.

In the time-honoured traditions of quilts, the dress was pieced together from custom printed silk satin images of pages from fourteen different Melbourne newspapers.

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Mrs William W. Dobbs, active in Australia 1860s, The Press dress 1866, silk (satin), linen, 104.0 cm (centre back), 28.5 cm (waist flat), State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Accessioned, 1951

They include The Age, The Australasian, Herald and Punch and the dress is sure to be a highlight.

Quilts by local makers such as Mary Jane Hannaford, Marianne Gibson and Amelia Brown who have developed unique styles, will reveal the rise of an Australian identity, as workers shifted away from prevailing British traditions and emblems of the British Empire.

With works drawn from public and private collections throughout Australia, visitors to this unprecedented exhibition will have a rare opportunity to experience the aesthetic impact, technical skill and powerful storytelling capacity of this fascinating art form.

An important part of the fabric of our society it reflects our social and cultural development. They will provide a unique insight into the skills and technical virtuosity of those who narrated the history of Australia stitch by stitch.’

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Unknown (Convict women of the HMS Rajah) (makers), Kezia Hayter (designer), born England 1818, arrived Australia 1841, died 1885, The Rajah quilt 1841 (detail), cotton, cotton (chintz), silk (embroidery and applique), 325.0 x 337.0 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of Les Hollings and the Australian Textiles Fund 1989

It is only once a year that due to its fragility, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) allows the Rajah Quilt out of its controlled conditions to be shown and it is the only surviving example of quilt made by convicts on the voyage to Australia.

The convict women on board were all provided with needles, thread and pounds of patchwork pieces by the British Ladies’ Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners so they could be gainfully employed on board on their arduous journey while developing new skills as needlewomen that would serve them well in the future.

Named for the ship that transported 180 women down under to Van Diemen’s land, the huge quilt was presented to Sir John and Lady Franklin upon the convicts’ arrival in Australia in 1841 and bears an inscription written by the ‘Ladies of the Convict Ship Committee you will want to read.

Job number: 05/0059 Inspired Exhibition - QuiltDate of photography:27/04/2005

Clara Bate (nee Hughes), Australia 1859–1914, Aunt Clara’s quilt 1890–1915 (detail), silk (satin, velvet), 150.0 x 200.0 cm, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, Gift of the Hughes family, 2004

Today study groups globally are contributing to the growth and retention of knowledge by raising the profile of quilts as original works of textile art, fashioned by creative Quiltmakers.

Other programs will include talks, practical workshops and activities that enable a deeper exploration of the art, history and ongoing legacy of quilting in Australia.

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Emily Thirza, active in Australia early 20th century, Crazy patchwork tea cosy 1909, silk (velvet) (applique and embroidery) 25.8 x 36.2 x 13.0 cm, Embroiderers’ Guild of South Australia Museum, Adelaide, Gift of Thirza Reid, 2008

Textiles are a measure for the development of our society from its early beginnings in ancient societies, the past always inspiring the present and future.

The more knowledge we open ourselves up to only serves to embolden us all to dig yet deeper into our cultural creative past enabling us to explore new ideas and options that will benefit design and production today.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

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Septima Jones, Australia 1861–1945, Mabel Jones, Australia 1886–1975, Knee rug c. 1900 (detail), silk, cotton, 86.5 x 117.0 cm, Kyneton Museum, Victoria, Gift of Miss Mabel E. Jones, 1970

Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

July 22 – November 6, 2016.

Open daily, 10am–5pm



Exploring Australian Quilt Making Symposium

Sat 23 Jul, 10am-4pm

Speakers include Dr Annette Gero, exhibition co-curator and quilt historian; Dr Leslie Levy, Executive Director, Quilt Study Center and Museum, Nebraska, US; Margaret Rolfe, quiltmaker and author; Lucas Grogan, artist; Crystal McGann, Project48; Linden Vine, Project48; and, Katie Somerville, Senior Curator, Fashion and Textiles, NGV

Cost includes exhibition admission

Venue Clemenger BBDO Auditorium, NGV International

Curator’s Perspective

Sun 24 Jul, 11am, Katie Somerville, Senior Curator, Fashion and Textiles, NGV

Sun 24 Jul, 2pm, Dr Annette Gero, exhibition co-curator and quilt historian

Cost Exhibition admission

Venue Exhibition space, NGV Australia

Common Threads: Social Stitching

Sun 24 Jul, 1pm-3pm, Sat 22 Oct, 10am – 1pm and Sat 6 Nov, 1pm – 3pm

Celebrate opening weekend with a drop-by social stitching session with contemporary artist and maker Shuh Lee. Shuh Lee is a Melbourne based artist and maker behind the label ‘shuh.’ With a fashion background, Lee has a love for hand stitching techniques and this is at the core of her practice. Her work combines art and craft, and re-purposing material objects into something usable, wearable and fun.

Cost Free

Venue Foyer, Level 3, NGV Australia

A fully illustrated, 176-page hardcover publication, produced by Dr Gero and Katie Sommerville will be available at the NGV design store. Multimedia is used within the exhibition space to provide a better understanding of the process of quilt making and the stories behind the works on display.

List of 180 Convict Women on the Rajah Voyage to Van Diemen’s Land, Australia in 1841


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