War Quilts Exhibition – For the Diary: July at Manly, Sydney

Quilt 1

Intarsia with Soldiers, c 1760 – 1780, possibly Prussia maker unknown (initials JSJ, wool, all hand sewn, intarsia. Photo Tim Connolly, Shoot Studios, courtesy Dr Annette Gero, Sydney

There is no doubt when we are away from home under difficult circumstances the little things in life we miss can become overwhelming emotional. Why else as I travel around Australia, and indeed in the years I travelled the world, have I seen people of all ages and both sexes carrying their pillow along for the ride!

One of my sons worked in a hotel during his time at university reporting to us at home that we would all be amazed at what people brought with them, including favourite covers for their beds.

It should be no surprise then, and we can well understand why, when we learn that in war time in the past that quilts were ‘made by active soldiers and prisoners of war from pieces of disused uniforms, army blankets and other military fabrics’*.

This happened during the European Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Crimean War (1853-56), which took place mainly on a peninsula between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov and both World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939 – 1945).

They “…allowed men enduring unspeakable circumstances some respite from the tedium and hardship of war and to introduce some semblance of beauty and humanity to the blighted world of the combat zone.” said Dr Annette Gero.

Quilt 2

A soldier’s patchwork with incredible border, c.1855, made in India or England felted wools taken from uniforms, all hand sewn and hand applied beadwork, textural layered appliqued border, 208cm x 216cm courtesy Dr Annette Gero, Sydney

They often didn’t use them, but sent them home to comfort those they loved.

Dr Gero discovered this when collecting Crimean War Quilts, which were interestingly made by male English soldiers and brought to Australia by migrating descendants.

At Manly Art Gallery & Museum the FREE exhibition, War-Time Quilts: Quilts from Military Fabrics will be on view from 3rd July to 22nd November, 2015.

Dr Gero has been documenting and collecting Australia’s heritage in quilts since 1982 and a book about the war quilts, published by The Beagle Press, will accompany the exhibition. Treasured family heirlooms, the Quilts on show come from her renowned Annette Gero Collection.

A textile and social historian, her best selling book The Fabric of our Society previously presented the social history of people from the past who banded together or individually created amazing quilts.

Annette Gero

Dr. Annette Gero

These fabulous ‘fabrics of our society’ had been joined together by ‘threads of destiny’ to offer their owners a link to their homeland and the ideas of democracy and freedom the military were fighting to defend.

Dr Gero is a much sought after lecturer and on Sunday 12 July, from 2 – 3 pm, she will talk about the history and story behind each quilt in the exhibition.

The Manly Art Gallery & Museum is located at West Esplanade, Manly and the exhibition launch will be Friday 3 July from 6 – 8pm.

The delightful seaside suburb Manly has become a high profile hub of cultural activity in recent years.

According to Dr Annette Gero 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

She also observed that “… the quality of design and workmanship is reflected in visually dramatic well made quilts while yet others were “…real rag bag waggas, hessian bags or patchwork-covered army blankets rich in the memories embedded in their cloth” Annette said.

When I grew up in the 50’s an image of Linus clutching his Blanket was an appealing comment. A benevolent, blanket-clutching philosopher he always had a kind word for everyone. He debuted in a comic strip in 1954 when I was ten years of age and certainly influenced me and the youth of my three sons.

Antique Quilt – much loved

They all had a favourite pillow, blankie or a cover from their bed which went with us whenever we left home to visit or to travel … my youngest especially loved to cuddle up nightly with his antique Australian patchwork quilt.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015

War-Time Quilts Exhibition
Quilts from Military Fabrics – Annette Gero Collection

Diary Date: July 3 – November 22, 2015

Manly Art Gallery & Museum, Manly in Sydney



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