(I’m not) Making the Australian Quilt

Crochet, embroidery, bobbin lace, sewing by hand and machine, indigo dyeing, Hmong batik, Fimo modelling, weaving, arm knitting, regular knitting and applique. Yep, I think that’s about it for the list of crafts I’ve attempted. Note the absence of “quilting”*… and yet I’m speaking at the NGV’s Unstitching Quilts symposium this Saturday as part of the program for their Making the Australian Quilt 1800-1950 exhibition.

From the photos I’ve seen (thanks to the PR at the NGV!), the exhibition promises to be nothing short of inspiring for the make-do-and-menders and crafty types among us… or for those who want something to do with their hands to assuage any guilt from a boxed set binge.

Even just this section of an embroidered quilt by the Misses Hampson must surely have taken them an entire series of Game of Thrones. (Can’t you just imagine them joking to each other as they made it… “We better hurry up and finish this quilt because… winter is coming! Tee hee!”)


Misses Hampson, active in Australia early 20th century. The Westbury quilt (Sampler quilt) c. 1900–03 (detail) cotton (flannel) (embroidery and applique) 200.0 x 300.0 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased through the Australian Textiles Fund 1990 (NGA 90.450)

And if it had been left to me, the child that this nursery rhyme quilt was made for would probably have had children of their own by the time it was completed (by the way, which nursery rhyme has a galah and a crimson rosella in it? I must have been absent from kinder on the day they learnt that one).


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

Hipsters like to think they invented the whole “put a bird on it” thing but obviously Emily McKay was waaaay ahead of her time.


Emily McKay, active in Australia 1930s. Chronicle quilt, 1934, cotton (embroidery) 196.0 x 164.5 cm. Embroiderers’ Guild of South Australia Museum, Adelaide. Gift of Wendy Springbett, 2013

Given my love of fashion, it’s this dressing gown which I’m most looking forward to seeing. Surely this is too spectacular for slobbing around the house? If it were mine I’d wear it to all kinds of fancy fashion events. Look at all that velvet and the beautiful embroidery! And I plan to steal the button/cord waist fastening idea.


Annie Ellis, Australia 1870–1967. Dressing gown, 1935 (detail) silk, wool, cotton, viscose, rayon, metallic thread (a) 128.0 cm (centre back), 51.0 cm (sleeve length) (dressing gown)(b) 242.0 x 10.0 cm diameter (variable) (belt). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Mrs Annie C. Champion, 1989

Obviously the lady who wore it was not a messy eater as I can’t detect even a hint of spilled porridge or smears of jam down the front and there are no chunks of feline fur from kitty cuddles either. I do detect a finch, a tiger, a petulant small boy and what was most likely a beloved pet dog, though.


Detail of the above dressing gown by Annie Ellis.

This tiny detail depicting a couple on an “unhappy honeymoon” is intriguing me. I can’t wait to see the exhibition to find out if there are other scenes showing “less than satisfactory hen’s night”and “disappointing wedding breakfast” … although I hope for this couple’s sake that these are followed by “contrastingly delightful wedding and subsequent joyful marriage”.


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

As you are no doubt discovering as you read this, what little I do know about quilting is largely the result of my own imagination and inaccurate conjecture. So it’s fortunate that I will not actually be holding forth on quilts as such, but rather about the relationship between craft, DIY and the internet, a subject about which I suppose I have slightly more knowledge. (Note “slightly”.) I’ve never given a public presentation on this topic (or any other, for that matter) and I’m just googling “how to use Powerpoint” now, so it’s safe to say I’m just a little bit nervous. But there will be other speakers who are extremely knowledgeable about quilts and quilting, and ticket price includes entry to the exhibition, so if you’d like to spend a day in gloriously crafty company, book here.


*And having said that I had never tried quilting, look what I found when I was searching for something else on my blog. I had completely forgotten that I had made this quilt-like object! (It’s not padded, so it’s technically probably not a quilt, but hey, same-same!)