Making the Australian Quilt: 1800-1950 – exhibition and symposium

NGV, Melbourne, Australia from 22 July – 6 November 2016

PRESS RELEASE: Australia’s rich quilt heritage, resplendent with imagery of native flora and fauna, early coats of arms and motifs of daily colonial life, will be revealed in Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950.

The Westbury quilt by Misses Hampson, active in Australia, c. 1900–03 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased through the Australian Textiles Fund 1990 (NGA 90.450)

In an Australian exclusive, the exhibition will bring together more than 80 stunning quilts, coverlets and patchwork fashion garments, as well as examples of intricate quilting techniques.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, ‘Making the Australian Quilt will uncover remarkable personal stories of Australian character, ingenuity and thriftiness through the lens of our nation’s quilting legacy. Showcasing important works from public and private collections across the country, the exhibition will provide an insight into the skills and technical virtuosity of these women, and men, whose works chronicle the history of Australia, stitch by stitch.’

A highlight of the exhibition is the renowned The Rajah Quilt, 1841, on loan from the National Gallery of Australia and considered one of Australia’s most important textiles. The work is the only surviving example of a quilt made by convicts on the long and treacherous three-month sea voyage from London to Van Diemen’s Land. Thought to have been hand stitched by more than 29 female convicts aboard the ship, The Rajah Quilt is decorated with bird and floral designs, and very rarely displayed due to its fragility and light-sensitivity. A second convict quilt, created in 1811 and only recently discovered, will also be exhibited for the first time.

Co-curators of Making the Australian Quilt, quilt historian and collector Dr Annette Gero and Katie Somerville, Senior Curator, Fashion and Textiles, NGV, have included an astonishingly diverse array of materials which are telling of the creative resourcefulness of their makers; from taffeta, velvet, furnishing fabric and dressmaking scraps to flour bags, possum skins, suiting samples and flannelette, each transformed by the act of cutting, layering, piecing and stitching.

Golda Jean Ellis (later Neall), Cheer Up Society cape c. 1941–42 Australian War Memorial, Canberra Donated, 2004 (REL32369)

Many works in the exhibition were created within intimate, private settings, yet have the ability to convey much of their broader social and historical significance. Renowned local makers such as Mary Jane Hannaford, Marianne Gibson and Amelia Brown developed unique styles which reveal the rise of an Australian identity, demonstrating the emergence of early symbols of Australian nationhood, such as flags, coats of arms and patriotic phrases, and the shift away from prevailing British traditions and emblems of the British Empire.

The exhibition also encompasses quilts created as expressions of love and connection including treasured family heirlooms which have been carefully stored in Australian homes and attics for generations.

An elaborate ball gown worn to the Mayor of Melbourne’s fancy dress ball in 1866, pieced together with custom printed silk satin images of pages from 14 different Melbourne newspapers, including The Age, The Australasian, Herald and Punch, is another highlight.

Primarily featuring works made in Australia or with a significant Australian provenance, the exhibition additionally includes key 19th century English quilts that were brought or sent to Australia, informing and influencing the early quilting practices of local makers.

Making the Australian Quilt also shows that quilting was not exclusive to women makers and will offer examples made by a sailor and a prisoner of war.

Unstitching Quilts Symposium, Saturday 23 July 2016, 10am-3pm

Inspired by the quilts on display in Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950, international and Australian experts, curators and contemporary practitioners explore the art, heritage and powerful storytelling capacity of quilts. Discover the layered stories behind quilts on display; learn about the historical and contemporary quilt collection of the International Quilt Study Center; and consider how traditional practices and contemporary innovation inform today’s makers.

Speakers: Leslie C. Levy, J.D., Ardis & Robert James Executive Director, International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Quilt House, University of Nebraska – Lincoln; Dr Annette Gero, exhibition co-curator, quilt historian & collector; Lucas Grogan, artist; Margaret Rolfe, quilter & author; Crystal McGann, quilter, Project 48; Linden Vine, quilter, Project 48; Leeyong Soo, DIY guru, freelance writer, ethical fashion stylist & designer; Cecilia Heffer, Senior Lecturer Textiles, Fashion & Textiles, University of Technology, Sydney; and, Katie Somerville, Senior Curator, Fashion & Textiles, NGV


Making the Australian Quilt is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 176-page hardcover publication, available at the NGV design store for $39.95 and written by the exhibition co-curators.


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