Sonya May hem

A stitch in my side

Quilts: 1700-1945

on August 21, 2013

or “let’s go to the gallery and then we can have lunch…”

What else can you do on an impossibly warm winter day in Brisbane than to head into South Bank and a visit to the Cultural Centre.  The Queensland Art Gallery is currently hosting the Quilts 1700-1945 exhibition until the 22nd September.  My friend and I had been planning to go for a while and were just waiting for the work/holiday stars to align and thus it was so.

Quilts from the exhibition are on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, as well as the National Gallery of Australia.  Thirty quilts are on display.

Now, my friend and I share a lot of common interests  – but crafting and more specifically sewing and quilting isn’t one of them (eating chocolate, fresh gyoza, and great British dramas to name a few, are) – so I was a bit worried that she might not be totally interested, but… this is the great thing with these exhibitions, they aren’t just for the aficionados but anyone who has an interest in history and anthropology.

Sometimes the story behind the quilt, who made it and why, is far more interesting than the end result.  Don’t get me wrong, all of the quilts were amazing and showed a dexterity and commitment that, when you consider the circumstances of their production, amplify their beauty.  I cannot imagine the patience and time it must have taken for these quilts – working by candle or gas lamp, no sewing machines and not a single rotary cutter in sight!

The most moving quilt for me was The Changi Quilt, constructed in 1942/3 by a troupe of Girl Guides in Changi Prison, the POW camp in Singapore.  The girls were aged between 8 and 16 and met secretly to sew this quilt for their troop leader, Mrs Ennis.  Each of the girls embroidered their name in a small patch.  It really is the most beautiful thing.  The only clothes they had were what they each wore in so the accumulation of enough fabric to make this quilt, along with enough thread to sew with, was in itself a challenge.  One of the girls’ mothers had brought a small packet of needles in with her, but these needed to last as it was all they had. The V&A museum has a video of one of the girls (as an adult) speaking about her time in the prison.

I also was inspired by the Chapman coverlet, an English paper pieced quilt made to commemorate the Duke of Wellington in 1829.  EPP is something that I am in turns fascinated and horrified by.  It looks so beautiful but I just don’t understand how it works.  But, the way this quilt has been displayed – fully on the front, and then when you go around to the back they have “framed” out some of the sections so you can see how it was pieced.  The original papers are still in place and that alone is like a piece of art. EPP still scares me but I have decided to give it a go!!  {I’m sure there will be a sad and sorry tale to tell when I start…}

There really were a lot of wonderful quilts on display – made with love, made to help pass the hours, made to give purpose to lives.  Pieced with scraps of cotton, felt, wool, military uniforms, bed sheets, old dresses and men’s suiting.  Fabulous iconography and simple shapes, muted tones and colours wilder than a hippies fisherman pants.

If you have the chance, go! There is also a side exhibit from local quilt artist, Ruth Stoneley who I will post about later. Don’t forget the gift shop either!  Lots of great quilting, sewing and craft books, beautiful limited print fabric and Hello Kitty Liberty cups! (yes, I bought one…)

For those interested, after the exhibition we had lunch at the GOMA Cafe, we both had the Preserved Lemon Risotto with goats cheese zucchini flowers.  It was delicious. We also shared a bowl of shoe string fries.  They were delicious too!


4 responses to “Quilts: 1700-1945

  1. MaryKS says:

    This is a beautiful exhibit and I thank you very much for sharing the information in your post. Best wishes to you!


  2. I wish it would come to Melbourne. Sounds fascinating. 🙂


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