There’s something very special about a hand stitched quilt. Both decorative and functional, humble and precious, a hand stitched quilt is a treasure to be preserved and handed down through generations. And, though often created within an intimate, domestic setting, quilts have an uncanny ability to convey a broader story of social and historical significance.
An incredible exhibition of Australian quilts opened last week at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (i.e. the NGV at Federation Square). Showcasing 150 years of Australian quilt heritage, Making the Australian Quilt: 1800-1950 brings together a huge collection of handmade textiles by fifty-seven known and numerous unknown makers, from across Australia. The exhibition is expansive, staged across four large galleries on the third floor of The Ian Potter Centre (that’s approximately 1100 square metres of display space!)
The exhibition is informed by three main themes. The first, ‘Origins’, showcases early English quilts that were brought out to Australia in the early years of colonisation, along with the earliest surviving quilts made in Australia or en route to Australia. The second theme is ‘Home’, interpreted both as the domestic setting within which many of the pieces were made, as well as a growing sense of national pride and identity that began to take shape in the late 19th century. The final theme is ‘Making do’, and looks at how hardship, thrift and even war has informed quilt making in Australia.
‘Like their counterparts elsewhere, Australian quilt makers have been women overwhelmingly’ explains co-curator Katie Somerville. ‘With firm origins in the domestic sphere, the story of the Australian quilt is one of women’s technical accomplishment and resourcefulness, and reflects the significance of their creativity within their broader historical and social contexts’.
As they so often do, the NGV have curated a brilliant suite of public programs to accompany the exhibition. One inspired inclusion is a series of workshops with contemporary artist and maker Shuh Lee. Along with the NGV Public Programs team, Lee has developed a free drop-in social stitching workshop called Common Threads: Social Stitching, where visitors can stitch their own fabric patch to take home, or can contribute to a communal cloth. (details here).
Making the Australian Quilt: 1800-1950 has been co-curated by leading quilt historian and collector Dr Annette Gero and Katie Somerville, who is Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the NGV.
Making the Australian Quilt: 1800-1950
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Until 6th November 2016