Uncover the Story of Australia with Making the Australian Quilt 1800 – 1950 at the NGV this Winter
What Did We Review:   Making the Australian Quilt: 1800 – 1950

Reviewer’s rating:  

Location:  NGV Australia in the Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, Melbourne

NGV Australia takes you on a journey through time, as seen through the history of quilt making in Australia from 1800 to 1950.

More than just a decorative item or a pastime of the well-to-do, this exhibition includes examples of quilts made by convicts, settlers, sailors, prisoners of war and immigrant families throughout the decades.

Including some never-before-seen and newly-discovered examples as well as some of Australia’s most famous patchwork pieces, this exhibition gives a unique perspective on how Australians saw themselves, their connection with Britain and the rest of the world.

The exhibition – like so many of the NGV’s collections – includes activities and challenges for kids, and in a move that anticipates the curiosity of adults and kids alike, displays photos of the backs of many pieces along with photos and details of their makers and owners, cleverly shown on tablet devices positioned throughout the exhibition.

On display from 22 July – 6 November 2016, open daily 10am – 5 pm.

Features and Benefits:

  • Easy to get to on public transport
  • A fantastic way to learn about Australian history
  • Features a variety of works including clothing, bags and accessories as well as coverlets and quilts
  • Inspires creativity and a new way of looking at the world
  • Free NGV Kids activity sheets available to collect form the Information desk on Ground Level
  • Free cloak room service
  • Choice of cafes in the Ian Potter Centre and in Federation Square itself

Reviewers Experience

I love new exhibitions and experiences that the NGV puts on each winter, and this year’s textile feature Making the Australian Quilt: 1800 – 1950 is no exception.

For the kids, there are animals, birds and plants to find hiding within the different patterns, as well as a glimpse of how kids decorated their beds in the past; and for the grown-ups, a fascinating and often forgotten perspective on life in the fledgling nation from the political class through to the convicts and working class families that built our nation.

While there are many examples of classic, traditional quilts made in both England and Australia (and in some cases started in England and completed in Melbourne) for me the highlights are more creative and unusual examples of patchwork and quilting. By far my favourite pieces are the garments, starting with the Press Dress made in 1866 for prominent Melbourne woman Mrs Butters to wear to the Mayor’s Fancy Dress in September 1866 at the Royal Exhibition Building. The skirt is made up of 31 panels of silk-satin custom printed with the front pages of Melbourne newspapers from that year. Can you imagine going to a party dressed as a newspaper stand! Mrs Butters wore that dress to 3 different parties, the third time when her husband was the Mayor of Melbourne in 1867.

The last room was my favourite, probably because I love the aesthetic of the 1930’s – 1950’s, which is the period housed at the end of the exhibition. Highlights of this room include the nursery rhyme quilt – is your favourite story time characters stitched on to the bed spread? Alongside the nursery rhyme quilt are examples of dressing gowns made of wool, cotton, silk and other scraps of fabric saved up by dressmakers and lovingly made into one-of-a-kind robes for themselves and their loved ones.

This room also holds some more sombre reminders of how tough life was for some Australians in the first half of the 20th century. During the great depression of the 1890’s, the First World War and the depression of the 1920’s, there were not a lot of resources to go around. Many families made their own bed covers – or ‘waggas’ – from whatever they could find to keep them warm in the winter. Examples include grain sack panels stitched together and lined with newspaper to keep kids warm at night.

Co-Curators Dr Annette Gero and Katie Sullivan took us on a tour of the exhibition, pointing out significant pieces and sharing their passion for and knowledge of the history of quilting in Australia and across the western world. I learned so much from these inspirational women, not only about the history of quilting, but the evolution of the Australian identity from British colony to independent nation.

The NGV Ian Potter Centre is a great place to explore any time of the year, and especially in the winter when you can escape the Melbourne weather. This winter Making the Australian Quilt 1800-1950 is a fascinating, stimulating way to explore the history of Australia’s settlers, convicts and immigrants from all strata of society. For the kids, there are animals, birds and plants to find hiding within the different patterns, as well as a glimpse of how kids decorated their beds in the past.

Event: Making the Australian Quilt: 1800 – 1950

Location: NGV Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, Cnr Flinders and Russell Streets, Melbourne

Ticket Info: Tickets on sale from ngv.vic.gov.au or at the venue. Adult $15 | NGV Members $11 | Concession $12 | Child $7 | Family $41