I am by no means a quilter, but since relocating to Melbourne I have found myself going to exhibitions and fairs as there are so many of these types of events here. I have been delighted and memorised by the beautiful workmanship of Australian quilters. I love to see competition quilts. There’s a real sense of excitement and inspiration. Some of them are just so creative, while others extremely technical. All of them are beautiful.
Today, I decided that I needed to escape the studio and seek some creative inspiration, so I rushed to see the quilt exhibit at the National Gallery Victoria entitled Making the Australian Quilt 1800-1950. It is due to finish on 6th November, 2016 and I had just a few days to make it.
I had no idea what to expect, but what I saw was incredible. Very old, 100 percent natural fibres, all handmade, each and every stitch. Made before the time of synthetics and mass production.
As I made my way through the first room, I became very aware what I was looking at were singular, one of a kind-- constructed with great care, persistence, creativity and a great deal of time. That the women who held these pieces of fabric in their hands, to piece by piece stitch up a quilt were truly remarkable. Many of the histories of the quilts and the makers were briefly presented in descriptive plaques.
Then I saw a quilt that literally too my breath away. It is simply called ‘The Rajah Quilt.” The quilt itself was not flashy, nor did it appear to be particularly exquisite or expensive. It was displayed on its own behind a great big glass wall in a darkened nook. I began to feel very emotional, which surprised me. It was only a quilt after all. I found my eyes welling up with tears, Quickly I looked away hoping to stop the flood of emotion and began to read the description of the quilt.
This quilt is made of history. Truly and undeniably it carries with it so much of its makers stories. At the time, I was snapping photos and sending them to my sister, Scatha Allison, the creative genius behind Miss Velvet Cream. She instinctually knew precisely what I was experiencing.
She commented, “All those prayers stitched in one whisper at a time….”
Indeed, this is what I could not see with my eyes, but what I could feel in its presence.
There used to be a rather odd sci-fi TV show entitled, Warehouse 13. The simple plot of the show was that agents would hunt down and procure historical artifacts that contained mysterious power. The unique artifacts got their power from their creators, the people who used them or important historical events. While the show was mildly entertaining, the idea that objects possessed power was unscientific. However, in the presence of this quilt laying behind a glass wall, I could feel something incredible. I could feel those prayers, those fears, and the uncertainty of travelling to the unknown. That was real. It was undeniable. And it made me cry. I truly did not expect my response. I later described the experience to my husband over dinner and again, I began to cry! I’m astounded at the effect this exhibition had on me.
The rest of the exhibit is very good. And don’t worry; I didn’t cry the whole way through! I did see beautiful examples of Australian quilting and embroidery. From the very ornate and celebratory jubilee quilts to the quirky crazy quilts and up-cycled waggas; I do recommend you see it if you haven’t already.