Quilts 1700-1945 at the GoMA

Maker unknown | Central section from a printed cotton patchwork coverlet showing King George III reviewing the troops 1803-05

If you are at all interested in quilting or embroidery and are around South East Queensland, I highly recommend making the trip in to see this exhibition.  It took me about an hour and a half to get through, and that was with reading every description, watching all of the interactive tour videos on my iphone and leaning over clumsily and kneeling on the protective barrier to get a closer look at the stitching.  If you have smartphone do download the app for the video tour, it’s amazing.

I have to say that it has totally changed the way I view quilting and crafts in general.  The exhibition shows not only pieces that display incredible skill, but many pieces that are incredible artefacts of emotional value or political expression.  Mostly I assess quilts on their beauty or skills used in construction, but from this collection the two quilts that had the most impact on me were very simple and one was not even completed.

The Changi quilt was made as a birthday gift by little girls in a Japanese POW camp during WWII for their Girl Guide leader.  Yes, you read that right.  While enduring incredible hardship and appalling conditions, Elizabeth Ennis decided to start a guide group. It is made  from thread unpicked from hems and patchwork pieces cut from fellow prisoners’ clothes.  Never fully completed, it is an amazing example of courage in the face of oppression and adversity.  If you have the app running you can see an interview with Olga Henderson (who is now in her 70’s or 80’s) who is the last remaining survivor of the girls who made it.

My favourite quilt was a very simple 9-patch in yellows and greens tied together with red thread.  It was a gift to a little girl from the Canadian Red Cross after her family returned home from holidays to find their London home had been destroyed during the blitz.  At the top of the quilt you can see wear marks from where the girl used to rub it for comfort during the bombings.  As someone who occasionally sends finished objects along to charity groups and wonders where they end up, this piece really touched me.

I felt that the exhibition really captured the greater role of quilts as examples of wealth and skill, expressions of the intellect and views of the maker and a source of comfort or shared effort.

The exhibition will be installed until 22 September 2013 and costs $15.  There’s also a deal where you can get a ticket and a Patchwork Lunch for $30.

Have you ever had a real ‘penny drop’ moment from crafting?  What was it?

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