Creative activities for all levels of ability
All basic crafts have a fascinating heritage bound up in early lifestyle and needs; the artistic qualities evolved as time went on. Stone-age people learned to sew animal skins together by firstly making holes in the skin and threading the skins together with strips of hide. The first needles were made of bone.
Patchwork was known in England in pre Victorian times. It was not the art form it is now but a means of repairing tears and worn spots. Pieces of fabric were joined together to create a larger length of fabric from which new garments and bed covers were made.
The pioneer women of America took similar skills with them and the best known patchwork traditions were born. All supplies for the New World had to be brought by ship and precious space was not wasted on such things as unnecessary clothes or bolts of material so it was vital that every scrap of useable fabric be saved. As clothes wore out any good areas were saved and all the small pieces were sewn together to form new fabric. To add to the satisfaction of creating these garments care was taken to arrange the colours in a pleasing way and then to cut the pieces to a particular shape before joining them. Different shapes and patterns were given names, often reflecting an historical moment in time. Early American patterns had such names as Lincoln’s Platform, log cabin and Kansas Trouble.
The story of patchwork in Australia follows a similar path. The long and dangerous voyage from England to Australia made all supplies of cloth items hard to get and extremely expensive. There is little wonder that the resourcefulness of early Australian settlers sought and found ways to cope with the situation. Clothes were made over many times and when the last made garment finally wore out all useable material was carefully kept. Good use was made of flour bags. Strong woven fabric was often decorated with pieces of coloured fabric. Life was hard and the needlework provided the opportunity to be creative. The artistry of some surviving quilts from that era bears witness to the achievements of these women as they created a little of the finer things of life to brighten up their hard, often drab, lifestyle.
As blankets developed holes or worn areas they were cut and the pieces arranged to provide a new warm blanket. The pieces were joined together with decorative patterns of material. This resourcefulness again became a necessity of life during the Second World War when rationing had to be introduced as part of our national war effort. Many of you will remember two thin towels stitched together or sheets cut in half and rejoined top to bottom to give them more life. My younger brother had a very handsome overcoat made from an army blanket!
This craft may have had its beginnings in utilitarian necessity but it has evolved into a beautiful art form. It is creative and exciting and is a delightful way to relax and unwind. A creative Australian way of combining patchwork, appliqué and creative embroidery can be used to capture a little of our environment. You can design patterns to suit your interests. Illustrations show the use of Australian native flowers and a beach theme. These patterns have been designed as blocks. The blocks can be used in many ways including as a pillow cover, for curtains, to decorate clothes or to join together as a quilt. They can be with or without contrasting tramways. Patchwork, appliqué and creative embroidery can be combined to give you the opportunity to create your own heirloom and family heritage. The Beach themed doona cover was made for my young son and many years later it was used as a floor rug for his own baby son.
A magnificent quilt for a bride would be a quilt which told her own story. Each block could have a frame of one selected pattern. Materials used could be scraps from her clothes, appliqués could depict her hobbies, the family pet, school badges, favourite flowers, etc. Friends could contribute blocks and add their personal messages too. Perhaps you could make a quilt of favourite Bible stories for your godchild. The choice is limited only by imagination.
One of the features of early patchwork was the fine even stitching but don’t let that daunt you. I truly believe that all crafts can be adapted to the ability of the craftsperson. To start with concentrate on keeping your stitching even; your ability to also keep your stitches very small will improve with practice.
This craft has been popular for hundreds of years and as each new generation of craftspeople discover the beauty and satisfaction of their creative skill its continued appeal is assured for a further decade or two.