Woodbridge House Quilts

Today I had the rare privilege of seeing up close and then photographing three antique quilts.

Woodbridge House is a beautiful circa 1850's mansion located in a quiet and scenic bend of the Swan River in Guildford, Western Australia. The house is now a heritage listed building and beautifully cared for by the Australian National Trust. It's open to the public for tours and viewing at a very nominal costs per person.

While browsing earlier in the week (ok, let's be honest here - purchasing) some Civil War reproduction fabric to use in two separate projects I'm doing, I saw a flier saying Woodbridge would be displaying their antique quilts. I told DH I'd like to stop in this weekend and give them a look. Being the extremely tolerant and indulgent husband that he is, he said sure. It must be tuff sometimes for quilters husbands as we drag them along to exhibits and quilts shops almost against their will. However I like to think if his hobby were watching cars rust I'd put on a happy face and follow along with him.

So today we went to Woodbridge and were lucky enough to be the only people there (at the time) to give them a look. The two ladies conducting the tours were extremely helpful and happy we were there to see the houses treasures. They explained that at present only three quilts have been taken out of storage for viewing. Of course this being modern day we are used to quantity sometimes at the sacrifice of quality. With only three quilts to view and the luxury of time and space to view them in, I truly enjoyed the indulgence of seeing them not only up close and personal but also having the ability to photograph them at my leisure as well (no flash of course). Three worked out to be a perfect number.

All three quilts were placed on large fabric covered tables that were initially covered with heavy white cotton cloth. Two of the quilts were pieced tops only which I found really exciting because I got to see the back and examine the stitching. I was very surprised that one quilt was machine pieced. Why is it we assume something antique would be hand worked only? Women have always taken advantage of time saving devices and sewing would be no exception. Any woman at the turn of the last century that could afford a sewing machine would certainly want to piece her next quilt with it. This woman's machine piecing was exquisite and precise. Her machine piecing is certainly better then mine is today on a modern machine

My favorite quilt was pieced by Sara Evans in 1806. I know this because Sara cross stitched her name beautifully on the back of her quilt in blue embroderie thread. Much of Sara's quilt is reverse appliqué with numerous block motifs and pieced work around them. It's a scrap quilt, which is my absolute favorite. I love seeing the multitude of bits and pieces of colors and prints.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a complete photograph of any of the quilts as a whole as they were all displayed on tables much too small for their size. Their sides were folded up so as not to hang over the tables edge and pull on the delicate fibers. Also a fine netting was laid over the tops in a duel attempt to distribute the weight of the quilt evenly and lessen the pull on fibers and to keep soil off.

Though I loved seeing these quilts up close, I'm sadden to think that their longevity is in question because of the less then optimum storage methods used. The ladies explained the quilts are normally stored folded in acid free paper and in drawers. Understandably the costs to keep these historical textiles in a more appropriate way such as in acid free, light free, and purpose built archiving units allowing storage without folding and in a temperature controlled environment would be extremely expensive therefore most likely not in the budget of The National Trust. I'm certain they are certainly cared for to the best of their charges abilities. I hope this is sufficient until the time their historical significance can be more fully appreciated and additional measures taken to ensure Sara Evans beautiful quilt and others like hers will be seen by admiring quilters for many, many years to come.

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