On 21 January, forty-five QWHA members gathered at Miegunyah to celebrate the start of the new year with a program of speakers and morning tea. Read on to find out about the Embroiders' Guild, the library collection of ephemera and the important work being done to conserve a 215-year-old quilt.
Opening the program was Deborah Love, a member of both the QWHA and the Embroiderers’ Guild. She spoke about the history of the Guild and its role in the community today.
The Guild was established in 1964 and incorporated in 1968. By the 1980s, the group decided it needed its own premises, and in 1983 put forward an offer of $110,000 to buy the former Masonic Lodge in Fortitude Valley. Another offer from a children’s theatre group was also put forward, for $10,000 less. The Guild was informed that their offer had been rejected because ‘being a women’s group, the Guild would not be able to finance the purchase’.
Luckily, the other offer fell through, and the Guild approached the Masonic Committee with a revised offer of $100,000, which was accepted. The building, which was originally built in 1922, was renovated by the Guild and reopened in 1985. It is now heritage listed and provides the perfect home for the Guild and its collection of embroideries.
Deborah explained that the collection is an eclectic mix of items from all over the world, donated and found. Unfortunately the provenance of most of the items has been lost, but this is okay, because the Guild is also a teaching organisation.
Deborah herself is one of the Guild’s teachers. In 1993 she joined and was asked to teach the Mountmellick technique to members. Her research into this obscure style of embroidery led her to Miegunyah, which had a piece in this very style.
Mountmellick is a town in Ireland where fabrics were produced during the nineteenth century. From 1825–40 the town developed an industry produced this particular type of whitework embroidery using local fabrics. Deborah shared her personal journey with this particular style, which has led her from Brisbane to Ireland and back again.
Jan George, one of QWHA’s librarians, shared some ephemera from the collection. The QWHA has been collecting items of social history since the 1950s, and has amassed an impressive collection of tickets, programs, dance cards etc. A treasure trove of the wild and the wonderful, investigating the source of these items can lead the researcher down all sorts of rabbit holes.
The first item Jan showed was the program from a Grand Concert held in Tannymorel (a tiny town near Warwick). She described the detective work she and fellow librarian Helen Brandl undertook to find out the date (March 1918) and further details of the event.
Jan then showed a second item: a dance card from a public ‘fancy ball’ held in honour of the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Melbourne in December 1867.
The Duke of Edinburgh at that time was Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria. The visit was the first to Australia by any member of the royal family and excited crowds came out to see the Prince as he made his way around the colonies.
Unfortunately, his visit was marred by violence as Catholics and Protestants clashed at events in the colony of Victoria. The prince was also shot by a would-be assassin (an Irish Catholic, Henry James O’Farrell) in Sydney on 12 March 1868. Thankfully he survived the ordeal and made a full recovery.
The third item Jan thought needed no further explanation, as it spoke for itself. It was a card advertising a public lecture given by the Reverend Charles Olden ‘for men only’ on the ‘Fascinating Temptations to, and Awful Consequences of, the Sin of Immorality with suggestions how to avoid it’.
From the 1860s, the British became concerned about the high incidence of sexually transmitted infections among its armed forces and communicated strongly to the colonies the importance of controlling prostitution through legislation and educating young men about the hazards of immorality. This little card is a remnant from that period.
Michael Marendy, QWHA member for over thirty years and the AICCM 2022 Conservator of the Year spoke about the QWHA’s next big conservation project: the Kent Quilt.
This quilt is a medallion style quilt that was made circa 1808 by Elizabeth Kent (1786–1815). The quilt was brought to Australia circa 1832 by her son, John Kent, who came to Moreton Bay in 1839. The quilt was passed down through the family to Miss M. Brissenden, who donated the quilt to the QWHA in 1976.
As Michael explained, the quilt is quite deteriorated. A number of factors have contributed to its deterioration. The first is the type of mordant (dye fixative) used in the fabrics. At the time the fabric was made, iron was used as a mordant, and it eats away the fabric over time. The second is that silk deteriorates quickly, and finally, there are three areas of insect damage — a hazard to any fabrics.
To fully conserve this quilt will take a lot of time and hence a lot of money. For Michael to do the work on his own would cost close to $50,000! So, to save on costs, Michael has proposed to lead a team of volunteer stitchers to work together to conserve the quilt. Patience and skill with a needle are prerequisites! QWHA is also accepting donations specifically for the quilt’s conservation. Contact us to donate.
Volunteers will be working with the warp threads from silk organza (because this is the strongest thread) to stitch around the medallions and stabilise the broken pieces. Spot cleaning will also be undertaken with ethanol to try to remove any staining on the fabric. A cotton sateen backing will be used on the back of the quilt. The original backing will be retained and a flap will be installed so that it can still be seen.
The conserved quilt will then be able to be hung on the wall and admired at Miegunyah.
Michael gave members a fascinating insight into the work of textile conservators and the intensive and painstaking work that is required to preserve these important pieces.