Embroiderers, were sisters. They were apparently living with other members of the family at Fernbank Farm, Westbury, Tasmania in 1901-3 when they are thought to have embroidered the famous Westbury Quilt n.d. (c.1901-03, cotton 224.5 × 188.8 cm, ill. Heritage section frontispiece). As with so many quilts and other craft items, however, the provenance is unclear. Before being acquired by the NGA in 1990, the quilt had enjoyed a certain local fame displayed over a stand in the dining room of the Fitzpatrick Inn in Westbury, northern Tasmania, a renowned place of pilgrimage for anyone interested in intact interiors and local furniture and crafts. The Misses Fitzpatrick, who owned the inn (and made the legendary sloe gin that appeared on one’s account as 'telephone calls’ after the inn lost its licence – it had no telephone) were at first unsure of the quilt’s origins but later wrote to the NGA that they had purchased it in the mid-1930s from the brother-in-law of the makers, the Misses Hampson, who 'owned a farm over Cluan way’. It shows evidence of being the work of two people, although each square is the work of one individual. One panel wishes 'good luck to the winner of this’, suggesting that it was made to be raffled at some charity fete. A variety of scenes from Tasmanian life at the turn of the century are depicted. Family and home, epitomised by two houses, both with women standing at their doorways, constitute its social and emotional focus.

Comprised of pieced red squares thickly decorated with appliqué and embroidery, the quilt is scattered with scenes of daily life, notable events, homilies and mottos. One piece exhorts, 'Don’t spoil good tea in the making’; another, 'When a woman throws herself at a man’s head she seldom hits the mark’; and another, 'Work is the best antidote to worry’. All the family pets are appliquéd and named. Several times a man is seen on horseback hunting and riding, perhaps the brother-in-law. He seems to have spent some time absent from home and one of the makers has expressed her feelings by working three pigs with the motto, 'One man may lead another to drink but fifty can’t keep him from it’. In another square a teapot is proudly embroidered and declared 'A faithful friend’. Queen Victoria, surrounded by a garland of the various floral emblems of her Empire, occupies the central panel of the work and demonstrates the makers’ patriotism. This square is dated 1901, which probably marks the start of the project. Around the central panel a myriad of smaller squares are placed in rather random order, each reflecting the quilter’s mood and preoccupations at the time. The final dated piece, in the lower left-hand corner, is a poignant conclusion to the work: 'Could everything be done twice everything would be done better. Dec. 28 1903’.

The purchase of this and other quilts was made possible by generous donations to the National Gallery’s Australian Textiles Fund from groups of quilters, patchworkers and embroiderers, Textile Industry Australia and numerous individuals, notably Les Hollings, to enable the timely acquisition of significant examples of the history and development of Australian textiles.

McCormack, Susan
McPhee, John
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