Judy Bayles, Gwen Hanna and Sue Rogers: Old Government House Soft Furnishing Project

Some of you may remember one of our guest speakers in 2004, Elizabeth Wright. The soft furnishing project for refurbishing old Government House, Parramatta was in it’s early days and Elizabeth talked about the project and what they hoped to achieve. Gwen Hanna was encouraged to volunteer by her friend Judy Bayles and Sue Rogers joined the project at a later date.

Between them they took us through the project with slides, words and many samples explaining how they progressed through the house. They told us how James Broadbent and Elizabeth Wright searched letters and reports to gain an insight into the fashions of the day and, in particular, the colour preferences and taste of Elizabeth Macquarie.


Using this information they made decisions on colours and style and then the twenty or so volunteers set to work to reproduce fabrics, rugs, tassels and fringes. Fabrics sourced by Broadbent were cut, hand stitched and finished using designs sourced by Wright.
They learnt by trial and error to paint designs on velvet, twist cords and bind tassels. Gwen wove heavy serge for the centre of the breakfast room rug, they all spent many hours mending and patching a panel of Indian cotton which was then backed, lightly padded and hand quilted. Canvas was dyed green and made into half blinds or privacy screens to fit the lower windows.
A kangaroo skin rug was hand stitched and a pin cushion in white fringed satin with pins arranged in the shape of a perfect rose was reproduced, copied from a contemporary pin cushion in the National Trust’s collection.
A large ottoman, designed to seat at least four people, was built and then covered in Chinese silk for the seat, pleated moiré for the sides. It was finished with green cords and fringes, each one twisted or woven and applied by hand.
Bed covers and curtains were made and reproduction chairs and a chaise were covered in a chintz, the last thirty metres available of the chosen design.
A piece of handkerchief linen was first sized with rabbit glue, a gothic drawing was transferred on to it and then painted with oil paints to create a window blind for a window in the north colonnade.
It was a fascinating glance at an amazing project. The National Trust has published a book on the project which was available on the day and Gwen Hanna has donated a copy for our library. I recommend you borrow or buy the book and if possible go to visit the house.

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