Prue Hill: WRAP Unwrapped

Wrap stands for Wagga Research, Adapt, Produce: the aims of the group. It all started when Robin and Annette were talking about their respective stashes of wool fabrics and decided to make a wagga. They recruited others and WRAP was created with the purpose of studying the iconic Australian wagga. The group is composed of nine women.

The brief was to find out more about the quilts and the stories behind them. Early meetings often included examining waggas from friends to see how they were made, what fabric was used, what was inside, what backing and stitching. Many hours were spent planning all the factors that an exhibition entails. They had absolutely no idea of the workload involved.
Postcards, pot holders and A3 sized sample waggas were made to try techniques and were used to sell the exhibition to galleries. Gina Sirabella took photos and designed the catalogue and logo. Articles were written and published in Textile Fibre Forum, Down Under Quilts, Creative Embroidery and Cross Stitch magazine and the Senior Newspaper. A blog was created for updated news of the group’s activities.
A wagga can also be called a Murrumbidgee blanket, Murrumbidgee rug, Sydney rug, wagga blanket, wagga rug, wagga quilt, wogga, wogger and a bag wagga.
There has always been fierce debate about what can be described as a wagga and what can’t. To quote the Sydney Bulletin of August 9, 1906: This is the only genuine wagga rug, take three wheat or corn sacks and sew them together with packing needle and twine. Nothing more is needed.
Waggas fit squarely into the Australian tradition of making do. They were constructed of the recycled materials that were available at the time. For the shearer or drover that was wheat sacks, for many families it was clothing that could no longer be worn, in depression years it was samples that tailors or fabric salesmen no longer needed.
Research: was accumulated from books, journals and the internet. They visited museums, read about and heard stories about waggas and went on a road trips. None of the waggas seen had conventional decorative hand quilting.
Each member of the group had a different approach:
Christine Bosely has always loved needlework and owes her interest in embroidery to her mother who was a very talented stitcher. Christine’s quilt is constructed from denim jeans purchased for $3 a pair at op shops, seams unpicked and all the threads saved. Her Road Trip quilt uses a small quantity of the many woollen jackets she collected on a research trips.
Prue Hill’s introduction to embroidery in grade four at Milton State School was such a success that she did two samples – the second had only slightly fewer mistakes than the first, but it was cleaner. She used some of the off cuts accumulated during years of weaving for a quilt for her grand nephew.
Donna Caffrey works in a number of styles but principally enjoys the quilt format creating textile collages with fabric, paint and stitch. Donna responded to the countryside where the wagga originated and the wheat fields of the Mallee, where she grew up. Donna says that some quilts have an everyday side and a good side that was turned up for special visitors. The title Queen for a Day reflects this and the fact that it was to be queen size but never quite made it.
As far back as Annette Glare can remember she has loved needlework in all forms. Annette’s works are based on the grid patterns of town maps between the flour mill and the exhibition gallery where our works were shown -Wagga Wagga, Temora and Cowra.
Born in Sydney, of Italian descent, Gina Sirabella has a somewhat quirky view of things, a rather eclectic style with a bag lady approach. Gina’s ingenious re-use of old umbrella frames, is firmly based in the idea of recycling and shelter – as a comment on climate change.
Robin Kaltenbach inherited her creative gene from her grandmothers and grandfathers. Robin’s wagga wrap is made from Harris tweed jackets bought in op shops. The design reflects the Australian landscape. A flour bag quilt comes with it for use as a mattress should the need arise. Robin used an embellishing machine and, inspired by the slave’s quilt in the Powerhouse Museum, she free-hand embroidered flowers.
Currently a part time PHD student at Wollongong University, Diana Thomas is writing a thesis on the textile arts in Australian fiction. Diana’s quilts explore the emotional tug inherent in waggas that contain reused clothing as well as memories of dead loved ones, childhood and past fashions.
Mary Swan learned to sew in primary school but it was not until she went to work that her love of fashion reawakened her interest in sewing. Mary has used commercial wool suiting samples from the fabric stashes of friends and family, including her husband’s trousers.
Catherine McClellan has always had a strong interest in all aspects of textiles, design and architecture and has been captivated by the minimalist style of the waggas. As well as writing and constructing a book that illustrates WRAP’S story of a crow, Catherine developed a fabric sampler book, a result of her research and thoughts about the role of text and the wagga.
As the exhibition toured stories came in about numerous waggas held in museums and families.
They were thrilled to be accepted to exhibit at Parliament House of NSW in July and by the time of the last exhibition in Dungog on September 12& 13, the quilts will have been on their own journey for 16 months in 6 different locations and the preliminary works will have been shown in 6 venues.
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