Stitch by Stitch – Pixel by Pixel

Barwon Park mansion in Winchelsea was built for Thomas and Elizabeth Austin from 1869-1871 and Elizabeth remained living in the house until her death in 1910. The mansion was sold in 1912 to the Batson family, who generously bequeathed it to the National Trust in 1973. 

From contemporary newspaper articles and auction sale lists, the Trust has been able to ascertain how rooms were furnished during the Austin occupation. We have also been very fortunate in being able to acquire original objects and furnishings from the house. 

This large Berlin wool work hearth rug was handmade by Elizabeth Austin. It features the Austin family crest and motto and is over three metres in length. Elizabeth must have spent hundreds of hours creating this stitched panel for her home.  

The rug was situated in the drawing room and evidence of burn marks, from embers and the open fire, indicate where it was most likely positioned within the room. The rug has faded from its original colour palette (the stitches on the back reveal vivid yarn colours) and this textile, originally created as a robust floor covering, is now a delicate artefact. 

To conserve the rug and reduce further deterioration from light and physical handling, Elizabeth’s rug is displayed on a wall frame in a light reduced area at Barwon Park. While this action is necessary to continue to preserve this important object, its display in this way is contrary to the spirit of its making and purpose and to Elizabeth’s vision for her handmade rug. 

Reinstating this important furnishing for the integrity of Elizabeth’s vision and the drawing room interior and to enhance visitor experience was essential. We are fortunate that we live in an age of digital technology. When is a rug not a rug?  When it is a full-size photographic replica. The scale and intricacy of the rug called for an innovative solution. The Trust commissioned Dr Mark Guglielmetti, Monash Art, Design & Architecture to assist with the project and drone photography provided the solution. Mark used a drone camera to photograph the rug in smaller sections and then meticulously digitally ‘stitched together’ the individual high-resolution images. The colour was matched as closely as possible to the original rug and the final file was printed to scale on a substrate suitable for foot traffic. 

When visiting Barwon Park, compare the two rugs and enjoy the different experiences. View the original textile and appreciate Elizabeth’s stitching and design work. Imagine yourself as a guest of the Austin family, enter the drawing room and admire the rug prominently positioned in front of the fireplace. 

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