Frederica Josephson and Lady Mary Fitzroy quilts from the National Trust Collection
Two important quilts made in the colony in the mid 1800s are held by the National Trust of Australia (NSW).
Both quilts are hand pieced and sewn in the English paper template technique. In this technique, fabric pieces are cut to shape slightly larger than a pre-cut paper template, folded over the template, and basted in position. Then the prepared shapes are stitched together at the edges to form a pattern.
The star and diamond patchwork quilt attributed to Frederica Mary Josephson has undergone extension conservation work in preparation for these exhibitions. Jane Donnelly from the National Trust worked under the supervision of International Conservation Services (ICS) to stabilise this beautifully designed quilt. The conservation involved photographing & documenting, surface cleaning, sourcing materials, colour matching netting to eleven different fabric types (including hand-dying to colour match) and skilfully hand stitching over 70 individually cut netting patches over the damaged areas.
Frederica Mary Josephson (nee Miller), the daughter of a convict upholsterer married Emmanuel Josephson, the son of the noted convict silversmith Jacob Josephson in 1853. The couple lived in Riverview Cottage at Longueville from 1853 to 1873 where it is speculate the quilt was made. Riverview Cottage was a handsome sandstone cottage with a verandah overlooking a garden designed by Frederica Mary Josephson. The cottage was demolished in the 1930s and the area is now part of St Ignatius College.
The centre of the quilt consists of six-point hexagon stars, a radiating pattern of large hexagons alternating with tumbling blocks and four-piece hexagon diamonds creating a kaleidoscopic effect. The printed cotton fabrics, mostly upholstery and presumably from her father’s business, and overall complex pattern suggest Frederica planned the design from the outset, not as an afterthought.
The other quilt; Lady Mary Fitzroy’s (1780-1847) unfinished hexagon mosaic patchwork is pieced together from printed cottons and plain coloured silk in a honeycomb pattern. In its unfinished state without backing material the paper templates are clearly visible.
Lady Mary was the daughter of the Duke of Richmond and arrived in the colony in August 1846 as the wife of Governor Sir Charles Fitzroy. Annabella Boswell recorded her impressions of Lady Mary in her journal, when she and the governor were visiting Lake Innes, Port Macquarie: ‘We spent the morning in the drawing-room end of the verandah, where Lady Mary had established herself with her work. She is most industrious, and is now preparing for the annual fancy bazaar for the School of Industry’. Lady Mary’s needlework came to an abrupt end with her death in Parramatta in 1847. As the newspapers reported at the time: “His Excellency and Lady Fitzroy were about to visit Sydney. The horses being fresh ran away the moment their heads were let go…the carriage was dashed to pieces and Lady Fitzroy [was] so much injured she died almost immediately…” A memorial obelisk was erected at the site of her death in 1888.
The unfinished quilt, loose pieces and her workbag were gifted to the National Trust (NSW) by the maker’s great, great, grand-daughter, Yvonne Perceval in 1998.
“It is tempting to assume that pieced quilts made of fabric scraps were born out of necessity. On the contrary, colonial quilts made in the mid 1800s were decorative, carefully planned, time consuming and often complex to sew.” Louise Mitchell Curator – Labours of Love: Australian Quilts 1845-2105 Exhibition Catalogue.
These quilts were previously on display at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre for their exhibition Labours of Love: Australian Quilts 1845-2105 and at the National Gallery of Victoria in July 2016.