Global Perspective: Australian Wagga Quilts
Written by Maria V. Schwamman
From the feed sack quilts stitched during the Depression Era to the scrappy quilt patterns of today, the art of making do has resonated with quilters for generations. And this is not a phenomenon limited to North American quilters. As a result of hardship caused by drought, depression, war, and plagues, Australia has its own rich tradition of make-do quilting that dates back to the late 19th century: utilitarian quilts known as waggas.
Dr. Annette Gero, author of The Fabric of Society: Australia’s Quilt Heritage from Convict Times to 1960 (The Beagle Press, 2008), classifies waggas in three categories: those made from agricultural bags for use around the farm, “depression rugs” made from worn-out clothing during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, and “saleman’s samples,” quilts made from pinked-edge cotton swatches carried by traveling sales representatives. While waggas vary in construction and material, they were all thrifty solutions for providing warmth.
Historians speculate that in the 1890s bushmen and itinerant workers were the first to crudely stitch early versions from several unopened wheat or jute flour bags using bag needles and lengths of twine. Other versions were stuffed with agricultural bags and covered in old fabric. It’s believed that waggas were named after the Wagga Lily Flour sacks used by the Murrumbidgee Flour Milling Co-operative in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. In Australia’s National Quilt Register, these first waggas made by men are known as “traditional waggas,” while later versions made by women are considered “domestic waggas.”
Photo courtesy of International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2007.010.0001.
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