THE SIGNATURE QUILT
2000 – 2003
A National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame Project made by Jan Millington assisted by Julie Heller, Curator Pauline Cockrill, assisted by honorary secretary Val Mitchell.
Our Signature Quilt, like the women who signed it, is made by women to commemorate women.
The 342 women who signed our Signature Quilt are all first in their field in some way. Our Signature Quilt is literally a “Patchwork of Empowerment”.
Made in a variety of inks (signatures), cotton, printed cotton and polycotton, wool/polyester batting
Dimensions: 3150 mm h x 2550 mm w x 7 mm d
HISTORY OF SIGNATURE QUILTS
The concept of a signature quilt is a tradition which dates back to the late 1800's. A signature or autograph quilt has multiple names signed, stamped, or embroidered on it. While examples exist prior to 1800, the tradition was popularized in the 19th century often as a means of fundraising or given as keepsakes to people relocating and rarely included signatures of famous people.
Autograph quilts were often made in remembrance of family and friends, or as fundraisers. They were very popular in America throughout the 19th century, but less so in Australia. However, autograph quilts increased in popularity across Australia in the late 19th century.
As a fundraiser, subscribers paid a donation to write their name, signature or monogram on a square. The squares were then returned to the quilters who embroidered the names, and the squares were then patch-worked together to form the quilt. Completed quilts were often presented as gifts to esteemed individuals or auctioned to raise more money.
MAKING THE QUILT
NPWHF committee member and experienced quilter, Jan Millington first initiated this innovative undertaking at the end of 2000.
NPWHF Curator at the time Pauline Cockrill researched the names and addresses of the women to be approached while Honorary Secretary Val Mitchell handled the bulk of the correspondence.
Jan Millington and fellow quilter Julie Heller spent many hours putting the quilts together and searching for appropriate fabric to match the achievements of each of the women signatories.
The first signature was received in August 2000, the last on 1 March 2003.
A complete set of signed patches was used to make the Signature Quilt while a the second set made up another which like the tradition was raffled to raise money for the NPWHF.
Chief Minister Clare Martin, (the first female Chief Minister of the Northern Territory in the 2001 election) officially launched the Quilt display at the Old Courthouse on 7 March 2003 to coincide with International Women’s Day where all signatories were invited.
The Signature Quilt was displayed to the public for the first time on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2004 at the old Alice Springs Court House (then the home of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame), along with a ring binder of information about each of the signatories.
Two smaller signature quilts were raffled as a fundraiser at the launch.
The Quilt moved with the Women’s Museum to the Old Alice Springs Gaol in 2007 and was on permanent open display in the Old Gaol Kitchen until March 2018.
CONSERVING THE QUILT
Over time, we became concerned with the condition of the Signature Quilt. Light and ultra-violet (UV) radiation are the greatest enemies of textiles. They cause photochemical deterioration: colours fade and fabrics become fragile and split readily.
Conservator Carolyn McLennan assessed the condition of the Quilt in 2017 and concluded that while the structure of the Quilt was good and the Quilt remained complete, some of the the signatures were in poor condition.
Some 83% of the signatures had obvious light damage, with 1% of those completely gone and 22% of those so faded they were illegible at a standard display distance. This was due to a combination of the poor quality inks used to sign the fabric and the light damage from the long term display. Carolyn also noted that the front edges of the Quilt were soiled from handling.
Below are some before and after examples of signatures from 2003 and 2018.
Along with Carolyn’s condition report and conservation work on the Quilt, we were given extensive assistance and advice from Sandra Yee (conservator, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory) and Kate Fennell (designer, MAGNT).
We then set about raising funds for exhibiting the Signature Quilt in a safe and sustainable display.
The Signature Quilt is now displayed:
The Quilt is folded in three, so that one third of the Quilt is on display at any one time and two-thirds of the Quilt are rested from display. Each year, we change the third which is on display.
The making and conservation of the Signature Quilt has been made possible thanks to the support of many organisations and people who appreciate the value of the Quilt and want to help care for it. We would like to acknowledge the following supporters:
Donations of materials:
Donating to the conservation of the Quilt:
The conservation project was supported by the Northern Territory Government Heritage Grants Program.