Australian Quilt-making in Wartime

by | Mar 5, 2024 | Article, Research

Last week, I received a lovely gift from Margaret in Australia (on IG @quiltsinkidsbooks), including Australian military knitting patterns from both the First and Second World Wars. I have never seen these booklets before. These examples of knitting ephemera caused me to wonder if the women in Australia, besides knitting for the war effort, had also made quilts.

So, off down a new rabbit hole. I can’t go far down, because I need to stay focused on the Canadian research and that keeps me busy enough, but it is also important to know how women in other countries, particularly the Allied Dominions, were contributing on the home front. I hope the following information will inspire someone else to dig deeper.

Newspapers.com is again supplying most of the recent treasures I have found. In the absence of much existing research on women’s contributions on the home front, the articles found in the primary sources accessible through Newspapers.com have proven invaluable. However, the word “quilts” shows up in 26,000 entries in Australian newspapers between 1940 and 1946 – lots of advertisements selling quilts – so this is by no means an exhaustive representation of wartime quilting in Australia!

Check out this fabulous article, full of great details. Thank you Eleanor Barbour of the 1943 Adelaide Chronicle for honouring the work of these women and recording it for future generations.

The Adelaide Chronicle, February 25, 1943

The women were also sewing items besides quilts for the war effort, organized by the Red Cross, at least in Cairns, Queensland. This article, shared in four parts, is from the Cairns Post, October 22, 1940.

A noticeable difference in these articles is the naming of individuals along with their contributions. I have seen this identification in some very small towns in Ontario such as Gananoque, but it is not as common in larger centres. It suggests that women were making quilts and other items more often at home, rather than in a Red Cross work room. Perhaps a reader knows or can undertake some investigation on this with the Australian Red Cross.

This article is from The Macleay Argus, NSW, July 24, 1942. It relays that, like in Canada and the USA, children were involved in making for the war effort as well, through their schools and the Junior Red Cross.

And finally, one little mystery I would love to solve is referenced in this article, again from Cairns Post. What was the ‘cross’? Was it something akin to the Red Cross labels on the Canadian quilts that were sent to Britain?

“Will those making quilts please use the red substitute if machining the cross to the quilt, and please make two rows of machine stitching 1/4 inch apart.”

Was a ‘Red Cross’ being sewn on the quilts? Are there surviving quilts with Red Crosses that might have been made in Australia during wartime?

Cairns Post, December 2, 1941