here it is
The wagga rug or quilt
When India described her “found, stitched and dyed” project I immediately thought of the heritage Australian “wagga” rug or quilt, a very functional and warm rug which dates back to the late 1800s of outback Australia.
The original “waggas” or bush rugs were made by pioneering men who lived a very rough outback life droving and shearing, and were made from 4 or 5 large unopened jute wheat bags or flour bags which they sewed together using a packing needle and a long length of twine. In colder areas or when parts of the rug started to wear out, the men would improvise by stitching more bags over the base rug or by stuffing the bags with whatever was to hand. The name “wagga” rug probably came from Wagga Wagga, a town at the centre of wheat production in Australia in the late 1800s and where there were abundant jute wheat bags and Wagga Lily flour bags from the local flour mill. Some of these bags were flawed and not able to be used for packing wheat or flour so were freely given to the working men.
These traditional waggas from the late 1800s started to evolve in the early 1900s as women folk entered the scene and the jute bags which were reputedly very warm but quite heavy and rough textured were replaced by calico flour bags and sugar bags. The women made domestic waggas for use by the family at home. They would open out these calico bags and wash them well to soften, then use them as a backing over which they would stitch old clothing such as felted jumpers, darned holey socks, torn singlets etc then cover them with patchwork made from tailor’s or dress material samples, offcuts from handmade clothing, or sometimes cretonne, an upholstery weight cotton, linen or hemp fabric. The patchwork was often not in a set pattern but in a shape that best suited the area it was to cover and it would continue to evolve such that more fabric could be stitched over the old as parts wore out or more became available. These domestic waggas were popular during the First World War and the Depression years using whatever was available regardless of fashion or style in order to keep warm and survive those very difficult years. My own Mother, now in her mid 80’s recalls the domestic waggas made from scraps of old clothing and calico flour bags during the so-called Great Depression. Many of the more up-market ones were made from men’s tailors suiting samples as the top layer, which in those days would have been pure wool pieces.
The Australian wagga was in many ways the Aussie equivalent of the Japanese boro cloths made by sashiko stitching together of old indigo dyed fabrics to make floor rugs, futon covers, sleeping mats and more. A “make-do” tradition of thrift and functionality that belonged to the culture and the community of its time.
Kaite Matilda August, 2010
please go to the links below for more information and images of waggas.