Milk jug cover, filet crochet, cotton / plastic, cockatoo motif, maker unknown, Australia, 1910-1930
This square filet crochet milk jug cover, featuring a cockatoo motif, forms part of a collection of 19th and 20th century Australian embroidery and needlework given to the Museum by Ian Rumsey and known as the Ian Rumsey Collection. The collection was assembled by the donor, a private collector, over two decades and includes doilies, milk jug covers, tablecloths, placemats, towels, banners, aprons, samplers, runners and cushion covers, all featuring Australian motifs. Ian Rumsey was drawn to embroidery and needlework for its extensive use of Australian flora and fauna and other motifs which specifically reference Australia; he collected only well-preserved examples. The use of Australian motifs is strongly indicative of a shift away from the design influences of the United Kingdom towards a more inclusive Australian aesthetic.
The collection reflects an important pastime for Australian women of the late 19th to mid 20th century. Women's focus was the home and its decoration was important. Embroidery and crochet work was an affordable way to personalise and add aesthetic value, and examples of embroidered and crocheted pieces could be found in most Australian homes, decorating or protecting furniture, floors and walls, and keeping flies and insects away from food. Embroidery and crochet provided a much needed creative outlet for some and a restful leisure activity for others, as a way to commemorate significant events or supplement the family income.
This square milk jug cover is worked in filet crochet, whose basis is an open grid formed by chain and treble crochet. The patterns for filet crochet, in this instance a cockatoo, are designed on graph paper and created by filling relevant squares of the crochet grid with two treble crochets rather than leaving them open. The green beads were added to the outer row of chain scallops as they were worked.
Crochet covers for milk jugs, teacups and bowls were produced to repel the dreaded Australian blow fly. They were typically decorated with Australian flora and fauna and commemorative motifs and sometimes edged with beads, shells and other three dimensional forms, not only for appearance, but also to weigh down the crochet so it would stay safely in place on the jug. The three dimensional parts were stiffened with sugar syrup, or sometimes starch, paraffin or gelatine.
The main sources for crochet cover and other needlework designs available to women were in journals, magazines and pattern books. Well known late 19th and early 20th century designers included Grace Valentine, Bertha Maxwell, Mary Card and Muriel Arnold.
Part of a collection of well-preserved Australian needlework and embroidery of the early to mid 1900s, featuring Australian motifs and assembled by the donor Ian Rumsey over two decades. One of the principal sources for his collection was the late Nerylla Taunton, a widely respected Sydney antiques dealer who specialised in needlework and was a registered Australian government valuer for this class of object.
From the mid-19th century, needlework was a popular pastime among women, and the skills and techniques of decorative and plain sewing was both encouraged and expected of them (needlework was part of the school curriculum in the 19th century).