Mats (2), embroidered, linen / cotton, waratah design, maker unknown, Australia, 1910-1940
These two embroidered mats each feature a finely-worked waratah motif. They form 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 Australian Textiles Collection. The collection was assembled by the donor, a private collector, over two decades and includes doyleys, 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 represents an important pastime of 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 off flies and insects from food. Embroidery and crochet work 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.
The two linen mats feature a very similar embroidered waratah motif, although treated differently which suggests they were made by different people. The waratah on the larger mat is worked in red, with green leaves and a brown stem, in satin, chain, blanket and butttonhole stitches; this mat has a narrow crocheted edging. The waratah on the smaller mat is embroidered entirely in white, in satin stitch, stem stitch and eyelets and has a tatted edging.
Mats like this were produced for decorative display on a dressing table or dining table.
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).