Sunday, September 22, 2013


One of the exhibitions I have most been looking forward to is the one that includes the famous Rajah Quilt... I have written about it before... It was every bit as fascinating as I expected, but it was by no means the only quilt of interest. 

I could have spent far longer exploring the intricacies of the wonderful quilts on display, so diverse, so intricate, so inspiring and to me, most importantly, such a wonderful glimpse of times gone by. 

 If you didn't get to see it, then it's too late, at least in Brisbane... maybe a trip to the UK is in order.

 This is part of what you missed.

Until 22 September 2013: 'Quilts 1700-1945' exhibition | Maker unknown | Central section from a printed cotton patchwork coverlet showing King George III reviewing the troops 1803-05 | © Victoria and Albert Museum, London | view full image

There was also....

and so many more. 

No photos were allowed to be taken at the exhibition, so these photos are courtesy of the 
Queensland Art Gallery exhibition information.

The Rajah Quilt is far larger than I expected, even though I had looked briefly at the measurements. 
Considering the conditions in which it was made, it is an incredible piece of work... a great achievement by many who had never sewn before. 

You can read more about it here...

I marvelled at the intricate designs of many of the quilts, at the very neat stitching, at the colour combinations and at the
patience and persistence of sewing by hand by daylight mainly and candlelight when available.

To me, the stand out quilt was simple, not particularly perfect sewing, but created with something far more important,

The Changi Quilt

Video may take a moment to load.

Olga Henderson with the Changi quilt at the V&A exhibition in London Photo: JAMES


OLGA HENDERSON: The hut we were put in was for 34 people to sleep in and there was 119 of us in it. So you can imagine what we were like. I mean you just more or less slept together and you had no bedding, you had nothing like that.
The Japanese gave us a piece of land and each person, each child worked it. But you were not allowed to eat anything off it. As soon as it ripened you had to tell the guard and they would pick it. You weren’t allowed to eat it at all.
I think the horrible thing was that you had no soap. You had water … if you were in the fields, because you had to work in the fields, if they turned the water on it wasn’t a gush, it was a very slow flow, but by the time you came off the field, picked your piece of tin up that you had – an old tin can – by the time you got there they’d turned the water off, so you had nothing. We used to try and clean our teeth with ash if you could get it. We used to get the little twigs and knock the ends off and make a toothbrush.
When we were first in Changi, after we’d all got settled down and were given our allotted spaces, it was very boring because there was nothing to do.  So Mrs Ennis decided to start a little girl guide group. There were 18 of us that started. Eileen and Helen and Evelyn and Shirley – they were all from one family. Shirley was the elder one. She was more the leader of one group. Mrs Ennis was the boss, you might say. We decided to do the quilt for Mrs Ennis as a birthday present. We didn’t know which year she was going to get it, but we started it anyway.
We left our homes and went as we were dressed so that’s all the clothes we had, so we had to make do. Practically all the time we were in patched bits and pieces. I started by having a little eidelweiss because I got a bit of blue wool and anything to get bits of material. We had to scrounge enough thread to make our own little badges. Thread and needles were the most important things and we used to get those by unpicking old dresses to get the thread from the seams. My mother took some needles in and thread. She gave us a little bit of thread, but it was like gold. But needles were the most important thing because you didn’t get any more. What you had in camp was what you had. We used to try and sharpen them on the concrete pavements, but it didn’t really work.

Tiny URL to a book that talks about the Changi Quilt...

There were other quilts made in Changi... see

As a lover of stitching, of patchwork, of history, 
of those who rail against incredible odds, I have been 
" truly replenished of soul ".


  1. Thanks for sharing the story of the Changi quilt...inspirational

  2. Thanks, Jill... it really got to me that these young girls could plan to make someone else's day brighter, despite the situation they were all in. This quilt was definitely the stand out one for me.

  3. I've seen the Rajah quilt but never even heard of the Changi quilt -that is such an amazing and inspirational story. The power of handcraft, creativity and sharing. Not surprised it was your stand-out choice.

  4. Thank you, Pauleen. The Changi quilt really warmed my heart. It wasn't among the more promoted quilts, nor in a very prominent place, but something drew me to it. I was misty eyed as I read the details, must have been the air conditioning, and just had to know more. I hope a lot more people read about it and spare a thought for the selflessness of these young girls, in what we would consider an intolerable situation.

  5. Oh Chris - I can't believe that story about the Changi quilt. That is truly incredible. Weren't those girls amazing to have thought of and created such a beautiful object. Just extraordinary. The power of the human spirit to change things for good. I am deeply humbled by that story. How I wish I had seen that exhibition...don't know how on earth I missed it. Just never enough time I guess to do all that you want to do.

  6. It is an incredible and beautiful story, Alex. I felt so humbled when I saw it... with what those girls went through and yet, they delved into their souls and created something of such beauty. It is also so wonderful that it has survived. It has stayed with me always.


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