Patchwork quilts, bush or wagga rugs, using men's suiting samples or swatches were common in regional Australia in the first half of the 20th century. They are an important example of the Australian practice of reusing materials, or 'making do', when resources are scarce.
They were typically made by women who had obtained obsolete suiting samples from travelling salespeople or local stores. The maker of this rug, Clare Terrill nee Chamberlain, used samples cut from the swatch books passed on through family members from Richardson's department store in Armidale, New South Wales. She sewed these to a large piece of hessian. Chaff or flour bags were often used for the backing. There is little evidence that this rug was ever used. It may have been made as a contingency or simply because the suiting were readily available. While some makers used the different colours and textures of the suiting samples to create effective designs, the patches on this rug appear to be randomly selected and sewn in simple straight lines. The particular significance of this example derives from its association with the swatch books used by Clare Terrill, also acquired by the museum.
The simple design of this quilt exemplifies the utilitarian function of the bush rug or wagga. The patches are sewn into eight lines. Despite the fact that Clare was a very competent needle worker, as a girl she won first prize for a pair of drawers exhibited at the Armidale Show in 1911, the positioning of the various tones of brown, blue and grey does not suggest an intentional pattern.In this respect it differs markedly from the contemporaneous wagga made by Caroline West near Trundle, 85/371.
The term wagga rug is also applied to these quilts, although there is some debate over the appropriateness of its usage (see Jennifer Isaacs, The Gentle Arts, Sydney 1991, p.78). Originally made from hessian or flour sacks, the wagga derives its name either from the wheat growing centre of Wagga Wagga in southern New South Wales or bags used for the related brand of flour, 'wagga lilly'. The term was in common use by the 1900s.