making do with what you had

The international reputation that Australian women have earned for independence , tenacity ad strength may be due to the long tradition of coping , of overcoming obstacles and making do in difficult circumstances . Throughout Australia homes were often situated far from supplies and whether from economic necessity or logistics the women were forced to bring up the children maintain the home and provide the food largely relying on their own resources. The tradition of making do did not disappear after the early colonial era . It survived into the 50's particularly in the rural areas and was revived again in the late 1960s and 70s by those who embraced the philosophy of back to nature or cherish the earth on recycling and homemade goods .

we made things from what we had to hand , not only because of the money . it was mainly access to shops that was the problem . June Sowden

the making do tradition was imposed by necessity and arose from the gradual growth of settlement on selections in undeveloped areas.

'waste not want not' . keeping things that would 'come in handy'

In the 1940's depression crafts , learnt out of necessity were immensely important. the country rug , or bush rug incorporating all manner of bags, including flour bags, sugar bags , hessian bags used for grain was one indigenous development of great significance.

we used flour bags for a multiple of things we lined jackets and pants with them. sometimes our bed sheets were too short so the flour bags were used to lengthen them. they were very soft lovely material. June Sowden

Waggas or rag rugs used to be made with the bags inside or outside and another piece of material and you joined the cloths with a big running stitch usually from wool left over from knitting. The flour bags were usually inside- they couldn't be seen and some old rugs had all the family's old clothes inside in several different layers stitched together to make blankets

So what is a "wagga"?

The resourcefulness of Australians bred on a diet of harsh uncertainty from drought, fire, flood and war has nurtured a folk heritage of 'making something out of nothing'. Regardless of economic circumstance, everyone recycled, practicing thrift during times of deprivation. In the early twentieth century this was caused by economic depression and world wars and in this environment, the humble utilitarian quilts called "waggas" were born.

The origin of the word "wagga" may always remain a mystery but it is thought to be derived from the finely woven "Wagga Lily Flour" sacks made by the Murrumbidgee Flour Milling Co-operative in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. However, they were made and known of right across Australia and were given different names such as a 'bluey', 'bush rug', 'wogger', 'Sydney blanket' or a 'Murrumbidgee rug'.
They all seem to share the same construction methods and were made mostly by men living 'on the road' and working in itinerant occupations on the land such as shearing, droving and fencing. Waggas were made of materials commonly found in a shed such as jute wheat bags and wool packs, opened out and stitched together along the seams with twine.
During the 1930's, the domestic burden carried by women was huge. Family survival often depended on women's initiative and skills to clothe and feed the family, furnish the home and literally 'make the bedding'. Women made domestic waggas for use in the home, which could be as simple as wheat or chaff bags stitched together and enclosed within a cotton cover made of simple patchwork. Otherwise, pieces of old clothing or bedding were laid flat and roughly stitched together, sometimes making quite a heavy quilt. Often these waggas or quilts were made with some thought for an aesthetic design, however humble the intent or plain the material.
The art in 'making do' Recycling is not just a modern day activity based on saving the environment. Last century, thrift was a national activity, necessary in times of financial hardship where the availability of ready-made goods to furnish the home and clothe the family was not as easy as it is today. The global marketplace has provided us with many choices to meet our material needs in a manner we almost take for granted. With more disposable income, we are so used to buying things cheaply and throwing out what is no longer useful. Not so long ago, these things were saved in the 'scraps box' and turned into other useful things when the need arose.

Choices still existed even with limited resources and people took care with their home made quilts to create something that was attractive. Even the simple patchwork quilts, made from suiting sample books obtained from tailors and travelling salesmen, show careful placement of colours to make a balanced design. These quilts and those made from a myriad of other recycled fabrics such as old bedspreads, curtains, clothing and blankets have become more than just a simple bed covering. Their colours, allusions to light, space and movement transcends their everyday function and conveys messages about our collective social history, how time was spent and family relationships.
It is interesting to see how the designs found in these utilitarian quilts of the Depression years can be compared with forms of abstractionism, which developed in modern art in the latter part of the twentieth century. These designs grew unselfconsciously from pragmatic origins and in isolation to modern art using a 'restricted palette' of recycled materials.

wheat bags

champion bag sewers

farmers who remember the days of bag sewing with anything but fond memories say that if in a full day a man who could sew one hundred plus bags he was doing pretty good . That's why they greeted with disbelief a newspaper article reporting a couple of records that were being claimed in the eastern states

'it was claimed lately that Clem Tank had put up a South Australian record by sewing 515 bags of wheat in a day. really, Clement is a loiterer compared with T. Daniel Cash

The young man sewed 620 bags of wheat as they were coming out of a motor winnower at Kalka station on February 5, 1912 and each bag was dumped three times. In 1910 Cash contended that he could do a bag a minute and to prove the argument he completed 17 bags in 15 minutes
the young man is now a student at Melbourne university but he come home for vacation, and although out of practice and with soft hands , this season he managed 250 bags between midday and sunset .

the eastern recorder 12 march 1919