Aboriginal Art and Quilts


SOL Day 25

On Thursday Kathy and I attended a lecture on Aboriginal Art.  Having been to Australia we thought this would be interesting and we were right.

The speaker, Phyllis Hatcher, spent three years in Australia with her family.  They lived in Alice Springs, a place we had visited when we were in Australia.  She joined the quilt guild there and spent much time learning from the ladies in the guild.

This is Phyllis.



Before I talk about the fabric I thought it might be interesting to share some background on the Aborigines and their art.  Aborigine art began around 50,000 years ago.  The Aborigine drew pictures in the sand.  They would only use their fingers and hands  to create their art which is why the are work is a series of dots and lines.

To paint on cave walls and on their bodies they would use ochre pits for color.  When painting on cave walls, old drawings were not removed.  New symbols were just painted over them.

Just as so many cultures had their own set of myths, so did the Aboriginal people.  Their mythology is known as Dreamtime Legends.  According to encyclopedia.com, “Dream-time is the mystical time during which the Aborigines’ ancestors established their world. These myths from ancient times are accepted as a record of absolute truth. They dominate the cultural life of the people.”

Aborigines began using acrylic paints on canvas in the 1970’s.  It was Sham and Momo Lohani who began a textile company in the 1990’s that translated the artwork into fabric.  The fabric was used strictly for quilters and not for wearable clothing although that has now changed.

Did you know that…

  • Time is unimportant to the Aboriginal People. When they show up they show up.  It is the event that counts.
  • Aboriginal people share.  Ownership doesn’t matter.  If someone sees something belonging to another that s/he wants that person will take it.  No questions. Nothing done about it.
  • Aboriginal people ask relatives for money.  It is not unusual for someone to be paid on Friday and broke by Monday because relatives came over the weekend asking for money.
  • Their philosophy is basically live for today and tomorrow will take care of itself.

Although there is more to say about their culture I think I will move on to their artwork an what the symbols mean.

A sideways “U” symbolizes a human because it is the shape a body makes when sitting in the sand.  If there are running feet by it that stands for “man” because the men were usually out hunting.  If there is a digging stick by it  then it symbolizes a woman because a woman would dig in the ground for root vegetables.

To help you interpret Aboriginal art he is a cheat sheet of symbols and what they stand for that Phyllis handed out.  I apologize for all of the pictures but I couldn’t get a clear shot of symbols and words in one picture.

Now that you know what the symbols mean here are some examples that Phyllis brought with her.  Notice that she didn’t make quilts out of them.  Instead she stretched them over canvas and uses them as artwork.

This I thought was interesting because she did take the snake print and designed something out of it.

After the lecture Kathy got a chance to talk with her.



Of course, when we passed a booth in the vendor hall that had Aboriginal print fabric I will let you guess who bought some.  I will say that it wasn’t me.  Based on the cheat sheet above can you figure out these patterns?



Well, I think I have go on enough about this topic even though there is still more I could write so I will end this here.

Tomorrow we will look at some quilts from the show.


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14 responses to “Aboriginal Art and Quilts

  1. Joy Bakken

    I read your post because I, too, have spent some time in Australia. I learned a lot from your slice. “Notice that she didn’t make quilts out of them. Instead she stretched them over canvas and uses them as artwork.” What stunning art!

  2. Gorgeous fabrics and so interesting that some are literally artwork! What a super connection to build on all your knowledge of Australia!

  3. Thank you for the history lesson on the Aborigines and their creations. I love that she didn’t make quilts, but instead put them on canvas. Glad Kathy could purchase a few pieces to enjoy.

  4. For some reason I can’t see the pictures. Weird because I always can. In any case, I learned a lot from the text. Interesting to see how Aboriginal art evolved from original, natural material to acrylic and fabric.

  5. Beautiful fabric! Has Cathy cut into hers yet? Cutting fabric can be hard, especially if it is really beautiful as a whole piece. I love it stretched over the canvas.

    • She hasn’t cut them yet. She has a few more fabrics that she bought a while ago. She wants to put them all together to see which ones work well together. Plus, she is waiting for inspiration on how to use them

  6. Beautiful fabric! I would have had no clue there was so much meaning behind the designs. When Kathy does use the fabric, I hope you share.

  7. Alice Nine

    Beautiful. I think the symbols are very interesting, especially in light of all the symbols and emoticons that are so popular in texting. They could be used to write rebus stories. What about rebus poems? Is there such a thing?

    • I don’t see why not. The Aborigines used them to tell their stories it wouldn’t be a stretch to incorporate them into a poem. Could be an interesting idea.

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