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Brought to New Zealand by early settlers, the technique of quilting remains popular here today. The Auckland Museum collection includes around 50 quilts, from traditional European and American bed quilts to Pacific Tivaevae.

Dressmakers\u0027 quilts make use of scraps of fabric left over from other sewing projects

Dressmakers' quilts make use of scraps of fabric left over from other sewing projects

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

From early settlers to today

More than just a warm bedcovering, a quilt can be an artwork to liven up a dull room, or a family heirloom that evokes fond memories. Some early settlers to New Zealand either brought quilts with them on their journey, or brought the skills and knowledge of how to make them, and quilting remains a popular activity in our country today. The Auckland Museum holds a collection of around 50 quilts, from traditional European and American bed quilts to Pacific Tivaevae.

Types and techniques

Quilting refers to the method of stitching through the layers of fabric and batting (padding such as wool or polyester) to hold them together. Not all bedcovers that we would call quilts are quilted, and not everything quilted is a quilt, as the technique is also used on objects like warm clothing and slippers. Often the top layer of a quilt is made of patchwork: pieces of fabric stitched together to form a decorative pattern.


Modern quilters continue to use patchwork patterns that have been popular for centuries, but a lot can be learned by looking at the kinds of fabrics used. A fabric's colour, motif, and material can all give clues about when a quilt was sewn. Quilters frequently reuse scraps left over from other projects, and in one Log Cabin quilt in the Auckland Museum collection, you can see pieces of Victorian dress fabric alongside wool tweed from a man's garment.


Evolving from techniques learned from missionaries in the 19th century, Cook Islands Tivaevae have a distinct style that reflects the flowers and colours of the Pacific. Making a Tivaevae can be a social activity, with multiple women working on a quilt at once. There are several different styles including the intricate Tivaevae taorei, made of thousands of small squares hand stitched together.

Military uniform quilts

In the museum collection we have a quilt sewn by a New Zealand soldier from the 58th Regiment while in prison. Made of many small pieces in a geometric pattern, the red, black and cream wool reveals that the maker used military uniforms as his fabric. This quilt dates from the 1860s; and while there are several examples of soldier quilts from the 19th century, the style dwindled after New Zealand, Australian and British uniforms of the 1900s became a universal khaki.

Objects to treasure

Many modern quilters have taken their skills beyond the bedspread. Contemporary quilts are frequently pieces of art, with their makers mixing traditional techniques with innovative materials and subjects. Whether functional or artistic, the beauty and labour evident in quilts make them objects to treasure.

Cite this article

Groufsky, Jane. Quilts. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 4 June 2015. Updated: 7 April 2016.

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