Quilt Notes

Quilts From the Wide Open Spaces: Waggas and Suggans

Imagine living where your trips to town were few and far. Such sparsely populated wide open spaces occurred both in the American West and in Australia. Perhaps this is why similar quilts developed a world apart to meet the needs of men working in the great outdoors. Rough yet warm utilitarian quilts were made of materials at hand. These quilts could be rolled up and transported wherever the worker needed to be.

Southwestern American Suggans

We most often think of suggans as being a part of a cowboy's bedroll but similar coverings were also used by loggers, herders and those in other occupations that required camping out. This style of bedding has also been spelled soogan, suggin and sougan. Most often women made these utilitarian quilts for the men of their family.

We may think of the Southwest as warm but the high country in New Mexico inspired the authors of a book on quilts from this region to title it, "Surviving the Winter". Most of the settlers of the Southwest came from Mexico. In fact much of northern New Mexico and Arizona was still a part of Mexico until 1848. The women were accustomed to weaving blankets but that was time consuming. So women began to make coverings by cutting out materials at hand and patching them together. There was no pattern, in fact the size of the available fabric dictated the size and shapes of the patches.

But it wasn't only Hispanic woman who made these rough quilts. Warm bedding for outdoor sleeping was also needed in other parts of the west. Sometimes women made quilts of wool cloth or heavy feedsacks sewn together while other suggans consisted of patches cut from clothing including old wool coats and worn denim jeans. Some were tied while others were quickly quilted. Add a heavy wool batting and you are talking about some heavy bedding. Suggans could be used as a covering or even a mattress for sleeping on the ground.

Australian Waggas

Australian waggas appear to have developed much later than suggans. We know they were made in the early 20th century, though as with any utilitarian quilt, they may have been made earlier. Such quilts were usually used until they were worn out.

The original waggas were made with heavy flour sacking or jute wheat bags. Three to five unopened bags were sewn together with lengths of heavy twine. The result was warm, although heavy, bedding that could be carried from place to place.

Interestingly Waggas were mostly made by men working in occupations that kept them on the road including shearing, harvesting wheat, fencing and herding sheep or cattle. Other materials from wool scraps to old blankets were also used to make the wagga warm.

Women also made quilts with sacking for warmth but they added their touch by covering their waggas with patches of pretty cottons.

The making of waggas or suggans did not mean these women were incapable of making a beautiful quilt. Some did that as well.

References:

"Surviving the Winter: The Evolution of Quiltmaking in New Mexico", by Dorothy R. Zoff

"Quilts: California Bound, California made 1814-1940", by Sandy Fox

"The Australian Wagga", by Dr Annette Gero,
"Blanket Statements' Spring 2002

Learn More:

Wagga Rugs

Quilts & waggas: The Running Stitch Collection