Sarah Ann Steffanoni was a gold bullion embroiderer, born in Warwick, England, who moved with her family, along with the Fairfax family to Sydney, Australia in 1853. With her artist husband, Steffanoni continued the family embroidery business, in which many prestigious embroideries were designed and executed. Among her accomplishments, Steffanoni designed the Regimental Colour of the Singleton re
gold bullion embroiderer, was born in Warwick, England, where both her parents ran businesses. Her mother, Ann Reading, was a Berlin wool dealer and her father was a currier and leather cutter who also stocked glass and china in his shop. Sarah Ann Reading’s uncle, John Fairfax (proprietor of the Sydney Morning Herald ), visited England in the early 1850s and the Reading family accompanied the Fairfax family back to Sydney in 1853, when Sarah Ann was nine. After their initial store in West Maitland was flooded out, the Readings opened an import business in George Street, Sydney in 1856, which continued in Market Street until 1880. They specialised in Berlin woolwork, embroidery silks and braids, lampshades and clocks. After her father died in 1863 Sarah and her mother continued to run the business.
In 1869 Sarah married Lewis Steffanoni , a painter, illuminator and commercial artist who became an inaugural council member of the NSW Academy of Art in 1871. The new partnership of Reading, Son & Steffanoni continued at the Market Street premises. If, as an early business card states, Lewis also did gold bullion embroidery work, then his skills perfectly complemented those of Mrs Reading and Sarah Ann. Many of the most prestigious embroideries of colonial society were designed and executed at the shop. Each new regiment, yachting club, masonic or ecclesiastical organisation needed its regalia, flags, badges, vestments and trappings embroidered in gold bullion. In 1870 Mrs Reading made the Regimental Colour of the Singleton regiment:
This gay flag … finished in the most handsome manner, is made of beautiful red silk, with a blue cross through the same, whilst in the upper corner the union is neatly placed. In the centre, a fine silver star is let in, but, as yet, is not exactly completed, owing to a large crown having to be worked in the same, and underneath the above is a scroll, with the words “Singleton Volunteers”.
Diplomatic coats were worked for Lords Carrington and Northcote, the Earl of Jersey, Sir Robert Duff, the King of Tonga and other dignitaries. Surf clubs at Bondi, Coogee and Clovelly had flags made. Many large departmental stores like David Jones, Anthony Horderns and Farmers used their services for embroidered items for household use. They also supplied country businesses throughout NSW and other states, including Tasmania.
After Lewis died in 1880 Sarah Ann Steffanoni continued the embroidery business from Brighton House, Clarence Street, which she also ran as a boarding house to earn extra income. Supporting five young children was extremely difficult. Generous guests and relatives sent food parcels to help the family survive, and Sarah Ann and her three daughters often worked until midnight.
Many women embroiderers were trained under Mrs Steffanoni. Despite the deaths of the eldest daughter, Essie, in 1889 at the age of nineteen, the second daughter, Sophie , in 1906 and Sarah Ann herself in 1916, the business continued in the hands of Alice Steffanoni until 1924.