It’s interesting just how much angst I have felt about writing this blog, and amusingly this morning I found that the draft I had been working on had disappeared. Which means I have had even more time to dwell on the embroidered food bags that I have recently completed for a heritage home display.
The food bags were decided on to fill an interpretation hole in the space. The space is not able to have any panels or electronic means for interpretation, but there is an enthusiastic volunteer and staff team. The embroidered food bags were to be added into the living area of the 1860s zone, along with a number of other display food items. A common way of storing dry staple foods during this time period were cotton bags, but having bags without interpretation seemed lacking in depth. We were also a little concerned about people trying to open them and spilling the stuffing out in an attempt to work out what was in them (curiosity being the chief mother of invention and also mess).
I am an embroider, and love spending time on researching historic embroidery pieces. I sadly have been unable to find any indication of embroidered food bags. However, I can prove that women on their way to Australia on the boats did spend time embroidering and sewing small pieces. I can say that Mary Ginn, the first female occupant of the cottage was educated and likely had been taught embroidery as part of her education. We know that she could read and write. The font used for the bags is from a period embroidery book, which was fairly readily available. I do know that the fabric is on par with what should be expected, the threads are right and the stitching style is popular during that period.
Can I prove that there were absolutely embroidered food bags in the 1860s?
And it drives me crazy.
So why am I admitting to this?
During the Open Palaces Programme, I was struck by a talk that was given at the Tower of London. The Yeoman Warder who took us around during our tour was incredibly open about what had been tried and succeeded. Beyond that, he told us what hadn’t worked. Why it hadn’t worked. The processes that led to both success and failure and how they measured those attempts. And it inspired me, because in failure there is a great amount of strength. Knowing what has and hasn’t worked helps us to grow.
So, have I failed with these baggies? I don’t know. On one hand, the interpretation works perfectly. Visitors react to them really well and ask why the food is in bags. It sets up an indication of what hand writing could kind of look like. So there is some great things happening. However, I feel like it’s not quite right, so I will keep looking for evidence (whether for or against). I think the chief thing I could have done is finish them a hell of a lot faster. Part way through the process, I froze up with anxiety over whether they were right and how they would reflect on my (and the heritage home) if they were wrong. That was a good learning experience, in that sometimes you need to go forwards to give yourself time to think in the future. I can also say that the embroidery was travelling at about 1 letter per two hours, on average, so they took a really long time to complete. There are dozens of little things that my perfectionist brain hates as well, but they are far less useful to dwell on.
I don’t know if I will call this any type of serious failure. I will call this a learning experience that I can develop from. I will also be open and transparent, because failure is healthy. It’s good to fall over and make mistakes and doubt ourselves. And if we share these stories and these thoughts openly, then it helps others to make informed choices in the future. It also just makes us feel less alone.
“There is... there was...a country...that spoke in the language of leaves”
I have a deep love of embroidery and textiles. I love the history and the art behind pieces. I love the history of ‘womens work’ and it’s impacts on the world around us. So I was exceptionally pleased to discover an incredible example of modern embroidery in the Great Hall at Parliament House. During a wander after the Urban Sketchers group meet up and throw down, I discovered it with a friend while we were admiring the tapestries. We may have spent the next 10 minutes photographing and trying to analyse the skills and methods that were used to create the master piece.
Commissioned in 1984, the embroidery took 8 years to complete. The work was a collaboration between Kay Lawrence and the Embroidery Guides of Australia. The artwork is 16 meters long, stretching almost the full length of the Great Hall. To convert the original water colour painting into an embroidery, a countless number of techniques were used. From a distance, the painting looks whole and complete, up close there is a myriad of intricate and amazing details. The Australian Women’s Register describes the work as taking 12,000 hours of work, performed by over 504 women over several states.
It is breath taking in person, and my photos could not even state to capture how amazing this work is. Parliament House has an incredible collection and is wonderful to explore, but if you are interested in textile art this is an absolute must see.
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.