I popped into the Dressmaker Exhibition, at the National Sound and Film Archive, and was thoroughly impressed. 8 years living in the ACT and I am kicking myself for not checking out the dozens of previously advertised NFSA exhibition. This exhibition closes on the 18th of August, so if you haven’t seen it, I would suggest going sooner rather than later.
The Dressmaker (the film), is an Australian classic. Having been convinced to watch it by my lovely Aunty, I will admit that it wasn’t specifically my cup of tea. The filmography and costuming were amazing, the story building is fantastic, but it was thoroughly lacking in superheroes and fast cars. Incredible film though, just not my taste. The film is probably best described as a revenge/comedy/drama set in outback Australia and explores the mysterious past of the female lead character Myrtle Dunnage. Myrtle is a fabulous dressmaker, which means that the costuming has a strong place within the film.
Although I enjoy costuming and anything textile, the Dressmaker Exhibition had been in my peripheral view, and it took a lovely friend arriving in town with a love for dressmaking to decide the matter. I loved the costumes on display. They were amazing. Lovely textiles, great embroidery, beautiful dress shapes.
Beyond the costumes, I loved the exhibition itself! It was interesting comparing the atmosphere between this exhibition, and my recent exploration of the Guo Pei exhibition. The Geo Pei exhibition was glamorous and it felt like you could be looking through a veil while standing on the runway or in the dressing room with the mannequins. It creates a dreamy feel to the whole exhibition. The Dressmaker Exhibition was the complete opposite. The dresses (and suits) stand with the set photography behind them in lovely bright lights. The display cases provide further insights with additional props or equipment, deepening the narrative behind the scenes that called for each piece. For many parts, it was easy to feel as connected to the dress as it was to the atmosphere and narrative of the movie. Remote Australian, with this injected glamour, and a whole bunch of f**k this. It felt punchy, not dreamy.
It’s probably a ridiculous thing to focus on, but I also loved the magazine stands. Yep... magazine stands.
It’s for two major reasons. Firstly, the magazines that were on display described the costumes as if they were haute couture. It felt like it was something the character, Myrtle, should have. It felt like the pieces were being elevated to the runway in Paris she belonged, and that it was throwing shade on the denizens of the horrible little town. Secondly, the magazine stands were just really nicely constructed and low impact on the exhibition itself. I took a surprising number of photos that I think may have confused the poor museum staff member who was looking after the floor that day (thanks for your patience!).
Marion Boyce plays a dual part in this fantastic exhibition: She is the designer/curator of the exhibition but was also the film costumer designer for The Dressmaker. I’ve noticed several future exhibitions that are tied to her, which I will certainly be making a point to visit.
I felt like this was a worthwhile exhibition to see, if you would like to snap up a ticket you can either buy them at the counter or pop onto the NSFA website: https://www.nfsa.gov.au/events/dressmaker-costume-exhibition
Friends, I love embroidery. I’m sure you have already picked that up. Yesterday, I went to an exhibition at the Asian Civilisation Exhibition on the work by Guo Pei that just sunk into my soul. That moment, where people talk about being emotionally moved by a piece of art, or music? That was me, in awe. The embroidery and beading work is beyond anything I have ever seen in person before. Beyond literally getting lost in the design of the works, the exhibition design is divine. And it has a fabulous education section. I was in heaven.
Guo Pei is China’s leading couturiere, creating not only incredible clothing for famous people, but also artistic pieces that are mind blowing. Having started sewing at the age of 2 (!), her career started in Tianma and then moved on to create Rose Studio in 1997. Gus’s dresses are designed to tell a story, through the medium of fabric and textiles. The entire outfit stitches together to tell a narrative. Her most famous work is most likely what the media started calling the ‘Omelette Dress’ (I believe it’s actual name is the Empress Dress), which was worn by Rihanna during the Met Gala in 2015.
The exhibition is beautifully designed, with lighting that highlights the dresses perfectly. The first section, has a minimalistic wardrobe feeling to it. The dresses are displayed next to either clothing or items from collections that form part of the inspiration behind the design. In the second section along, the dress on the mannequins have well placed mirrors around them, giving the impression that the wearable items are being admired by the wearer. When you move into the last section, which are highly sculptural artistic designs (only really worn for the runway) the mirrors disappear for the dresses to stand by themselves in the space. The interpretation is spot on. Short and easy to read panels, and the exhibition guide (in multiple languages) doesn’t just repeat exactly what is on the walls. There is soft music to set the feeling of the space, and benches to gaze upon the works.
I loved the education section of the exhibition as well, which is designed for both children and adults. The learning space is located well and truly on the other side of the exhibition, where the prized Empress Dress commands the space. There are a couple of really great reasons for the location: the noise of creating and having fun doesn’t leak into the other galleries, it’s outside of the paid section so it can tempt people in, and it a lovely well lit area. There is a reading area with books about art and design in fashion, a creation space for making clothes on mannequins and a great embroidery area that doesn’t include the risk of visitors stabbing themselves with sharp needles. It’s really just fabulous and inviting for anyone to touch, play and learn.
Go see this exhibition, it you can. It’s wonderful and inspiring, both as an embroidery geek and as a museum design/interpretation enthusiast. I am so glad I had the chance to see this. I left with a much great appreciation of Chinese art and fashion.
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.