Reflection Part 1 Project 1

I found starting this Project (Part 1 Project 1)hard because I found it difficult to relate in some strange way to formal Textile Historical Archives. Australia is such a young country in terms of European history though certainly not in term of our Indigenous peoples history. I was fortunate in October/November this year to travel to London and attend the Fabric of India Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and also to go to the Lace Museum in Brugge, Belgium. These visits and other Museum visits in Paris had a positive impact on me and I could understand the context of time better.  Seeing textile items centuries old helped me to feel more affinity.

Once I finally decided on my three Archive articles and got going on the exercises I loved them.  There is such a wonderful world out there in terms of Indian textiles and I would like at some time to be able to research much further.  Similarly, lace this is an exciting area and the work of modern lace artists is just fantastic.  I hope to go to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney in the next few months and visit their Lace section.

Project 1 Exercise 1.2 Substance 3

Christening Gown Archive Article 3


The Christening gown was made by my Grandmother at her home in Maroota, NSW, Australia for my Mother’s Christening in 1928. It was given to me by my Mother in 1979.  It was made out of the train of my Grandmother’s wedding dress.  The material and lace for the dress and train was sent by my Great Grandparents from Nottingham England to their future daughter in law my grandmother in 1926.  I am told by my mother that it is made of Nottingham lace and silk.  The lace would have been machine made I think based on my reading of the history of Nottingham lace at that time (Lace Here Now, 2013, Black Dog Publishing Limited, London).  My Great Great Grandmother who lived in Nottingham was widowed in her 30s and she mended lace to earn an income. It is possible that the lace came from her originally.

The Gown was made out of the train of my Grandmother’s wedding dress. The material for the dress and train was sent by my Great grandparents who lived in Nottingham, England, to their future daughter-in-law my Grandmother.

It is made of handmade Nottingham lace and silk. My Great, great grandmother was widowed in her 30s and she mended lace to earn income. It is possible that it came from her originally. My Grandmother sewed on a Singer Treadle machine which has been passed on to me (I don’t use it though it is decorative now). The Christening Dress has been used by my mother, her brother, myself and my brother and my son and daughter for our Christenings.

My grandmother, who made the gown, loved fabrics, she was a doll maker and a tailoress. She did not do any housework prior to her marriage at the age of 25. Her parents (my great grandparents) had hired help to do domestic work. My grandmother loved to sew, embroider and she designed clothes. She designed the christening gown and with what was left she made a party frock for my mother to wear as a toddler.

I love the history of the piece. I like the fragility and delicate lace and cloth. The lace overlay has an etherial transparency and a beauty to it.

Project 1 Exercise 1.2 Substance continued

Vintage Kantha Throw – Archive Article Two

The second article I have selected from my own Archive is a Vintage Kantha Throw. Details of Kantha generally are included in my previous post today. Claire Wellesley-Smith in her recent book “Slow Stitch” talks about a functional dorokha kantha which she describes (Wellesley-Smith, 63, 2015) “layered pieces of worn- out cloth (usually patterned lungis or sarongs) were stitched together using simple running stitch to make a two-sided quilt”. She comments that these functional items invoke intimacy and domestic use and the old cloth may keep the user safe from harm.

My throw was purchased from “Tree of Life” Shop here in Australia. The Shop owner has been going to India for many years and she sells an eclectic number of Indian items. The Vintage Kantha throw I own has fabrics that were confirmed by the shop as being at least 45 years old. Newer throws being imported are being made from new fabric. My throw has stains and some repairs but is beautifully soft due to the worn cloth and very comforting to touch. It speaks of the generations of women and men who wove, block printed, dyed and stitched the fabric. It is stitched with a rough running stitch.

IMG_3985IMG_3988IMG_7737I particularly love that pieces of the Throw are hand block printed with IMG_7752wooden blocks which are not always used I understand now days.

Project 1 Exercise 1.2 Substance

Introduction to Kantha and Kantha Purse (Article one) 

My first two historical archive pieces as stated in my previous post are kantha pieces from India/Bangladesh (Bengal).

Kantha means quilts (Husain,6,2008) and are originally from Bengal.  Kantha cloth has layers usually two, three or up to seven layers and is made from old sari or dhoti (light muslin in cream or white) much washed and mended and this would eventually made into a kantha piece. The quilter may change the colours of the quilting stitches to form images like flowers, animals and leaves. The items are “quilted together to make cold weather quilts, eating cloths, purses or wraps for mirrors or precious objects and cloths for religious rituals (Gillow, 187, 2014)”.  Also the cotton provides a lightweight wrap for early mornings or evenings.

In researching Kantha and from the viewing “The Fabric of India” Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert I discovered that Bangladesh and North East India are famous for cotton growing an occupation that goes back centuries.  Also that different regions produce different weights of fabric from fine muslins to heavy cottons (Husain,6,2008). This translates into the final design of the kantha depending in part on the quality of the cotton used – with more coarse cloth there is more simple embroidery.

Any stitch can be used in Kantha but the most common is running stitch (called in some parts of West Bengal a ‘piper’s share’ which means footsteps).

My first piece is the Kantha purse which I purchased from John Gillow , a well known UK textile author and collector,some years ago.  It has a cream lightweight and woven cloth background which makes me think it is made from a former dhoti.  The embroidery is beautiful kantha stitches in several colours cream, black, grey and rose.  The stitching is very small and is in the shape of flowers leaves.  The purse is an envelope purse and the layers are two possibly three.  There is evidence of mending of the cloth in parts and some irregular stitching.  Predominately the stitching is running stitch but the purse is appears to be sewn together using a blanket stitch.  There is a fancy stitched section on one of the sides of the envelope top which includes a type of ‘turkey tracks’ stitch.  Interestingly on the blanket stitch there is some orange and green which seems out of character with the rest of the purse so I am not sure if this has been added later or replaced worn stitch.  It is also possible that the purse was made out a larger kantha quilt possibly a baby quilt.   I include some photographs of the purse below:




As can be seen from the photographs the purse fabric is well worn and soft almost silk like.  The piece is at least vintage but I am not able to put a date on its production.  I did not ask at the time of purchase but understood it was”old” and this was reflected in the price paid by me for the item. John Gillow came over to Wellington, New Zealand (where I was living) and gave a very informative lecture on historic Indian textiles and afterwards he had some small pieces for sale.  I loved the patterns and the feel of the purse and John had only few pieces with kantha stitching which I had only read about in books.  So I snapped it up and have always felt a sense of history and respect for the maker when I handle the item.

In the next blog post I will talk about the Kantha Throw.


Gillow J, and Barnard N, 2014(paperback edition), “Indian Textiles”, Thomas and Hudson, London

Husain S, 2008, “Kantha embroidery – a workbook”, Abhimanyu Gahlot, Shiva Offset Press, India

Part 1 Project 1Exercise 1.1.


The aim of this exercise is to identify an archive and select three textile pieces to observe and work from. With the intention of expanding my experience of textile handling and close analysis.

I noted that the textiles can be three different pieces. The objects should be made from textiles or with a textile component. I also noted that the exercise is an observational drawing project and that my decision on which pieces should be made mostly on the basis of the appearance and construction of the pieces although information about their history and story will provide another layer of information. Whilst I could go to a formal archive, a gallery or museum it is possible to consider my home as an alternative archive given that it could be a personal archive.

I had difficulty locating a textile archive in my area. The main collection of Australian textiles on the eastern shore is held at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Sydney is 1200 kilometres away from me. So I took the opportunity on a quick visit to London (a few days) in October to visit the Victoria and Albert Exhibition on India. I took notes and did a quick sketch of an item that appealed to me. I could not handle the piece. I followed that up on my return to Australia with considering a piece of old/vintage Indian Kantha that I purchased (in New Zealand) from John Gillow (a well known UK textile author and collector)several years ago. It was not dated by John and I could not find a way to contact him in the UK for any assistance but it enables me to touch and examine the contruction of this piece. I also have a vintage throw which is made of 45 years plus old Indian fabric probably from saris and has been roughly kantha stitched.  Once again I can touch and feel this piece.My third piece is a family Christening Gown that is made with Nottingham lace and is over 90 years old. I also followed this up with a visit to the Bobbin Lace Museum in Brugge (also on my quick visit to Belgium)and had the opportunity to touch samples of the work and to see demonstrations of the technique by volunteers at the Museum.

I did consider Tapa Cloth pieces that are in my family collection from Fiji and are over 50 years old. Tapa is often made from the bark of a paper mulberry sapling and is practiced in the Pacific. There are various techniques to producing the Tapa cloth and this varies betwen Pacific countries. The cloth has many varied and brilliant patterns. The pieces I hold are for use as tableware so there is no joining or stitching involved so this time I decided not to use for the assignment.

So after procrastinating for too long I finally decided to use the Kantha piece purchased from John Gillow; the old Indian throw and the family Christening Gown.  I made this decision because I felt these pieces would give me the most scope to continue with the history, mark making and collage and so on required in further work for this Assignment.


In order to get my thoughts and actions organised I decided to produce a series of mind maps of the requirements for Assignment Two.

First I have done an Overview of the Assignment:

IMG_4071Secondly I have taken a new map for Part One and for Part Two:

IMG_4072Part Two:

IMG_4074Next the final Assignment Two:

IMG_4076And finally a big reminder to myself about Reflection:

IMG_4077I feel now I understand where I am going with the work required for Assignment Two.