It was that intense shade of sky blue polka dot fabric which first attracted my attention. The triptych of small blue dress sculptures, guarded by the tailor’s dummy in the blue dress, demanded closer inspection.
I was back at the T’Arts Gallery in Gay’s Arcade where embroidery artist Maria Hilder’s work was on display.
“Whenever I think back to my childhood, I imagine my mother in that dress. In my memory, she always wears that particular blue polka dot dress.” Maria tells me. “I never consciously thought about it, but when I had to come up with an artwork for a group exhibition called Dress, I suddenly had a light bulb moment – my mother’s blue dress. For me, it has become a symbol of my mother, domesticity, comfort, innocence and home.”
The dress sculptures are constructed of two layers of stitched cloth. The outside depicting her mother’s dress and the inside telling the story of an event which occurred during her childhood on their station in the Flinders ranges.
Maria creates all her work with freehand machine embroidery. She studied textile design and worked as a screen printer. One day she ran out of fabric as a result of an airline strike and started stitching instead.
Most of Maria’s work is based on childhood memories. She showed me a chair that used to belong to her late grandmother. The chair stood in her childhood bedroom, which she shared with her sister. Maria stitched a new cover for the chair depicting the eucalyptus leaves and flowers from her childhood garden.
Maria explains her process for creating a new work. “The mental process of thinking, planning and growing an idea can take ages. I can ‘work’ on a piece for a long time without ever touching paper or fabric. I then move on to making sketches and drawing a rough outline on a piece of fabric. Once I start stitching, the work grows, changes and generally takes on a life of its own. Because machine stitching is such a labour intensive and time-consuming method, my work tends to be small and limited in scale.”
Maria works intuitively. She uses her art to process her memories, find humour in otherwise sad events and to bond with people and place.
When not creating fine art, Maria creates highly decorated Irish Dance costumes. She first came to this through her niece who is a dancer but now finds it gives her a connection with her Irish ancestry. “And when I can contribute to making a girl feel pretty and special, it is always rewarding,” Maria adds.
Read more about Maria and her work on her website.