Latvian embroidery in Adelaide

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Embroidered detail on cap

One of my favourite things about South Australia is the diversity of culture I experience every day. Although we are all Australian, every one of us brings something different to the community. That’s why the Migration Museum is one of my favourite places to visit. Not only are all the exhibits of high quality, many of them interactive, but I love the layout of the place. From big open spaces into narrow passages and small nooks, there are surprises around every corner.

Embroidered shirt sleeve

Embroidered shirt sleeve

And it is alive! Every exhibit exudes a presence – a life – a real person, with real experiences. Whether they were adventures or ordeals, they tell a story. The museum is always filled with people – families, school excursions and tourist groups. They can all relate to the stories in there, as ultimately it is their stories.

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Needlelace on shirt collar

One cultural group who made a big impact in South Australia is the Latvian community. As soon as I saw the gorgeous embroidery in the special Latvian exhibition currently on at the museum, I had to know more! Presented by the Latvian Museum in Adelaide – the only one in Australia, the exhibition tells the story of the first Latvian migrants who settled here, predominantly after the Second World War. They have a rich musical tradition and an active Latvian school where they encourage their, now Australian, children to hold onto their language, heritage and unique traditions.

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A beaded cap

Mara Kolomitsev, the curator at the Latvian Museum, explained some of the beautiful costumes to me. Latvia is divided into four areas – Latgale, Vidzeme, Kurzeme and Zemgale – each with their own style of traditional clothing. The women’s costumes consist of a woven skirt, heavily embroidered shirt and shawl, and knitted socks with leather shoes. Married women wear a richly embroidered cap and the maidens or unmarried women wear a crown. The crowns are sometimes made of fresh flowers and sometimes of ribbon, beads and embroidery embellished fabric. It is always beautiful and colourful. The men’s clothes are in general much simpler with less decoration and consist of woollen trousers and long jacket with a belt, a cotton shirt and a felt or leather hat.

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Knitted mittens

In Latvia, it is tradition to present friends, family and loved ones with hand knitted mittens on important occasions such as birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. The knitting includes intricate patterns and symbols of family and cultural significance. There are many symbols, however, most designs are variations of a limited number of basic elements.  The patterns express religious and mystical ideas and evolved over centuries. It was believed that these symbols protected the wearer against evil spirits.

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Collar detail

The Latvian exhibition is on at the Migration Museum until 12 June 2014.
The Latvian Museum is in Wayville, Adelaide

Are you an Australian from Latvian descent?  Do you own any embroidered or knitted heirlooms? I would love to see them. Please show and tell!

May is History Month in Adelaide. To learn more go to abouttime.sa.gov.au

(Note: these photos were all taken at the Latvian Museum as the lighting in the Migration Museum did not allow for good photography, but there are some beautiful pieces in that exhibition.)

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