Tag Archives: embroidery

Book Review: EMBROIDERING within BOUNDARIES – Afghan Women Creating a Future

Authors: Rangina Hamidi & Mary Littrell
Photographer: Paula Lerner
Publisher: THRUMS Books

010.jpgFormat & layout:

254 x 254 mm (10″ x 10″)
Softcover
172 pages
ISBN 9780998452302
Full-colour images with text on a white background

008Photos, Illustrations & Diagrams:

High-quality full-colour images on every spread depicting Afghan women and children in their cultural and domestic surroundings. Several detail images of embroidery work on garments and household items.

The images are loaded with emotions, bringing to life the environment these women live in. The dust, poverty, confinement and desperation is palpable. But so is the love, care, intimacy and strong bonds between the women and children. The reader is transported to Kandahar just by paging through the images in this book. The relationship between photographer and subject is obvious. Paula was trusted with access to lives, living conditions and relationships that are not usually visible to the outside world, and she trod with sensitivity and compassion. On first glance, I found the photos of obvious poverty and confinement sad but on closer look, I saw joy, pride, and a spirit of determination and resilience in the lives of the women of Kandahar. Paula’s images open a window into a world very few people ever get to see.

011Introduction:

Rangina Hamidi immigrated to the US from Soviet-occupied Afghanistan as a child with her parents. After 9/11 and its aftermath, she decided to return to Kandahar in the south-west of Afghanistan, to help rebuild her former hometown where thousands of women, widowed by years of conflict, struggled to support themselves and their families. She decided to start an entrepreneurial enterprise, using the traditional embroidery of Kandahar, to help the women work within their cultural boundaries, earning a living and finding a degree of self-determination. Thus Kandahar Treasure was born.

Mary Littrel devotes her life to researching textile artisan enterprises and how they can achieve sustainability in the global market. She spent years working in the field across the globe.  She is Professor and Department Head Emerita of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State University and serves on the Textile Society of America Board of Directors.

Paula Lerner, who sadly passed away in 2012, was an award-winning photojournalist. She made five photography trips to Afghanistan and won an Emmy award for her work on Behind the Veil, a multi-media feature about the lives of women in Afghanistan. Together with her friend Rangina Hamidi. She endeavoured to showcase Afghan women’s profound struggle, strength and beauty.

007Content:

The book is divided into eight chapters chronicling the story of the women of Kandahar Treasure. The first three chapters create context, describing the living conditions and societal constraints these women live under – the harsh realities of living in a country where women, in general, have little status, and widows have even less. It goes on to highlight the importance of khamak-embroidered textiles in the lives of the Pashtun people.

The next three chapters tell the story of Kandahar Treasure and the women who are empowered by this enterprise. It tells of Rangina’s s journey into establishing the business and the evolution and growth of Kandahar Treasure as a women’s organisation within a conservative Muslim culture. It also gives context and introduces the techniques of khamak stitching and the revival of this living textile tradition.

012The last two chapters of the book provide an assessment of the challenges, successes and the future of Kandahar Treasure, putting it into a broader perspective and looking at its long-term sustainability.

Throughout the book and between the chapters there are narratives of real people, the women of Kandahar Treasure. They tell their own stories, describing how their lives have been influenced by war, and how working on a textile revival has given them the power to take control of their lives and those of their children.

009Conclusion – My experience and opinion of the book:

I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan back in 2006. I spent some time in Kabul and travelled up to Mazar I Sharif. I was looking forward to receiving this book as I thought I had a basic understanding of the situation in Afghanistan, the living conditions and the challenges women and children face. But I was not prepared for the emotions this book stirred in me.

Opening the book for the first time, I almost felt a sense of dread looking at the images of women fully covered by burqas and the children in poverty-stricken surroundings. I looked at the embroidery on the burqas and felt an unease, an inability to admire the fine, highly skilled stitching on this oppressing garment. But as I turned the pages I saw that none of these women and children were alone. They were all in family and friend groups. The sisterhood and friendship bonds were obvious. Then I saw that those women who had their faces exposed, and the children, were all laughing, smiling, looking loved and cared for, and I became intrigued to learn more about the source of their strength and courage.

004Reading the book opened a new world to me. From the first pages of acknowledgements and introduction of the authors and photographer, right through to the last sentence I was mesmerised by the inner strength and resourcefulness of the women portrayed in this book. Rangina Hamidi is a force of nature. Her philosophy of working within the confines of Pashtun traditions, respecting the order of society, gaining and keeping the trust of the men, elders and other authority figures, ensures not only the safety of the women she works with but ironically enables them to have more freedom and decision-making power in their own lives and those of their families.

“Embroidery is the one sphere of women’s lives that men do not control. It’s precision, delicacy, and beauty stand in stark contrast to the imperatives of a typical Afghan woman’s life.”

Embroidering within boundaries coverThe authors emphasise that Kandahar Treasure is not a charity, an aid organisation, or an NGO. This is a business enterprise. It is based on solid economic principles. Teaching the women to look after themselves financially, to contribute to their households, and to empower themselves by delivering high-quality work, is as important as keeping the Khamak embroidery tradition alive and flourishing.

This book is a manifestation of Rangina Hamidi’s original vision – A Kandahar Treasure. It shines a light on the region, the tradition, the living conditions, the problems and the victories of the women of Kandahar. It also shines an equally bright light on a unique embroidery tradition and the fine skills of women otherwise hidden from the world.

Paula’s images set the scene and create the atmosphere of the book, but Rangina and Mary’s prose gives context, depth, and character to both the embroiderers and the embroideries of Kandahar.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to lovers of fine embroidery and textiles, those interested in learning about other cultures and ways of life, and those inspired by stories of endurance, courage, triumph, and hard work.

This is a look-book as well as a read-book. The images are wonderfully evocative but it is only half the story. Sit down and learn from the women of Kandahar. They have much to teach us all.

Buy your copy here.

Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre

Alice Springs Art Centre edited1The first time I saw the work of Dulcie Sharp and the other artists of the Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre was at the Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in Adelaide in October last year. Their soft sculptures and hand embroidery jumped out at me. I immediately felt a connection. It is as if every figure had a soul.

I spoke to some of the artists at the Adelaide event but did not have the opportunity for an in-depth conversation. While working on an article about the artists for Inspirations Magazine (Issue 91- available in July 2016) I communicated with Sophie Wallace, art coordinator at the centre via email and phone, but I longed to see how and where the artists work and to experience the place that inspires them so much. When our family holiday plans to Central Australia came together, I made sure a visit to the Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre was on the itinerary.

blanket taken out of dyeMy visit on a perfect autumn day in April could not have happened at a better time! I arrived at the centre on the outskirts of Alice Springs just as a blanket was pulled out of the dye vat. Wool blankets obtained from second-hand shops or donations form the basis for all the soft sculptures. Opening up a newly dyed blanket bundle has everyone in suspense. The rusted metal pieces and the natural plant dyes used in the process ensure that the final product is always an eagerly awaited surprise. This one had subtle green and charcoal patterns which would eventually find their way into another unique artwork.

Concept sketchesI was fortunate to see the whole artistic process in action. From the newly dyed blankets all the way to the finished sculpture. The artists come up with concepts for their work, usually inspired by their everyday life in the town camps, or their vivid imaginations. Pattern

 

These concepts are sketched out and developed before being translated into pattern pieces. The figures are cut from the blankets, machine stitched and stuffed before it is meticulously filled in with hand embroidery. The story behind each piece dictates the pattern and the colours used for the embellishments.

Rosabella, Dulcie, Trudie, CandyAll the work is done at the art centre where the artists come together around a big table piled with yarn and thread in every conceivable colour, texture and thickness. Works in progress and new ideas scribbled on sketchpads find a space on there too. On the day of my visit, I met Rosabella Ryder, Dulcie Sharpe, and Trudy Inkamala. Candy the art centre’s mascot dog kept watch under the table, making sure everyone was happy and safe.

artists handsThe soft sculptures coming from the hands of these artists, working quietly in this far-flung and remote part of the world, are in high demand in galleries from New York to Singapore. But here around the table, that does not matter. What matters are the stories that are coming to life, stitch by colourful stitch.

Seeing where these sculptures are conceived, I now understand where their soul comes from. It comes from the hearts and lives of these women who tell their stories with their hands. Needle and thread translate the soul of the Larapinta Town Camp in Alice Springs into artworks worthy of the best art collections in the world.

Wanderings with Fibre Art Network

WANDERING – To move about without a definite destination or purpose. To go by an indirect route or at no set pace. Amble. Meander.

Wandering also sounds just like Wondering, which according to the dictionary, means fascinated, curious and enthusiastic.

FAN Wanderings Chris Beardsley Fleurieu Meander

Fleurieu Meander – Chris Beardsley

And that is a perfect description of the art and artists represented here – 55 works by 35 members of FAN (Fibre Artist Network).

Although ‘fibre art’ is often perceived as a very narrow niche, with many limitations, the array of work produced by fibre artists is limited only by their imagination. With techniques ranging from hand and machine embroidery, felting, lace, and quilting,  to printing, stamping, dyeing, painting, and beads, as well as knitting and crochet, mixed media, feathers, and basketry, a common theme can be interpreted in countless ways.

In this case, the limitations were the theme ‘wanderings’, the size of the artwork (max 24ʺ or 61cm wide) and a time frame of around 18 months in which to plan, design and produce the work.

FAN Wanderings Alvena Hall Arboreus in Brachina

Arboreus in Brachina – Alvena Hall

Bev Bills (OAM), RSASA director and founding member of FAN, opened the exhibition with a short glimpse into the history books. The initiative came from Alvena Hall, who invited a group of fellow fibre artists to an informal meeting back in June 1994. The aim was to meet informally, without agenda, to promote local and interstate fibre art. FAN was born at that meeting and grew from strength to strength, with many significant South Australian textile personalities as past and present members.

Meetings were held at different venues and supported by galleries, guilds, and academic institutions. FAN meetings are currently held four times a year in February, May, August and November at Marden Senior College, under the leadership of Suzanne Gummow.

FAN Wanderings Margaret Carberry Citrus Vessel

Citrus Vessel – Margaret Carberry

In the current exhibition, as the theme and the background suggest – the work on display covers a very wide spectrum of techniques and materials, and even include a few three-dimensional works. Wendy Redden’s WAVES and Margaret Carberry’s CITRUS VESSEL stood out for me.

FAN Wanderings Madelaine Hedges Op Shop Mandala

Op Shop Mandala – Madelaine Hedges

A few of the works are by current Marden College textile students and I was excited by their eagerness for experimenting and playing with materials and techniques. Their wanderings are fresh and full of enthusiasm. I particularly liked the techniques used by Tanya Davies in WILD WEEDS: DANDELION and Chris Beardsley’s use of natural dyes in FLEURIEU MEANDER.

FAN Wanderings Wendy Redden Waves

Waves – Wendy Redden

Then there are the works by established artists like Madeleine Hedges, Alvena Hall, Joy Harvey and Cathy Boniciolli among others, which delights with their years of experience combined with their confidence in exploring new unknown territory.

But I guess that is what wanderings is all about – to be sure footed even when the destination is unknown.

Wanderings is on at Gallery M in Marion until 6 March 2016.
To learn more about FAN contact Suzanne Gummow.

 

Dijanne Cevaal – Sentinelles

Sentinelles is a concept inspired by Dijanne’s spiritual connection to the land. The colours of the hand-dyed fabric reflect the colours of the Australian landscape while the hominid form gives homage to her European heritage. The haloed female form appears across religions and cultures to depict a sense of reverence, holiness and spirituality. Dijanne chose the word Sentinelles, which means to watch over, as opposed to Guardians, which also implies taking care. Sentinelles only observes. It is for us to act. To take care of the environment, the land, the earth.

What started out as a solo artwork has grown into a collaboration. Dijanne made several hand-printed Sentinelles and made them available to her students both in Europe and Australia to embellish. Each person brought their own personality and style to their piece.

The collection has travelled extensively in France and Australia and will soon go back to Europe for a new round of exhibitions. We were fortunate enough to experience this collection at the Craft and Quilt Fair this past weekend.

With Dijanne’s permission, I took a few close-up photos to focus on the magnificent use of colour and personal interpretation represented in this exhibition.

Go forth and be inspired.

Sentinelle 1 Sentinelle 2 Sentinelle 3 Sentinelle 4 Sentinelle 5 Sentinelle 6 Sentinelle 7 Sentinelle 8 Sentinelle 9 Sentinelle 10 Sentinelle 11 Sentinelle 12 Sentinelle 13 Sentinelle 14 Sentinelle 15 Sentinelle 16 Sentinelle 18 Sentinelle 19 Sentinelle 20 Sentinelle 21 Sentinelle 22 Sentinelle 24Read more about Dijanne’s work, her future projects and her new book here.

 

SALA – Class Act Collective

Class Act Collective Serendipity 6August is SALA (South Australian Living Artists) month in Adelaide. I started on a high by visiting SERENDIPITY, the Class Act Collective exhibition at Stump Hill Gallery this past Sunday.

Class Act Collective is a group of thirteen textile artists based here in Adelaide. The group evolved after they all finished their Textile Art studies at Marden College. Together they explore the artistic possibilities of fibre, textiles and stitching.

Class Act Collective Serendipity 8

 

 

Natural dyes – the theme for this exhibition – is by definition unpredictable, exciting and surprising, hence the name of the show, Serendipity – A happy accident of fibre, dyes and stitch.

Stump Hill Gallery is the perfect venue for this exhibition. Surrounded by vineyards and open countryside, with a warm, natural and airy interior, it enhanced the natural theme of the artwork and validated the earthy hues of the fabrics and fibres.

Class Act Collective Serendipity 1I love that the description of each artwork explains the process the artist used to obtain the final result. The finished artwork is just a small part of the whole process and much of that is lost if you only see the end product. By explaining how cloth was boiled in onion skins, wrapped around trees and left exposed to the elements for days, tied around rusted iron objects, and dyed with eucalyptus leaves, it adds that extra dimension to the work.

Class Act Collective Serendipity 4But the work is so much more than dyed fabric. The composition of the final work, the story it tells and the technically superb stitching, elevates each and every item from craft to fine art.

Each of the thirteen artists brings their own voice and unique talent to the exhibition. Wearable art, vessels and wall art. It all adds dimension and personality to the exhibition.

Class Act Collective Serendipity 2Serendipity is on until 31 August at Stump Hill Gallery in McLaren Vale. It will be worth your while to visit. All items are on sale (except the two that I already bought…)

Fabric of Life – and love

004 When I walked into Mary Jose’s shop in Melbourne Street for the first time, I thought – so this is what heaven must look like. Fabrics and textiles from all over the world were hanging on the walls, draped over tables, and tucked into shelves. The colour was glorious, but the smell was even better. I reminded myself of what I always tell my children before we go into a shop: ‘This is a hands-behind-your-back-shop. Don’t touch.’ But alas – I couldn’t help myself – I had to touch everything. I stroked the suzani’s, I hugged the kanthas, I caressed the Indian embroideries. I loved Mary’s shop and couldn’t wait to meet her.

Since then I learned that Mary is not just a Fair Trade textile dealer, but also one of the leading textile conservationists in the country, with an impressive list of conservation projects from across the world to her name.

Mary Jose conservation projectAs an Art History student in Canberra, Mary soon realised textiles were her first love, so after graduating, she moved to the UK where she studied at the Textile Conservation Centre, then housed at the Hampton Court Palace. She spent several years at the Textile Conservation Studio where she also worked on the Hampton Court Tapestries. After returning to Adelaide she joined ArtLab Australia, working on conservation projects for different Australian and international museums and galleries. For the past five years, Mary has been an independent conservation consultant with clients across the globe. (The conservation of the banners in the St Peter’s Cathedral is one of her ongoing projects.)

Mary Jose textile collectionIt was a textile tour to China in 1990 that sparked Mary’s interest in ethnic embroideries and textiles, and paved the way for her business venture as a textile trader. She travels regularly to India and other Asian countries where she meets the artisans. Mary is a strong believer in ethical trading and she buys all her textiles from the original artists in their traditional environment, thereby ensuring authenticity and quality. By following Fair Trade principals she also ensures that her business supports community development, self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Mary has recently moved her shop online and her conservation studio to her home in North Adelaide. On the day I visited she was working on a vintage scarf which needed to be cleaned and mounted for a private client; a military jacket dating from World War I which needed some restoration, for a private collector; and a raised embroidery piece which needed professional cleaning, also for a private collector.

Mary Jose book collectionThe walls in her studio are lined with shelves – some filled with her glorious textile collection, some filled with her vast collection of textile and art books, and some filled with her growing range of handmade cards.

These cards are part of a new initiative she recently launched. Beautifully embroidered or printed textiles, designed and handmade by individual artists, are framed with cardstock and made into greeting cards. But it is more than a card; it is an artwork all in itself. Mary stocks several ranges from India and a vibrant range from Malawi. Every card she sells help support an artist and his/her family in an ethical and sustainable fashion.

Mary Jose handmade cardsMary’s house-studio-shop is indeed a little piece of heaven. Not just because of the sight and smell of glorious fabrics, but because of her love and devotion to the origin of these textiles – the history of the old textiles which she respectfully helps preserve, and the future of the ethnic textile traditions which she so lovingly supports. Her love for textiles reaches into the hearts of all she works with – artists, collectors and customers. Mary’s life is not a hands-behind-your-back life. It is a hug, embrace and touch life.

Visit Fabric of Life’s website here

St Peter’s Cathedral – ecclesiastical embroidery

 

High altarSt Peter’s Anglican Cathedral stands proudly above the river Torrens, looking down on central Adelaide – an apt landmark for the City of Churches. Airlie Black, convenor of the Cathedral’s Needlework Guild and daughter of Thomas Thornton Reed, the sixth Bishop of Adelaide, took me on a tour of the Cathedral to learn more about their treasured collection of needlework. According to the church records the Guild of St Peter was formed in 1885. Among other things, their task was to take care of the altar linen and to make the choir robes. From 1879 to 1900 the Guild of St Paul, a group of expert needlewomen (most of them belonging to both groups) worked on the needlework items of the Cathedral. They made frontals, stoles, altar linen, cassocks, surplices, kneelers and more. Some of their handiwork is still in use today.

Admiring the Santa Ecclesia Banner

Admiring the Santa Ecclesia Banner

The Cathedral has an impressive collection of banners dating from 1895 to 1993. Some of the older ones, now too fragile for use, have been restored and stabilised and are on permanent display. The Santa Ecclesia Banner dating from 1902 was one of those on display this month. Although its richness and opulent silk embroidery are still obvious, it is in a state of disrepair and is currently awaiting restoration.

Santa Ecclesia Banner damage

Santa Ecclesia Banner damage

 

 

 

 

The Cathedral’s vestments are a sight to behold. Airlie opened drawer after drawer and door after door, revealing the most gorgeous sets of vestments – some old and some new; some with a great story and some who are still earning their story. One of my favourite sets is the Reed cope, mitre and hood. It was embroidered by the Sisters of Bethany in England in 1957 and presented to Bishop Reed by the students of the Anglican Schools in Adelaide. The cope is richly embroidered with a design depicting Australian plant, bird and animal life.

Reed cope with Australian themed embroidery

Reed cope with Australian themed embroidery

Airlie Black with the Noils Silk Mass set

Airlie Black with the Noils Silk Mass set

Another one of my favourites is the Noils Silk High Mass set with Aboriginal-style ornamental bands. It was designed by John and Ross Moriarty and made by Audrey Ball in 1987. According to Airlie, it is a favourite with the congregation too.

Altar of Lady Chapel. Lily themed kneelers visible in lower left corner

Altar of Lady Chapel. Lily themed kneelers visible in lower left corner

Throughout the cathedral, I saw many canvas-worked kneelers and cushions. Most of them have a terra cotta colour background to not compete with the equally beautiful floor mosaics. The set that appealed to me the most were the ones in the Lady Chapel, an intimate and serene space behind the high altar. These were designed by Kaye Lynas and made by the Cathedral Guild during 1986. They feature a lily – the symbol of Mary, mother of Jesus. This design is carved into the altar and is carried on through the linen and needlepoint in the chapel.

Ivory brocade silk frontal with velvet super frontal

Ivory brocade silk frontal with velvet super frontal

 

 

 

The most striking embroidered items in the Cathedral must be the altar frontals. On the day I visited the altar was covered with an ivory brocade silk frontal with a central ornately embroidered cross motif. It was topped with an equally ornate velvet super frontal. These items date from the Victorian era and had in recent years been restored by the Needlework Guild under the guidance of Mary Jose, an expert textile conservationist.

Guidons, colours, ensign and banners

Guidons, colours, ensign and banners

On the left-hand side of the main axis of the Cathedral, around the Christus Rex, below the William Pope window, is a fine display of twenty guidons, colours, ensign and banners. These have been laid up here by South Australian regiments and battalions for safe keeping in perpetuity. They are consecrated objects which were in times past looked upon by the members of their regiment as symbols of safe refuge. They represent a large slice of South Australia’s history as some date from pre-Federation days, some from World War I and some from World War II. They represent honour and sacrifice, and are grouped to show that loyalty to country is senior to loyalty to the regiment but central to that is the symbol of Ultimate Sacrifice.

It is the perfect place to end my tour of the Cathedral. I feel honoured to share in this rich history and tradition, and it makes me happy to know that history, religion and beauty can be brought together with fabric and thread.

With gratitude to Airlie Black who took the time to show me around and share her vast knowledge with me. Some of the information in this article was taken from St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral Adelaide Handbook 2008 and the Guidons, colours, ensign & banners pamphlet available from the Cathedral shop.