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Embroidery: Oppression to Expression

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The history of embroidery from the 1600s to the modern day
Britain, Fox, 1850-1890, wool on canvas back cloth. The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide

A new exhibition at The David Roche Foundation, Embroidery: Oppression to Expression showcases over 100 exquisite embroideries from 1600 to the present day. Due to the fragile nature of textiles, many of the works on display have never been exhibited before.

Paolo Sebastian (Australia established 2007), Paul Vasileff (Australia b.1990), East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Autumn/Winter Couture Collection, 201920, Adelaide, tulle gown with metallic map. On loan from Paolo Sebastian.

The exhibition embraces traditional European styles from Georgian England to William Morris, and forward to contemporary textile practice in Australia, including the internationally renowned couture of Paolo Sebastian created in Adelaide.

The exhibition covers the Arts & Crafts movement, Religious embroidery, English Regency, Samplers, Animals, Fashion and Contemporary. It traces the development of embroidery from a religious application and a domestic craft used to prepare young women for a life of household duties, to a powerful contemporary artistic expression of social and political values.

Sarah Pickard (Britain), Sampler (aged 13), 1842, Britain, cotton, wool on linen. On loan from a private collection.

A wide array of embroideries are on display in Embroidery: Oppression to Expression, by women and men, young and old, in different styles and stitches that have developed and flourished and waned in popularity across the centuries.

David Roche AM (1930-2013) was fascinated with embroidery throughout his life, even making his own pieces in his youth. He collected many antique embroideries, of which twenty-three are on display in this exhibition, including many of his favourite subject - dogs.

Mother Rose Columba Adams (Britain/Australia 1832-1891), designer, Mother Francis Philomena Ullathorne (Britain/Australia 1850-1928), embroiderer, St Dominic's Priory Cope (detail), 1889, North Adelaide, silk embroidery, metal thread on silk damask. On loan from St Dominic's Priory, North Adelaide.

The earliest item, on loan from the State Library of South Australia, is an English embroidered bookbinding for a book of Psalms, dating to 16031625. While some more recent ecclesiastical work has been lent from several Adelaide churches, including the magnificent c.1900 St Dominic's Priory Cope and the Banner of the Guild of Perseverance.

The mainstay of embroidery, the instructional 'sampler' worked by young girls is well-represented and illustrates the humble to exquisite from a carefully crafted late-17th century example through to a pair of brightly coloured Port Adelaide samplers by sisters Laura and Rosina Butler of the c. 1870-80s. This section also includes some delightful depictions of animals, architecture and figures by girls as young as 10.

Sera Waters (Australia b.1979), Survivalist Sampler #2, 20201, Adelaide, cotton, repurposed linen. On loan from the artist. Sera Waters is represented by Hugo Michell Gallery.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 galvanised South Australian contemporary textile artist Sera Waters to create the #survivalistsampler project. Sera, seeing how samplers acted as a record of lives past, recognised the format as a perfect way for people to record public and personal moments in the current day to share on social media. Sera's work is joined by four other participating artists, including Kay Lawrence.

Embroidery long played a significant role in European fashion and rare eighteenth-century waistcoats are displayed alongside other historical pieces, including an apron and stomacher. Australian couture by DI$COUNT UNIVER$E and Paolo Sebastian, the latter lending two gowns from their East of the Sun and West of the Moon Autumn/Winter Collection of 20192020, illustrate the varying roles embroidery plays in contemporary fashion.

Makeda Duong (Australia b.1992), Sales tips for the Red Capitalist, 2021, Adelaide, metallic thread embroidery in cotton. Courtesy of the artist.

It was the women's movement of the 1960s and 70s that reimagined the possibilities of the domestic and feminine craft of embroidery and since then artists have continued to apply these skills and techniques to voice their own concerns. Today embroidery operates more widely: Paul Yore uses it within his arts practice to challenge religion, sex, politics and popular culture. South Australian artist Makeda Duong uses embroidery as a vehicle to explore issues of mental health and politics; while Amy Joy Watson's utopic Australian landscapes in metallic thread remind us of the ancient land we inhabit and conversely our impact on the planet.

A major survey of embroidery practices, Embroidery: Oppression to Expression is drawn extensively from South Australian public and private collections as well as examples collected by David Roche over his lifetime.


Embroidery: Oppression to Expression is now showing exclusively at The David Roche Foundation House Museum until 25 September 2021.

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10 AM - 4 PM. No booking required.

Guided Tours: Wednesday, Friday & Saturday 11:15am

Entry: $12 adult. $10 concession. Children under 12 free.

Plan your visit at www.rochefoundation.com.au, Facebook and Instagram


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When: Tuesday to Saturday 10 AM - 4PM
Where: The David Roche Foundation House Museum 241 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide SA
Cost: Exhibition Entry: $12 adult. $10 concession
Your Comment
Some beautiful pieces o display here
by Gillian Ching (score: 3|2985) 27 days ago
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