ExhibitionsAnimal, Vegetable and Mineral: Interesting, Unusual and Quirky

Museum Exhibition 2015

Discover the many materials sourced from animals, plants and minerals used on embroidered textiles, including South Australian, throughout the centuries. These range from fish scales, porcupine quills, shells and animal fibres, to straw and plant fibres such as pina cloth, seeds, straw and wood, to metal threads, beads, mirrors and metal objects and amulets.

Animal – Silk, beetle wing embroidery using the elytra or hardened forewings of beetles and iridescent beetle thoraxes, pre-Columbian feather work, camelid yarn such as alpaca, llama and vicuna; leather, wool thread, porcupine quills, cowrie shells and other shell embroidery and fish scales.

Mineral – Glass beads, shisha mirrors, sequins, silver plate and silver purl, metal threads,

Vegetable – A Mexican ‘needle’ and attached thread made from the leaf tip of the agave plant, cotton, hemp, linen, Job’s tear seed beads, Philippine piña cloth, raphia, straw, string made from the pandanus palm, perforated card (Bristol board), ramie threads and wooden beads.

Job’s tear seed beads: the name, Job’s tear seeds, derives from their resemblance when young, to tear drops as they are elongated and soft. When mature, the seeds are round. The hill tribes of northern Thailand call them ‘rice beads’ as the seeds of the domesticated variety of the tall, ornamental grass Coix lacryma-jobi are cooked and eaten as a cereal grain.                                                      

Straw: Switzerland predominantly but also Italy, England and Belgium have had a straw industry creating plaits and decorations for hats, for example, since the late 16th century, the early 17th century in the case of Switzerland. Swiss straw work is constructed from narrow splints of rye straw or threads formed by twisting splints of rye straw together. Wheat straw is also used in other countries.

Piña cloth is woven and embroidered with threads created from the shredded leaves of the wild pineapple plant.

Raphia: the Shoowa, a northern group of the Kuba peoples, make cut pile raphia textiles. The thread used is very fine raphia fibre from the raphia palm. The fibres are rubbed in the hands to soften them.

Dianne Fisher. Curator