ExhibitionsClothing: Cultural Identity Through Stitch and Pattern

Museum Exhibition 2005

The embroidered clothing on display in this exhibition ranges from the 17th to the 20th centuries, and from ethnic clothing and clothing produced for the western market. To European and South Australian garments. The embroidery varies from the surface stitchery on the Indian backless blouse and wedding skirt in strong, rich colours with shisha mirrors, and the texture and patterns of the metal thread embroideries to the delicate bonnets stitched in Hollie Point, Ayrshire embroidery and Dresden work and the finest stitching on the man’s linen shirt originally from England in the 1830s.

The community beliefs and identity of a village, tribe or society are expressed through the characteristic style or form of their clothing as well as the colours, materials, motifs, patterns and stitches used. Within each community, dress varies according to whether the wearer is male or female, the age of the wearer, and the purpose of the clothing, for example for festive occasions as in the example of the Greek jacket from Corinth. Traditional embroidery stitches and patterns are identifiable with certain societies and can be used to trace the garment’s ethnic origins, age and details of the wearer.

Certain stitches and patterns, colours and designs have special significance within individual communities. In some cultures, the positioning of the embroidery around the openings on clothing protect the wearer against evil spirits, as do objects which reflect light or produce a jingling sound when worn, such as shisha mirrors, beads, coins, metal shapes and beetle wings. An example of this is the hat from Pakistan with long panels embroidered with traditional designs in satin stitch, incorporating beads, buttons and metal shapes.

People have been embellishing their clothing for centuries with threads and materials, either available locally or traded, in distinctive designs and patterns. All of these evolve through contact with other societies; the availability of new threads, materials and patterns; the production of embroidered garments for the tourist market; and changes in fashion. In some cases, traditional embroidery in ethnic communities disappears when a village or community ceases to exist. Traditional clothing is a symbol of cultural identity.

Dianne Fisher. Curator