ExhibitionsRuby Exhibition: Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Guild

Museum Exhibition 2005

As part of the Guild’s Ruby Anniversary celebrations, the Guild Museum had an exhibition of embroidered textiles, predominately ruby but also other red hues. The opulence and richness of colour is evident on the ruby velvet and goldwork of the altar frontal, red being one of the seasonal colours of the church. The silk embroidery on the red, woollen Indian shawl, the metal thread embroidery on the ruby velvet of the Bohca or wrapping cloth and the Kerman embroidery from Persia in coloured woollen threads on a red, handwoven fabric are other examples of the importance and effect of the colour red.

The colour red has had special significance throughout history and the sources of red dyes have been highly sought after. The Incas produced the dye colour, carmine, with tin or alum as a mordant, using cochineal from the cochineal beetle. The Spanish Conquistadors, in the 16th century, took over the production of cochineal and exported huge shipments back to Spain, which held a monopoly over this valuable commodity, the source of which was kept highly secret. Before this, the Indo-European kermes insect from Persia and Mesopotamia, was the main source of red dye, also called carmine, throughout Europe and across to China. The red produced was not the brilliant red of the later cochineal dye.

Historically, red was thought in many countries to be a powerful, sacred colour which would increase fertility and protect the wearer from evil spirits. To this end, red embroidery, appliquéd leather or felt, ribbons and tassels were applied to clothing, especially around openings and along seams, and to cloths for wrapping babies. The red embroidery around the neckline, sleeves and rising up from the hem on the Syrian woman’s dress, glows against the black fabric.

Often the red thread or material, such as silk, beads, fine cotton and imported fabrics, applied to the garment is more exotic and expensive than the fabric to which it is applied. The beaded ruby red roses either side of the neck opening on the Ukrainian woman’s shirt are an example of the importance of red in European folk embroidery and the incorporation of expensive materials. Traditionally, red embroidery was used to denote betrothal and marital status. In areas of Europe, a woman would embroider a linen shirt for her future husband, in red thread. In Turkey, Brides wear red wedding dresses and veils.

In western Europe, red monograms (or symbols if the embroiderer was illiterate) were embroidered on household linen for decoration and identification. On display in the exhibition are an Austrian serviette and towel cover, and a handkerchief, all with finely stitched monograms. Traditional European examples of red alphabets stitched on samplers are the two small German samplers. Another red alphabet sampler was embroidered in South Australia.

Dianne Fisher. Curator


Finlay, Victoria. Colour
Paine, Sheila. Embroidered Textiles: Traditional Patterns from Five Continents