ExhibitionsThe Power of Stitch

Museum Exhibition 2008

A threaded needle passes through cloth. A stitch is made – a stitch with the power to embellish, to embroider. It is in this embroidery that the real hidden power lies. Through the ages, women have embroidered for their homes and families. Within these embroideries have been many messages.

Stitch has the power to tell a story, as in the cases of the Arpillera from Chile, a South African embroidery from Zululand depicting a funeral of an Aids victim, an Egyptian hanging telling the story of ‘Accouchement or Birthgiving’, and a Hmong story cloth showing people fleeing across the Mekong River to escape the armed soldiers and aeroplanes dropping bombs and then a scene of a Thai refugee camp with armed guards. The Arpillera is appliquéd and embroidered with a scene of a demonstration of mourning women, each carrying an image of her missing man. The names are tucked into a pocket on the back of the embroidery but later removed for fear of reprisals. Also depicted is the military vehicle in which the men were taken away with tracer bullets across the night sky. The inscription on the lower left translates as ‘Where are they?’.

Other related themes are the power of stitch to convey a message, for example a smoking cap embroidered with flowers, each flower having its own symbolic message and the power of stitch to bring good fortune and to protect children and adults, as in buttons, beads, bells, zips, pompoms, tassels and eyes to scare off or fool evil spirits. Stitch also has the power to identify through badges, monograms, patterns and symbols; to ensure fertility through the creation of a fertility doll. Textiles are embroidered with significant religious motifs and symbols.

Dianne Fisher. Curator