Thursday, 1 January 2009

fragile objects

this week i had a bit of a hiccup in my work and somehow [by which i am still mystified] managed to run out completely of my favourite thread. maybe i've just given away too much for others to try... it's delicious stuff, a mix of cotton and silk [so it picks up colour no matter what] that i buy from Beautiful Silks.
i usually get it by the kilo...but now the cupboard is bare...

so i've had to resort to stitching with some linen thread.

this, quite frankly, is not at all the same! the silk/cotton flows through cloth so smoothly...but the linen pulls and catches and during the struggle i began to think of the late Elsje van Keppel who [when working on pieces for the "fragile objects" exhibition] said:

there is nothing pleasant about this stitching process. It make me very edgy. Using this rough rawflax thread is like trying to stitch thread with grass. But it is this physical incompatibility which is the essence of the fabric. Its awkwardness reminds me of the spinifex.

mind you, in the excellent catalogue which accompanied the exhibition, Philippa O'Brien also wrote

"Stitching can also be a comforting activity. It shows that making and thinking exist together in a unity that is a pre-requisite for creative work. Hand stitched fabrics convey a sense of time and labour, of creating order, of seeing a new pattern emerge."

'fragile objects' is a wonderfully evocative name ...and even though it has been appropriated by others still remains inextricably linked with Elsje van Keppel's work...

among her many indelible footprints is the series of legendary bush camps she and her colleagues at Edith Cowan University established. i never knew her but like so many other Australian textile practitioners cannot deny her influence on my work...

the exhibition 'fragile objects' toured Australia from 1998 to 2000. if you're lucky you might still be able to get your hands on a copy of the catalogue. here are the details.

ISBN 0 959340440
O'BRIEN Philippa 1997 published by CraftWest


  1. Thankyou for sharing this part of your art journey with me. I loved the bush camp descriptions, and Elsje Van Keppel sense of place. What an incredible lady she was. I have not seen any of her work, but will definitely call in at Ararat Gallery next time I am over that way. Thanks tumbleweed.

  2. it amazes me that no-one out West has written a book on Elsje van Keppel's'd think there'd be an eager PhD student ready to tackle the task!
    it's also impossible to find images of her work on the Web...the few that used to exist seem to have been removed, maybe there's a copyright issue. who knows?
    the Ararat Gallery has a work of laminated felt made by her back in the 70s, I think...that pre-dates "nuno" felt but is essentially the same technique...