I have a lifelong obsession with silk . I thing it started when my father came back from China in 1948 with a little embroidered black silk jacket that fitted me as a two year old! I still have it, now framed, a precious family heirloom.
There is also my cupboard full of silk samples given to me in Lyon by the sister of a retired silk merchant. These scraps are a constant feature in my Woven Memories work. Some have handwritten on them the name of a designer. The incredible virtuosity of silk is amazing to me. Taffeta, chiffon, satin, organza and crepe de Chine all feature in my collection! There is something unique and wonderful about the way silk catches the light too, always intensifying the glorious colours.
I am about to embark on a project called The Joy of Silks at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney. I will be weaving in the foyer of the centre on Tuesday 9th, Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th August from 10.00am to 4.00pm each day. I will be weaving with scarves and ties in pinks and greens donated from far and wide, now torn or cut up ready to work with.
My weave design has gone through a number of iterations and I have finally settled on an approach which will show off the silks rather than hide them. The weaving will become a long banner to be hung at Lifehouse at the end of the project.
I will also be keeping a record of the donated scarves and ties in a book I’m using to record the development of the project – a copy of my book will be given to Lifehouse.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED If you would like to contribute a scarf or tie to the project from your own collection or from a family member, do some weaving, or just come to have a look please do! I would love to meet you!
Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, 119 – 143 Missendon Road, Camperdown, NSW 2050
My mother died when I was thirteen months old on 3rd January 1948. She was thirty one years old. She had Leukaemia at a time when there was little treatment, let alone a cure. I am horrified by her death so young, and a little baby losing her mother so early, almost as if I am thinking about people I don’t really know. And yet losing my mother has defined me in so many ways. I have no memories of her. But I can see now my passion for textiles comes in part from trying to hold something of her.
I have one thing she made. It’s this folded satin embroidered handkerchief sachet.
I still use it to hold hankies and scarves. It’s made with scraps of a beautiful soft satin, now grey. In the seams I can see it was once the palest pink. More than sixty years on I can contemplate my mother’s stitching and discern something of her, how she worked. Her style seems at once neat, orderly, and a little impatient in places but essentially practical. It even has a tiny button covered in lace and a rouleaux roughly attached to do it up.
What delights me most is the care and passion she has invested in the details – the embroidery, the quilting, and the gathered lacy edge.
But it is the tiny embroidered rosebuds that have created an extraordinary link for me to my mother. Some years ago I decided to do a painting of the hanky sachet. As I painted I made a discovery, something only she knew and I now know.
The rosebuds look randomly scattered. However I realised she had created a clear order and quite a complex pattern to their direction and placement – pink on one diagonal, blue on the other, and mauve on the edges. This continues to feel like a powerful shared secret, a bond, unspoken but real, a genuine kind of communication and connection with my mother – almost as good as a memory when you have none.
Looking at my hanky sachet today I realise the maker in her is also in me and has inspired and informed my Woven Memories work.