Sunday, October 24, 2010

Women Transported Exhibition

This post first appeared at Lady Janes Wardrobe

I can't believe it's been so long since I posted here, but I haven't been entirely idle. You can see what I've been doing in the stitching world here

Earlier in the year I was fortunate to work with a great group of volunteers who were reproducing some convict women's clothing for an exhibition which ran from August to November 10th at the Parramatta Heritage and Information Centre. Called "Women Transported", it was the first time a lot of extant artifacts and photos had been exhibited in the one gallery. The curator Gay wanted to show that the convict women transported to Australia were not all hardened criminals, in fact there was a policy eventually of convicting young healthy women of petty crime to send them to New South Wales to populate the country.

We decided to offer 3 different outfits for display: a 3rd class Tasmanian convict, a 3rd class Parramatta convict and 1st class Parramatta Sunday best dress. I was charged with researching the actual designs, making patterns and sourcing the fabrics required. There were 5 volunteer sewers who hand stitched every item. We had an 1844 satirical cartoon called "Beautifully Linked" by Winstanley which showed a version of a female convict outfit, and the word descriptions of government issued clothing but information about Australian convict dress is very scant.

I referred back to English working class clothing of the early 1800's as seen in drawings, including the Cries of London series which although a bit earlier wouldn't have changed very much. The project was very challenging, but I think the resulting costumes were well received. They have certainly started a dialogue about publishing a book on working class clothing in Australia.

The Tasmanian convict showed a drab jacket with a longer sleeve and a dark checked neckerchief. You can see it in the foreground of the picture above.

The 3rd class Parramatta outfit was the most complete.

It featured a shift, petticoat, over petticoat (skirt) jacket, neckerchief and cotton cap, as well as an apron of dressed sheepskin worn for rock breaking duty.
The apron was the biggest hurdle, because no-one in Australia or New Zealand could supply dressed sheep skin. Can you imagine that? We had to get a skin from the USA!

The first class Parramatta Sunday best outfit consisted of a red calico jacket, white cap and straw bonnet which I hand sewed from 22 metres of wheat straw braid, as inspired by an extant 1830's bonnet in our Powerhouse Museum here in Sydney.

These photos were taken yesterday while the exhibition was being taken down. I lost all my photos taken in August while learning to use a new camera! Also, after seeing the red jacket in these photos, I altered the fitting of it last night before it was packed to travel to the next Gallery at Tamworth in February. It now closes much more neatly and fits the very small mannequin better. Did I hear someone say "damned perfectionist" ?

ETA: This exhibition was very well received right around the state and indeed interstate as well. We won 2 prestigious awards for the total exhibition, and after the tour is completed the convict womens' repro clothing will probably be on permanent display at Parramatta Heritage and Information Centre

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