Monday, 10 August 2015

Love a Good Yarn at the Migration Museum

Love a Good Yarn:
knitting and crochet from Nanna to now

–a current exhibition at 
the Migration Museum of South Australia.

Colonial two-story building with a verandah and balcony across the front of it.  The supporting posts and balustrades are wooden and decorated with yarnbombing.
This historic building houses the main display
of the Love a Good Yarn Exhibition

Open until 31 August 2015, entry is free.  

Last week, I went with my friend Cheryl to have a look …

Do go and visit this exhibition if you can.  Curated by Corinne Ball, it is a great snapshot of where crochet and knitting have come from and where it is right now in South Australia.

You will find crochet in the foyer and courtyard as well as the exhibition space in the heritage building which was formerly a destitute asylum (1850–1918).

It is easy to find – just follow the colourful yarn-bombed bollards and verandah posts from the gate on Kintore Avenue which will lead you to a courtyard decorated in knitted and crocheted suitcases.   

Mini suitcases crocheted and knitted by Adelaide crafters.
My friend Kylie was involved in that project.
Find patterns to make your own on the Migration Museum's Flickr page.

Imagine leaving everything you have ever known to migrate to a new country for a new life with nothing more than a suitcase of belongings. That takes a lot of courage and/or desperation. I have great admiration for migrants (including my own grandparents).

In the courtyard a large banner grabbed our attention with the word 'Solidarity' crafted in French knitting and stitched onto a knitted and crocheted patchwork of the Australian Aboriginal flag.
A large patchwork Australian Aboriginal flag in black, yellow and red with the word 'Solidarity' in white across the red strip.
This patchwork banner depicting the Australian Aboriginal flag was created by knitters and crocheters of Adelaide
for Reconciliation Week and to commemorate Sorry Day 2015.

This flag represents the Aboriginal people of Australia: 
black for the people, yellow for the sun and red for the land.

It warmed my heart to see this banner proudly displayed because of recent controversy about racism.  It is not surprising and entirely fitting that this flag should fly at the Migration Museum because it is on the former site of an Aboriginal school (pre-1850).

The Australian Aboriginal flag was first flown in Adelaide in Victoria Square in 1971 but it did not receive legal recognition until 1995. 

The centrepiece of the exhibition also has an association with Victoria Square … more of that later!

The door to the exhibition is decorated with yarn bombs on the verandah posts and hanging from the balcony above.
The entrance to the exhibition,
decorated in yarn bombs.
Miniature suitcases hang from the balcony.

We followed the yarn bombs into the old destitute asylum building to be welcomed by an attractive cascade of knitted autumn leaves hanging like curtains in the window.

The leaves were made by a knitting group from the Adelaide Hills called "Fleur's Purls of Wisdom".  The backlighting from the window meant that my phone camera would only see the leaves as dark shadows but there is a good photograph of the leaves on the Migration Museum's Flickr account.

The main exhibition was beyond an old-fashioned hinged door (heritage building) which was closed to exclude the winter cold–this type of door does not lend itself to independent wheelchair access.*  Many wheelchair users would need assistance to have this door opened for them but the staff of the museum were very welcoming and willing to help.  We had barely arrived when we were swiftly greeted by staff who were available to help us navigate the historical site.

Poster of girl wearing 1970s style knitted scarf, beanie and knee warmers combined with boots, gloves, duster coat and 'short shorts' with bared thighs and midriff. The coat and shorts have bold chevron stripes. The knitwear has straight stripes in red, yellow and navy.
This poster was a favourite amongst visitors,
 the most talked-about item in the room.
The outfit was recreated from the original
1970s patterns for South Australia's
Jubilee 150 fashion show in the 1980s. 
I was excited to see stripy knee warmers
in similar colours to my Crows legwarmers.
They are the South Australian state colours
of red, gold and navy.
Over 3 decades later, bold chevrons and ripples
are back in fashion.
Luckily, Cheryl was with me and we did not need to open any more doors after that because the main part of the exhibition was contained in one room (with other displays in the reception foyer and courtyard).

My first impression was of a small exhibition (only one room) but this was deceiving–every piece represented something significant about yarncrafting in South Australia and covered many facets of knitting & crochet:
  • History
  • Ethnicity
  • Social contexts
  • Purposes
  • Variety of items
  • Techniques 
    A fraction of the large collection of amigurumi pieces on display, on loan from Adelaide-based artist Richard Boyd.
    A glimpse of a large amigurumi
    collection created by
    Adelaide artist Richard Boyle
    on loan to the Migration Museum
    for the
    Love a Good Yarn exhibition.
    He sells his designs on Etsy
    at 'Monoped Creations'.

The collection dates from the 1800s to the present, representing many waves of migration to South Australia and  ethnic origins including textiles from:
  • Austria
  • Egypt
  • Germany
  • Greece 
  • Latvia; and

I was delighted to see the talents of  Indigenous Australian crafters too.
Crocheted beanie-style hat made of raw handspun wool embellished with emu feathers.
This 'mukata' was handspun
from raw wool and crocheted
senior Anangu woman,
Miningka Lewis,  for the
Alice Springs Beanie Festival.

I love the emu feathers
('wiepa') on top.



Historical stories included:
  • Handcrafting competitions and exhibitions; and
  • Individual migrant stories with a special feature on the Spinelli family whose highly regarded knitwear label had a nationwide reputation for excellent quality in workmanship and design.
The company was still trading in 2008 but had to close when local supplies of quality woollen thread became unavailable. (This situation perplexes me and I have touched upon it in previous posts about the Adelaide Stitches & Craft Show and TonOfWool.)

White filet crochet square mat with the words "Dardanelles 1915 Our Heroes" and images of a ship and union jack flags.
The Gallipoli campaign
was a popular subject
for handcrafters in its day
as demonstrated by this
filet crochet table mat.

Yarncrafts were presented in various social contexts:
  • Commemorative crochet
  • Knitting as therapy
  • Charitable crafting
  • Fine Art
  • Arts Feminism including a famous crocheted lace vagina by  Frances Phoenix called 'Kunda'. Do check the links at the end of this post for more information and a clear photograph (article by Jude Adams). I was thrilled to see this significant piece in real life ('in the flesh' if you can pardon the expression!).
  • Activism ('Craftivism')
  • Guerilla knitting and yarn bombing

The point was made that yarncrafting is an expression of connection for people.  The variety of items to demonstrate that connection was broad–from fashion to household items and more:

An off-white sampler scarf rolled up on the right hand side and laid out on the left. It is made up of squares separared by a row of filet openwork. Each square has a textured pattern worked in tricot (Tunisian crochet).
This tricot sampler scarf (circa 1900)
belonged to a German woman.
She was a Pastor's wife who learned
needlework at a Deaconess school
before migrating to Australia.
  • Clothing
  • Baby items
  • Tea cosies
  • Placemats & tableware
  • Manchester
  • Blankets
  • Toys & dolls
  • 'Trauma teddies'
  • Bags & purses
  • Hats
  • Scarves
  • Socks & slippers
  • Fine art 

All sorts of skills and techniques were demonstrated in varying yarn weights:
Sample of Irish lace crochet in off white thread.
Irish lace crocheted christening gown.
It was accompanied by
an ornately carved,
bone-handled antique hook.
The hook was the finest I had ever seen,
perhaps 0.6 mm or smaller!
  • Irish lace
  • Filet crochet
  • Tricot (Tunisian crochet)
  • Crocheted edgings
  • Fancy crochet stitches
  • Crochet in the round
  • Granny squares
  • Amigurumi
  • Intarsia (knitting)
  • Fair Isle (knitting)

Table mat with a cloth centre and needleworked border. The border is made of serpentine shapes, and attached to the centre by fine beaded threads.
This doily was made in Egypt
in the early 20th century
by a Greek woman who was
living in Alexandria at the time.
The doily came to Australia
with her in the 1960s.
Can you tell me which technique(s)
she employed to make this?

There was one unique table mat (right) that I could not work out. It reminded me of Irish lace or Bruges lace crochet techniques combined with hardanger and embroidery techniques. Very ornate!

Miser's Purse in gold, cream and navy thread and beading on each end.
Miser's Purse from Austria c. 1800
Crocheted with very fine threads
and embellished with beads.
The card next to the Miser's Purse (left) reads:

Knitting around the world and across cultures
Many peoples have developed specific designs and patterns which reflect their different beliefs, customs, traditions and lifestyles, using a wide variety of materials. Regional patterns and specialties, passed down through generations of crafters, show how the same materials can be used to produce sometimes similar but often very different results.

Displayed on a very large dress form, a ceremonial robe made of granny blaknets and appliqued crocheted shapes which was yarn bombed on the statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Square, Adelaide, December 2012.
Queen Victoria's Ceremonial Robe
(Her statue was yarn bombed in 2012)
Dominating the room was the Ceremonial Robe used to dress the statue of Queen Victoria in Adelaide's Victoria Square when she was yarn bombed in 2012.

'Nonna Reckless' was one of the project designers and is happy to share her photo of 'dressing' Queen Victoria posted on  Facebook. (Thank you Nonna Reckless for your blessing!) Her photograph gives a good idea of the scale of the feat.  Queen Victoria looked glorious. By the time I got into the city to see her for my very own eyes, her robe and 'tiara' had been removed. I was too slow!  

You can find other photographs of the event kindly posted onto Flickr by Roxanne Crook including a great view of the ceremonial robe in situ.

A blurry photograph of Jodie crocheting next to the Love a Good Yarn title display. Jodie is wearing a beanie and scarf in turquoise, purple, aqua and plum colours with a plum hooded jacket.
A blurry photo of me
with crochet hook in hand
"Loving a good yarn".
To those looking for more
pictures of me, I say
"blurry is better than none!"
Most of the exhibits were behind glass so I did not try to take too many photos.  Reflections and phone cameras do not lend create great pictures. 

For better quality photographs, have a look at the Migration Museum's Flickr photo album.

It was fascinating to compare tools of days gone by with the modern equivalents, so we picked up our own tools (of course we carry them everywhere) and had a rest and a chat ('a good yarn') while catching up on our own crochet and knitting.   

I can't think of a more appropriate public place to crochet, knit and (k)natter than at a knit and crochet exhibition!

Fatigue limits my opportunities to visit the city and I may not get another chance to visit soon, so we took time to immerse ourselves in the space and enjoy it; taking photos so we could remember what we had seen and reflect later.

Some of the migrant stories behind the textiles were very poignant and demonstrated how knitting and crochet can transcend mere decorative or utilitarian purposes.

Between the display cabinets sits a woman (Cheryl) knitting with large wooden needles and a stripy fabric.
Is that some 'performance art'?
Not quite–it's Cheryl knitting!
She is using a new reflective yarn to make
bright stripes for cycling-happy family members.

We had a lovely morning and the "Love a Good Yarn" exhibition sparked much discussion. 

We spent so much time that the office staff were beginning to wonder what we were doing in there for so long!  

If you would like to see the "Love a Good Yarn" exhibition,  be quick as it finishes at the end of the month (31 August).  The Migration Museum is open every day except Christmas Day and Good Friday  (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and public holidays). 

If you cannot get to Adelaide, there is still hope: there's a possibility that the panels for the exhibition may be travelling to another location in South Australia, with local objects from that area being added the exhibition.

Many thanks to the helpful and friendly staff at the Migration Museum, Rhonda and Corinne in particular.

Very special thanks to Cheryl for taking time out of a busy schedule to drive us into the city so we could enjoy the exhibition together.

 "Love a Good Yarn"?
We certainly did!

Mini suitcases in knit and crochet are strung up like bunting between the doorstep banister and the window above.
Mini suitcases strung up
like bunting around
the Migration Museum


*Disability Access

The reception foyer of the Migration Museum is a modern addition to the heritage buildings with glass walls and automatic doors. There is a ramp to access the ground floor of the heritage destitute asylum building. If you have trouble standing at length, the exhibition space has a couple of chairs and an upholstered bench to sit on. There are wooden benches in the courtyard.

The doorway to the Love a Good Yarn exhibition may be too narrow for some electric wheelchairs. If you use mobility equipment I would recommend a phone call to the museum before your visit to check dimensions. There is plenty of space to manouvre once inside. There is an accessible toilet on site but I cannot give further details as I did not use it during my visit. Again, if you have any particular requirements, the friendly staff will be pleased to discuss your needs. 

The staff are well aware of the shortcomings of the site in regard to disability access but they are restricted by heritage laws in the kinds of renovations that can be done.  They have a list of things that could be done but the law does not allow them.   

Where is the line between preserving history, respecting heritage and modern functionality without social exclusion?

References & Links

Adams, Jude, "Looking from With/in: feminist arts projects of the 70s", Outskirts online journal, Volume 29, The University of Western Australia, November 2013: 
You will find a photograph of Pheobe Frances' crochet work, "Kunda" and explanation of its context in this article.
"Artist Frances Phoenix (nee Budden)’s textile-based works remain some of the most appealing and provocative examples of central core imagery. Drawing on housewifely sewing skills the artist loaded the domestic doily with sexual connotations thus confounding the Madonna/whore notion of femininity.  Zips sewn into the centre of the works invited audience participation (if they dared) emphasising the qualities of tactility and spatial intimacy later theorised as characteristics of feminine desire."

Ball, Corinne, Curator, Migration Museum of South Australia:

Boyle, Richard, Monoped Creations, Etsy:

Crook, Roxanne: 

History SA:  

Migration Museum of South Australia, 82 Kintore Avenue, Adelaide, South Australia, 5000: 

NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee),"Indigenous Australian Flags":

Nonna Reckless, yarn bomber:

Red Heart Yarn, Coats & Clark:

Willison, Kylie, A Bag and a Hat:
Handmade, naturally dyed bags and hats.

Willison, Kylie, photographs of the Migration Museum's 'Knit In' to prepare for the Love a Good Yarn exhibition, A Bag and a Hat, Facebook page, 15 February 2015:

Related posts on Lupey Loops

"Shame and Solidarity", 1 August 2015:

"Ton of Wool", 9 July 2015:

"Adelaide Stitches & Craft Show", 9 May 2015: 

"Leg Warmers = Warmer Legs", 5 June 2014:

"More December Yarnbombing", 26 December 2012:

"Christmas Eve Yarnbombing", 25 December 2012: 



  1. What a fabulous show! I do love the Migration Museum. Now I want a teleport machine so I can scoot over and have a look...

    1. Well, Kaz, I hope that the internet is the next best thing! I will happily accompany you to the museum if you manage to get over here!
      I hope all is well with you (or as well as a busy life can be!) xx

  2. Thanks for posting the link Jodie! :-) It sounds like a great exhibition. I'm pleased to hear that they have chairs throughout the exhibition space. I would still like to see it but not sure if I will get there.

    1. Thank you, Kylie, for posting the photos! At the time, I was wondering which suitcases were yours and I was looking for ones "with a hat" since your business is called "A Bag and a Hat" :-)
      Did you find the workshop or did the workshop find you?

      I do hope you manage to get down to the exhibition before it closes. Very interesting and some intricate work on show - knitting as well as crochet; I just chose to focus on some of the crochet in my blog post. The fashion items are beautiful also.

      It is not a huge exhibition so you do not need to block out a huge chunk of your day. Being free, it is easy to just pop in and out if you are in the city.

      Good luck with all of your projects. You are always doing something interesting! xx

  3. Looks like a very interesting museum. I would love to be able to go and see the exhibition.

    1. It's a shame that it is so far away from you, Gillian. Maybe more photos can be published once the exhibition moves on. The Migration Museum is interesting in its own right regardless of the changing exhibitions. I like the way this museum is not just displaying artefacts from the past but putting it all into social context so that it is just as relevant to today's trends and values. Fascinating.
      I hope you liked the things that you have seen on the blog and the museum's Flickr album so far.
      If I get a chance to return, I will try to get some more photos with a better camera just for you.
      :-) xx