The Stitched Up in Sydney exhibition showcases the work of 19 contemporary textile artists in response to the history of the Newcastle Industrial School and Reformatory for Girls. It brings to life the tragic stories of 193 girls sent to the school between 1867 and 1871, an era of poverty, hardship and discrimination.
Girls under 16 were sent to the school when they were destitute, homeless, in the care of criminals or had been arrested for a crime. In a mandatory 12-month stay, they were taught basic literacy, along with stitching, and set to sewing clothing and household items as a cost recovery exercise.
Timeless Textiles Anne Kempton and Wilma Simmons co-curated the Stitched-Up exhibition at Newcastle’s Lock Up Contemporary Art Space last year. The contributing textile artists used materials reflecting the cloth and colours that would have been used by the girls to make functional items during their time at the school. Some of these items would have been used, reused and recreated. They would have been held, sometimes for long periods of time, in both the girls’ and the artists’ hands during the making process.
Thirty women from Timeless Textiles Gallery’s Wednesday Makers group stitched embroidered narratives of the girls’ lives in a nine-month long project. They created seven volumes of cloth books, each page dedicated to one of the girls or a family of sisters. The stitchers used local historian Jane Ison’s research to inspire their interpretations.
Stitched Up in Sydney offers an opportunity to experience this fascinating part of Newcastle’s history. Alongside locally based artists, internationally renowned fibre artists from Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark and nationally across Australia contributed to the exhibition. It presents an extraordinary array of artistic works individually and collectively portraying stories of loss, betrayal, cruelty and endurance.