Through the eye of a needle: ethnographic engagements with textile creative practice and the meaning of making in contemporary Australia

Martien van Zuilen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] This thesis explores the significance of making, time, and materiality within the folds of textile creative practice. It is based primarily on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted among Australian non-Indigenous women who actively engage in creative practices such as knitting, weaving, quilting, coiling, stitching, embroidery, and sewing. Transcending a binary classification of ‘art’ and ‘craft’ whereby the cultural meaning and value of women’s textile-making has often been muted or cast as categorically inferior, I show that while a gendered implication is indeed present, a clear heuristic emphasis emerged that took the research beyond a focus and analysis informed by issues of representation alone. Positioning their creative making as a mode of signification and inquiry, the women with whom I worked derived understandings and gave form to their lived experiences via distinctive and tactile engagements and grounded aesthetic practice.

Focusing on ethnographic and visual data, and as both textile-maker and researcher in my field of inquiry, I foreground time and materiality as a lens to bring to life creative strands of women’s making and the significance of lineage, skill, process and place. Whilst the role of the visual is paramount, my concern is to make explicit the dynamics of tactile and experiential knowledge production through material and visual means. The inflection between tacit knowledge, tradition and transformation, the demarcations of everyday practice, and a sociality amongst fellow makers that materializes through a shared interest in textile material culture are also heightened.
Drawing on theories about performativity and materiality, I consider creative practice as a mark-making process, and textile-making as a creative act in which women speak through doing. I conceptualise this as a revelationary mode of inquiry and expression through which new understandings about textile-making emerge.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


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