gentle arts

Australian women’s domestic arts, affectionately known as the Gentle Arts, have their roots in everyday life where women were multi-tasking homemakers who snatched spare moments to indulge in making objects for the home.  Some of these items were purely functional but mostly they were decorative as well, and often very skillfully made.  One of my favourite stories is that of Mrs Edwin (Margaret Ann) Field who described herself as a Briton beyond the seas.  She published a book, “Australian Lace Crochet (Easy and Artistic)”, in 1909 which, when reviewed by the Melbourne Herald, was praised for raising the status of crochet from “the scullion wench of needle arts, to the rank and honours that befit hand made lace“*  I found a copy of the book in the National Library of Australia a while back, and although I’m no expert at reading patterns, I have managed to make glazed crochet d’oyleys that I call Mrs Field’s Wheels.


Mrs Field's lace crochet patterns

Mrs Field’s lace crochet patterns


my version of the wheel from Mrs Field’s Rigel pattern


I am officially a passionate browser of pioneer museums, country collectable and antique stores, and op shops and often find myself picking up a d’oyley here and a tray cloth there to add to my growing collection.  I have mixed feelings about these objects.  Part of me feels sad that they’ve been abandoned, but I also feel thrilled to own something that inspires me.

The Pioneer Women’s Hut at Tumbarumba is worth a look. Established in 1984 it aims to elevate the value of domestic items made by rural women living in isolation. The pervading theme is that of thrift and making do with available materials, yet I feel that some objects on display are so exquisitely crafted they deserve to be in a gallery.

My mother was a maker, skilled in knitting, crochet and embroidery.  She rarely sat down without picking up her needlework.  My earliest memories are of clicking needles.  She knitted with lightning speed – clothes and rugs for the whole family.  Her embroideries are amazing, almost identical on both sides. Have a look…

*Jennifer Isaacs, The Gentle Arts, Sydney,Ure Smith Press, 1987

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