Cacophony. Part of The Maharajah's Garden exhibition

Many travellers to the Indian subcontinent talk of being overwhelmed and left disoriented by the colours, sounds, smells when they first arrive.

I imagine a Garden full of exotic flowers and birds, fountains, gazebos and sunshine – so many wonders, so bright and beautiful, that all I can perceive is a blur of colour and light. Slowly my eyes refocus until I can see a single bloom.


ATASDA (The Australian Textile Arts and Surface Design Association) is launching a new exhibition soon – The Maharajah’s Garden. It’s a suitcase exhibition – a collection of textile art pieces, banners to decorate the venue, techniques boards, publicity material, white gloves for handling work etc, all fitting into one large suitcase (actually two suitcases, due to the amount of work submitted). Each suitcase will travel independently around Australia for the next two years, visiting schools and communities. Anyone can ask to host the exhibition – the only cost is postage to the next venue.

Banner section

ATASDA has had a couple of suitcase exhibitions in the past which were very successful. This is my first chance to participate and I was keen to make sure weaving was included – ATASDA members use a huge range of textile and surface design techniques. We were asked to respond to the theme The Maharajah’s Garden with rich, brilliantly coloured artworks.

Banner detail

Each suitcase will include 20 – 30 banner sections, each with ribbon ties so they can be used flexibly to decorate the different venues. I used an offcut from my main piece on my banner, with a flower shape based on the sequinned bloom on the hanging.

Some specifics:

Handwoven wallhanging, unlined, 47 x 40 cm.

Warp: 22/2 cottolin sett at 18 ends per inch.  I put out all the cones I had in “garden” colours and wound with 4 threads at a time. Each trip round the warping board I changed 1, sometimes 2, colours. When threading I chose fairly much at random from each group of 4 threads. I wanted a not-too-stripey “sunlight dappled” effect.

Threading and liftplan: rosepath (slightly more detailed explanation here).

Weft: mainly torn and cut strips of fabrics – organza, chiffon, lamé, silks and synthetics. I created big piles of torn pieces, then knotted them together in a semi-random order (that is, I picked up a piece at random and threw it back in the pile if I didn’t want it at that point).

I have some big cones of metallic thread (from a knitting machine supplier), and two colours of metallic were wound onto the shuttle together with the knotted fabric strips.

There are also sections using some of my mother’s embroidery threads. Plus there is a fine cotton thread used as a tabby (plain weave pick between each “fancy” pick). The hanging will do a lot of travelling over the next two years, and the tabby gives some needed stability and strength.

Weaving: I used the clasped weft technique throughout. Kaz of curiousweaver has a great video tutorial here. Most of the time I used a weft from each side, but here and there I used three at once – a shuttle from each side and a third yarn source in the middle (in the photo some of mum’s embroidery thread). Also in the photo you can see the shuttle of fine cotton for the tabby weft. Although the weft was knotted randomly I could juggle placement by seeing what was coming up and choosing my clasping points.

I don’t know the age of the sequinned and chain-stitch flower. It’s worked on a fine purple silk chiffon and was given to me a few years ago (by another ATASDA member).

A major part of the exhibition’s purpose is to enthuse viewers (school students and others) to go home and try a new technique using textiles and fibres. We were all asked to include an A3 techniques board, giving basic instructions in a technical skill. It would be great if someone decided to give weaving a go after seeing the exhibition, but there will be such variety and such strong work from others that cacophony could get lost in the general blaze of colour!

If you’re in Australia and would like one of the suitcases to visit your area, check the ATASDA website for contact information. They are already taking bookings and have venues pencilled in for every state.

8 Responses to “Cacophony”

  1. 1 trapunto February 6, 2010 at 3:55 am

    What a fun piece you made! A suitcase exhibition is a wonderful idea. It seems like your association has really put thought into it too, with the decoration banner segments and all. Does it go straight from one venue to the other, or come back to headquarters in between to get pressed, checked for wear? Since the manner of display is up to the people who unpack it, it’s kind of easy to imagine a situation where grabby little hands would go for the bright colors. Or perhaps that is part of the guidelines for receiving the display?

    • 2 fibresofbeing February 6, 2010 at 7:31 am

      The suitcases come home once a year for checking and repair if needed. Past experience has been very good overall, although one year one person’s work didn’t come home. The organisers go to a lot of trouble, creating individual carry bags for each work, itemised lists, including gloves and instructions for handling etc, which apart from anything else probably cues people to take special care. Having said that, my piece is small enough to fit flat in the case and is meant to be textured so there’s no need for pressing. I expect some people will mount their work in some way which should help. We were asked to make the works sturdy, to cope with frequent handling and packing.
      I think it’s a brilliant idea. ATASDA is textile-centered, but really non-traditional, mixed media and any technique or mixture goes and some people are really “out there” in their work – I expect my blurt of colour will be quite mild compared to others. We have members all over the country, some quite isolated, and I love the idea of them being able to bring an exhibition to the local hall and show family and friends they are not mad after all! Who knows, there could be someone not far away and they’ve never happened to meet and find a kindred spirit before.

  2. 3 trapunto February 22, 2010 at 2:53 am

    Thanks for the further details. I can only imagine what fun it would be to unpack the suitcase at an exhibition venue!

  3. 4 Life Looms Large March 4, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    That is really cool – the idea of the exhibit, the way it travels and is hung differently at each venue, and your contribution to the whole thing.

    I think you captured the colors of India really well. My first thought on glancing at this post was that you’d used recycled sari silk as weft, but I see the answer was more complicated than that. I read somewhere that “fuchsia is the khaki of India”.

    Very interesting exhibit and a beautiful contribution to it!! Congrats!


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