Museum Life: History Week

History week happens in New South Wales, Australia in September and the 2012 theme is ‘threads’. This year will explore the history of threads and unpick the meaning behind the wardrobes of the past. Happening from the 8-16th September there are some excellent talks and exhibitions across the state relating to the history of dress. Below are some of the events happening for history week, many by some of my colleagues and leading dress historians and curators in Australia.

Stitches in time: (Ad)Dressing History

Join some of Australia’s experts in exploring the meanings of dress through history: from Sydney streets to the courts of Renaissance Europe. Speakers, including Margaret Maynard, Margot Riley, Lindie Ward, Sally Gray and Fiona Reilly, will address the intriguing themes of deception, beauty, nudity, cross-dressing, idealization, identity, and display.

Larrikin Style: Flash Street Dress in Late-Colonial Australia’ – Speaker Melissa Bellanta

From the late 1860s, a youth subculture associated with a so-called ‘larrikin’ identity evolved on the streets of the capitals of the Australian colonies. This larrikin identity took its cue from ‘flash’ or streetwise types to be found in places such as Paddy’s Market, at fairgrounds, in pub singing rooms and cheap theatres.

In this talk, Melissa Bellanta will discuss the sartorial style that evolved among self-described larrikins in the 1870s and 1880s. I will also explore its sources of cultural inspiration and the material ways in which it was sourced and put together by poor late-colonial youth.

Flash Back: Fashion Photography in Australia- Margot Riley

Most photographs illustrate dress in some way but the term ‘fashion photography’ usually refers to those images used to promote or sell clothing. This definition is complicated by the fact that a photograph can be used as a fashion photograph even though it may originally have been taken for another purpose, such as personal or celebrity portraiture. Margot Riley, Dress Historian, State Library of NSW, will discuss the emergence of Australian fashion photography and the role images play in fashion history recording the look and detail of clothing and appearance long after original garments have disappeared.

How the power of quilting connects communities- Powerhouse Discovery Centre

Presented as part of the NSW History Week 2012 program, this seminar explores how the art of quilt-making and thread work has connected communities in times of need or remembrance. The seminar program includes a range of guest speakers, including Dr Annette Gero, one of Australia’s first and most respected quilt historians, who has been documenting and collecting quilts since 1982; Karen Fail, quilt artisan and author, co-founder of QuiltWorks, foundation editor of the quilting magazine Quilters’ Companion and Convenor of the Quilt Study Group of NSW; Powerhouse Principal Curator, Christina Sumner, Powerhouse Curator, Anni Turnbull, and Powerhouse Conservator, Frances Fitzpatrick and members of the Powerhouse Discovery Centre’s volunteer team currently documenting the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt acquired by the Powerhouse Museum in 2005. The seminar program also includes sessions on Aunt Clara’s Quilt (detail pictured above) by Karen Fail, military uniform quilts by Dr Annette Gero, the documentation and care of the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt, and quilt conservation and storage. Participants will join a behind-the-scenes tour to view selected panels from the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt stored at the Discovery Centre in Castle Hill. This seminar is presented in partnership with Powerhouse Museum Regional Services and the History Council of NSW.

 What they wore on the Waterfront- Lindie Ward

Powerhouse Museum curator Lindi Ward will present a talk on Balmain working and lifestyle fashions during the twentieth century. The ship builders, dock workers, road workers, miners, and fishermen along with the school girl smocks, boys with their waist coats and braces, working women in factories, swimming costumes and more.

 Fashion Yarns: Tales from the city

Come along to Customs House and wrap yourself up in some of Sydney’s historical threads. Join the historians from the City of Sydney’s History Unit and the Civic Collection Curator as they discuss the art of window dressing, fashionable functions at Sydney Town Hall, Sydney’s fashion scene from the 50s and the history of Akubra hats. The talks will be held in the Barnet Long Room at Customs House. Bookings are not required. Associated with this event is the ‘Fashion Yarns’ exhibition at Customs House throughout September.

For more information on History Week, see the History Council of NSW website-


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