Textile works take centre stage

It’s not often that a textile artist wins a $10,000 art prize in Australia, but that is exactly what happened at Eden Unearthed: Art in the Gardens this year when a felted work by Saskia Everingham titled Refuge was announced as the recipient of the Eden Gardens art prize.

Ms Everingham’s installation, which by Allan Giddy described as a “subtle yet sophisticated work that combines a quirky physical aesthetic with deft use of colour to deliver a charming and purposeful installation which truly belongs on its chosen site and quietly changes it. It’s rare to find an installation that cannot be improved in some way … this contemplative but hopeful work – based on a traumatic life experience – is one exception!

Refuge is a response to recent bushfires, with the fanciful pods representing homes for displaced wildlife. As Everingham reflected, "My work for Eden Gardens was inspired by my experience during the 2019 bushfires in the Blue Mountains. My family was evacuatedand I was aware- for weeks later -of large flocks of birds circling in the air, looking for homes, as theirs had been destroyed. So, my work was an offering of refuge for not only the birds but for all people who are currently wandering homeless. It is an issue that will not go away soon.”

So why felt? Felt is the perfect material; not only is the wool cosy and enduring, even outside, but it is also a natural and sustainable material.Everingham explained, “Felt naturally lends itself to organic shapes; I have made a lot of pods during my time as a felter. The theme of this artwork meshed well with the simple pod/nest form, so I chose to concentrate on that simple shape as a basis, with a few variations of flanges sprouting from the top or sides. I wanted each piece to have a clear entrance and ‘window’.  As I was making the series, I was thinking of mid-century modern architecture- with very human proportioned designs- and also the thick, round, protective walls of Romanesque architecture.

How is this work site specific to Eden Gardens, which is one of the exhibition’s criteria? Everingham visited the site and noted a small gum tree in Eden Gardens. “It was a the closest to the kinds of trees that had been burning around my home. My choice of colours aimed to camouflage so it was the greens and reds of the eucalypt tree I had chosen.As the installation had to be exhibited outdoors for many months, I chose a tough 29-micron Merino, with 8 layers in each pod, for endurance.”

Everingham has, like most of us, been hibernating during the pandemic, but was lucky to have this piece to be working on during lockdown. She remarked that“my return after a long hiatus was happily rewarded by winning the Eden Gardens Unearthed prize 2021. It was altogether a wonderful experience in a beautiful venue that actively supports sustainability and the environment. Thanks to Eden Gardens for this great opportunity.

The 35-installationstrong exhibition also includes other textile works. Indoors and under cover, three works add to the exhibition including Allyson Adeney’s wonderful, crocheted chair titled Still, Pat Land’s wonderful lichen inspired work titled Disintegration and Mimi Dennett’s incredible Futureproofing, which houses supersized felted seeds inside a terrarium ‘seed safe’. Dennett elaborated about her work explaining “By transforming these seeds into larger more colourful versions of themselves, people’s attention is focused on the almost unbelievably quirky, unique beauty of the microscopic world of plant reproduction and the important work of seedbanks.”

Outside in the garden,My Happy Place by Alison Thompson is yarn bombing brilliance. The artist says the work shows “the everchanging nature of Eden Gardens”. Ms Thompson explained that “the need to touch and visualise and imagine is something that has become extremely important to me and my crochet installations at Eden Gardens. Crochet started as a simple hobby that assisted with mental health but then became so much more. To see the reactions of people when they touch the work, sit in it and experience a little of my imagination is extremely rewarding. To be able to think outside the box and use a variety of textiles, yarn, fabric, cotton and various other fibres allows me to draw on the ever-changing natural environment and give it my own personal interpretation. With colour and the constant need for change to survive, nature inspires all that I create, and I have seen how, at Eden Unearthed, this can also inspire, calm, rejuvenate and relax others that wander by.”

An evolving work, Being Keepers is a hand dyed red hemp yarn installation by Ryoko Kose with Danielle Minett as collaborator. Ryoko Kose is an artist and a PhD candidate at RMIT University, who arrived in Melbourne as a transnational voluntary evacuee from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Each thread is crocheted, twisted and knotted before being wound through a delightful garden courtyard, made up of black bamboo and evergreen magnolias, with the string darting and weaving around the plants and forming a net over a dancing water rill. Being Keepers knots and meanders, but also forms connections with all who the collaborative with the work. The work is carried forward from one iteration to another.  As Kosedescribes, “There are no nails, no tools. All the yarns are just tied or hooked, then re-used in consecutive sites, bringing all the experiences and memories from one site to another.”To date guests at the opening could participate, and also a group of students from Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off The Streets (YOTS) have helped shape the work.

YOTS have also helped create a textile work by Lisa Shepherd with is made from fabric cyanotype prints, reworked into flowers with denim foliage in a work titled Floral Odyssey. Shepherd said of her time with YOTS "It was heart-warming to see the students engage with the process, from the initial outset of collecting specimens from the garden to the reveal of the cyanotype print; they were all thrilled with their results". The students clearly loved collecting the leaves and creating a bespoke nature composition for their own prints.

There are also two textile works by Chloe Alice Stafford, including a space-age like Zenova Flower made with fabric and recycled TV satellites and a grotto was transformed into the Cave of Yhi with hand-dyed hessian coffee bags. 

The last textile work is made from recycled plastic but uses the very traditional technique of bobbin lace makers.  Scribbly Gum, by Mary Elizabeth Barron is a large-scale lace piece hanging some 5 metres or so down a brick tower and incorporates the famous ‘scribbles’ of the scribbly gum, but instead of being made by a moth larva, they are crafted from bread bags. Barron elaborates “Handmade lace is made of the finest threads, delicate and beautiful. My large-scale lace made from thread I created from plastic packaging retains the delicate beauty and familiarity of traditional lace, while being surprising in its grandeur. In the midst of the overwhelming plastic waste produced today and the problems that causes I endeavour to create something of uplifting beauty from this waste to inspire hope and inspiration that we can collectively find positive solutions. Traditionally lace making regions developed their own styles often referencing local flora, this lace references the markings on the distinctive local Scribbly Gums.”

All the textile related installations at Eden Unearthed take nature into their own hands and use fibre to create magical works with Mother Earth inspired messaging throughout. Whether it is repurposed denim, string, art using the sun, or repurposed furniture and fabrics, textiles have brought Eden Unearthed and sculpture into a new endless possibilities phase.Three workshops, including one on felting with Saskia Everingham, another on bobbin lace making with Mary Elizabeth Barron and a third creating daffodils for Cancer CouncilNSW will also be taking place as part of Eden Unearthed.


Eden Unearthed: Art in the Gardens is on show at Eden Gardens Macquarie Park until the end of April 2022.  It is free to enter.  Saskia Everingham’s winning entry is for sale, with individual pods selling from $60 upwards depending on their complexity.  Individual leaf strands and leaves are available by donation to YOTS from $10, and the crochet Daffodil workshop costs $85 to attend, with this money going to Cancer Council NSW.


By: Meredith Kirton