Stiched with Love exhibition at Berrima District Museum

Step into Berrima District Museum and discover the hidden ancestors of our region.

The Stitched with Love exhibition is now open, with 28 handsewn and embroidered bonnets on display. Each bonnet represents a convict woman who has an ancestor living in the Highlands.

The idea was started by The Fellowship of First Fleeters Southern Highlands Chapter members. Secretary Wendy Selman said they had been sewing the bonnets since November, 2016.

“We based the designs off an 1860 servants pattern, which was used in the female factories,” she said. “We were inspired by Dr Christina Henri’s Roses From The Heart project, where she collected more than 25,000 bonnets, representing each female convict.”

First Fleeters members and The Friday Girls sewing group contributed to the display.

Ms Selman said they wanted to bring to light female convicts, whose stories often faded into history.

“They were women without voices, and it’s very difficult to find public information about these women,” she said. “There’s the conception that they were all prostitutes and criminals, but they weren’t, they were more than that.”

Ms Selman said while the bonnets were not easy to make, they were worth the difficulty. “Some of us have not sewn for a long time, so while some may not be bonnets of skill, they are bonnets of love,” she said.

Highlands author Linda Emery officially opened the exhibition, and spoke about the history of female convicts.

“Some of the women were drunks, but some were good with business, some were prostitutes and some were homemakers,” she said. “Some purposefully committed crimes, especially the Irish, to come out to Australia or meet up with their husbands.”

Few letters, images, photographs, domestic items, artefacts and related-material from these women have survived.

“Their contributions have largely been ignored, yet they are the ‘mothers of the modern nation’ – women with grit who survived the dire conditions of late 18th and early 19th century colonial Australia,” Ms Selman said.

The exhibition will be on display at the Berrima District Museum until May 21.

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