Human Hair, Tree Bark, Bones & Nests by Julie Turner


The starting point

A couple of weeks ago the group met to discuss progress so far and support each other on this exciting project. I discussed the fact that I will be 50 in December and would like to incorporate this into my part of the project. Following the meeting Jane and I went to meet Ebony the Collections Officer at Bankfield Museum as she had found some items which might have been of interest to us following the brief which we had given her. It was very exciting and because we went together we got to see the possible starting pieces for the other too. So double the excitement.

I had asked to see items which were spun or woven that included unusual items such as human hair, tree bark, animal hair/bones etc. We went to one of the offices where Ebony had placed some of the pieces for us to view. We were given white cotton gloves to handle the items and instructed how to view them, mainly gently, carefully and one at a time. Each item was laid on white tissue paper and all were labelled with a unique number. Ebony had already cross referenced the items in the museums vast cataloguing system so she could give us as much information about each piece as possible. Jane and I were across the table from each other. We both felt like kids in a sweet shop we were so excited and we both commented on how privileged we felt to be handling such old and delicate pieces of history.

Ebony once again did not disappointed. She had located several human hair pieces as well as some animal hair wearable items. The human hair pieces were incredibly detailed and were even more intricate than I had ever imagined they could be. I fell in love with one piece in particular and wondered if this might be my starting point item.



Ebony mentioned that she had not taken any of the woven vessel type items out of the store as the majority were behind glass and I could go to the store and see if there were any I wanted to look at more closely. Luckily the slip ware that Jane wanted to see was in the same store room behind glass opposite the vessel display so we went together. Almost simultaneously on entering the store room both our eyes were drawn to a textile piece propped up against the glass. It was a delightfully intricate embroidered picture with 3D elements on it. Jane took pictures and may share it on her post. I had already decided although it was beautiful it wasn’t my starting point item.

Looking at the vessels there were some unusual ones made of cigarette packets, crisp boxes, strips of plastic and many made from natural materials such as reed, willow, grasses etc. Then I saw it. My starting point item. A small natural material (reed possibly) woven, shallow basket which held a drop spindle and some natural cotton ready for spinning all nestling on what looked like cotton fabric. In the display case between much bigger vessels it almost looked to me as if it was standing on its own with a bright light shining just on that one item.  I asked to look at that one in more detail. Being a hand spinner I don’t know why I was surprised that I felt so drawn to this item.


Back in the office I scrutinised the vessel and its contents. I turned it over. I held the spindle. I measured it. I photographed it. I loved it. The catalogue number on the label told Ebony that the piece had come into the collection before computer cataloguing and she found it in an old hand written volume in which items were logged.

The entry detailed that the vessel and contents came from Sama Naga Assam and was donated as a gift to the museum in 1922. Ebony suggested that it was probably made in mid 1800 and would have been donated as an ethnographic example of textiles.

The shaft of the spindle is wood and the whorl looks and feels like stone or slate. The spindle is quite heavy for one so small. I hope to go back to weigh it so I can compare it with one I regularly use.


There was also another vessel I had been attracted to which Ebony also took out of the display cabinet. This one was also made from natural materials (reed again possibly) was dyed blue and looked like a pod I would like to climb into and snuggle up, safe and secure. There was little written information about this one but Ebony suggested it was a 1980s piece, maybe that’s why I was drawn to it as my teenage years were in that era and it was familiar plus I had always wanted one of those wicker hanging chairs which it reminded me of.  As I was examining the vessels I realised how these items could fit into the Secret life of objects projects for me. I recalled I had thought about the spindle nestled in the basket and the blue vessel as a safe and secure pod then it came to me. – NESTS –  I would explore the idea of nests and what a nest would mean to me and I would create 50 different nests using a variety of different mediums both conventional and unconventional  1 for each year of my life, using the textile techniques and methods I use regularly.



I started to create some spider diagrams to help my thinking.

This is the beginning of a very exciting project I can’t wait to see where it leads me.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s