Anne Kelly

Australia’s lost girls - Well-known textile artist Anne Kelly was teaching in Australia in 2017 when she became interested in an exhibition being curated by her host, Anne Kempton, and the artist Wilma Simmons.  Anne Kempton runs Timeless Textiles Gallery in Newcastle, Australia, which is housed together with the contemporary gallery The Lock Up in a former police station.

The co-curators conceived their project, Stitched Up, after a chance discovery that girls had been detained there after escaping from Newcastle Industrial School. After the co-curators had talked to the Coal River Working Party’s Dr Ann Hardy, they researched the work of Jane Ison, anthropologist David Eastburn and Bernadette Sheahan. Through their diligence and belief, the project went on to attract worldwide interest with 24 renowned fibre artists contributing from as far as Canada, Hungary and the Netherlands. Pieces included a large quilt as a comforter; dolls to compensate for lost childhood; cloth books for story-telling; shadow threadworks; and visual poetry.

Thirty women from The Wednesday Maker’s group at Timeless Textiles Gallery stitched narratives of each of the girls’ lives over two years, resulting in seven volumes of cloth books, each page dedicated to one of the girls or a family of sisters.

‘We have lived with these girls for almost two years,’ said co-curator Wilma Simmons. ‘We have been moved to tears, and even horror at times, by the depth of suffering. We have learned to love and protect them, as most never were in life. Through this exhibition, we have to give a voice finally to these lost girls and their extraordinary stories.’

Anne Kelly researched the girls’ names and found there were 29 sisters incarcerated at the lock-up, which became the title of her mixed media artwork. Anne Kelly said: ‘I made the piece in Australia, using found materials and textiles from my trawls of ‘op shops’ (charity shops).The dresses were printed with the girls’ first names as a memorial, on pieces of cotton from a vintage tablecloth. Once the piece was assembled, it was over stitched on a borrowed Bernina using Anne Kelly’s signature edging stitch and then attached to a backing cloth, a printed sewing template.’

The piece has been widely exhibited and in 2022 it was part of the ‘Collections’ stand at the The Embroiderers' Guild - UK display at the Knitting and Stitching Shows. The Guild plays an important role in conserving stitched artworks, donated by artists, owners and families, but it also loans those collections to students and member artists so they can gain inspiration from their predecessors.

Anne Kelly told us: ‘I am happy to donate 29 Sisters to the Embroiderers’ Guild collection and I’m delighted that they have accepted my offer.’

Donate a stitched artwork yourself or contribute to the vital work of conserving the Guild’s collection here


Anne Kelly is teaching an online Garden Bird Collage Workshop for the Guild on 15th July 14:00-16:00 BST.

Anne will help participants create a memorable piece of textile art, using a mixture of textile scraps and threads. This workshop is free for  Embroiderers Guild members and £15 for non members. Reserve your place today