Remembering Selling Yarns

Selling Yarns was a premier national forum for Indigenous textile and fibre in Australia which ran from 2006 to 2013 as a partnership between Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre, the National Museum of Australia and the Australian National University supported by Government Partners.  

Avi Amesbury, who was Executive Director of Craft ACT at the time remembers the third Selling Yarms event and “seeing over thirty Indigenous communities and art centres and 134 artists from every state and territory in Australia - converge on Canberra for the Centenary of Canberra was a truly memorable moment.” 

Avi notes that “Louise Hamby and Valerie Kirk from The Australian National University were the thought leaders, and I worked alongside them in various roles on all three events.” 

At the time of working on the Advisory Committee for Selling Yarns, Valerie was Head of Textiles at the ANU School of Art. What was most memorable about all three Selling Yarns events for Valerie “was the integration of conference, workshops and market. This format brought all participants together, engaging in activities and exchanging information. Selling Yarns showcased the spectrum of Indigenous fibre and textile arts, educating and creating awareness in the public sphere.” 

Yuwalaraay woman and cultural practitioner and researcher Dr Jilda Andrews was also a member of the Advisory Committee for Selling Yarns. She believes that “without a strong Heritage Craft sector in Australia, it provided a forum to discuss the creative and cultural dimension of contemporary cultural work that falls outside of the ‘visual art’ frame (so to speak)”. 

Jilda also emphasises that the event “being held at the National Museum gave it an opportunity to be in dialogue with the Museum’s (particularly ethnographic) collection – as these too are object demonstrations of cultural lifeways prior to the assigning of Western categorisation. I remember feeling that the link with the NMA could have been better explored or realised and taken the conversation to a deeper level for the participants – and the Museum.” 

In order to foster positive growth for Indigenous textiles, Jilda believes that “a history of poorly fitting definitions and language needs to first be unpicked. Craft is the wrong word – so is art. Cultural practice that includes material production will guide Australian design, architecture and cultural expression over the next 50 years. These practices will demonstrate to Australians and the world, how strengthened relationships with Country can guide not only sustainable lifeways, but also foster better and stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living on this land.” 

Almost ten years after Selling Yarns, Craft ACT continues to strive to amplify the voices of our Indigenous artists and makers, and to foster a collaborative culture within the arts sector.