Exploring the personal touch in needlework


The face of the explorer Sir Douglas Mawson in his knitted balaclava is an iconic Australian image. Mawson1Mawson, who was born in May 1882, is famous for his extraordinary exploration to Antarctica and for his lifelong contributions to science and education.


Kristin Phillips, Principal Curator of Textiles from Artlab, the Adelaide based conservation and restoration team, discovered some interesting facts about that balaclava during recent restoration.

  • It is thought to be knitted by Mawson’s wife Paquita
  • Most of the knitwear supplied to the explorers was manufactured by Jaegar the British knitwear company
  •  Mawson’s balaclava was handmade and does not look like a commercial pattern
  • It is knitted with scraps of wool of different colours and tones
  • The pattern is a 7×7 rib. Certainly not a conventional rib! Kirstin suggests Paquita may have used it for good luck
  • A small piece of pink wool is knitted into the pattern. Kristin imagines that Paquita may have used it to remind Mawson that she was with him. We can only imagine what this personal touch may have meant to Mawson during those long freezing days and months.

The idea that we literally touch those to whom we give or share our needlework is worth remembering as we pick up our needle(s).  Like Paquita we may never know the impact of that personal touch or those soft loving stitches.

Happy stitching, Barbara

studio stitches

Fancy knitting Mawson’s balaclava?

A copy of the pattern is for sale in the SA Museum shop for $14:95, along with replica balaclavas.

For more about Artlab visit: http://www.artlabaustralia.com.au/news



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