Colour & design

The Women’s Centre in Maningrida is busy this morning. In a cluster of buildings that include the Djomi Museum and the former art centre building, the Women’s Centre is yet another hub of creativity in this historic place of art making.

“With the lino we draw a picture first and then we cut them”

There are a number of activities here but our focus is the work of Maningrida’s textile artists. Now famous and with demand exceeding supply, Bábbarra Designs, and the idea of printing on textiles evolved as an activity in the Women’s Centre in 1989.

What happened here was the idea of bringing together the cultural aspects of women’s lives, their stories and many aspects of their environment, together with their design skills, with print technology on fabric.

Belinda prints from a lino tile

The women use lino and silk-screen printing techniques to produce the fabrics. In the case of silkscreen printing the printed fabric is available in lengths of up to nine meters. Lino printed fabrics are typically smaller in scale, partly because of the tile method used to produce the prints.

Lucy adds the first colour to her design

The starting point is to create the designs and the women do this using their cultural stories, which sometimes may illustrate bush foods or other aspects of daily life. 

From these designs the next stage, in the case of silkscreen printing, is to paint the design layers onto large acetate sheets, which are then transferred onto the silk screens using light sensitive emulsion. In the case of lino printing, to carve into the lino to create the lino 'plates'. 

Several colours may be used to create the final printed fabric, which means a series of screens or lino tiles are used to produce each design.​

This is a complex process and requires considerable skill to ensure the pattern designs and the colour combinations  come together to produce these vibrant textiles.

The silkscreen table

To complete the process, Bábbarra Designs also has a team of sewing ladies who use the printed textiles to make clothes to local designs. Many of these clothes are used in fashion related events, photo shoots and so on. It is also possible to purchase the finished fabric.

The end result is a range of vibrant patterns that do indeed reflect the region's Aboriginal culture and a growing strength in the production of printed textile designs.

Because of strong connections to its regional outstations, the Women’s Centre, helps women from more than a dozen language groups and their customary clan estates from this part of Arnhem Land to share their ideas and creativity, learn from each other and to help younger generations to learn new skills and traditional stories about country.

Learn more about Bábbarra Designs from their new website. Our warm thanks to the Women's Centre and to Lucy Yarawanga and Belinda Kernan for telling us about their work.

Landing image: Lucy Yarawanga