RMIT Textile Design visits ‘Marimekko: Design Icon 1951 to 2018’ at Bendigo Art Gallery

By guest Houndstooth Blogger Lucy Adam

Bendigo Art Gallery facade decorated in the iconic ‘Unikko’ print.

The news of the exhibition ‘Marimekko: Design Icon 1951 to 2018’ (3 March – 11 June 2018) at Bendigo Art Gallery this year sparked much excitement amongst us textile design devotees here at RMIT. So the Textile Design and Development’s Advanced Diploma students took the V-Line out to Bendigo to visit the exhibition and learn more about the enduring legacy of Marimekko. Several students were also invited to assist in screen-printing workshops in Bendigo Art gallery’s educational program with Libby Noblet.

It’s hard to say when I first discovered Marimekko, but when I did I was completely captivated by their incredible use of colour, scale of motifs and the beauty of their version of simplicity. Marimekko put Finland on the map for me and was my first introduction to ‘Scandinavian design’.

When I began studying textile design at The Melbourne Institute of Textiles (Now RMIT, School of Fashion and Textiles), I remember reading a book that described textile designers as ‘ghost designers’, suggesting it to be rare for the identity of the designer to be prominent, or well-known. At the time this struck me as being quite an injustice as I was quickly discovering how much skill it took to balance the aesthetic and technical demands of designing for textiles.

Of course there are widely celebrated textile designers, figures such as William Morris, the designer, writer, activist and major contributor to the revival of traditional British Textile Arts. Or Celia Birtwell whose 1930s and 1940s inspired florals adorned Ossie Clark’s ‘swinging sixties’ dresses, famously worn by Bianca Jagger and Marianne Faithful (just to name a few). And my favourite textile designer, Lucienne Day who is described as being one of the most influential British textile designers of the 1950s and 1960s, and had a career in design spanning over sixty years. However, generally speaking, most commercial textiles were, and still are designed by people unknown to the consumer.

What I quickly discovered and admired about Marimekko is that individual designers are at the heart of this avant-garde company, and are celebrated by the fact that their name is printed along the selvedge of the fabric, proudly acknowledging the creator. One of these was designer Maija Isola, a creative force in her own right. Maija is the creator of the Unikko print that has been in production for over fifty years and has become Marimekko’s most celebrated pattern.


Printed Selvedge by Maija Isola on display at the Bendigo Art Gallery.


Maija Isola’s ‘Unikko’ print in different colour ways.


Marimekko garments on display at Bendigo Art Gallery.

As part of the exhibition’s public program, on March 17 and 24, Bendigo Art gallery organised screen printing workshops inviting RMIT students from Textile Design and Development. The workshop was held in the courtyard of the LaTrobe Arts Institute, opposite Bendigo Gallery, and when I dropped in I witnessed a bunch of very excited women printing gorgeous and bright Marimekko-inspired textile samples. A warm, and very persistent, northerly wind was creating challenges for the fabric, but the enjoyment of creating eclipsed all the difficulties that can be encountered when printing outdoors. It was so great to see our students passed on their valuable material and print knowledge. Running the workshop with the textiles students, Libby, who is an accomplished textile designer herself having spent over ten years working as a teacher in the Diploma of Textile Design at Brunswick. Libby was my print teacher all those years ago and it was wonderful to help plan the workshops with her and organise student volunteers. Libby relayed back to me that the students “were so friendly, very enthusiastic and approachable with the beginner printers and more than willing to share their knowledge.”

Second year Textile Design and Development student Sam Seary (right) with workshop participant.

Some of the beautiful prints created at the workshop.

Sam lending a hand.

Sam discussing print options with a participant.

Then, on April 20, Textile Design at RMIT descended on Bendigo on mass! The combined efforts of Textile Design & Development and the Bachelor of Arts Textile Design saw nearly one hundred students and staff visit the Marimekko show. Two buses left the Brunswick campus at 8am and we arrived to hear an introductory lecture from Margot Feast, the Education Officer at Bendigo Art Gallery, before seeing the show. Students were then free to explore the exhibition, which consisted of a multitude of cascading bolts of fabric, sketches, photographs, colour ways, garments and videos.

Textile Design and Development 1st and 2nd year students

Second year Textile Design and Development student Oliver Page-Dutton, described his experience as: “The exhibition motivated me tremendously and reminded me why I am interested in textiles. While I looked at the work, I thought about how this is what I want to be doing and that was a very cathartic moment for me. I’m thankful to have had an opportunity to see it in person.” A sentiment reinforced by the reflections of Amber Differ, also in second year, who said, “Marimekko are so great at showcasing their prints through simple but original designs. I was particularly impressed with their innovative use of stripes to create new lines and patterns in their garments.”

The exhibition was a wonderful experience for those familiar with Marimekko, and those new to the Finnish design icon. Their legacy to women and textile design is so inspiring, not to mention their timeless and enduring style.

To find the joy in the simple things is a notion always worth embracing I think.

All photos by Lucy Adam.

‘Marimekko: Design Icon 1951 to 2018’ is on at Bendigo Art Gallery until June 11.

… And coming up next month, the Houndstooth goes global and visits Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2018 as well as the recent IFFTI Conference in Shanghai.