Pause
Handmade UniverseHandmade Universe

Inside the exhibition

Handmade Universe celebrates the rewards of making and the limitless scope it offers for invention and enquiry.

Ranging across disciplines – from craft to coding and from astronomy to botany – the works in this exhibition show how quiet and intimate self-led discovery can be a powerful way to connect with the universal themes of place, culture and identity.

Opening hours

10am to 6pm, daily

Location

Victoria Gallery (entry via North Rotunda), State Library Victoria

Bookings

Free exhibition, no bookings required

“...why not show them the stars?”

Sarah Spencer speaks to The Age Journalist Nick Miller about how she is 'weaving art into science'.

Meet the artists

Contemporary art and design takes center-stage in Handmade Universe with the work of ten artists, designers and makers displayed at the Library for the first time.

Sarah Spencer

Sarah is an artist and software engineer. As an experienced coder and hacker, she is fascinated by the potential of combining old and new technologies.

Mandy Nicholson

Mandy Nicholson is a Wurundjeri, Dja Dja wurrung and Ngurai illum wurrung woman, a long-time practising artist and current State Library Victoria fellow.

Deanna Hitti

Deanna Hitti is a Melbourne-based artist who uses printmaking, predominantly cyanotypes, to explore cultural diversity and issues of identity.

Kate Just

Kate Just is an American-born Australian feminist artist residing in Castlemaine, best known for her inventive and political use of knitting. 

Subscribe

Stay in the loop about upcoming events, programs and services by subscribing to the Library's newsletter.

Collection highlights

A selection of rare and remarkable items from State Library Victoria and other collections bring together craft, technology, art and science in often unexpected ways.

Star
Mary Acworth Orr’s easy guide to the southern skies

When star enthusiast Mary Acworth Orr travelled from Britain to Australia with her mother and younger sister in 1890, she was awestruck by the clarity of the night sky and compelled to write a guide to the southern stars.

She designed her handbook to be useful for all stargazers, from those who ‘throw an occasional glance’ to those who ‘observe carefully whenever conditions are favourable’. Its pocketsized format meant it could travel with its owner, and the simple illustrations of the constellations could be held up and turned until their position on the page matched their position in the sky – a forerunner of today’s smartphone apps that decode the clusters of stars overhead.

Image: Mary Acworth Orr, Southern stars: a guide to the constellations visible in the Southern Hemisphere (cover title: An easy guide to southern stars), Edinburgh: Gall and Inglis, 1896, State Library Victoria

Moon
Playtex living bra: long line

During the Space Race of the 1960s, a team of highly skilled underwear seamstresses met a challenge set by US president John F Kennedy: get man safely on the moon and back home before the end of the decade.

Designing the ultimate piece of wearable technology came naturally to the team behind the underwear brand Playtex. The brand’s innovative bras and girdles provided the engineering solutions for keeping astronauts secure, supported and comfortable in the environment of space by combining the craft of couture and scientific expertise.

Ephemera from the State Library collection helps to bring this fascinating story to life, along with a photograph from the NASA archives which shows a seamstress, Hazel Fellows, working to finish the highly technical outer shell of the space suit.

Image: Playtex living bra: long line, c.1960–69. Private collection, Melbourne.

Stitch
Mrs Hugh Peck’s Berlin wool work waistcoat, 1844

This waistcoat was skillfully crafted more than 170 years ago.

The embroidery design follows Berlin wool work patterns, a German needlework fashion that reached Australia in the 19th century. Bright and brash, Berlin work was a product of its time, when new machines began to influence traditionally handmade crafts.

A primarily domestic craft, it became popular among middle-class women who were spending less time on household labor and more time on creative pursuits.

Image: Mrs Hugh Peck, waistcoat with Berlin wool work designs, 1844, wool and linen, State Library Victoria

Sun
Ptolemy’s treatise on the stars

Made in Italy around 800 years ago, this extremely rare medieval manuscript was once the textbook of a scholar, whose notes are visible in the margins. It reproduces an older second-century text that was written by Claudius Ptolemaeus (aka Ptolemy), a Greek scholar residing in Roman-ruled Egypt.

The text became known as the Almagest, a treatise on astronomy in which Ptolemy imagined a geocentric universe, with the planets and stars orbiting Earth.

All the constellations in Almagest are still recognised, even though our understanding of Earth’s physical relationship to them has changed.

Image: Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy), Almagest, Italy, c. 1200–25, State Library Victoria

Earth
Ethel Eaves’ Stereograph of Lissopimpla semipunctata wasp

This is one of a series of photographs featuring orchids and wasps that helped solve an evolutionary riddle.

It was taken in the 1920s by Ethel Eaves and belonged to Edith Coleman, a self-taught naturalist. By gathering evidence from her garden in Melbourne and in the bushland surrounding her cottage in Healesville, Victoria, Coleman was to prove the phenomenon known as pseudocopulation. 

Coleman’s collection of photographs inspired Donna Kendrigan’s hand-built models of orchids that she brought to life in a new stop-motion animation, Season of the orchid.

Image: Ethel Eaves, stereograph of Lissopimpla semipunctata, now Lissopimpla excelsa wasp, with pollen from Cryptostylis leptochila (small tongue orchid), 1928, sepia-toned gelatin silver print, State Library Victoria

Book
Buy the Handmade Universe book

This beautifully presented publication offers insights into the newly commissioned works of artists, designers and makers, and their connections to the historical items presented in the exhibition. It features stunning reproductions of original artworks, alongside rare and remarkable items from State Library Victoria and other collections.

This publication was made possible by the generous support of the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Star
Mary Acworth Orr’s easy guide to the southern skies

When star enthusiast Mary Acworth Orr travelled from Britain to Australia with her mother and younger sister in 1890, she was awestruck by the clarity of the night sky and compelled to write a guide to the southern stars.

She designed her handbook to be useful for all stargazers, from those who ‘throw an occasional glance’ to those who ‘observe carefully whenever conditions are favourable’. Its pocketsized format meant it could travel with its owner, and the simple illustrations of the constellations could be held up and turned until their position on the page matched their position in the sky – a forerunner of today’s smartphone apps that decode the clusters of stars overhead.

Image: Mary Acworth Orr, Southern stars: a guide to the constellations visible in the Southern Hemisphere (cover title: An easy guide to southern stars), Edinburgh: Gall and Inglis, 1896, State Library Victoria

Become a member

Take your experience to the next level and enrich your love of the arts with a Cultural membership.

Upcoming events

Join us at the Library to delve deeper into Handmade Universe through tours and workshops.

Handmade Universe guided tour
Tuesdays at 10.15am and Sundays at 1.30pm
Handmade Universe: Members exhibition event
6:30pm–8:00pm
Woolapalooza
11:00am–3:00pm