Mukata’s [beanies] have been made at Ernabella since 1948 when a craft room was set up for the women to spin and weave wool from Ernabella sheep. Mukatas have always been used in central Australia. Men traditionally wore a covering over their hair which was worn in a bun. Women didn’t cut their hair but would sometimes roll it over their foreheads. Before white people arrived the men and women of Ernabella used the Pitjantjatjara technique of hand-spinning human hair and animal fur to make a thread which was then woven into both ceremonial and practical items. Today dyed feathers and synthetic thread are also used.
In 2002, the artists of Ernabella participated in the annual Alice Springs Beanie Festival and invited one of its founders, Adi Dunlop, to visit and run a mukata [beanie] making workshop. Adi encouraged the use of traditional spinning skills to make thread for the mukata. The women loved working with these age-old techniques and the modest mukata, has led to exciting new work in all mediums which has given a new energy and direction to the ongoing creative development of Ernabella Arts Inc.
Information provided by Ernabella Arts Coordinator, Hilary Furlong.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra