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Yarns of the Heart is a textile dollmaking and story-sharing project run by CAN that has revived a decades-old unique Noongar dollmaking practice.

In 2011, renowned textile artists Nalda Searles and Cecile Williams ran several dollmaking, textiles and embroidery workshops in Narrogin and Pingelly with women from the local communities. These workshops revived a CAN project that had originally started back in 1994, through a new generation of women.

As the women sat around the table having a yarn while they created these dolls, their life stories were revealed and woven into their creations.

The dolls gave the women a sense of belonging, a means of expressing what was important to them and new technical skills and the project perpetuated a unique Noongar dollmaking tradition – passing on skills to new generations.

The project was a huge success not just for the women involved – the dolls were recognised at a national level.

A Yarns of the Heart exhibition featuring dolls from the 1994 and 2011 workshops was opened at the WA Museum in September 2011 and over 80,000 people viewed the exhibition and accompanying documentary film.

The dolls went on to become part of the very successful String Theory exhibition curated by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, which featured contemporary Australian Art and showcased expanded notions of textile craft traditions.

The String Theory exhibition has toured nationally through New South Wales, WA, Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania.

Yarns of the Heart publications are available to purchase here and you can read more about the project and its media coverage on CAN’s media page.


The City of Vincent dollmaking workshop ran during Reconciliation Week in 2014 and brought together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to learn unique Noongar dollmaking techniques.

More than just an arts workshop, the project celebrated unity and respect between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, and helped raise awareness of Noongar culture.

Over 40 participants took part in the City of Vincent dollmaking workshop, all from different cultural backgrounds. CAN’s Aboriginal Arts and Culture Coordinator Geri Hayden introduced participants to a number of creative textile and embroidery techniques before leaving each participant to create their own doll that would tell their personal story.

Various participants said the workshop was a wonderful, inspiring and healing experience. “This doll is my father. I can’t see him any more, but I can hold him now, so he is with me,” one of the young participants said.

The workshop followed the success of CAN’s Yarns of the Heart project which started in 2011 and revived a decades-old Noongar dollmaking practice. The dolls made in the Yarns of the Heart project went on to tour across Australia in national galleries.

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