The High Court of Australia Judges’ Robes

January 4, 2017

This is a special blog. Normally I wait till the end of the month and post. This however is an extra one that documents a remarkable project and a career highlight.

Over the past few months, if you have been following my posts you will know that I have been involved in weaving for the new robes for the Judges of The High Court of Australia. The posts I have made have documented what has happened after the announcement was made. Prior to that we were unable to discuss what was happening, so I had not been able to post progress of this project. The following document also appears on my website.

On the 4th October 2016 the High Court of Australia announced that their judges were wearing new robes. What made these remarkable is that each robe is custom made. A particularly distinctive feature of the new robes is the use of a unique handwoven element, designed to integrate practically and symbolically within the robe.

The robes were designed by Bill Haycock. Margaret Adam created the pattern and cut the robes while Saffron Firkins did the sewing. The sleeves were designed and hand woven by myself. All are based in Queensland.

This is the story of the development and production of this project. It is mainly from my perspective but there are also excerpts written by both Bill and Margaret. I am delighted that they were willing to contribute to this as it will give an insight into the project as a whole.

October 2014. In retrospect the project began then. I had occasion to meet with Bill Haycock in Brisbane domestic airport. The purpose was to see whether I would be interested in working on a commission. He was interested in the potential of hand weaving. Why the airport? At the time, I was commuting between home and Mittagong where I was in charge of the weaving studio at Sturt for two years and the airport terminal was a mutually convenient location. At that stage I had absolutely no idea what the commission was to be and many months passed till I eventually found out.

Bill Haycock, a theatre designer with an international reputation, had by this time already designed new robes for the other two Australian Courts: Australia’s Federal Court and the Federal Magistrate’s Court (now renamed as The Federal Circuit Court). He was approached to design the vey pinnacle of the Australia Court system: The High Court of Australia.

Bill: Since the previous experiences had been so good – both creatively challenging and professionally satisfying I willingly agreed but, since I was already busy with shows and there was no fixed deadline, it took quite some time to absorb the brief, research and develop my thinking to even preliminary designs.

One of the best decisions I made came out of the realisation that the numbers needed were relatively small. There can only ever be a maximum of seven judges on the High Court so even with spare robes and initial prototypes (‘toiles’) and a projection forward of potential new robes we’d initially be creating only about ten robes.

This opened the possibility of using unique hand weaving as part of the design. I met with the very experienced weaver Kay Faulkner in mid October, 2014 and although at that early stage I wasn’t at liberty to say who the client actually was she came on board to advise and be involved in developing hand-woven sections for the new robes. I again turned to Margaret Adam who I’d worked with so successfully on all my previous robes, to see if again she’d cut and organise the sewing of toiles (sample robes to develop and fine tune the designs).

Mid 2015 I finally heard from Bill and discovered what the project was. I must admit that I was, to put it mildly, thrilled to learn what I was about to be involved in.

Bill had by this time been in contact with all the Judges to elucidate their thoughts on design both with the practicalities and the overall impression that they required. From that he developed his design concept.

Bill: The Federal Court robes combined a series of seven equal vertical tucks. Seven symbolically denotes the various Australian states and territories – the same as the larger star under the Union Jack on the Australian flag. This was to represent equality under the law no matter where in Australia you were and a series of horizontal tucks graduating in size from smaller at top (to give more detail ‘above the bench’ and potentially in close-up on television) to wider at the hem represented the scale of Australia as the world’s largest island as well as the breadth of judicial jurisdiction. This symbolism was developed differently for the High Court robes as two sections of hand weaving placed at each sleeve end in a graduating ripple pattern  ( finer to thicker, positive to negative – wool on silk/ silk on wool ) representing again Australia’s vastness as surrounded by sand beaches with internal deserts as well. The High Court’s function as the ultimate court of appeal and decision making also fed into this symbolism as a ‘helicopter view’ of both landscape and law. Further to this the handwoven sleeve ends and back detail incorporates a pair of triangles culminating at the same point referring to this peak/ ultimate facet of the Court’s power.

I prefer such design symbolism to be embedded within the make-up of the robe rather than being ‘applied’ and after much trial and error and a lot of sketches was happy with these linked but developed aspects of the existing symbolism from the other Federal Court robes into these new and quite different ‘T’ shaped robes.


Photo courtesy Bill Haycock.


Photo courtesy Bill Haycock

Mid to late 2015. There were many meetings with both Bill and Margaret. This was the time that we had to resolve Bill’s design concept into both a workable design for the pattern and for me to interpret it into a woven structure. These meetings were also time when we bonded as a team. I know that I came away from that first meeting when the three of us met for the first time thinking that this is going to be a great project to work on. The three of us just “clicked”. It was very professional, highly efficient and yet very relaxed. It was also very much three experts coming together, each valuing what the other does. And let’s not forget it was a pretty wonderful commission to be working on. The only thing we couldn’t do was talk about it to our friends.

I sampled for types of fabrics and yarn combinations. I sourced yarn. I sampled for how to achieve “ripples” and scale. There are just so many variations that can be achieved. The whole focus though was on how to achieve a design that would be visible from a distance. Specifics about the design were resolved when the three of us met. The fabric also had to work in with the commercial fabric that would be used for the rest of the gown. Finally the actual style of weaving and yarns were finalised.

The sleeves were to be woven in wool and silk to obtain maximum contrast in lustre enabling the greatest potential for a black on black pattern to be seen from a distance. Wool (2/28) was to be used for the warp logically because it is less expensive as a yarn and to acquire (local as opposed to international). The weft chosen was 2/60 silk. The structure we chose was a networked twill but combining a weft faced straight twill (maximizes lustre of the silk) and a warp faced broken twill to maximize the flatness of the wool.

Now came many hours developing the actual weaving draft. Prior to now, I had been working on the basic concept. Now I had Bill draw to scale what he envisaged. It was from this that weaving draft specifics were developed. Thank heavens for the internet and weaving programs that can be scaled down to enable us both to see how the weave pattern would fit into the same scale of sleeve pattern.


Photo courtesy Bill Haycock


One of the drafts that were considered. Bill had a cut out template that could sit over the weaving image.

And don’t forget, in the meantime Margaret was also busy working with Bill on pattern for the robes and how to fit this all together. Before I have Margaret tell her story, it is important to provide some background on how both she and Saffron became involved in the project. Margaret: It was one of those being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time stories when I first met Bill. We were both working on a show at the Queensland Theatre Company and a mutual friend, designer Maria Cleary, introduced us and Bill asked me if I would like to make judges’ robes. That was 16 or 17 years ago. I also met Saffron Firkins on that day.

Margaret on the robe design: My first role is to take the sketches and brief from Bill and make the first pattern and robe. Bill and I then meet (with the robe) and start looking at the finer details of lines and textures and shapes (such as a neckline or the point position at the back of the robe). I very much enjoy working with Bill. He lets me make all kinds of suggestions… but best of all …he makes all final decisions. I then start sourcing and purchasing the materials needed… which included talking with Kay about the lengths and widths of the hand woven pieces needed.

And then eventually the day arrived, and we were given the go ahead to start production for the first toile and I put on the first warp; enough for one set of sleeves. The design worked. The yarn worked. The pattern worked.

The sleeves are 75 cm wide when finished. That means I have to weave wider. Often when you thread a loom there is a basic repeat that you thread over and over for the full width. There are 1380 warp threads to be threaded before weaving even starts. Unlike many weaving patterns there is no pattern repeat in the threading. It is constantly changing. No threading mistakes please! I don’t want to rethread.  That’s what gives the wide and narrow ripples across the width. The weaving sequence also changes. The pattern repeat is 150 cm long or if you like when I weave, each of the 2,100 rows that I throw a shuttle for is also constantly changing. That’s what enables the ripples to go from wide at one hem of the sleeves to narrow at the other end. The fabric is hand woven on a 24 shaft computer assist loom. That’s what enables the complexity of the pattern.


The warp has been wound onto the loon and threading begins.


Weaving commences


Weaving progresses


The first of the sleeve pair is woven. Here it is being cut off the loom.

Margaret had started on the construction of the gown. She now had the handwoven fabric to work with. This was her first experience of working with handwoven fabric.

Margaret: What a treat it was to work with such beautiful fabrics…mind you…it took me an hour to check and then check again before I cut into Kay’s fabrics.

Early/mid 2016. Finally the first toile was complete and ready to be presented to the judges. It was an exciting and yet “hold your breath, hope they like it” time and then came the wonderful moment that we were given the go ahead. I remember the meeting where we all came together to celebrate after Bill had been to Canberra to present the proposed new robe.

At around this time it also became evident that the female Judges required a neck piece that would fill in the top of the gown in much the same way that a man’s collar would. There were currently three female High Court Judges. The fabric for this is based on elements of the gown. It has a rippled effect but in a smaller scale regular repeated design. This fabric is in cream 2/60 silk. This more simplified design is woven on 16 shafts. Margaret designed a fitted insert that sits inside the gown.


Detail of neck piece fabric.


Neck piece inside gown. Photo courtesy Margaret Adam

June 2016. The pressure is on to have the fabric woven so that Margaret can construct the gowns for a September deadline and prior to my overseas trip to USA/Canada. I had to weave enough fabric for the seven High Court Judges robes and for three collar inserts. I now have two designated High Court looms.


Fabric being stored on the loom as it is being woven.


Fabric just off the loom.


Cream silk finished for collar inserts.

Meanwhile Margaret starts production. This is when Saffron and I start working together. I went to Canberra and met each of the judges and came back to my workroom to make the individual patterns, and cut each robe. I can sew ….but I am nowhere near the quality of the machining that Saffron gives us…each robe has 7 box pleats spaced 5 mm apart…that’s 49 pleats in total. Each robe also had 25 metres of silk binding and piping….and far too many hand stitching hours to guess!


Photo courtesy Margaret Adam.


Photo courtesy Margaret Adam.

Then came the announcement that we were waiting for.

Tuesday 4th October, Bill has the go ahead to announce: I’m pleased to be able to finally say, without embargo, that as of this afternoon’s sitting the High Court of Australia are wearing new robes.

Finally we can celebrate this amazing project. We can also talk about it. Until this moment it has been kept totally under wraps. The media picks up on our achievement with articles being published Australia wide and even a very early morning interview on 612 ABC radio.

Bill hears from the Judges. Bill: The great feedback so far has been how much lighter, more comfortable, cooler and more stylish they are than their predecessors while matching the required gravitas and remaining as flattering but subtle foils to emphasise the faces and hands of the individual judges wearing them.


October- December. I weave! The commission is for a total of 20 sleeves, enough for current and medium term needs. It is interesting to note that since the launch, the original Chief Justice has retired. Chief Justice Susan Kiefel is Australia’s new Chief Justice and the first woman to hold that position. This has of course resulted in a vacancy and the need for a new robe. I also need to weave more fabric for the collar inserts. Each female Judge requires three and again more for projected needs. What will happen when all the fabrics are used up and if I cannot weave them? The future viability for the continuance of the design is maintained as The High Court has acquired the copyright to my designs.


This is the very last row of weaving.

14th December. All finished weaving. We all get to celebrate my finish with a Grand Cutting Off Ceremony. Bill, Margaret and Saffron (and children) all experience weaving on the sleeve warp.


Bill Haycock weaves.


Margaret Adam weaves.


Saffron Firkins weaves.


Then it is finally cut off. We celebrate!

The final step is to wash and iron the fabric and prepare for delivery.


The full length of one set of sleeves. Note the progression of narrow ripples at one end to wide at the other. How much of the fabric length and width will be used depends on the size of the individual judge.


Detail of robe. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.


Front view. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.


Back view. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.

All photos unless otherwise credited: Kay Faulkner.

December 2016

December 31, 2016


This month is all about what has been happening in the studio.

Jennie worked on a doublewidth waffle weave towel in Bendigo cotton. Many weavers are content to weave double width as plain weave or twill with the aim to achieve an invisible fold line. This was a great challenge with an additional challenge to the norm. Jennie took a conventional 8 shaft waffle weave, and converted it to a 16 shaft draft. Waffle weave has long floats in a diagonal progression that after washing creates deep cells. These long floats without careful management will draw in at different rates at the fold making a real mess down the centre of the fabric. What did she do? She spaced the warp in the reed at a more open sett for the fold and used a weighted fishing line to keep the folded edge rigid. Check out the end result and you can’t see where the folded edge was during weaving. It’s a great result Jennie.


Jennie cutting off her weaving. Note the two layers. The piece of paper separates the layers so that she can knot the ends independently to allow for the fabric to be opened full width.


Here it is opened out full width. The fold can barely be seen and will disappear totally after laundering.


Jennie examines the laundered cloth. Note that the fabric is now very three dimensional. It has also shrunk in size considerably.

Sally is currently working on a series of three rag rugs. They are of different lengths for different locations. Her aim is to explore different effects with all three being totally different. So far she has woven two. Along the way she has discovered the Fibonacci series; a mathematical method of using different proportions to achieve visual balance.


Rug #1.


 Rug #2 is totally different.

I finally got to weave off the last double weave challenge which has been on the loom for several months. This challenge follows on from work initiated several months ago on parallel threadings and was to compliment student work over several months in the studio. The basic challenge: to design a table runner that uses doubleweave as panels to have the end effect of pattern bands on a plain weave background. The first runner has an additional pattern of wrapping (West Timor style) in the centre to compliment the doubleweave panels.


The challenge for the second runner: to achieve a different effect. In this one some threads were taken from the doubleweave bands and rethreaded to add a colour stripe and supplementary warp either side of the doubleweave bands. I liked both sides so have bound the hem to make it reversible.


Both runners together with the reverse side of the second one also shown.



The last of the High Court judge’s commission of the robe sleeves.

This month had the Grand Cutting Off Ceremony when all who had been involved in the project came to the studio to celebrate the final warp of the commission. Everyone had a “go” at weaving, even Saffron’s children. Here they all are:


Bill Haycock: designer


Margaret Adam: pattern maker and cutter


Saffron: sewer


And children.


Then we all posed together before I officially cut it off. We had a grand celebration!

 Soon to come: My intention is to put together the full story. You have perhaps followed the story since the announcement by The High Court. This has been such a significant project that I would like to also report on what went on in the stages prior to this.

 Don’t forget to check out the year’s studio classes. There is one vacancy in the Linen and Lace Class to be held 6-10th February.



November 2016

December 3, 2016

The accolades continue for the High Court Judges new robes. The ABC has picked up on it and ran a feature.…new-robes-for-australian-highcourt/8023708

Bill, Margaret and I got up very early to be in at the ABC studio for a 5.30 am radio interview.

I have also appeared in the local paper, The Bayside Bulletin and on page 2.


Maggie came from Townsville for a week’s tuition in double weave. She has a 4 shaft loom at home so we focussed on weaving double weave and related techniques on just 4 shafts. As she was familiar with double width, we started with that, refining technique and exploring variations before moving onto all manner of other double weave techniques. Here are some of her experiments.




At the same time that Maggie was in the studio, I also put on a 4 shaft double weave warp. I wanted to show that you don’t need a lot of shafts to weave a complex pattern. This pattern uses just 4 shafts.


After weaving the first runner, the challenge was to remove some of one layer creating a different look.


And to prove that it really did come from the same warp, here they are hot off the loom.


Sally is officially my Tartan Queen. Her latest warp provided 2 twill scarves (seen last month), 1 plain weave scarf and several kerchiefs in her tartan. After weaving the twill scarves, she cut them off and resleyed to complete the rest of the plain weave items.


GOMA, The Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane is turning 10. To celebrate this milestone, the gallery commissioned a sculpture by Judy Watson of a giant fish net. This sculpture sits beautifully at the entrance to GOMA. It was intriguing to watch people approach this very tactile sculpture and realise that the net was actually bronze.


“Sugar Spin: you, me, art and everything” marks ten years of GOMA, inviting us into a playful space of excess, colour and abundance. Drawing together more than 250 works, the exhibition celebrates the creative depth and diversity of the Collection writes the exhibition curator Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow. Artlines (QAGOMA publication) Issue 4, 2016. I am yet to explore the full exhibition and can’t wait to see what is included, but I have spent time in just one small section: Heard by Nick Cave. To mark the start of festivities, those attending could experience Heard as a performance as well as a static exhibition. Heard by Nick Cave (USA) (2012) is currently proposed for collection through the QAG/GOMA Foundation. I have long been aware of Nick Cave’s work and to consider that we will have a whole series here in Brisbane is quite amazing to contemplate.

October 2016

November 6, 2016


This has been pretty much my focus for this month. Here I am throwing the shuttle to weave the next row. I have spent many hours continuing to weave black wool and silk for the High Court judge’s robes. You’ll see more later on.


A different view: At the back of the loom, the top section shows how much warp is left to weave while underneath is the woven fabric. The actual weaving happens on the other side of the loom.

The Gold Coast weavers had another very successful 2 day workshop. This time it was held at their club rooms. This group of weavers is very active and keen to learn new techniques.



This workshop focused on finger manipulated techniques. This topic was more inclusive for this group. Those with rigid heddles/knitter’s looms were able to participate as well as shaft loom weavers.

These techniques as the students found out can be used for an entire project or just used to add an accent to another piece of hand weaving. Here are some of their results.


Sally continues to weave tartan. This time she had put on a very long warp. First she wove two more twill scarves.


Then she resleyed to achieve a sett appropriate for plain weave, dropped off some of the outside warp threads to achieve the width she wanted and then wove some kerchiefs and another scarf. These are hot off the loom today. She has managed to use the majority of the silk she had dyed. Now all she has to do is finish them all off. She’s promised to bring back her collection when they are totally finished.


More on the High Court judges robes.


Finally I have thrown the last row in the weaving of the black wool and silk for the sleeves. There is now enough for their immediate and short term future needs. Thank heavens the pattern was constantly changing. One pattern repeat is 150cm long. In the fullness of time there will be a Grand Cutting Off Ceremony. I am planning for all who were involved in the project to be here. Then I will need to spend time finishing the fabric ready to be handed over. So while I might have finished weaving, I can’t say I’m finished yet.

The media has picked up on the fact that Australia has new High Court judges’ robes. A number of newspapers have reported on the new robes. The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article in their paper, a longer version on line and this film on Bill Haycock as the designer. While the film doesn’t mention any of Margaret’s or my involvement, it does show detail of the new robes and what they used to weave. You will have to watch through the advertisement to get to the film. I’m unsure how long this will be available.

However is a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald article: the whole page.


And a close up of the words.


This black fabric has been all consuming. However I do need to get busy on other fronts.

I am about to launch the next 6 months’ 5 day studio program. Here is advanced notice of the overview. Full details will be found under “My School”.

5-9th December Special/Open project

6-10 February   Linen and Lace

13-17th March   Beginning Weaving.

27-31st March    Beyond the Basics.

24-28th April       Parallels and networks.

29th May – 2nd June    Handwoven Rugs.

12-16th June.      Special/ Open Project

Classes are also available as 5 days over a 3 week period. Topics vary according to student requirements.

Studio access is also available for individuals or groups. This allows for independent or supervised projects.

Remember you do not have to bring looms or equipment.


September 2016

October 5, 2016


This blog is a little late so “waiting” is appropriate.

But this month I waited for my studio to become available again after it was temporarily appropriated as a storage venue. It was only meant to be for a weekend but it took a little longer.

I also waited for the announcement of what can only be described as a career highlight. I have also waited a long time to be able to talk about what I’ve been doing.

And what does one do while one waits….. one weaves. One also weaves on whatever loom is accessible in amongst the accumulation of stuff, the household effects temporarily here on their way to their new home. I’ll leave it to your imagination but let me say it wasn’t fun. But there was a loom that I could reach and that was available.

Before I had left for my adventures last month, I had put on a 16 shaft parallel threading ready and waiting for when I got back. It had been a very long time since I had explored parallel threadings and echo weave and double weave… possibly even 15 years or more. Interestingly, my friend Jette who I stayed with in Canada last month and I also took the opportunity to collaborate on some 8 shaft parallel threading samples. There are some images of that play on last month’s blog. It was rather addictive playing with what can be achieved on a 2 parallel threading draft: Double weave, turned taquete, echo weave, shadow weave.

Here’s just some of those samples.


Then because I was still waiting, I did a 3 parallel threading draft on firstly 16 shafts using the same profile as the previous 2 parallel draft. I decided to weave a pair of scarves from the one draft using a different echo weave approach. The 3 warp colours chosen are subtle, not what I would usually choose for this structure. Here’s the two scarves from the same warp. They are quite different.


And then another 3 parallel draft but this time on 8 shafts. Again I wove 2 scarves in echo weave, but this time I used more contrasting colours.


The studio finally returned to some normality, but I’m having way too much fun to stop. So what will happen if I use 4 parallel lines with 4 warp colours. Here’s some sampling.


And then some fabric destined eventually for a shirt. It feels lovely and drapes beautifully: 4 colours of mercerised cotton in the warp and silk for the weft and not a dominant pattern.


And the day that I’ve been waiting for and working towards finally does arrive.

I have been involved in a very long term project. The project: To design and create new robes for the High Court.

This is the announcement that Bill Haycock, an amazingly talented designer and a pretty wonderful person to work with, made on Tuesday, 4th October.

I’m pleased to be able to finally say, without embargo, that as of this afternoon’s sitting the High Court of Australia are wearing new robes designed by me. ….

Other people involved include talented pattern maker and cutter: Margaret Adam, sewer who has a pretty amazing eye for detail: Saffron Firkins and myself.

This has been an amazing project to be involved in. It has also proved that I can keep a secret. This project has been under wraps since its inception. It all began more than 2 years ago when I was approached by Bill and sounded out as to whether I would be interested in weaving a commission. There was no hint of what the project was but I’m always interested in a challenge. A year or more passed. I presumed it had fallen through and hey I didn’t know what it was anyway. But then I heard from Bill again. That was the start of many meetings. I had the design brief, I sampled. Bill, Margaret and I met over several meetings and discussed overall robe design and conferred on the design of the woven elements. Finally the weave pattern was decided and I got to weave. The first set of sleeves are woven. A toile is made. It and the proposed fabric is presented to Justice Kiefel. We progress. The prototype is constructed and presented to all seven Judges. They unanimously approve and are delighted with the new robes. I heard they loved the woven fabric. We celebrate a milestone. This has been quite some journey. The project proper starts. Now time is of the essence. There are deadlines. The robes are delivered and we wait to hear when they will be worn for the first time. This day has now arrived. I can now share what has been and what continues to be an amazing collaboration.

While I can’t share the actual design details or the draft (It now belongs to the High Court), I will share some general facts on the woven component. In the overall design, Bill has incorporated several concepts. (See the press release.)

The basic fabric design is based on sand ripples. The concept is that Australia is an island hence sand enclosing our nation and yet ripples of sand can also be found in the Inland and is so inclusive. The fabric has a wool warp and silk weft. The aim of this combination was to allow maximum contrast for viewing of motif from a distance; maybe the back of the court room. It was a challenge especially as it had to be black on black. The weave structures used were chosen to maximize this contrast in lustre. The threading has no repeat and constantly changes. The treadling sequence evolves from narrow ripples on one end at the sleeve hem through to wider ones on the other sleeve hem, hence the pattern repeat is the total length of the two sleeves.

Threading begins.


The first row is woven.


Weaving progresses.


Cutting off.


The puddle of fabric on the floor.


As the project developed, we were asked by the female judges whether a scarf /collar piece could be a part of the robe design. There are currently 3 female High Court Judges. The men wear shirt collars under the robe so the women required something that would give the same effect. The fabric design is based on the same concept of ripples, ensuring that the total effect is cohesive. It is however a much more simplified version of the sleeve pattern. The fabric is a natural cream silk. Margaret has then crafted the fabric so that it is fits inside the robe. Several collar pieces are required for each judge.

The fabric being woven.


The finished yardage.


Eventually I hope to be able to share images of the robes when they become available.

I have waited a long time to be able to share what has taken many hours of designing and then weaving. The project continues. I have woven the initial fabric for the seven judges’ robes. Now I am weaving more fabric for the High Court’s requirements and as of now and till the completion of the project have 2 looms (16 and 24 shaft computer assist) dedicated to the project. I hope to have it finished within the next month or so. I am so very honoured to be part of this project and very aware that this has certainly the potential to be a heritage that will live beyond me. How amazing is that!