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With Anzac Day (25 April) fast approaching, there will be many stories about New Zealand’s military past coming to light in the media.

Here are some examples of linen produced during World War II.  These have been found at various second-hand shops.  I would love to add more items to the collection but with the huge interest in our military past, I’m finding  it not so easy to source items in charity shops.

WWII embroidery

The first piece featuring embroidery on black velvet is not in the best condition.  It used to be displayed on a table but unfortunately quickly faded. Have now learnt to take far better care of historic items.  Features a message ‘with love from Arthur’ –  I wonder and hope that Arthur survived the war!

The second example also features scenes of the Middle East with its exotic pyramids and camels on display.

More pyramids on display

Here’s another souvenir of Egypt dated 1941 – makes you wonder how these items were treated on their return. Were these souvenirs proudly displayed or instead carefully placed into cupboards for safekeeping?

1941 embroidery

The following is a green silk handkerchief which featues the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force logo.

WWII handkerchief

The final item is a tablecloth picked up at a fair a few years.  I’m intrigued by the dates showing ‘victory and 1944’.  The Second War World officially ended in 1945 but perhaps the soldier’s campaign had ended earlier in 1944. 

Features the initials of J.S.W. in between peace and victory.

Details from a tablecloth


Dolly Varden

A comment in an earlier blog about demure crinoline-and-bonnet women has inspired this blog. Rummaging through the collection, produced numerous examples of linen featuring women’s faces completely covered by bonnets.

Dolly Varden in orange

Example of a Dolly Varden on a linen piece

In her book Thrift to Fantasy, Rosemary McLeod devotes a chapter to Dolly Varden and refers to other names such as Sunbonnet Sue or the Crinoline Lady.  The ‘Dolly Varden’ name originates from the Charles Dicken’s novel, Barnaby Rudge.  The common image of Dolly Varden features her in profile wearing a large bonnet tied with a ribbon.  Rosemary suggests that apart from stylist reasons, it is much easier to embrodier an image of a bonnet rather than dealing with tricky facial features.

Dolly Varden and tree

Detail taken from a tablecloth

Detail from a table-cloth which features the same design in each of the corners. Here Dolly is seen tending to a tree.

Dolly Varden

Dolly Varden in front of her house

A tea cosy cover features Dolly in her garden with a house in the background.  There is also a hint of hair poking though her bonnet.  The of dream of home ownership extended towards gardens and we see idealized images of perfectly maintained gardens. Dolly is externally youthful and in these pieces, women’s lives as seen as playful rather than grimly real.

Dolly Varden

Detail of Dolly watering her garden

In this design Dolly is actually seen watering her gardening, looking after the ever-popular gladiolli blooms.

Dolly Varden

Part of an unfinished apron design

Part of an unfinished apron showing Dolly again in action with a watering can.

Dolly Varden

Examples from a set of Dolly Varden pieces

Set of Dolly Varden pieces including tray cloths, an egg cup holder and two mystery pieces.  All pieces are beautifully done with tattering around the borders but I have no idea the purpose of the two smaller items. Any clues are welcomed!

Dolly Varden

A faceless Dolly Varden

And finally, one of my favourites items where traces of blonde hair are spotted but the bonnet dominates the head, almost looking like a headless character in a horror film.

With the long weekend coming up, many New Zealanders will be hitting the roads exploring other regions.  For those of us who simply adore “stuff”, the holiday weekend provides a great opportunity to pick up items from our travels.  This got me thinking about the classic fabric souvenirs from tourist patches to pennants. 

What actually happened to them once they had been handed over to an excited kid?  Were they sewn onto blankets, bed linen or clothes?  Perhaps they were used to cover up worn areas of clothing, making them drab to fab?


South Island on fabric

The above sheet was purchased from a Wellington op shop.  I was intrigued by the various South Island destinations from the West Coast, Bluff to the now poignant image of the Christchurch Cathedral. Was this the result of a major tiki tour or perhaps years of intermittent trips around the South Island?

Close up of South Island examples

Pennants from my childhood trips are from the North Island with the glamorous destinations of Auckland Zoo, Waiouru Army Museum and Lower Hutt all represented.

North Island pennants jostling for space

Other patches from the Treaty of Waitangi House in the Bay of Islands, Hamilton and Taupo complete the collection which was later sewn onto a Girl Guides blanket.  I struggle to remember anything from these trips, so it’s wonderful to have these fabric reminders.

Fabric representations of the National War Memorial

I particularly like the above Wellington pennant as it features the National War Memorial. It is displayed next to an embroidery of the National War Memorial and the former Dominion Museum/National Art Gallery.

A range of New Zealand military pennants

Extending the military theme is a collection of pennants representing New Zealand bases and camps. Most of them are Army but you can find examples of all three services at antique shops.
Do you have any examples of fabric patches or pennants?  If so, how were they used or displayed?
Happy holidays and happy hunting!
April 2018
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