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Spring seems to have produced a fine crop of textile-related exhibitions and events in Wellington.

Opening in the department store Kirkcaldie and Stains on Monday 6 September is The story of El Jay, a self-described pop-up exhibition about one of New Zealand’s most well known 20th century fashion houses. The exhibition, mounted by the fledgling New Zealand Fashion Museum, had its debut in Auckland earlier this year and features 30 El Jay garments dating from the 1940s to the 1980s. It’s popping up in the delightfully archaic ‘Ladies Fashion’ (the name that is, not the clothing) section of the store and is on until 3 October.

Pataka museum in Porirua is hosting two textile-related exhibitions in September. First to open on 11 September is White goddess, which explores the goddess as a symbol of fertility, regeneration and hope through wedding dresses and accompanying head dresses. Nga kakahu: change and exchange is an exhibition of garments made by Maori and Pakeha practitioners using traditional Maori weaving techniques. It opens on 18 September. Both are on until early 2011.

The bounty of riches continues at Te Papa in central Wellington. Here, Enriching fashion: an eye of detail opens on 17 September. This exhibition concentrates on clothing from various periods that are distinguished by elaborate decoration, luxurious materials and painstaking construction. In September and October curator Angela Lassig is conducting floor talks with New Zealand fashion designers Liz Mitchell, Denise L’Estrange Corbett and Murray Crane. Check out Te Papa’s events pages for those months for more info. On Thursday 16 September the museum is open late for a special preview of the exhibition, which includes a tour and brief talks by a great line-up of artists and curators. You need to book for the tour on (04) 381 7000.


It is nearly a week after my total submersion in the 9th annual symposium of the Costume & Textile Association of New Zealand, and I’m nearly decompressed.

There were 19 papers presented over the two days; I want to reflect on several of them that, for me, were about the role of garment textiles in maintaining the threads of personal and community identity.

Perversely, the first paper I want to mention, Jennifer Quérée’s “Ersatz – German paper textiles of World War I” was not about garment textiles. Jennifer told us about how the British blockade of raw materials into Germany from 1914 resulted in the development of paper textiles as an alternative to cotton. Samples of these eventually ended up in the Canterbury Museum, where Jennifer is Senior Curator of Decorative Arts. Apart from being fascinating in its own right, this paper set the scene for others which were about deprivation, adaptation, and making do.

Writer, collector and freelance curator Rosemary McLeod shared “The Hassock” with us. This object was almost literally thrust upon Rosemary by a stranger after the publication of Thrift to Fantasy in 2005. The hassock, described by some as a pouffe, was a tooled leather cover that had been stuffed with rags. The leatherwork could be dated as a World War 2 souvenir from the Middle East. Rosemary talked us through the nearly 5kg of rags that had been used as stuffing. The items spanned the 1920s to the early 1940s, and told the story of extreme poverty, or extraordinary thrift – depending on your level of optimism. They also showed that sewing ability does not come naturally. There were misshapen children’s rompers, a woman’s skirt made from menswear, and heavily mended stockings, vests and knickers. How uncomfortable were the people who wore the stockings and knickers with those lumpy darns and mends? What frame of mind was the woman in when she used the worn-out shreds of a dainty embroidered nightie to polish shoes, before washing it one last time and using it as stuffing? The hassock was a time-capsule of the mundane items that are seldom preserved (because they are literally threadbare) and rarely seen in collections.

Following this New Zealand story, Christine Keller took us back to Germany with “Lack and loss – an inspiration to fight for survival in WW2 and the post-war Germany”. This drew on Christine’s conversations with her family and excerpts from letters. We heard about the lengths people went to keep the clothes on their backs and to retain some semblance of dignity and normality, despite being clothed in curtains, flags, parachutes and sheeting. It was interesting to hear a German story of this period, and to see the impact of war on that civilian population. Christine is a Senior Lecturer at the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic.

The role of garment textiles in creating identity was also explored in Douglas Lloyd Jenkins’ witty presentation “A nice gay jersey: masculinity and the knitting pattern”. Douglas made the point, amid gales of laughter, that the frisky male models on these patterns were examples of an alternative reality for a boy growing up gay at a time when homosexuality was otherwise invisible. Douglas is the Director of the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery, and was elected President of the Costume & Textile Association at the AGM on Saturday.

The people’s choice award for most popular speaker went to Jacqueline Field for “A historic design archive saved and a carpet design recreated”. This was the story of Jacqueline’s involvement in researching the carpet lost from the hallway of the Victoria Mansion in the US. This led Jacqueline to Glasgow, in search of carpet makers Templeton & Co. In short, the company had been bought out, the new owners went into receivership, and the archive was in danger of being sold off. It all had a happy ending, with the archive now co-owned by the Glasgow University, Museum and School of Art. Jacqueline located an original employee of the firm, studied the archive, designed a replacement carpet, and showed the recreated piece in-situ. It was a very satisfying story. Jacqueline is retired from a career as a costume and textile historian and teacher and is particularly interested in the American silk industry.

It was a really interesting weekend, and I am already looking forward to the next symposium, likely to be held in Christchurch.

There’s an embarrassment of riches for lovers of vintage textiles, fabrics and crafts in Wellington in June.

First up is the annual symposium of the Costume and Textile Association of New Zealand, on 12 and 13 June at the NewDowse in Lower Hutt. Delightfully titled ‘Hanging by a Thread’, the symposium will be looking at tales of textile disaster and survival. Sessions include University of Georgia professor Katalin Medvedev on Cambodian women’s weaving, Lindie Ward from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum on the Australian Dress Register, and Linda Tyler from the Centre for New Zealand Art Research and Discovery on John Buchanan‘s calico pattern designs. I’m also rather taken by ‘A nice gay jersey: masculinity and the knitting pattern’, by Hawke’s Bay Museum director Douglas Lloyd Jenkins – remember all those male knitwear models with their jutting jaws, clutching fishing rods?

The complete programme can be found here, and the registration form here.

Also at the NewDowse on Sat 12 June from 10am-3pm, the wonderful Craft 2.0 fair will no doubt once again fill the museum with dozens of innovative contemporary crafters and their fans/customers. Time for some early Christmas shopping, perhaps?

Then, the weekend after, the Fabric-a-brac fabric sale is at St Anne’s church hall in Emmett Street, Newtown, from 9am-12pm on Sat 19 June. I haven’t made it to a Fabric-a-brac yet, but love the idea of people selling groovy old fabrics. If I keep buying them at my current rate, I’ll soon need to have a Fabric-a-brac stall to get rid of them again…

It’s also World Wide Knit in Public Day – or days, rather, from 12 to 20 June, when brave souls are encouraged to get together and – what else – knit in public. The Wellington knit-in-public event is on Sat 12 June, at 2pm at the Offbeat Cafe in the Left Bank. It’s great when knitters come out of the closet – I was delighted to see a woman knitting on the bus the other morning.

I’ve also just discovered the inspired nuttiness of Outdoor Knit – check out the ‘It’s a Tree!’ project.

It’s almost enough to make you forget that it’s winter. Well, hmm, maybe.

May 2018
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