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I’m Kerryn and I’m a vintage fabric-aholic. I visit op shops frequently. I get to jumble sales before the doors open. My heart leaps when I catch a glimpse of something promising amongst the dross. I’ve got a set of drawers and a filing cabinet crammed with the fruits of my addiction. Sound familiar?

While most of my stuff hibernates behind closed drawers most of the time, occasionally I’ll get a length out and consider what I can make with it. My collection is not quite an archive – while I’m unlikely to alter made-up pieces and definitely shy away from using my pristine vintage oven cloths for their intended purpose, I don’t consider pieces of fabric untouchable. Still, it’s hard to get the scissors out because there’s no going back once that first cut is made!

Cushions are a good way of using and displaying vintage fabric. They are easy to make and don’t require too many cuts, which is important if you’re loath to disturb the pattern of the fabric by cutting through it.

Some of these I’ve covered myself, others I’ve bought made-up. The colourful one in the middle was embroidered in wool by my very talented aunt Sheryl Faul. These are the ones I’ve made:

These are all barkcloth fabric. Another way of displaying vintage fabric without getting scissor-happy is to make a wall-hanging or to treat it as a canvas. I bought a large piece of very boyish ’70s barkcloth years ago and I’m really glad I held onto it because it makes an awesome addition to my young son’s bedroom wall.

This was one piece I couldn’t bear to cut. I commissioned my woodworker partner to make the recycled timber frame and he did an excellent job. The fabric is held fast onto the inside of the frame by thin lengths of timber so no stapling or gluing was required.

I just hope this imagery doesn’t seep into Amos’ unconsciousness and cause him to become a boy racer in later life! I’m not remotely interested in motorbikes but the gorgeous colours, well-realised pattern and great sense of movement won me over.

Amos can sit in style in this little metal-frame chair I made a new seat for. Cowboys and Indians are not in particularly good odour these days but let’s not impose our contemporary views on vintage!

Lightshades require more cutting and sewing, depending on the frame used. You’ve also got to be careful that your precious fabric doesn’t get too warm and go up in smoke! I imagine that ready-made lightshades are probably treated to make them heat resistant but (touch wood) I’ve not had any trouble in this department.

This is another barkcloth number. The pattern makes me think of kiwi feathers with a hint of peacock thrown in. Not sure of the date – my guess is 1950s. It’s made out of the same piece as one of the cushions above. I love this pattern and I stored the fabric for many years before I used it.

I made these lightshades for my open plan kitchen and lounge with uncovered frames I found at the tip shop in Wellington. I laid the frames onto some newspaper and made a pattern by drawing around one panel. I then cut out a series and sewed them together. I didn’t have enough fabric (or patience) to match the pattern up, and in any case the shape of the panels would have made this difficult. The pattern is an abstract one so I think I got away with joining unrelated pieces together. You could say I’m reinterpreting the pattern.

They are actually upside-down lamp shades which works really well – they hover beautifully and cast interesting light shapes on the ceiling. On the odd occasion I’m driving up our street at night I can see them through the windows floating like little spaceships.


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.

I’ve been thinking about the talk Lilian Mutsaers gave to the Glorybox group on her MA thesis, where she talked about the potential and promise of uncut cloth, and the cupboards, boxes and suitcases filled with pieces that may never lose their selvedges.  I have a cupboard like this myself.  Interestingly, several of the most extravagant pieces in it have been given to me, having been bought and stored for a number of years by someone else.  No-one has ever told me specifically what they were going to do with these pieces; I am free to invent new possibilities.

My interest in textiles is focused on clothing, especially home-made clothing.  I have also been thinking about how we learn to sew, both at home and in the school curriculum, and to what purpose.  For me, as you will see below, sewing was as much part of family life as cooking or gardening.  We celebrated home sewing as a demonstration of skill, thrift, and creativity, with the bonus being you got clothes that fitted you.

My sister and I grew up with my mother’s family. My maternal grandmother made clothes for her three daughters.  This picture is of my mother in a dress made by her mother for the 1959/60 ‘season’.  It was bronze peau de soie, shot with black, lined in taffeta.

Alison at a dance in 1960

This glamorous look was accessorised with high heeled, pointy toed, sling back shoes in matching satin.  While those were over the counter shoes, accessorising could also be a family game: I have a vivid memory of granddad sitting on the back porch using Harmony shoe dye to match shoes to a dress for one of my aunties.

My paternal grandmother was apprenticed in the Levy factory when she was 14.  Long after she stopped working in clothing factories she had an industrial sewing machine at home for ‘piece work’ as a means of making extra money.  Not much cloth lay un-cut in her house, especially if she could get two colour ways of the same fabric.  Bingo!  My sister and I got matching outfits.  We were walking billboards for her expertise.

These vest and skirt outfits (left) were in denim, with shiny metal buttons, made for Christmas 1968 (I think).  The polo necks were ‘dickies’, and just sat inside the neckline.  I remember being very perplexed by this item of clothing – perhaps because it was not home-made!

The smock dresses (below) were made from thick cotton fabric, almost like cretonne. They were knee-length with Peter Pan collars.  Check out the curtains, the gleaming formica table, and intricately iced cake – another demonstration of skill.

I am keen to hear stories of learning to sew, and the fabric and pattern buying habits of different households.  In future posts I plan to reminisce (and hopefully elicit information) about the glory-days of fabric shops and button counters in Wellington – the favourite haunts of home-sewers.

April 2019
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