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Beautiful flowers

I think it began when I discovered TradeMe. Suddenly, a source of endless happy time-wasting, and 1960s children’s card games, and TEAL ashtrays with stylised tiki, and old hotel plates with fern logos, and swizzle sticks in the shape of taiaha or pineapples. And then, an ageing handmade felt golly with a snazzy red and yellow outfit and a sad and bewildered expression on his stitched face, and two tablecloths embroidered with beautiful and complicated floral designs. They were too lovely to put away; I pinned them to the wall.

Then I found a long silky kimono painstakingly embroidered with a version of the Willow Pattern, and some dressing-table mats embellished with hollyhocks, and crinoline ladies, and even one with a Māori wahine in a cloak, a little baby on her back and a flax bush beside her. Someone else was selling her grandmother’s collection of souvenir headscarves – silky beautiful things boasting of trips to New Guinea, Australia and the ‘Fiji Islands’ (all hibiscus and outrigger canoes and afro’d fishermen, that one). The souvenir hankies were even better, with their clumsy hand lettering and awkward, brightly-coloured pictures of parrots and marlin and poi dancers and Māori warriors.

Souvenirs of exotic places

And hankies

I was hooked. I fought with another buyer over a tablecloth wonderfully embroidered with a pictorial map of New Zealand, the country’s outlines dotted with the ubiquitous warriors and pohutukawa and kiwi. I told myself that $75 was my limit, but I kept bidding, my heart pounding, to $120 before I gave up. I wondered if my opponent was Rosemary McLeod, famous for her collections of vintage textile crafts; I muttered and grumbled to think that some other bastard had nabbed my tablecloth for a mere dollar more. But then someone listed an Australian version (kookaburras, wombats, boomerangs, crocodiles) and I got it for a mere $30.

Embroidery across the ditch

Australia's south coast


I’m not really a historian, though I like imagining the past, especially its domestic, unsung details. Perhaps more importantly, if I’m honest, I like things that are beautiful, and things that are funny. I love skilled handiwork, but I also love things that are awkward, a little clumsy, a little kitschy or politically incorrect. I enjoy pieces that mix Māori and Pākehā traditions or imagery, sometimes quirkily, hopefully without hurting anyone’s sensibilities or sensitivities. Really, when it comes down to it, I just like stuff.

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