new zealand fashion museum – home sewn

Last night I officially became an old person.  At least an old person who starts stories to my Daughter with “When I was your age…”.  I was trying to explain to her how much the Fashion Museum’s Home Sewn, Original New Zealand Fashion Exhibition had brought back memories of when I was a little girl.  My Sister and I would go with my Mother down to the local fabric shop (of which there was only one in a town of 3,000) Riddells, twice a year.  We would go down on a thursday evening and work our way through the patterns and fabrics.  We were allowed to choose one pattern (they were expensive) and then choose two/three different fabrics to make up garments from the patterns.  I always tried to choose something ‘fashionable’ – I have very particular memories of a red boob tube dress with parrots along the bottom (it was special fabric made for boob tube dresses) that my Mother refused to let me wear without making straps for it.  I was mortified and the moment she was out of view I would slip them off and tuck them away.  I was 12 – I thought I was fabulous.  My sister always chose quirky things that my Mother couldn’t quite understand – but she was always adamant and so my Mother let her.  One year my Mother made matching dresses for us out of muslin and she painted flowers on the front with fabric paints.  She was a very cool Mother at the time.  She did pottery, tie dyed her own clothes (we wouldn’t let her tie dye anything of ours) and owned a handcrafts shop. But those trips to the fabric shop are so strong in my mind, especially now – remembering how we got the pattern and the fabric was cut to the lengths needed, wrapped in brown paper with our name on it and put away in the shop layby cupboard til we finished paying it off. Then it would all come home and my Mother would spend days sewing it all.  No special sewing room for us in our small three bedroom Lockwood (we were trendy in the 70’s I tell you).  My Father made a sewing desk for the Singer sewing machine in their bedroom, that had shelves all around it.  All her patterns were stored there along with her extra fabrics, trims, fabric paints, wools (she knitted as well) and the very special box of buttons.  It was in an old tin of Mackintosh’s Toffees and basically it was all the buttons she got at sales and fairs, and that people gave her and we used to love tipping it out and sorting them.  I still remember doing that while Mum sewed.  She made everything – swimsuits, underwear, dresses, jeans for my Brother.  I’m pretty sure she even tried making a tie for my Father once. And every year we got a special ‘Christmas Outfit’ to be worn to church.

This all was part of a rather wonderful discussion with Madeleine (15) about how fast everything is now – how immediate. How easy it is to just walk into any shop and buy something that was designed 6 weeks earlier, made and shipped from China.  For a teenager with a definite quirk in terms of her own sense of dress, I was trying to explain how unique each of the garments on display at the Home Sewn exhibition were.  How normal all of that fabric constructing was.  And how it is so sad it is not so treasured now.  And how much we need things like the Fashion Museum to stir up those creative thoughts and move us back to being able to make out our things.  We don’t’ HAVE to make them (like I did – it was that or there was nothing new – I was sewing by her age out of necessity), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.  It is even more of a reason why we should.  That is why the Fashion Museum’s collaboration with ten New Zealand designers, and the patterns they have gifted, is so important.  The book Home Sewn, has patterns by Cybele, Sara Aspinall of Company of Strangers, WORLD, Lela Jacobs, Katie-Maree Cole, Vaughan Geeson, Turet Knuefermann of TK Store, twenty-seven names, Papercut and Laurie Foon from Starfish. There is quite simply something for everyone – I would make the Cybele pattern in a heartbeat and Madeleine is already planning a trip to the legendary Centrepoint fabrics in Newmarket so she can make the pretty little dress from twenty-seven names.  I used to buy my fabrics from there when I first moved to Auckland in my 20s.

If you can, get down to Home Sewn Original New Zealand Fashion Exhibition which is being held at the Nathan Gallery, 40 Customs Street East, Britomart.  Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 11am to 4pm.  It finishes on 26 September – so whip in during your lunch hour or try to make a trip in this weekend. Entry by donation. If you are living out-of-town and can’t get into Auckland, then the book Home Sewn with an introduction by Doris de Pont of the Fashion Museum will be the next best thing.  With many photos from the exhibition itself, as well as having ten patterns by leading New Zealand Designers and an entire section devoted to the ‘How To…’ of home sewing (by Katie Brown of Papercut Patterns).  It is published by Penguin and retails for $45.  You can buy a copy by contacting If you are interested in helping the Fashion Museum with it’s fascinating work, you can become a member by donating $100 a year (like I have) to help get their web-based Museum (the first in the world) up and running. Again contact for information. Also look for them on the web at or on their FB page here.

Photography by Michelle Weir

2 Comments on “new zealand fashion museum – home sewn

  1. In Morrinsville, my neighbour of 90 years of age, has kept her beautifully sewn and knitted clothes since she started making them when she was a girl. She also has designer clothes she has bought over the years when she lived in Auckland including Vinca Lucas gowns. They are carefully kept in wardrobes and drawers in her magnificent home she built in 2002. Shoes are boxed, hats kept, jewellery by the drawer full. I have always felt that here was a museum of NZ fashion over the years.
    I read in today’s Viva section of the NZ Herald 21 August 2013, page 17, in Michal McKay’s article that Michal is a trustee of the Fashion Museum of NZ. I have rung my neighbour to read the article. I said to her that I would find out about the Fashion Museum of NZ. She was very interested. Julie Sherburd

    • Wow! That is incredible! I am sure the Fashion Museum would LOVE to see what is in her collection. They have just opened their Fashion Museum on line – it is the world’s first digital fashion museum. Go to to have a look at it, but I am sure Dianne Ludwig who helps run the museum would love to hear from you or your neighbour. They may wish to photograph her collection if she is happy to let them. Her contact email is Please let me know what happens – it all sounds very exciting! The project is amazing and would be wonderful to be involved with! They also work with Te Papa to get as many of these amazing pieces into their permanent collection for others to see in the future…

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