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A textile tour of New Zealand: five fabulous places to visit

Jules asked about things that the textile and fashion enthusiast should see in NZ.

Sadly, there aren’t actually many exclusively textile and fashion focused places to visit in New Zealand – there is the NZ Fashion Museum, but it doesn’t have a building, so just does travelling exhibitions (and so far they have been more eye-candy than sink-your-teeth-into-them-and-learn exhibitions), and there are small scattered fashion and textile history displays at other museums.  Many of these are fabulous – just not all in one place.

With that said, here are my five top picks of textile-y things to see and do in New Zealand.  I’ve picked things that are open all year round, rather than special one-off events like Art Deco Weekend, World of Wearable Arts, or Victorian Days, so that a visitor to NZ could feasibly see all of them in one trip.

With a paisley shawl, Auckland Museum

With a paisley shawl, Auckland Museum

I’ve put them in North to South order.

1) Auckland War Memorial Museum, Auckland

Much as I love Wellington, I have to admit that the best spread of historic dress on display in New Zealand at any given time is probably at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.  There are special exhibitions at other museums from time to time, and small, but nice, semi-permanent but constantly changing (as any responsible museums textile exhibitions will be) textile and fashion related displays at museums such as Te Papa, the Museum of Wellington City and Sea, and the Hawke’s Bay Museum, but Auckland Museum’s costume displays in the design and decorative arts galleries are the most reliably drool-worthy.

Last time I was there there was everything from an 18th century sack gown, to a mid-19th century wedding dress, to Arts & Crafts inspired 1910s dresses in metallic brocade, to slinky ’30s gowns on display.  A good couple of hours of swoon-ing right there!  Plus, the Maori and Pacific exhibitions have some fantastic textiles.

Front Entry Hall, Auckland Museum

Front Entry Hall, Auckland Museum

2) Foxton & the Foxton Flax Stripper

There isn’t that much in the way of textile history left in Foxton, but I still think it’s well worth a visit, because Foxton was the centre of a unique and fascinating textile industry – the New Zealand flax industry.  Harakeke (which isn’t flax at all) processing was a major NZ export in the late 19th century and early 20th – rivaling hemp and sisal as a cord product.  It was also used for mats, and other furnishings.

In Foxton you can learn a bit about how harakeke was used pre-European contact, see it growing along the river walk, see the stripper in action, and (randomly) also visit a Dutch windmill in action, and learn a bit of general local history.

Also, c’mon, having ‘go see a stripper’ as your itinerary for the day has got to make you laugh just a little ;-)

3) The World of Wearable Arts & Classic Car Museum, Nelson

While very niche, the WoW Museum in Nelson is one of the only dedicated fashion/textile museum in New Zealand – albeit one that is entirely focused on the costumes produced for the World of Wearable Art Awards.  The costumes are mad, and fabulous, and spectacular.

A caveat: almost everyone I know who has visited the museum, including myself, has ended up finding the car section more interesting than the costume section (and my usual car knowledge is “What kind of car?  Ummm…small?  White?  Four doors?  The kind that looks like a bug with slanty back eyes?”.  While being able to get significantly closer to the costumes than one can in the stage show is great, they do loose something for not being worn, and after a couple of dozen, the novelty of the novelty really wears off.  The cars are more interesting because they have social history, and are intertwined with our past and the lives of our parents and grandparents.

4) Lillia’s Lace Museum, Geraldine

I’ve never been to, and have only recently learned of, this private lace museum.  But I have heard quite good things about it – apparently it has lots of lovely examples of lace, and bits of lace and lace history that are unique to New Zealand.  I wonder if it has any lace made from harakeke – because that was done!

I think private museums are always quite fun to visit – they can be really awful, or really fantastic, but the love and effort and dedication someone has put into creating them is always a beautiful thing.

5) Otago Settlers Museums

Otago Settler’s Museums is one of the best social history museums in New Zealand.  It invariably has fascinating textiles scattered throughout its exhibitions, and a fabulous dedicated Material Culture gallery, with pretties.  Highly, highly recommended!    (if only it didn’t have the world’s most annoying website).

Bonus: they are looking for images of your pets for their upcoming Cats & Dogs exhibition (I’m sorry, I just can’t do the ‘n’ thing!).  Felicity prefers to have her own exclusive forum, but perhaps your beloved moggie or doggie should be featured?

There are, of course, tons more things to do.  The Hawkes Bay Museum and Art Gallery in Napier frequently has fantastic exhibitions, as does Te Manawa in Palmerston North.  In Wellington there are the aforementioned galleries at Te Papa and the Museum of Wellington City and Sea.  The Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Museum has period textiles, and it, along with The Dowse and Pataka have the occasional swoon-able textile focused exhibition.

Of course, if you have time you really should see all of these!  And there is more!

NZ readers – what’s your favourite textile or fashion history thing to do in NZ?  What have I missed?

A final word: if you are visiting New Zealand from overseas and planning to rent a car, PLEASE BE CAREFUL!  If you are coming from further than Australia, don’t rent it your first day: spend a day resting, exploring Auckland or Wellington or Christchurch, and studying other drivers and the road rules.  Don’t try to do too much driving in any one day – better to see less of NZ, and enjoy it more, than rush through trying to do everything.  Drive slowly and carefully on our (many) narrow, twisting roads.  Pull over to let the locals past whenever you can.  And STAY LEFT!

Rate the Dress: 1880s resort wear

Thanks to my annual Rate the Oscars post, it’s been two weeks since we had a Rate the Dress.  In the last one, we looked at an 18th century riding habit.  By and large you highly approved of the slightly unusual colours, and minor quirks that made it just that bit different, but only by and large, not unanimously.  It did loose points for the colours (some thought the gold too green), and for a lack of balance in the proportions.  Still, a perfect 9 out of 10 isn’t bad at all!

I know it’s cold in much of the world, but New Zealand is baking under late summer heat, and is in the midst of a drought, so that, combined with my recent trip to Napier, are making me think of linen frocks and resort wear.

Which might lead you to to think I’m going to post something 1930s, but no, this week’s Rate the Dress is a different take on linen resort wear: an 1880s summer frock in sheer linen gauze and linen lace.

Dress in two parts of linen and possibly silk, 1886, Abiti Antichi 165

Dress in two parts of linen and possibly silk, 1886, Abiti Antichi 165

The bodice and skirt are separate, with the join hidden by a faux belt trimmed with the same sky blue velvet ribbon that trims the rest of the bodice.

Dress in two parts of linen and possibly silk, 1886, Abiti Antichi 165

Dress in two parts of linen and possibly silk, 1886, Abiti Antichi 165

Unfortunately Abiti Antichi doesn’t identify the sky-blue fabric of the underdress, but they do give us something even better: a photograph of the original owner in the dress, so we can see what it looked like on:

Dress in two parts of linen, lace and possibly silk, Abiti Antichi 165 original wearer

Notice how you can see the corset dents in her hips, and the line at her bust where it ends.

There is also a lovely close-up of the lace on the bodice:

Dress in two parts of linen and possibly silk, 1886, Abiti Antichi 165

Dress in two parts of linen and possibly silk, 1886, Abiti Antichi 165

What do you think of the frock?  Fresh, cool and summery?  Or at least as fresh, cool, and summery as one can be in 1880s layers?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


A sport ’30s summer suit – from stash

The third Historical Sew Monthly challenge of 2015 is Stashbusting.

Now, most of my sewing IS from stash – the problem is that I keep adding to the stash. :-/  Or starting a project from stash and then finding I need 3m of some fabric I don’t already own to finish it! :-p

I’m quite pleased about this outfit as a stash-busting exercise, because it’s from one of my oldest pieces of boughten stash.  Almost eight years ago, when I was just getting back into historical costuming, I bought ten metres of white cotton almost-piqué at an Arthur Toyes 50% off sale (long shall we mourn their passing).  I bought it because it was 100% cotton fabric in white for $4 a metre, so how could I not?

I has this idea that I would make a reproduction of the dress on the seated woman in Monet’s Women in the Garden, but I quickly realised the fabric wasn’t right for that.  I couldn’t quite give up on the idea, or the fabric, so it lingered in my stash, being hauled around and reorganised for 8 years.

This year it finally had the chance to be useful.  With Art Deco Weekend coming up, I wanted to make this, in white with green buttons:

McCalls 8257

Alas, I could not find my green button and buckle set, or green contrast fabric that really felt right in any local fabric store.  But the white not-quite-piqué was the perfect fabric.

So I hit on the idea of a handkerchief blouse in green and blue to match my shoes, and a sporty white suit with the skirt from the pattern and the bolero jacket.


Sadly I do not actually own that pattern, but I do have my own 1930s pencil skirt pattern, and the Wearing History Chic Ahoy Bolero pattern.  Sorted!



I am extremely pleased with the whole outfit.  Both pieces are so comfortable and surprisingly versatile.  I’ve never been much of a bolero fan, but this one is really winning me over.  The pleat darts at the shoulders make it sit beautifully, and the longer sleeves are a more flattering length than the usual short bolero sleeves.



So, much to my delight and satisfaction, some of that white not-quite-piqué has finally made its way into being clothing.  Sure, I still have over 8 metres left, but that means I can still make that halter dress I wanted.  And, ummm…about 6 more pieces of 1930s clothing!

And, in perfect timing, I found a vintage slim cotton slip in an antique store in Nelson that is just ideal for wearing under this skirt, as long as I don’t go do silly things like sit on an anchor and show off the hem:



The Challenge: #3 Stashbusting

Fabric: 1.5m of white cotton not-quite-piqué, purchased in 2007 for $4pm.

Pattern: My own 1930s slim pleat-front-and-back skirt pattern, Wearing History’s Chic Ahoy bolero jacket pattern

Year: ca. 1934

Notions: petersham ribbon, bias hem tape (to finish the insides of the bolero hem), cotton thread, and a zip

How historically accurate is it?: I’m not sure of the petersham finish to the skirt.  And I’m not sure about a side zip on skirts this early.  So.  70%

Hours to complete: 4 for the two.  Talk about satisfactory sewing!

First worn: Sunday 22 Feb, at Napier’s Art Deco Weekend

Total cost: $9 ($6 for the fabric – the rest is in zips and petersham)