Last week my sister the Chef and I were down in the South Island of New Zealand, having a road trip. We were whizzing* along on the road from Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth† when we whizzed past this sign:
I slammed on the breaks** and pulled over to the side of the road. The Chef and I looked at each other.
“Did you just see that?”
“Did that sign just say ‘Historic Miniature Bungalow”?
“Are we going to turn around and have a look?”
So we did.
And it was historic (1930s), and it was miniature (3/4 scale), and it was a bungalow (self explanatory):
This teensy-weensy bungalow was built in 1938-40 by 10-12 year old students at the Jack’s Mill School at Kotuku, led by their headmaster who believed in hands-on learning and wanted to give the students hands on skills and something to care about amidst the deprivations of the Great Depression. The student’s completed every aspect of the construction: it was even design by 12 year old student Rosemary O’Brien.
When we pulled up at the school grounds the sign said the house was only open on Sundays (boo), but decided we could at least have a look around the grounds and peer through the windows, and when we did, we discovered that the doors were all open! So we got to explore the house all by ourselves.
At 3/4 scale, the house is big enough for two adults to explore, though you do have a weird sense of being a giantess. You could sit on the bench-setee in the lounge:
And lean on the brick fireplace:
The doors were just tall enough for me to walk through without ducking, but I think I would have struggled to eat a meal at the tiny dinette table!
The house was built just like a real house, with electricity and running water. The students even managed to source a special 3/4 scale stove, bathtub, and sinks:
I had the most fun exploring the kitchen – I wished the cunning cupboards were still full of things, and that you could cook something on the little teeny stove. Mostly I just liked seeing what a 1930s kitchen would really have looked like. The most striking thing was how modern it actually was. In full scale, it would have been quite an acceptable kitchen today!
The lounge led on to the dining room, and then to the kitchen, and the dining room and lounge both had outside doors, but you had to go out on to the porch from the lounge to access the bedroom and bathroom.
It seems odd, but I suspect it is an accurate representation of a the type of bungalow that was becoming popular in New Zealand at the end of the 1930s (though it was quite innovative of the students to design and build one in this style). I’ve certainly seen houses that have rooms that were clearly made from outside porches that have since been closed-in.
Sadly, I didn’t get a photograph of the bedroom with its narrow single bed (double beds clearly being a slightly too advanced educational concept for 10-12 year olds in the mid-20th century!), but we did our best to document the pastel bathroom, with its scaled-down medicine cabinet and functioning water heater.
I didn’t try the taps in the sink to see if they would work, just in case they did!
And, of course, the famous 3/4 scale bathtub, which it turns out is just the right size for me to get stuck in, which I suspect is karma for having got in it in the first place .
In addition to the fully functional bungalow (which was used as the world’s most awesome home-ec classroom until the school shut in 1955), the students designed a garden built around the points of the compass, and built a small outbuilding for the house. For wood storage perhaps?
They also indulged in themed rock-gardens, which I can only surmise were a peculiar early 20th century craze which has since died out.
The rock gardens came with labels (’1937 Sammy the Starfish Rockery) and are protected by little corrugated plastic hutches. Can you see Sammy?
In addition to Sammy, there was a rockery for Disney’s Snow White and her seven dwarves, reflecting the latest cultural phenomena. The film was showing in major cities in New Zealand in late 1938 (it came out in the US in 1937) – I wonder how far the students of Jack’s Mill had to travel to see it?
The grounds also included the actual schoolhouse (very important!) and a hall.
The hall contained fascinating displays about the surrounding area, and work done by the students, like this modernist rug made from wool that they spun and dyed themselves in 1941:
Everything in the halls was a bit grubby and dusty, and while the bungalow was nice and cool, the hall and school were stiffling hot, and I soon gave up on the displays and retreated outside. I hope the students stuck in the hall and school on hot days at least got to have the windows open!
After the school was closed in 1955 the bungalow fell into disrepair, until the former students took an interest in it in the 1990s and worked to restore it. The information board for the school had a wonderful photograph showing a student whitewashing the chimney in 1938, and again in 1996 when the bungalow was restored.
The miniature bungalow, school and grounds are a now historic reserve, and are owned and managed by the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. You can read more about the school on the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust websites.
* And by whizzing, I mean driving along at 5kph under the speed limit, because I’m expressly forbidden by Mr D from becoming part of the holiday road toll unless the circumstances are utterly and completely beyond my control. But whizzing sounds better.
†At the mouth of the Grey River, because people giving European names to things in New Zealand ran out of ideas shortly after eureka moments like “Doubtless this is a bay, so let’s call it Doubtless Bay!” and “I’m doubtful this is a sound, but if it is, we’ll call it Doubtfull Sound”
** Well, slowly and responsibly applied the breaks while signaling that I was going to pull over and finding a suitable spot to do so. But slammed sounds better.
And we’re off! My first HSF ’14 challenge of the year is done!
This is the 1929 “Bulls, Bears & Bunnies’ dress, and the ‘Economic Sunrise’ hat. (The belt doesn’t get a name. It’s just a belt.)
I actually finished the dress on Boxing Day, but I only managed to finish the hat and belt this week.
The dress is named for the exceedingly un-bullish economic crisis of 1929-32, which perfectly covers the dates of the dress, and for the fabric: bunny patterned rayon!
I found the fabric at Arthur Toye’s in Wellington during the CBD Craft Crawl. Well, I say ‘I’ found the fabric, but really I was looking at all the rayons for something to make another version of the Garden Party dress out of, and Juliet noticed this and said “Oooh, bunnies!” and I pounced on it and said “That’s perfect!”.
So we had the polite argument about who saw it first/wanted it more, because of course there was only 3m left in the shop, but Juliet very nicely let me buy the whole length so I could use what I needed, and then I’ll be sending her the rest.
I say very nicely, because my dress took 1.9 metres (and I had to scrimp and finangle and play fabric tetris like mad to get it down to that from the 2.7 it usually takes) , so she’s only got just over a metre left to make a blouse! Such a sweetheart!
There is a lovely symmetry to starting 2014 with this frock: I started 2013 with the Gran’s Garden dress, made from the same pattern. It’s such a useful, versatile pattern for the summer (OK, slightly less versatile with bunnies on it, but still, BUNNIES!).
Unfortunately this rayon is a bit shinier and clingier than the Gran’s Garden rayon so rather emphasises bits I would rather NOT, as I discovered looking through the photoshoot photos. So in the future I’ll be a good little ’30s girl whenever I wear it and put on a girdle and longline bra!
I wear the Gran’s Garden dress without a belt, but felt this one need a bit more, so made a belt of ivory rayon with strips of velvet ribbon and a vintage buckle in darkest blue. Then I got ambitious and made over a fedora into a cloche, and trimmed it with a bit of cotton left over from the neck-hole of one of my early 18th century chemises, and extra blue velvet ribbon. Using the fabric from the centre of a chemise felt particularly make-do-y, and re-working a hat also fit.
The dress itself is only a nod to an era when sewing was about making do, and when every bit of fabric counted. Getting it out of 1.9m was quite an accomplishment in frugality, and it was helped by the fabric itself. Bunny patterned fabric is unlikely to have been used for adult wear, though novelty animal fabrics were very popular for children, but the small pattern, restrained use of colours, and non-directional print are all spot-on for the early ’30s.
I’d hoped to do a photoshoot in the dress on my wilderness road trip, but the weather conspired against me. Every time I was somewhere where there was an iron and I could press it it rained, and if it didn’t rain, it hailed.
So once I was home Mr D and I went for a drive round the bays and stopped at the boat sheds at Hataitai beach to catch these.
Just the facts, Ma’am:
The Challenge: #1 – Make Do & Mend
Fabric: 1.9 m of rayon at $12pm, bought in the Arthur Toye 50% off sale
Pattern: 1930s Garden Party Frock pattern, with curved waistline
Notions: rayon bias binding from stash, ivory rayon for belt, belting, vintage buckle, straw fedora ($4), velvet ribbon, scrap of ivory cotton. Thread.
How historically accurate is it? Very, except for the inappropriate levity of the fabric, and I overlocked the interior seams because I want to be able to just throw this in the wash.
Hours to complete: 9: 4 for the dress, and another 5 for the belt and hat
First worn: 6 January just around the house, and then on the 7th to teach a class.
Total cost: $26 Totally worth it! (did I mention the BUNNIES!)
Remember my post on ‘Doilie, doily, doyley, doiley, d’oyley’ etc? Less than a month after I wrote it, sometime in late June or early July 2011, this showed up at a local op shop:
It’s a doyley holder!
Naturally, I wanted it! But I didn’t need it, and the op shop wanted $30 for it, which I thought was ridiculous, and which I couldn’t afford for something that I really don’t need. And it was an op shop where I won’t spend silly money just to support the charity (there are ones where I will spend more because I think the cause is really worthwhile, and the money well spend, but this one spends too much on paying its CEO and advertising)
So I waited, and waited, and waited.
The doyley holder didn’t sell.
Finally, in January of this year, after it had sat in the op shop for 18 months, they replaced the $30 label with a $20 one, but that was still too pricey for me.
So I waited, and waited, and waited.
In June, the price got dropped to $15, and I was very tempted, but still thought it was a lot of money.
So I waited, and waited, and waited (maybe not quite as long as last time).
In October, the price was dropped to $10. I almost bought it, but in all that wait the doyley holder had been damaged, and the leather strip that holds the two sides together had been ripped through. And the label had been put on with tape, so would rip the inside when it was removed. Bummer.
But the week before Christmas I was in the op shop again, and there was the doyley holder, marked down to $5. That I could afford!
So, two-and a half years after my post, and after I first spotted it in the op-shop, I finally have my doyley holder, and can show it to you!
I think it dates to the ’30s-’50s, based on the marbleized paper in the middle, which I associate with the ’30s & ’40s, and the Made in England dome that fastens it. It’s probably not WWII era, but immediately pre or post is an option. After the 50s things like doilie holders get pretty scarce. What do you think?
And where is it a souvenir of? Is that supposed to be the Sydney Harbour Bridge?
Now I just need to decide what to do with it? Should I sympathetically mend the broken hinge? Should I actually store my doilies (well protected by acid free tissue) in it?