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Published: 12 March 2022

By Andy Ross

Of a pig, some goats, high fashion and parliamentary wives

The West Coast of New Zealand is filled with dramatic scenery and equally dramatic weather! The West Coast of New Zealand is filled with dramatic scenery and equally dramatic weather!On the same trip that we took along the Coast Road to Westport, we stopped to pick up a piece of rimu furniture that we had just bought on New Zealand's equivalent of eBay. 

Rimu is a beautiful native wood and it grows in this area of the South Island, gracing the landscape with its drooping branches and patterned bark. Although rimu is no longer as extensively milled as it once was, there is plenty of furniture made out of the wood, and, with its golden honey colour, it is popular. Our purchase is a chest of five drawers that we arranged to pick-up on our way northwards. We arrived and shortly after we parked, so did the seller, Denise. 

After a lively conversation about the kunekune pig that snuffled happily in the swill bucket (did you know that it is possible to make bracelets from the tail hair of these pigs?), a chat about the goats that roamed freely in the paddock nearby, and the observatory building with a sliding roof that Denise's husband had made, we looked at the furniture but not before we talked about tweed. Denise was intrigued by Shetland Tweed and so we got chatting about textiles. And here is where things became really interesting. 

Back in the day, Denise's grandmother made dresses in the town of Westport. She was so well-known that parliamentarians' wives used to travel down from Wellington to Westport for measurements and fitings, a long way to come for a dress! Her skills were passed onto Denise's mother who not only sewed but also taught herself beadwork to decorate her work. Denise, in turn, took up sewing as a hobby and adores textiles, taking on responsibility for providing curtains to those in need of them as a community service. And finally, Denise's daughter took up sewing and now has her own fashion label, designing and making clothes in Wellington! 

Isn't it strange and rather wonderful how these things happen. Who would have thought that, in a place as wild as the West Coast of New Zealand, such strong textile and fashion links existed and could thrive, and it is all thanks to a set of drawers that we have shared in that story.