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Published: 26 November 2022

By Andy Ross

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Of looms and sewing machines

Some of Maria Martin Smith's creations of period costume

Hokitika, built on trade in timber and gold and pounamu, the green stone that gives the South Island its name, Te Waipounamu, holds a fascinating collection from its industrial past. 

At the top of a hill, alongside the town's airport, is the Westland Industrial Heritage Park. Machinery from the Coast's 19th and 20th Century past have been lovingly restored, bringing back to life the activity that brought riches to the country. Although those days are gone, the machines that felled trees, excavated gold and fished the rivers and oceans are now housed at the park alongside boats and a lovely miniature railway that takes passengers on a short ride through the native bush.

One of the machines that drove industry on the Coast

It is sad to see the film in which huge trees are shown being cut down, and to see how destructive gold mining was to the land, but it is also very interesting to visit and hear stories about the tractors and motors, bikes and cars, boats and aeroplanes that were the mainstay of life on the Coast at the time. 

Alongside this history is another. Maria Martin Smith has an amazing collection of sewing machines, many from the period, and embroidering machines. She also has a set of looms, lots rescued from destruction, and, armed with her knowledge of woodwork, her education as a print-maker and artist, and her enthusiasm for the past, these machines are finding new lives. Maria has established not only a studio where she tinkers with looms and weaves cloth, but also a workshop at the industrial park where visitors can play with sewing machines and embroiderers. in addition, Maria has been making period costumes, faithful in their detail and intricate in their construction. One of the looms has been constructed by putting two four shaft looms together and then adding a dobby mechanism so that the shafts can be individually manipulated. This means that detailed weaves can be created and, with the parts of the loom coming from bicycles, window blinds and similar mechanisms, it is a joy to see too. As Maria has only been weaving since 2018, it is pretty astounding to see the energy and talent that has gone into this endeavour. Long live weave on the Coast!