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Published: 06 May 2022

By Andy Ross

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Thrift to Fantasy

A calico apron was decorated wth a kiwi, mountains, tree fern and New Zealand flax.Home Textile Crafts of the 1930s - 1950s is a new addition to the library and is a fascinating look at this period, not only in New Zealand but also across the world. 

During the middle decades of the 20th Century, starting with the Great Depression and ending with the brave new world of the 1950s, women were largely responsible for home-making. As part of their daily lives women decorated and created cloths and clothes for themselves and their families. In this book Rosemary McLeod looks at history through some of the artefacts that she collected in this last great period of crafting in New Zealand and which were shown at the Dowse Art Gallery in 2002/3. 

While the book is about these islands it also illustrates worldwide attitudes to craft. During the Second World War Rosemary's mother worked in a clothing factory as well as in the army, and one of the pieces in the book is a photograph of a tea cloth that belonged to her, signed by the staff of the New Zealand Army Personnel Wellington Office, with the signatures embroidered afterwards. This piece was also signed and numbered with the owner's serial number. According to the caption in the book, the tradition came from 19th Century America with women signing and embroidering squares that were then sewn together to make a quilt. 

Throughout the book are reminders of the colonial history of the islands with familiar embroidery transfers from England and motifs from Paris making an appearance. There are cloths from Australia and the US, and in a particularly charming piece pictured on this page, a detail from a calico apron showing the mountains, a tree fern and a kiwi alongside native flax plants. It seems that creating a home from home for themselves has long been an important part of New Zealand's immigrant identity.