Tuesday, May 5, 2015
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Home Sewn

Part of the Whangarei Endless Summer Festival Program

Whangarei Art Museum is once again – fashion forward!
Following the success of NOM*d The Art Of Fashion exhibition this year and our Project Promise Project Runway Whangarei Fashion charity extravaganza we are proud to present another clothing design exhibition and Whangarei Runway show in the New Year.
With a focus on over 40 fashion garments, HOME SEWN the exhibition, is a retrospective view of the home sewing evolution in New Zealand. The machines, the techniques and technology, the patterns and the fabrics used to create beautiful clothes at a time when off-the-peg fashion was scarce and expensive, are highlights of the show; as well as fashion illustrations, photographs, newspaper and magazine articles. Combined they provided the tools for many generations of women who wanted a stylish wardrobe that reflected the current couture of the fashion capitals.
The exhibition is also the launch pad for the New Zealand Fashion Museum’s latest book, HOME SEWN, which profiles 10 leading New Zealand designers, each of whom share a pattern from one of their stunning collections and provides an overview of our home sewing history by curator Doris de Pont.
The plethora of choice in fashion today, which could be classed as almost challenging, was not always so. Not long ago limited availability rather than a surfeit was the test. But Kiwi women renowned for their resourceful spirit were not to be thwarted. If it was the latest fashion they wanted then lack of choice was merely a hurdle, and easily overcome. They simply sat down and sewed. Hence a huge home sewing industry was born.
Such skills were honestly garnered. The pioneer women of our very young country regarded sewing skills to be as fundamental as those required to feed the family. Everyday clothes – from shirts and day dresses to underwear – came out of the home. Only the “best” suits or formal dresses were assigned to the professionals. Slipping off to the shops for the latest ready- to- wear whenever the whim occurred was not an option.
Needlecraft was taught at the knee and proficiency was handed down from mother to daughter. Fashion and style information came in the form of illustrations from the latest periodicals and publications or bulletins from friends living in the fashion capitals of London and Paris to whet the style appetite of the Antipodean woman. And if finished fashion garments were not at the doorstep at least there was an alternative. The paper pattern industry burgeoned and a domestic sewing machine could be found in most New Zealand homes regardless of family income.
A passion for fashion often originated at home. Dolls and dressing them up by making their clothes graduated to a honing of these sewing skills and were given expression in the creation of their own wardrobes. Home Sewing was a solution to getting what you could not buy whether through cost or availability. What DIY was to Kiwi men, home sewing was to Kiwi women.
According to Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins in a quote from New Zealand fashion history book The Dress Circle “it is a defining characteristic of mid century New Zealand that most women could sew and large numbers did so very skilfully.” The home sewing departments of the upmarket department stores such as Smith & Caughey and Milne and Choyce in Auckland, Kirkcaldie and Stains in Wellington, Beaths, Ballantynes in Christchurch and DIC in Dunedin thrived with sales of superb fabrics, notions and of course paper patterns from international brands like Butterick and Vogue but also local brands like Academy. If you weren’t in the home economics streams at school a course in pattern and dress making could be part of an extra curricular feminine education. And with nothing
like the availability of fashion design courses today, if you wanted to get into the fashion industry – it was very much hands on learning and experimentation.
The design careers of such Kiwi designer luminaries as Annie Bonza, Marilyn Sainty (Scotties); Liz Findlay (Zambesi) and Fashion Museum founder Doris de Pont along with their cohort in the fashion game are based on this - it was their early sewing skills which started them on the fashion path. And interestingly today a whole new coterie of young designers has recognised that knowing how to sew is a valuable asset in the development of an original and distinctive mark.
One who attributes her expertise and talent to her mother’s tutelage is Turet Knuefermann of TK fame. Karla Knuefermann grew up in Germany and arrived in New Zealand with her husband and two young children. A knitter from way back (known to carry on under the table so as not to appear rude), and a Home Economics graduate she applied these skills to the task of creating the beautiful clothes she wanted to wear. Karla's passion and skill were an inspiration for Turet and one of her superbly crafted and finely embroidered dresses is included in the exhibition.
As is the charming island print dress circa 1980 made by Fashion Museum Trustee Dianne Ludwig who, like so many of her vintage, spent many hours at the sewing machine creating that which she could not buy. Saved from the call of the ragbag because of its enduring style, it shows a fondness for buttons (these from the button jar of old discards kept in the family home) plus a penchant for the Fifties-Sixties era, Dianne says the sundress “is a bit of a reminder of my speed over accuracy approach to sewing – and life.” She recalls that weekends always saw the “very cool Husqvarna - a 16th birthday present” set up on the kitchen table where either Sue, her sister, or Dianne would sew. Dianne professes a love of sewing as opposed to knitting “because in a day you could cut it out, make it and wear it.”
Dianne’s story is just one of the many engaging tales that relate to the beautiful and once fashionable garments being featured in HOME SEWN, gathered from the closets of talented sewers themselves or the daughters or granddaughters who could not bear to part with their inheritance. Stories of love and loss, humour and sadness are the backdrop to these clothes and their memories, and are the very good reason for still being in the back of the wardrobe surviving “spring cleans”, and being whipped off to the charity shop or shoved into the plastic drive bag.
HOME SEWN is a powerful vehicle utilising the knowledge of our sewing heritage to give context to current practices in the industry and in the home. The review of past fashion and its achievement through home sewing is a historical record of our social and cultural heritage and the forces that wrought change through those decades. But what it also illustrates is a stimulus that has reignited the teaching and learning of past sewing practices bringing them back into vogue in the present.
The Whangarei Art Museum will be opening a parallel & contextual exhibition mid-January 2013 :
Make Do & Mend – curated by Scott Pothan tracing the history of home design and DIY from the Great Depression Era to contemporary artists of the 21st Century and the New Recession Era.
Paintings furniture and ephemera/gadets and more... information to follow in the New Year.
Images: Dianne Ludwig’s circa early 1980’s dress. HOME SEWN is a stunning compendium of ten patterns from the luminaries of the fashion world in New Zealand such as Company of Strangers, Cybèle, Katie-maree Cole, Lela Jacobs, Papercut, Starfish, TK Store, twenty-seven names, Vaughan Geeson and WORLD. Using the proud history of fashionable sewing which is New Zealand’s birthright it profiles each designer’s personal experience along with sharing a pattern from one of their stunning collections and step by step instructions on how to make them. HOME SEWN provides an overview of our home sewing history by curator Doris de Pont, including a range of personal stories, beautifully illustrated with photographs by Stephen Tilley. The package is completed with the inclusion of a series of “how to” tutorials developed especially for this publication and providing the reader with the tools to successfully create their own clothes at home. 
Home Sewn by the New Zealand Fashion Museum.
Available for sale at the exhibition and in all good booksellers nationwide.  September release (25 August), Penguin Group (NZ), RRP $45.00, Paper back with slip case cover (front cover illustrated below)
 For more book information contact: Rachel Dewhurst, Publicist, Penguin Group (NZ) rachel.dewhurst@nz.penguingroup.com 027 597 3670 09 442 7462 

Exhibition information contact whangareiartmuseum@wdc.govt

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