Postcard from New Zealand

Author: Carole Douglas

Carole provided so many wonderful photos for her Postcard in Embellish issue 54 that we could not fit them all in, so we’ve put them here for you to enjoy, along with her story.

From the call of the Conch in the Far North’s Hokianga, to the call of the Kokako at WOW in Wellington, to the call to ‘kai’ in Nelson, we set out to experience Aotearoa New Zealand through the lens of Maori and Pacific arts. We travelled from Northland to Nelson by bus, van, train, plane, and ferry on this inaugural Pacific Patterns Textile Tour.


1. The call of the conch. Welcome by Arama Wikaira, direct descendent of Kupe, the first Polynesian to set foot in Aotearoa. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


2. The guardians. Ramai Rapihana Ngakuru, direct descendent of Kupe, keeps watch with his ancestors. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


Our first stop in Opononi initiated us into the migration patterns that brought the first Polynesian settlers across the vast Pacific Ocean in small canoes with woven sails. It marked the beginning of our foray into textiles and from there we followed the flax, learning how to cut the leaves while honouring the plant, how to split them for weaving and strip them for the fibre ‘muka’.

3. John and Caroline Locke’s garden – a source of food, colour and tranquillity. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


Along the way on maraes and in museums, art galleries, cultural centres, studios, private gardens, design stores, exhibitions, op shops, and homes we were plunged into other worlds and ways of seeing. We met artists inspired by Polynesian aesthetics and used our own hands learning the art of tapa making with the warm and wonderful Tui Emma Gillies and her mother Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows.

4. Gerry Milsom’s acreage of forests, flowers and floating lilies inspired our senses. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


5. Hundertvasser Centre, Whangarei and the artist’s carpet hand knotted in Afghanistan ‘Yellow Ships – Sea of Tunis’. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


6. ‘Welcome Home’ contemporary quilt by Ron Tekawa, Hihiaua Cultural Centre, Whangarei. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


7. Forgotten Vessels, installation by Nature’s Gentleman and Sister S’pacific, Corban Estate, West Auckland. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


8. Artist’s hand, Juliette Taylor, art quilter, Auckland. Image ©Carole Douglas 2022. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


9. Pacific Pattern, the ubiquitous Koru comes in many guises! Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


10. Beating the Tapa, Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows, Tautai Gallery, Auckland. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


11. Engrossed in Tongan Tapa with Tui Emma Gillies and Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows, Tautai Gallery, Auckland. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


12. Tapa success. Workshop with Tui Emma Gillies and and Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows, Tautai Gallery, Auckland. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


We collected leaves in gardens and forests which we later dyed, stamped, and printed with the inimitable Merrilyn George in Ohakune. Over two days, Merrilyn gave us her all during natural dyeing sessions that pushed our boundaries.

13. The proof of the pot with Merrilyn George, Ohakune.


14. Contact printing success, Leslie Lockwood at Merrilyn George workshop, Ohakune. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


In Wellington we honed our flax skills and wove baskets under the expert hands of Clare Smith, who also drove us on a magical tour of the hills and harbour. Nelson gave us the privilege of working with Maggie Johnson and Colleen Plank, who kindly stepped up when Ronnie Martin became ill. Under their creative wings we began creating our own Pacific Patterns journal from items foraged on the journey. Leaves, sticks, stones, shells, fabric, paper, bottle tops and other ephemera were stitched, steamed, stamped, bound, burned, woven, and felted as we manipulated and embellished in new and different ways.

15. Finding the fibre ‘muka’ in Harakeke (flax) with Charmain Gibbs at Clare Smith workshop, Wellington. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


16. The first effort, Kai (food) basket. Clare Smith worshop, Wellinton. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


In between workshops we had back of house tours at Corban Estate, Auckland Museum and Te Papa with curators who revealed Maori and Pacific textile treasures. We had dinner guests who offered their views on contemporary textiles and visited artists Anna Crichton and art quilter Juliette Taylor in their homes.

All our senses were titillated: we ate Paua Pie, green-lipped mussels and whitebait fritters (in Nelson); we smelt the aroma of freshly cut flax and the salty tang of the ocean; we ran our fingers lightly over precious surfaces; we heard tuis sing and train wheels clatter and we saw with our own eyes glimpses of the immense wealth of New Zealand’s traditional and contemporary arts.

17. Harakeke, New Zealand native flax and guardian, Mt Victoria, Wellington. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


A major highlight of the tour was our attendance at the World of Wearable Art (WOW) extravaganza where, amongst the dazzling splendour of the performances, the ‘Call of the Kokako’ spoke of the majesty of Aotearoa and the fragility of the natural world.

18. 2022 WOW Awards, Call of the Kokako, Stephanie Crossens, New Zealand. Photo courtesy WOW.


19. Pacific patterns, a contemporary take on carving, Te Papa, Wellington. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


20. Old and new, (L) Wharenui, Auckland Museum (R) Textile Wharenui ‘Harikoa’ by Lissy Robinson-Cole and Rudi Robinson. Dowse Art Gallery and Museum, Lower Hutt. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


21. Flax, fibre, feathers. Traditional woven Maori cloak. Back of house tour,Te Papa, Wellington.


22. Anne Greville, tour member, in her bliss at Colleen Plank’s studio, Nelson. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


23. Judith Langdon creates her own Pacific Patterns under Maggie Johnson’s tuition, Nelson.


24. Judith Langdon’s Pacific Patterns found on Petone Beach.


25. Ann Greville’s Pacific Patterns journal entry with Colleen Plank and Maggie Johnson, Nelson.


We exited our 21-day Odyssey in Nelson with a ‘call to Kai’ (food—yes, we delved into te reo Maori) at the only restaurant open on the night of a public holiday!!! A fitting end to a tour to fit the times.

26. Exiting Nelson and farewell to the Pacific Patterns Odyssey. Nelson.


27. Learning the lingo – te reo Maori. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


28. Following the flax – the fibre of Aotearoa. Learning the lingo – te reo Maori. Image © Carole Douglas 2022.


Carole’s next planned Pacific Patterns tour dates are September 26th to October 12th with a 5-day extension to Nelson – can’t make this one? then contact Carole to let her know your interest. Contact details:




Carole is a well-respected textile artist who works closely with traditional artisans and small stitching units in India to produce unique items of timeless quality.

Through her shop, The Conscious Cloth Company, she brings us sustainable and ethical wares for the body and home.

Carole also leads small group textile tours in India and New Zealand.









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