Vintage fabric inspires products unique to Stone Store

Two pieces of vintage fabric whose designs celebrate New Zealand’s bird life have inspired new products now available online.

A pair of pink bags made of vintage fabric rest against a wall.
Bags available today inspired by some of the earliest known fabrics featuring New Zealand birds.expand/collapse

The Kerikeri Stone Store is drawing on its rich history as the oldest continuously operating store in Aotearoa New Zealand to offer a unique set of bags with designs based on extremely rare fabric in the Kerikeri Mission Station collection which dates back to the earliest years of last century.

“We are privileged to have two precious items in our collection which have inspired this new range of bags and other products,” says Kerikeri Mission Station Property Lead, Liz Bigwood.

“One is a drawstring bag based on a very similar workbag made by Dory Kemp – whose husband, Ernest Kemp, later gifted Kemp House to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand in 1974. Dory was obviously quite taken with the tui design of the material and set to work making her workbag.

“The other bag in stock is a tote based on material ued by Dory to make an eiderdown, though this fabric features huia with rata flowers. At the time Dory made the eiderdown, huia were still in existence though critically endangered.”

Both bags feature a native bird on a richly coloured background, and the original cotton textiles were manufactured and printed in England in about 1900 specifically for the New Zealand market where they were sold as ‘Novelty Dress Goods’.

“Both our bags for sale are made from hardwearing hemp, which is fully biodegradable and has a lustrous sheen and a pliant feel to it,” says Liz.

“What’s really exciting for us, though, is that these very early authentic examples of Kiwiana are enjoying a second commercial life, and are available again – this time in the form of our bags, cards and notebooks.  A lot of people are amazed that such bright colours were commonly available in fabrics at that time thanks to the synthetic dyes that were starting to be used then, as well as the bold, graphic nature of the fabric.”

Careful research of the tui fabric by textiles specialist Angela Lassig has turned up details about its manufacture – right down to the artist who designed it.

“The tui on the apron was inspired by a lithograph by William Shaw Diedrich which shows a chaotic assembly of native New Zealand birds. We know that Diedrich himself drew largely on the illustrations by Dutch artist JG Keulmans who had provided the plates for Sir Walter Buller’s popular book A History of the Birds of New Zealand, first published in 1873,” she says.

“Not bad provenance for a bit of ‘novelty’ fabric.”

According to Te Papa Tongarewa, the fabric incorporating the tui is one of the earliest examples of the tui in printed textiles – and the museum has an apron featuring the same pattern, but with a light purple background.

“Māori were prominent consumers of bold prints like these, and their availability in New Zealand coincided with a growing public interest in the fate and conservation of native birds – which was a movement even back then,” says Liz.

“Our bags and other products pay homage to this wonderful part of New Zealand’s textile heritage.”

The bags are sold exclusively through the Stone Store, or on the Online shop.

John O’Hare