Family Stitch Stories

Introducing Yvonne O’Connor, member of One Stitch at a Time and collector of vintage haberdashery

Where are you from, where do you live and how long have you been sewing?

I was born in the Wairarapa. A rural area north of Wellington, on the lower East Coast of the North Island in New Zealand.

After moving around areas of New Zealand I have settled in Whanganui, another rural area on the West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand.

My Mother, aunts and grandmother were all dressmakers. My grandmother taught me to crochet. She was instrumental in starting my embroidery cotton collection. My mother, aunt and grandmother were all dressmakers.

I dabbled in sewing from a young age. I wasn’t that interested until as a teenager, when my mother was too busy to make dresses for me to wear to dances, I started to make my own. My mother set a high standard and ensured they were sufficiently presentable to wear out. I continued to make my own clothes for many years. Later my two sons came into my life. I made their ‘home’ clothes when they were small.

When the boys were young, I attended a number of ‘craft’ classes. The one that I enjoyed the most was the cross-stitch class. I still enjoy working with that medium. Creating vintage samplers was my last project I worked on. On my mother’s passing in 2008 I received a huge number of buttons and beading materials. The latter being utilised in the stunning bridal gowns she was held in high regard for creating.

You seem to have a real passion for creating textile pieces that have a strong connection with the past. Is there a specific reason for this?

I have researched my Family Tree, discovering that a number of the women who have gone before me were strong and inspirational. Each of them had significant challenges to deal with as they settled into a new country. They arrived from England and Ireland from 1841 through to 1876. The latter was my 2x great grandmother and her two children travelling from Germany. My 2x great grandfather died during the journey from Typhoid Fever. I feel the need to recognize these women and their journey.

In all your heritage styled pieces you use lots of elements, such as vintage buttons, pins, thread books and so on. Have you inherited these from someone or do you seek them out?

When my mother passed away in 2008, I inherited 6 x 2 litre ice-cream containers of buttons. My mother’s collection included those of my late aunts and grandmother. My grandmother taught me to crochet. She started me off with a selection of embroidery cottons. My mother made stunning wedding gowns. A number of containers of beads and the bits that go with beading were included in the button collection.

In 2012 my employment circumstances changed unexpectedly. As part of the healing process, I called on my ‘crafting’ experiences and began to create pieces to share with friends. They encouraged me to sell my pieces. Although I had an extensive collection of bits and pieces, I went in search of stunning fabric and embellishments to add to my portfolio. As I diversified my stash grew.

During 2016 I took a break from creating to concentrate on developing my new garden.

I am not an artist as such, but do have a love of creating. I have a vast collection of bits and pieces, either inherited, gifted or picked up on my numerous visits to Op-shops (as we call them here in New Zealand). My collection includes fabric picked up on my travels. Buttons and beads inherited on my mother’s passing along with her embroidery cottons. Which, added to my existing collection, is now comprehensive. I also have a couple of wee books focusing on women and what we have to say about the world.

You use old photographs printed onto fabric throughout your heritage pieces, is this a simple process? Also do you have to use a specific type of fabric to print onto?

There are a variety of fabrics available. I prefer to use cotton printable fabric sheets. They come in various sizes. The instructions are specific that one must use an inkjet printer. Subject to the type of printer it is a simple process.

The process I use is the same as Karen Teal has given in the instructions on file for inkjet printers in the files on the One Stitch at a Time FB group.

Have you any particular plans for continuing or developing work from the postcards you stitched depicting the women in your family?

2020, as for everyone in the world, has been challenging. In New Zealand the nation of 5 million people went into lockdown on the 25th March 2020. We were asked to stay home, stay safe and be kind to each other for four weeks at level 4. For us it was autumn, the weather was lovely. People took to the streets out walking where I live adjacent to the village shops. Often one person from the group would go into the convenience store to purchase ice-creams or a cold drink. The family would sit under the trees beside the church opposite and enjoy their treats. I finished painting my house!

A friend mentioned to me about ‘slow stitching’ on Instagram/YouTube. I didn’t act immediately but towards the end of last year discovered two women who create beautiful work. Anne Brooke, Textile Artist from West Yorkshire was my first inspiration. Subsequently I have since discovered the “sister-hood” on ‘One Stitch at a Time/52 Stitched Stories”, I was captivated by the work being showcased on this page.

I have a basket of items I have worked on since discovering these pages/videos. I have wanted to create pieces in this medium for quite some time but never had the confidence to take the first step. As a visual learner these women have inspired me to give it ago. I am enjoying the ‘slow-stitching’ process and the settled mind it brings during these challenging times. The basket my items are currently resting in belonged to my late ex-mother-in-law. Another strong woman of her time.

My 52 Stitched Stories for 2021 are following the lead of the team “A year to recover and heal, one stitch at a time”. I am loving this project. My interpretation has been thus far, that healing comes from the heart (January). The women who have gone before me were my inspiration for February. March is about gardening. Gardening has helped me recover and go forward and is a great healer. And April is about Autumn (here in New Zealand).

Currently my postcards, as they are completed are being wrapped in fabric and added to my basket of slow stitching projects. Three months in the bundle is growing. I had thought I would create a book with them, but at this time I am unsure. I think it is going to be a chubby collection of postcards.

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time

… Thomas Merton

Yvonne has just completed her April postcards “The autumn that surrounds me”.

They include; the acorn – a large oak tree in the church ground opposite my house. Flower – my interpretation of the Wattle and Loop tutorial. Ginko leaves – I have a tree in my garden plus memories of a very large tree in the quadrangle of the Arts Centre in Christchurch where I used to work. Landscape – interpretation of an autumn walk in Christchurch that I did with my sons in 2019. And April finishes with a full moon here in New Zealand.

Yvonne M O’Connor

Whanganui, New Zealand

Interview by Charlotte from Ribble Recycled

153 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All