Story: Sewing, knitting and textile crafts

Page 4. Other textile crafts

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Embroidery, lace-making, crochet, tatting and quilting are all home crafts which were brought to New Zealand by European settlers in the 19th century.


Embroidery is decorative, fine needlework. It is used to embellish clothing, accessories and furnishings with pictures and patterns as well as for creating decorative textiles to hang on walls.

Missionary women were the first embroiderers in New Zealand. Hannah King was a particularly skilled needlewoman. Garments embroidered by her have been displayed at Te Waimate Mission House in Northland.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, girls demonstrated their embroidery skills by working samplers, pieces of cloth embellished with different stitches. Samplers typically contained pictures, words and numbers, including the maker’s name and the year in which the sampler was completed.

Embroidery was taught at schools from the 19th century and was part of the ‘art needlework’ curriculum offered by art schools from around the early 1900s – it was added to the schedule at the Canterbury College School of Art in 1907.

In 1970 embroidery was removed from the school examination schedule but it was still done by many women, and embroidery guilds were formed. In the 1970s embroidered woollen wall hangings were popular and women embroidered their clothing – even jeans.

In the early 2000s it was possible to easily convert hand-drawn pictures into embroidery patterns using digital embroidery software.

Embroidery rules

The author of the fine needlework course book published by the Army Education Welfare Service in 1944 was very firm about the correct use of embroidery on home-sewn garments: ‘People often talk about ‘putting embroidery on underwear’. That idea is quite wrong. Any sudden embroidery super-imposed on a garment cannot help but be wrong. All decoration must be as far as possible part of the construction of the garment or it must at least following the lines of the construction, having been planned from the beginning.’1

Lace, crochet and tatting

In lace, crochet and tatting, thread is worked to create intricate patterns. These crafts are commonly used to create doilies (small cloths placed on furniture), tablecloths, handkerchief borders, clothing cuffs and collars.

In England, Devonshire and the East Midlands were major centres of lacemaking and migrants from these counties would have continued to make lace in New Zealand. Making lace by hand was a very skilled and time-consuming task, and it was particularly valuable for this reason. Crochet and tatting were simpler crafts and sometimes used as a substitute for lace. These crafts were still practised on a small scale in the early 2000s.

The New Zealand Lace Society was formed in 1982.


Quilting is where two or more pieces of material are sewn together and filled to form one thicker, padded piece of material. Quilts can be made from large blocks of material or many small bits pieced together, and were commonly used as bedspreads. Patchwork quilts were a good way of using (and not wasting) scraps of material. Thrifty quilters used things like pieces of men’s old suits to make the reverse side. During the Second World War, when fabric was in short supply, cotton sugar bags were cut up and used in quilts.

Quilts for exclusively artistic purposes (wall hangings for example) started to be made in New Zealand around the early 1980s.

Cook Islands migrants brought the craft of tīvaevae (appliquéd and patchworked quilts) to New Zealand in the 1950s. Quilting was most likely introduced to the Cook Islands by 19th-century missionaries – tīvaevae are a hybrid of Western techniques and Polynesian motifs.

  1. A. M. E. Brown, Fine needlework: study course. Wellington: Army Education Welfare Service, 1944, p. 2. Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Sewing, knitting and textile crafts - Other textile crafts', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 July 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 Sep 2013