Handmade Histories (the whole story)

Handmade Histories are large* fabricated murals. 

Like the Bayeux tapestry, they are hand-stitched, fabric-based stories. Not about warriors and kings and heroes, but about ordinary people.

I started making these when I was forced to take time-out from the treadmill of work due to ill health. This turned out to be a blessing as I thought, if I can't work, I can study, learn something new. And so doing a design course gave me time to explore fabric more freely and creatively. I could play with fabric, unaffected by the pressures of working within a commercial business.

Over the last 10 years or so, I have also recognised something else. Lying beneath the storytelling within the murals is a connection with my genetic background. Being adopted it had taken many years to tease out a few bits of information about my birth forebears.

Now I see these folk in my making. From the 19th Century my people who worked in the silk weaving industry of County Leek, England. And other Dalmatian ancestors who sewed vibrant floral embroideries on their folk costumes. Mixed in there also are the vibes of travelling folk in Ireland in their caravans, making and trading in domestic ware.

The journey of the murals has also lead me to a new purpose - to share the emotional, physical and psychological benefit of slow design and teach hand-crafting with children born in the digital age.

*average size of murals 1m x 4m


As a lifetime sewer and avid collector of vintage memorabilia there's always been textiles, fibres, buttons, tools, old toys and tools around me. My design process starts with what I have in my "stash". 

The first murals were made while attending a Diploma in Creative Technology course, Weltec 2009 & 2010. Using my stash was a frugal approach to the design challenges of the course. The process was - what resources do I have? And then - how can I use these to complete the design brief?

As an older student, after 30 years in the clothing industry, I was surprised by how little younger students knew about early life in New Zealand. This generation had no knowledge of people who lived before the flood of cheap clothing from overseas which started in the 1980's. The idea that you had to make your own clothing, mending what you had or reuse existing garments to make a new style was totally weird!

So, within the stitching of the murals is a homage to the everyday folks of last century who were by necessity, frugal and used resources carefully. Sustainability has therefore become part of my artistic process:

  • They combine story, song, theatre and simple hand-craft.
  • Their aim is to connect children of the digital age with stories about people of the past.
  • The layers of stitching echo the skills that helped ordinary folk live their lives before the availability of the technologies we have today.


Knit one, Purl one (2009)


Where it is now: gifted to Turanga, Christchurch City Library. Travelling around the libraries of Canterbury on display to the public.

The Story of a New Zealand Truck Driver (2009)


Where it is now: gifted to Turanga, Christchurch City Library. Travelling libraries of Canterbury on display to the public.

Mangawhai, Harbour of Stories (2010)

About: commissioned by Mangawhai Historical Society for a travelling exhibition, pre-build of a permanent museum.

Where it is now: Used for education in schools, Literacy Role Model Assemblies with Duffy Books in Homes.

The Mill is Kaiapoi (2011)

About: commissioned by Kaiapoi Community Group headed up by Jackie Watson [Chair of the Waimakariri Arts Trust];

Where it is now: on permanent loan to Kaiapoi Borough School and used for education

The Mouse in the Mill (2012) 


Where it is now: gifted to Turanga, Christchurch City Library. Travelling around the libraries of Canterbury on display to the public.

Manukau, Harbour of Stories (2014)

About: Commissioned by Lesley Smith, Director of Lopdell House Gallery, Titirangi, Auckland [now Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery].

Where it is now: on permanent loan to Auckland Maritime Museum and used for school holiday crafting programmes


Stage 1:  Murals

Murals start with an "I wonder" question. This leads through research to story planning and then creating the mural story with simple hand-skills. Some murals were self-initiated and others were commissioned (see above).

Stage 2:  Exhibition

The commisions for a mural about Kaiapoi, it's relationship to the Woollen Mill and early pre-european history lead to an invitation to exhibit 5 murals at the opening of "Ruataniwha, Kaiapoi Civic Centre", library and art gallery "Art of the Quay", 2015. 

Stage 3:  Banner Books
Teachers, parents, grandparents and children who visited the exhibition, loved how the stories were made and asked for printed replicas as a book. The Story of a New Zealand Truck Driver and The Mill is Kaiapoi were self-published as banner books - murals photographed in high resolution images -  in 2014.

Stage 4:  Workshops & Duffy Books in Homes
Publishing the book versions of the murals opened up opportunities: 
    • to run handcraft workshops for children with Storylines NZ, Sustainable Coastlines and other educational 
    • volunteer my skills for crafting projects at other primary schools (2014 - 2018) in Purura, Hamilton and Manurewa; the logistical challenges of bringing sewing and handcraft into the classroom has informed my decision to create a mobile self-contained sewing studio. 
    • the books also gave me credibility to represent Duffy Books in Homes as a Literacy Roles model (2019 - 2022) which took me into low decile primary schools in Northland; the response from tamariki and kaiako to handcrafted storytelling was the catalyst to invent and invest in, the "Sew Your Story" project

Stage 5: Sew Your Story