Crafting a new life during pain, hardship

Rachel Guisolan is focusing her energy on creating designs for her small business Alice’s Thimble...
Rachel Guisolan is focusing her energy on creating designs for her small business Alice’s Thimble. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Rachel Guisolan’s life was turned upside down when she was badly injured in a horse riding accident nearly a decade ago.

Riddled with pain, it has been a tough road since then — and it still is — but she is now starting to dare to dream again.

An accomplished equestrienne, Ms Guisolan’s life had revolved around horses, with the ultimate aim of riding at the Olympic Games

— but when she broke the L2 vertebra in her spine and crushed, chipped and damaged her L1 and L3, those dreams were scuppered.

She spent a year in bed and still uses a walking stick, unable to do all the activities that she used to enjoy.

Having previously spent "99%" of her time outside, enjoying a range of outdoor sports and activities, it now was the reverse, as she knitted, sewed and created for her small business Alice’s Thimble.

"My life is just the total opposite [but] I’m loving what I do," she said.

Her business selling quirky designs, toys, knitwear and accessories, paid homage to her great-grandmother Alice, whose silver thimble — well over a century old — she wore around her neck, along with photos of her late labrador Rails who was with her in her "darkest days".

She was born in Switzerland and her family later returned to New Zealand and she attended school in Timaru. Sewing had been an interest since her childhood and a hand-smocked dress that she made when she was 14 featured on her market stall.

Ms Guisolan attended markets in Queenstown and Wanaka and the sales were her sole income.

Her aim was to eventually have an outlet so she was not so reliant on the markets.

She lived on a farm at Tarras, which provided inspiration for her designs — "I have ideas galore" — and she predominantly used merino wool, sometimes with the addition of alpaca or possum fibre.

At this time of year, she always felt somewhat wistful; she used to ride horses at Wanaka A&P Show, and it felt like she was "missing out".

She put the same dedication and love into her business venture as she did with horses and there were also some similarities, such as loading up the car in the early morning to head to the markets — just like preparing to head to a horse event.

Having always been in so much pain, Ms Guisolan said she had been too scared to think about the future.

For the first time, she was feeling hopeful. She had tried cannabidiol (CBD oil) and while it was currently unaffordable and unattainable, it had been "life changing" for managing her pain.

As far as her future, she smiled, saying: "I’ll get back to you on that. Watch this space".

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