Southern Lakes Tartan story of a life

Shona Johnstone with products from her Southern Lakes Tartan range. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Shona Johnstone with products from her Southern Lakes Tartan range. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Shona Johnstone doesn't like a fuss.

The 92-year-old Wanaka woman shuns any suggestion she is a businesswoman, insisting that her tartan textile venture is something that has simply evolved from a "fiddle'' for her family.

Yet people flocked to the Southern Lakes Tartan stall at the recent Wanaka A & P Show, eager to buy their own tactile slice of Central Otago that she designed.

Daughter Hilary Johnstone, who helped on the stall, described herself as "the proudest daughter''.

"For me, it's more than a tartan. It's the story of one women's life and she's translated the region into a textile artform for everyone to enjoy.

"She's a legend in my view and she's also the most humble and play-it-down type person I've ever met. Mum has left a legacy for the region, I'm just really proud,'' she said.

Mrs Johnstone's love of Otago's hinterland began at an early age and there was a photograph of her as a 2-year-old, with her mother, in a rowing boat on Lake Wanaka.

She studied at the Royal School of Needlework and the London School of Weaving and was an inaugural member of both the Otago Spinners & Weavers Guild and the Otago Embroiderers Guild.

After years tramping, camping and holidaying in the area, she was now happily settled in Wanaka.

Mrs Johnstone was inspired to do something creative for her family and embarked on a project featuring the colours of the district.

She eventually settled on a design inspired by the mountains with snow-capped peaks, golden tussocks, and the blue of the lake.

"She's passionate about Central Otago and it's in her veins, as she puts it. When we were young, she said 'one day I'm going to design a tartan for Central Otago','' Ms Johnstone, who lives in Nelson, said.

It was supposed to be for Mrs Johnstone's four children and their families but there was such a positive response that it had evolved further and the tartan was officially registered in Scotland in 2016.

A small family business, Southern Lakes Tartan now produced a range of throws, rugs, cushions, hats, scarves and upholstery and kilt fabrics, mostly selling online.

Ever practical, Mrs Johnstone bought a pool table for Christmas last year that was multifunctional - it doubled as a table tennis table, pool table, and cutting table in her workroom.

Both Mrs Johnstone and her daughter were thrilled with the response from the public at Wanaka A & P Show.

"Everyone has just responded so positively. Mum is at the end of every decision. We work together [but] Mum always has the last say. It's her baby ... I'm helping her give it legs,'' Ms Johnstone said.

And to have the time together with her mother, sharing such a special project, was a "real joy'', she said.

As for her remarkable mother? She was learning as she went, she said.

"I'm in my 93rd year, you sort of don't plan the next 10 years. I've still got a wee bit of kick in me, I think,'' she said with a smile.


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