Visitors drawn to stitches in time

Chantel Jones with her most elaborate Victorian costume creation outside the Oamaru Textile...
Chantel Jones with her most elaborate Victorian costume creation outside the Oamaru Textile Exchange. Photo by Sally Rae.
The work of a group of Oamaru people with a passion for textiles is intriguing tourists exploring Oamaru's historic precinct. They include Chantel Jones and her partner Mike Anderson, who moved from Auckland three years ago, as Sally Rae reports.

During the height of the summer tourist season, a Victorian-attired Chantel Jones can have her photograph taken up to 20 times a day as she sews Victorian clothes in the Oamaru Textile Exchange.

"They just love it. They come in and are blown away by the shop and then they see the people," she said.

A group of local people with a love for textiles, including Miss Jones and her partner Mike Anderson, established TOTE in the Sumpters Exchange building in Tyne St and opened at Labour Weekend last year.

The group's vision was to establish a sustainable, world-class heritage textile enterprise preserving, developing, promoting and interpreting traditional textile trades and bringing them alive with contemporary initiatives.

Miss Jones and Mr Anderson have embraced the town's Victorian heritage since moving to Oamaru from Auckland three years ago.

They passed through the town, saw the historic buildings, a woman dressed in Victorian dress, a man in a three-piece suit pushing a bicycle and thought "wow" - and promptly decided to shift south.

"People in Auckland thought we were nuts," she said.

Miss Jones had always been keen on sewing and she has put her skills to use sewing Victorian clothing.

Her first, and most elaborate creation, was a blue shot taffeta costume she made for herself.

The best place to start was with a pattern, which could be sourced from the likes of Butterick and Simplicity, or from the United States.

For a "full-blown" Victorian look, you had to start from the petticoat to "look the part."

For her costume, she made a petticoat with bustle built from plastic piping, an underskirt, then overskirt and the bodice.

A chemise was needed to sit between the skin and a corset.

A corset was not difficult to make - "if you can sew a straight line, I guess you can sew a corset."

It took the best part of a year to make the costume and she made it at a Victorian sewing group.

It was quite comfortable to wear although there was not a lot of movement.

"You can't go gallivanting around. You've got to act like a lady," she said.

It was "amazing" how much fabric was used - 10m of material and 20m of lace in the petticoat alone.

"All up, you could be wearing 25m of fabric," she said.

Fabric and trimmings did not need to be expensive - the panel on the front of the bodice came from a second-hand outfit, while a curtain, which one hung in their lounge, was also utilised.

The hat was the finishing touch and she got a friend to help her, with high feathers the final flourish.

"Hell, if you're going to make a statement, go the whole way," Miss Jones said, laughing.

She was "absolutely thrilled" with the final result and also delighted with the reaction from others.

She was a shy person, and confidence was needed to wear such an outfit.

She advised people considering wearing Victorian costume to start with a skirt and a blouse and then work their way up.

Skirts and blouses were about $70 each at TOTE while petticoats were about $60.

Then all that was needed were gloves, a hat and bag and "perhaps grandma's brooch at the neck."

Mr Anderson makes waistcoats on the old-fashioned treadle sewing machines and does made-to-measure work - "the better way to go because it fits you like a glove," Miss Jones said.

The couple have about 20 sewing machines, dating back to 1887, both at home and at TOTE, where they prove popular with visitors.

"People love them. They are beautiful machines," she said.

They were easy to use and very little could go wrong with them.

"It's a rhythm thing. It's like driving a car. If you can change gear and accelerate at the same time, you're right."

Miss Jones and Mr Anderson are now also operating vintage clothing and accessories business Tiger Lilys from the same premises.

They were keen to get more 1930s and 1940s clothing because that was also a "very cool" era, she said.

TOTE, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, was going well, with a wide variety of crafts for sale, including woollen items, dolls, quilts and rag rugs, along with the Victorian clothes.

"We've come through the winter, still got money in the bank, paid our bills, so it must be working," Miss Jones said.


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