From various crafts, these four hands-on makers know why good things take time.
“Everyone needs a hat,” says the talented Dawei Zhang. With a background in fine arts and fashion design he is the fitting second designer of Dollie Vardin, an iconic local hat brand by Ailie Miller.
Working for a brand with such an elegant history is an honour. Sitting in his home studio Zhang looks over to a black and white photograph of a Dollie Vardin hat, which is probably older than him.
Zhang, 26, started learning millinery from Miller four years ago and quickly became a fixture in the company. “Ailie said she was going to shut the business and I said ‘no, definitely not’,” says Zhang. “I still want people to wear hats because they are so beautiful.”
His home studio is full of vintage hats, either on display or in a pile to be restored. However, Zhang has not designed a hat for himself. He tugs his beanie and says his face does not suit a proper hat.
The designer relishes traditional methods of hat making, such as hours of hand sewing. He also works with new technology, like laser cutting for an upcoming ‘shinning mirror hat’. Sculptural and graphic elements of hat design are favoured because they draw on Zhang’s fine art skills.
“Everything is very quick these days but I wish people had more patience,” he says. A Dollie Vardin hat takes 30 hours or more to make and includes consultation and fittings. “I hope people will love the hats and tell everyone Dollie Vardin is back”.
Alan Elliott bought his pre-owned fringe making machine in 1988 simply because he needed a job. Elliott, 62, still toils with the machine, which is at least 60-years-old itself.
From his Takanini premises he provides fringing for showrooms and local fashion designers like Kate Sylvester. But surprisingly, his fringe is most sought after by dog shows, for ribbons.
When asked how much fringing walks out the door he responds: “How long is a piece of string?” After some calculation, that string is around 30,000 metres a year. “It adds up after a while.”
Because there is “no fancy technology” he threads all 50 needles himself. A job that is especially difficult for Elliott because he has Parkinson’s. “Some days the hands don’t work too well,” he says. “But we battle on.”
And battle on he does. Elliott is the only fringe maker in New Zealand – there was only one other when he started 28 years ago. The work is seasonal for Elliott, who mostly works solo. And although he admits the work can be monotonous, it is also very satisfying.
Elliott says it is unfortunate that people shop for price over quality but he perseveres with his product. The yarn he uses may be the same as overseas fringe makers but he puts more yarn into each bit of fringing so it hangs properly.
“It’s fairly basic once you know how it all works,” Elliott says. “You set the pattern, you set the needles up, and away you go.”
Andrew Ridley was an engineer who worked on diesel generators around the Pacific Islands until he ran out of room in his workshop. He moved into a shared space with North Shore Pleaters and the owners trained Ridley up to take over the business, now named NZ Pleaters. The training took a long time.
Ridley, 57, has been pleating for 18 years, and he is training his daughter Sarah, 29, so she can continue the only pleating business left in New Zealand. “I’m it,” says Ridley, who has created pleats for most New Zealand fashion designers – including WORLD, Zambesi, and Andrea Winkelmann.
The pleating trend is part of the fashion cycle. Although the last few years have been quiet, business is now picking up and Ridley believes pleats are going to be even more popular during the next few years. Currently in vogue is knife pleating, like you see in kilts, and sunray pleating, “the Marilyn Monroe style”.
The Ridleys work with three “old but good quality” machines but a lot of the work is done by hand. “The old-fashioned way is the only way,” he says. Cardboard folders help set the pleats, which are also processed in a high-temperature steamer. Last year the father-daughter team pleated around 15,000 metres of fabric.
Although he wasn’t into fashion at first, Ridley now finds himself looking through shops for the latest pleat trends. And he puts his engineering skills to good use, being “a little inventive” to find new aspects in the pleating process.
The Leather Maker
“It all comes from a lifestyle of less is more,” says accessories designer Amelia Boland. Excited by items that can be kept for a lifetime, she began her eponymous bag brand three years ago.
Working part-time as a visual merchandiser, Boland makes her bags at home and attends to every detail, down to the accounting. “Working from home in my own environment is really nice. I have complete autonomy,” she says. “It’s stressful but it’s nice to know my signature is on everything.”
It takes Boland around three hours to make one bag by hand, and she’s a natural. “My mum was a sewer and dad was a mechanic and I’ve found a middle ground,” says Boland. “It’s like construction but with a sewing machine.”
Sustainability is very important to Boland and her leather and hardware is sourced from local suppliers. Her range is simple to appeal to a wide range of wardrobes. And because most of her bags are made to order, Boland can ensure each bag is just right for the end user. The designer wants her bags to last — she asks her friends whenever she catches up with them how their bag is aging and developing.
Most popular are her totes, hip bags and pouches, that are available on her website, The Market NZ and two new retailers – Charlie Who in Taupo and Perriam in Wanaka. In the near future Boland hopes to collaborate with other New Zealand brands and open a shared retail space.