New Zealand


The Block

Plant life in New Zealand includes over 1,500 species found nowhere else in the world. This block recreates a small sampling in fine cross-stitch and long-stitched embroidery by Del Roulston. Clockwise from the 12 o’clock position are a white, star-shaped clematis, a fiery- red Kakabeak, a golden Kowhai (the national flower) and a scarlet Pohutukawa (also called the New Zealand Christmas Tree). Silver ferns float beneath the clematis. At the centre is a kiwi surrounded by a border of ferns. Kiwis are small, nocturnal birds, which are protected in New Zealand and serve as the country’s national emblem. ‘Kiwi’ is also the nickname given to New Zealanders by people of other nations.

Weavers are highly respected by the Māori, the original inhabitants of New Zealand. They made fishing nets, ropes, baskets mats, and fine cloaks. It was believed that a talented weaver passed some of her mauri, or life force, into the garment she made. This power grew as the garment was passed from one generation to the next, making it a highly valuable possession. A traditional Māori tāniko design, created in traditional colours of black and red, frames the embroidery in the block. Tāniko, a finger-weaving technique devised by the Māoris, involves knotting together the dyed and unbleached yarns made of fiber from the harakeke plant, or New Zealand flax to form geometric patterns. The designs each have a specific name and meaning, and although flax can now be replaced by wool and cotton, tāniko continues to be part of Māori clothing. It is especially made to adorn the borders of the Māori cloaks which are also adorned with feathers.

Southern Alps From Mount Iron
The Southern Alps
Cliffs at Grove Scenic Reserve
Grove Scenic Reserve
A Māori meeting house
Maori meeting house carvings in Wellington
Details of the ceiling of a Māori meeting house
Phormium tenax - wetland 5
The harakeke, New Zealand flax plant

Cultural Profile

New Zealand is made up of two large islands (North Island and South Island) separated by the Cook Strait and several smaller islands. It is located within the ‘Ring of Fire,’ an area encircling the Pacific Ocean where movement of tectonic plates leads to volcanic and seismic activity. The country, known for its breathtaking landscapes of snow-capped mountains and rolling green pastures, was called Aotearoa, meaning “Land of the Long White Cloud,” by its original inhabitants, the Māori. Pakeha, the Māori word for New Zealanders of European descent, make up the majority of the population, followed by Māori. English and Māori are the official languages.

New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses on earth to be settled by humans: the Polynesians who came to be known as Māori arrived there somewhere around 1300. Māoritanga (Māori culture) has had a major and lasting impact on New Zealand society. Tā moko are traditionally done by putting pigments into cuts on the face and body using a bone chisel. Today, conventional means are used for the body tattoos. The codified song and dance kapa haka, in particular, has transcended cultural divides. It is performed by both Māori and Pakeha to honour a guest, mark a special event, or before sporting events. It has become a familiar sight for rugby fans around the world since the kiwi team performs it before its matches.

Architecture and woodworking are also fields where the Māori heritage is easily visible and still flourishing. In mareas, the communal meeting-houses, the tukutukus, or carved wood panels, each have their own symbolic meanings. Pakeha culture has also produced artisans whose works draws on the New Zealand experience. It is known for such handicrafts as jewellery made of pounamu, or greenstone, pottery, blown glass, and weaving.

Until the 1960s, the country was culturally isolated from the rest of the world, except for Britain. But now, it has become just as modern as other Westernized nations. The country’s remote location taught New Zealanders to be resourceful, helpful and extremely polite. A common thread that binds the entire population is its love of sports, and pride in their healthy, active way of life. Even though more and more people now live in cities, nature still plays an important role in the country’s national psyche and cultural output.

Sponsor: Pins and Patches Quilt Group | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons