Making use of things we find

Abby Robertson wearing a woollen vest made from an upcycled blanket by her mother, Megan Robertson, while checking out a Womble in the Make, Do and Mend exhibition at Ashburton Museum.


The team at Ashburton Museum are always on the lookout for new ways to tell heritage stories, or quirky ways to share the identity of this district.

One way we really like to do this is to crowdsource our exhibition content. We get to discover the clever things that local people do or make, as well as the fascinating things that they collect.

We think of this way of working as being central to how the very best museums are today.

They are about people: the things that interest them, that they are curious about, the experiences they enjoy, as well as how they connect to the place and times we live in or can imagine in the future.

These principles have come to the fore over the past few months as we’ve been working on our latest exhibition, Make, Do and Mend.

The idea behind the exhibition was to draw out items from the collection that reflect the clever ways that Ashburton locals have made good use of the resources available to them.

These themes of creativity, thrift, need or problem solving tie in with a widespread contemporary interest in sustainability and the uses of renewable and reusable resources.

Beginning with the collections, we discovered all sorts of examples of local people making, doing and mending.

Everything from pot mending rivets (unheard of today) to homemade cake tins made from jerry cans, to biscuit cutters made from tin cans.

We also found examples of homemade textiles and clothing, quilting, embroidery samples, and a partially made gentleman’s suit jacket displaying the detailed work that goes into professional tailoring.

But perhaps the most fun part of the exhibition we got to include were things discovered through the people in our community.


Wombling fun

For a certain generation, any ideas about ‘making good use of the things that we find’ is a reminder of a catchy tune and group of furry television characters.

When planning Make, Do and Mend, it didn’t take long for the museum team to decide that this exhibition would be the perfect opportunity to introduce a new generation to The Wombles.

Of course Wombles weren’t known to have originated from Ashburton, so there was a shortage of examples to be found in the collections.

Instead we used our networks to collect up enough Wombles to be the basis of a fun and puzzling kids’ trail.

Within minutes of posting a plea to Facebook that “We need Wombles”, the offers came flooding in from locals and ex-pat Ashburtonians in Australia.

Trunks have been opened, spare rooms checked, garages emptied and old toy boxes thoroughly explored.

As a result the museum has been flooded with homemade and bought Wombles, Womble books, mugs, games and more.

And we may have set off a Womble convention in Ashburton.

Every Womble is named after a city or town around the world and, until now, it was believed that no known Wombles came from this region.

However, we’ve begun to hear reports that more Wombles have been discovered around the district.

They are believed to be visiting a previously unknown Womble, named Rakaia.

Just one fuzzy photo currently exists.


Bags, bags, bags

One woman well known for innovative ideas about reducing waste and making good use of rubbish is Lesley Ottey, who works as a Rethink Educator for Eco Educate, a sustainable resource education provider based in Canterbury.

Lesley also helped the museum team crowdsource excellent examples of waste reduction in practice, by sharing bags that she has collected because they are great examples that show people innovative ways to upcycle discarded materials that might otherwise go to landfill.

Lesley is concerned about how much of what is sent to landfill can actually have potential as a resource and not just become rubbish.

She runs workshops to teach people creative ideas, such as how to make shopping bags from old clothing.

Amongst Lesley’s collection on display at Ashburton Museum are bags made from old feed bags, reused clothing and woven car seatbelts.

They are showcased alongside examples of woven kete made using harakeke or flax, an important, sustainable and easily-grown plant that is native to Aotearoa New Zealand.


New from vintage

Another example of crowd-sourced items we have just added to Make, Do and Mend are upcycled blanket vests made by Ashburton local, Megan Robertson.

A vest made from a recycled blanket by Megan Robertson.

Megan sources quality vintage New Zealand woollen blankets from second-hand stores, as well as blanket donations from friends and family.

She upcycles these vintage textiles into cute and cosy vests for children, giving them a new lease of life.

She chooses complementary fabrics to line the vest, making a creative mix of new and vintage.

Megan started out by making a vest for her daughter.

Friends asked if she could make some for their children or grandchildren.

From there, Megan sold a couple on Trade Me and her business began to grow.

She approached a local retailer that sells locally-made items, who was keen to stock them.

Megan learned to sew at school and from her mum. All her designs are made on her home sewing machine.

Two examples are included in the Make, Do and Mend exhibition at the Ashburton Museum until September.

– By Tanya Zoe Robinson