"I blame the chickens."
As far as excuses went, it was novel. The paper marbling tutor stood at the front of the class of 16 students, explaining why her beautifully prepared notes had been replaced with a hand- scrawled, hastily photocopied sheet.
She'd lost her car keys, she said. Then her computer had died. Her keys had been discovered, belatedly, in the garden. Where, she could only assume, they'd been dragged by her chickens. It had been A Truly Dreadful Week. She totally blamed the chickens. And then she handed out the notes and we were off, dragging sheets of paper through a seaweed-infused water bath, upon which floated swirls of delicate yellows, reds and greens. It was my first (moderately successful) attempt at Turkish paper marbling and I couldn't wait to try this at home.
Which was, really, the whole point of Wellington's Handmade Festival. For two days over Queen's Birthday Weekend, the conference rooms at Te Papa and assorted hotels hosted classes on understanding craft beers, knitting frangipani flowers and making cheese. There was contemporary tivaevae, lacemaking for beginners and oriental bookbinding: 80 craft sessions and masterclasses all up.
Handmade is an annual event but you don't have to wait for a festival to experience the arty crafty diversity of the country's capital. In Wellington, the bar you drank at the night before hosts a market the next day. One evening, you might eat tapas at a table situated under a canoe carved by artist Rohan Wealleans and in the morning, wander around his sculptures at the City Gallery.
"Wander" is the operative word. Our entire short break was conducted within a couple of kilometres of Cuba St's Quality Hotel. Two hours after leaving Auckland's after-work traffic, we were sitting in another world. Also known as the back of the Matterhorn, where the waiter said things like 'sweet as', and we agreed, as we ordered goat curry and the best venison tartare we've eaten.
For two overworked, perpetually stressed Aucklanders whose recent Friday nights had been dictated by the calibre of guests on the Graham Norton Show, it was bliss of the almost forgotten grown-up and romantic kind. Yes, I will have another glass of wine, thanks, my first craft class isn't until 11am.
My family has always made stuff. In the early 80s, my little sister and I had a lucrative market stall business that involved gluing googly eyes and tiny felt paws and whiskers to mussel shells. We sold our 'mice' for 50 cents a piece, and spent the profits on fudge and toffee apples at the Barrytown Craft Market. My sister went on to build her own house. I sewed my own clothes until a weekly wage taught me the joys of paying someone else to do the hard stuff (zips, hems, clothes that actually fitted).
At the Wellington Underground Market, in the Frank Kitts car park from 10am to 4pm every Saturday, the joy of crafting is alive and well. We drank excellent coffee from cornstarch cups and I dithered between red and green necklaces from Stephanie Cahorel Ceramics. Once a month, the weekly market grows to encompass a theme: look out for a pantry party on August 18 and in September and October, the Indie Fashion markets. Back in June, the theme was craft. I consulted my Handmade course materials lists and spent a small fortune on retro print fabrics from the Stitchbird stall. Today paper marbling, tomorrow, an 'Albert' toy. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Clutching multiple sheets of freshly marbled paper, I tramped to the top end of Cuba St where Wellington's fabric rebels had shucked off their weekday suits. There wasn't a black coat, or a sensible tie, to be seen. Marigold, turquoise and scarlet- clad shoppers browsed vintage, retro and other things impossible to find in chain stores. I spent a lot on a new wallet from Madame Fancy Pants and had to be dragged away from the $60 secondhand set of spice containers at Hunters and Collectors (they're still there - I checked when I was in the city for work last month).
We went to Havana Bar for dinner, down a side street and into a pair of cottages, where we sat under the Wealleans canoe and declared a $9 serve of roast butternut gratin with pecorina and sage crumb the stand-out dish. The Georges Michel rose was good too. More? Yes please, my next craft class wasn't until 11am.
But first, breakfast. The City Market is craft for eaters, undercover in the atrium of the Chaffers Dock Building (across the walkway from the fruit and vege markets, next door to Te Papa). Try our delicious honey, said the vendor and we did. Another sliced fresh slabs of Doyenne du Comice pear. Martin Bosley's bacon buttie with free-range eggs were just $6 (his restaurant degustation menu - also recommended - is $150 a head, without wine). Artisan producers, fantastic produce, and then it was 11am.
Flora Waycott and Lindsey Gray, are collectively, Flora Gray: 'A creative, like-minded design duo, we create friendly homewares, friendly toys and prints, which are of course friendly, while drinking lots of tea.'
That's what it says on their blog, and everything about their Albert toy class (including the multiple types of tea on offer) confirmed the marketing pitch. It's been about 100 years since I learned the invaluable art of sewing, at an intermediate school manual training class. My ancient Singer machine still hems pants, but it had, until recently, never sewn a little monster with one backwards ear and red-spotted paws. They're cute and addictive, and they make me smile every time I look at them. I have a cupboard full of them now. They remind me of Wellington.
Kim Knight was hosted by Positively Wellington Tourism.
- © Fairfax NZ News