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WoolOn Entry Sparks a Creative Homecoming

First-time WoolOn entrant Lou Wycherley has managed to mix a bit of hipster fun into a design that epitomises Kiwi sheep-farming history.

Lou Wycherley

The Wellington art and design teacher has hewn high fashion from an op-shop find in Taihape - the ubiquitous Kaiapoi Woollen Mills blanket - this one in glorious pink and gold.

Lou’s creation is a nod to Kiwi wool culture of the past…the black singlets, shearing sheds, booming wool industry and high country farmer’s wives spinning, knitting, making, to keep their families warm.

Both her mother and grandmother were born in Fairlie, in the Mackenzie Basin. The stories of that life hold rich memories and these Southern roots laid a foundation of respect for sheep farming and wool.

“Granny and Mum were crochet queens and mum sewed most of our clothes as well as spinning raw wool into yarn for jumpers, shawls and baby blankets. My Dad’s sister also set a high bar for craft in many forms. These matriarchs have been with me on this journey, sitting beside me, guiding my thoughts and reminding me to take care with my stitching.”

Lou says the process of making her blanket-based design has bought back to her the skills learnt at home and in her early training as a constructor of clothing at school, and later Wellington Polytechnic.

“It’s been a homecoming of sorts. The WoolOn project has reunited me with my former training and through the process I have slowed my construction and rediscovered the foundations that were laid by family and teachers. I have loved this discovery.”

The Polytechnic’s Textile Design course incorporated pattern-making, weaving, construction and a fondly-recalled six week industrial placement at Feltex Carpets in Auckland.

“Memories are of a cosy creative design room with a wall of tufted woollen colour samples. And a noisy factory floor that smelled of wool being transitioned from dye bath to fine luxury carpets. There now stands a supermarket.”

Louise was challenged to enter WoolOn by brother-in-law Clyde Vellacott, one of the show’s hardworking volunteer organisers, during a visit to Alexandra.

“He printed the entry form and sent it in before I had considered the implications,” she laughs.

But the ideas instantly flowed with sketches done and a plan taking shape before Lou had even finished the holiday south.

Her wool crafting skills had been pushed to the back by life’s changes and demands as sewing clothes for herself and children as a necessity, studying and travelling took precedent.

She began teaching and has worked in art and design at Wellington High School for 20 years, occasionally taking a junior fashion class.

“I have taught students how to thread a needle and to stitch by hand, running and back stitch, chain and cross. We use hessian and acrylic because wool is so expensive.”

From concept to final stages, she has thoroughly enjoyed the process of making her 100% recycled garment.

Lou Wycherley garment detail

“It is special to work with materials that carry history, unknown and known and to transform the forgotten anew… less to lux. My design is comical and fun. Inspired by a sleeve that my niece used in a jacket I wear daily and a pink dress I saw in Queenstown on my last trip south. The shorts are the antithesis of what I see being worn and my Victorian attempt to cover more flesh, I hope stylishly and hopefully a little hipster.”

Lou says she only wishes she’d had more time to work through some extra ideas.

“I’ll just save them up for next time.”

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