On any given night and into the early hours of morning, this past winter, most of us were snoozing in warm beds. But not Andre Johnston.
Burning the candle at both ends of a busy life, Andre spent her winter and a fair chunk of autumn too, hour upon hour, stitching, sewing, cutting, and perfecting.
When husband Mike and children Brodie(9) and Chanel(6) headed off to bed, Andre sat up in her lounge-corner sewing-room, meticulously creating a work so original it took WoolOn’s judges by surprise.
Andre(37) was the Supreme winner of the Rural Women New Zealand WoolOn Awards for 2018 with a bold dress patterned with super-sized cross-stitch.
Detail from Andre Johnston Supreme Winner
WoolOn’s head judge Simon Swale of Dunedin said Johnston’s ‘pixelated’ piece was contemporary and modern but made by using traditional craft in a highly-skilled way.
“There was nothing else like it. It was very clever in that it played to the traditional but the work looked almost digital.”
For The Love Of Spring by Andre Johnston
Growing up in rural Southland Andre watched and learnt from two creative and skilled aunties and an equally accomplished mother.
“As far back as I can remember I had a love for hand crafts and I started making my own Barbie clothes at a very young age. Mum taught me to sew, she sewed most of our clothing as kids but I had an aunty who loved embroidery and lacemaking and she taught me cross-stitch when I was about ten. I had another aunty, a florist who taught floral art. She got me into arranging, pressing and drying flowers. At high school I worked a couple of days after school for a florist.”
The tiny Eastern Southland township of Waikaka(pop. about 100) was Andre’s childhood home. There she spent most of her weekends creating… “felt craft to making cards, scrapbooking, soap making, making teddy bears, pillows, you name it.”
Things went up a notch at high school where Andre’s talents blossomed and begun to be recognised.
“My sewing teacher Mrs Hicks really pushed me and my love for sewing. She taught me that a garment should look as neat on the inside as it does on the outside and I have always stuck to this. I won the Clothing & Textile prize in my fifth and sixth form years. I also won overall in sixth form, the Hetanz Make & Model, winning my first sewing machine.”
That same year Mrs Hicks encouraged Andre to enter for the Otago Polytechnic School of Fashion and Design Scholarship, which she won.
The Polytechnic encourages students to enter competitions and Andre worked hard at these with plenty of wins and placings at the Hokonui Fashion Design Awards, Montana Awards, Dupont Lycra Awards and Pasifika Awards. Her successful garments have appeared at NZ Fashion Week and in Fashion Quarterly magazine.
Andre rates her greatest achievements to date as winning the Supreme Awards at both Hokonui and WoolOn events.
Supreme Winner Andre Johnston with model Sophie
As well as designing for competitions and making one-off commission garments, she also works part- time in a jewellery store. Naturally the dream is to design fulltime but in the meantime she’s content to sew part-time and work around family. The prospect is enhanced now with the possibility of having a studio, as the Johnstons look to move to a bigger house.
The humble perfectionist is a huge fan of international design stars like Alexander McQueen and Balmain but says it’s her family that give her the will and desire to create.
“Nowadays it's my husband and kids that drive me to keep designing and entering competitions. I simply couldn't do it without the support of my husband Mike.”