the Roslyn quilt


Ages back when my quilting machine was on the blink, I went through a phase of tying my quilts.  This coincided with a period of feeling rather overwhelmed by machine quilting.  Nothing I attempted ever looked good enough to my super critical eye.

I decided – with a humph! – that I would tie everything with perle cotton.  A sure fire way to turn the mounting pile of finished patchwork tops into cosy quilts for our laps and beds. However, I also remember writing that one of this method’s benefits was that later, should I want to – or should my confidence with the machine increase – the little cotton knots could act as basting and I’d be able to machine quilt the piece, pulling out the ties as I went.

Well, guess what!  That’s exactly how it worked :-)  This here little quilt – made from charm squares my Mum bought home from her last trip to Canada – was tied a couple of years back and popped onto the back of our sofa.  Its lovely woollen blanket backing cosied our laps and its very cheerful colours warmed our shadowy living room.  But there was something extra special about this quilt.

Its blanket backing is a New Zealand Roslyn Health blanket – you can read all about it here – woven literally down the road from one of my sweet Aunties.   She needed a special quilt this year – or last year now, I should say – so it seemed very appropriate that I share this little one with her.  I gave it a gentle wash and set to requilting it – with my funny flowers and swirls – just in time to send it home to her for Christmas, with my uncle who was in town for a conference.

She just loves it – especially the provenance of the blanket – and they were going to take a drive to see if they could work out where the Roslyn Woollen Mills once stood.  Isn’t it amazing that such a vast establishment, one that made the most of all the beautiful wool produced by New Zealand and its many sheep (they even wove woollen bathing suits!), one that employed so many hundreds of people, one that then shipped their lovely products all around the world, could then be quietly subsumed by a growing town, and one day not be there at all.  My Aunt and Uncle, who have lived in Dunedin for many years, did not even know of its existence.

the label

the back

close up of quilting

After thinking about this requilting for most of the year, it had to be done lickety-split in the week after finishing the teacher’s Christmas presents and sending Mum off to Canada – and us preparing to travel up to Merimbula for Christmas.  A bit of a rush to be sure.  And the weather wasn’t at all compliant – lots of rain and grey days – so there was a last minute, frantic gentle pressing with a warm iron to remove the last vestiges of damp! Ah well, we got there in the end.

I’m very pleased with my little flower trees, but my border quilting still needs a quite a bit of refining.  I think I’m pedalling too fast which means there are a lot of “whoops!” and “oh dear” and “bugger, that wasn’t where I meant to go”.  Practice, practice, practice, hey?!

so windy

left hand side


closeup of yellow

So now this sunny little quilted blanket has journeyed all the way back to the small town on the chilly southern coast of New Zealand where it was originally woven many many decades ago.  It lives folded neatly on the back of my Aunt’s sofa and she’s already sent photos of it being put to good use on their regular chilly nights, draped about her knees as she sits before her fire, planning her beautiful garden beds.

Such a lovely adventure for one little quilt.


sweetwater squares and a wee Roslyn blanket

My extra simple, sweetwater quilt was indeed finished off with the contrasting binding slip stitched into place last Friday eve.  Bliss!

I’m so pleased with the tying.  You can sort of see here how I made simple crosses before tying the thread off – double cross stitches and three layered knots.

I’m especially pleased with how soft the quilt is.  It drapes beautifully – a heavily quilted quilt is so much heavier and more rigid.  This is pure softness – just right for snuggling.

The fabrics are so lovely – they look so much like boardshorts that this quilt will always be a “summer” quilt to me.  And I love the plain fabrics too – I’m really getting into plain fabrics.  Isn’t that ballet pink so pretty?  I’m contemplating buying a few of those plain jelly rolls from Moda and then paying Abby to cut a heap of my scraps up into 2 1/2 inch squares and making a ginormous sort of Irish chain quilt.  Mmmm ….  or I could be truly lazy and extravagant, leave Abby out of the equation, and just indulge in some of the mini-charm packs to go with the jelly rolls.  There are so many lovely ranges to choose from … Chateau Rouge, Everlastings, Flirt,  La Belle Fleur, The Morris Apprentice … we are utterly spoiled for fabric choices aren’t we.

I love how the cross stitches “dimple” the blanket backing – so pretty.  And this one has a lovely check.  Mmmmmm ….

And I carefully made sure to incorporate the label (I usually have to trim the blankets to fit the quilt tops – but I try to use as much of the blanket as I can, and then save all the scraps for smaller projects and bunting etc.) – it’s a Roslyn Health Blanket from New Zealand.  I bet it’s from the South Isle – that’s where most of the sheep are – I googled it and it seems there’s even a suburb named Roslyn in Dunedin (the southern most city of the South Isle) .  A-ha!  Now the power of the internet comes to fore.  There was indeed a woollen mill in Roslyn – it stood in the centre of 14 acres on Kaikorai Road.  The owners were Mr. Ross and Mr. Glendenning (oh that makes me think of The Paradise!)

(source:  Encyclopaedia of New Zealand – Agricultural Processing Industries)

Eeeeeee!  Look at this – I even found a picture of the mill – goodness me, it was quite a concern.  The mill itself was famous for its immensity and strength – needed to counter the vibrations of the heavy machinery.  Behind was the wool store where the bales arrived and were sorted.  There’s a fabulous article here that describes in great detail the mill’s operations.  They had knitting machines for pants, shirts and stockings, and were famous for their weaving of cloth, yarn, flannels, blankets, plaids, tweeds, and rugs.  And mands.  I don’t know what mands are – do you?  I’ve tried looking it up to no avail.  By 1938, they were even making saucy pink swimming suits!  Check this out! (unfortunately I can’t download a copy as it’s available for sale)

( source: Hocken Collections, Library, University of Otago)
I’m assuming these folk are staff from the Mill – there are no further details,
but the university’s website is interactive and there are sections
where members of the public can add detail – so if you know anything!

The mill was such a modern wonder that, when this article was written in 1882, it even had a telephone and Joel’s electric lamps.  The writer predicted that the mill would provide jobs for many of the colony’s hands.  And that it did until the 1960s when the newfangled, man-made (read revolting) textiles began to challenge wool’s supremacy.  In 1960 there were 18 mills in New Zealand producing 10,000 tonnes of yarn, 3 million square metres of woven fabric, 223,000 pairs of blankets, and 67,000 rugs.  By 2000, all of the major mills had closed.  Heartbreaking.  Whilst it doesn’t mention the Rosyln Mill’s demise specifically, the Mosgiel Mill – which merged with the Roslyn Mill in the 1960s – closed in 1980 after 110 years of operation.

(source: Hocken Collections, Library, University of Otago)
Mounting Room

(source: Hocken Collections, Library, University of Otago)
Work room, 1938

(source: Hocken Collections, Library, University of Otago)
Worsted Room, 1938 … oh my, how hard they must have worked.  I find myself peering closely into the face of that young girl in the middle of the front row and whispering … “I have one of your blankets here!  It’s still so beautiful!” and wondering what became of her.  Did she have a family?  Did they stay in Dunedin?
What are her memories of the mill?

Oh my!  You’ve got to look at this – a job advertisement for a new manager for the Roslyn Mill, upon the death of the former manager.  They employed 800 hands and offered a liberal salary …

(source:  The Age, Dec 14, 1941) – that’s our local Melbourne paper :-)

As I think about the plethora of woollen mills that were once scattered across Australia and New Zealand – such a vibrant, vital and creative contribution to our communities – that are now closed, and the number of beautiful woollen blankets that were firmly tucked into people’s beds before the advent of doonas, I feel quite a sense of loss.  All that cleverness, all that work, all that beauty.  Just vanished – poof!  It makes me feel quite anxious that these blankets – probably the only tangible reminders of the glory days – will one day just disappear.  When my future grandchildren visit op-shops I daresay there will be no blankets to find then.  Eeeeee!  Makes me determined to visit every op-shop I pass and greedily hoard these gorgeous things.  I’ve met people who have told me how they’ve taken old family blankets to the DUMP.  Sacre bleu!!

I love the effort and time that was put into the warps and wefts, the colours, the labels, the blanket stitched edgings …  I actually met someone last year whose family OWNED one of the woollen mills (I even have some of their blankets which delighted him no end) – he described being all a bit impatient of his family’s blankets as a teenager – but secretly really loving being part of it all – hanging out at the mill, being there when the bales of wool were delivered.  He confessed that he actually thought one of their rivals did a better blanket stitch … that just made me giggle, the thought of this then young man – adventurous yet sweet – making a quiet study of blanket stitching.

I shall never have enough.  I know that sounds greedy.  But it’s true.  I love them so. Especially their labels.  And their stories – real or imagined.   Truly, tonight I feel so very fortunate that I was able to discover so much about this one wee blanket’s heritage.   Just tickled pink … ballet pink that is ;-)