The Nelson Quaker Embroidery sets out to tell the history of Nelson (Whakatū) Friends (Quakers), from its beginnings in seventeenth-century England to the present day. It is in the form of a series of rounded embroidery images, or roundels. Roundels 1 and 2 tell of the insight of George Fox that there is "that of God" in each person. This ultimate truth can be approached by a process of silent waiting and listening within. This insight leads in turn to the Quaker principles ('testimonies') of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Equality and Sustainability.
Roundel 2 refers to Fox's preaching on Pendle Hill in Lancashire in 1652, which drew a crowd of followers. It also records the subsequent persecution of Quakers including Mary Dyer (led to her execution by drummers in Boston, where Quakers had been banned), James Nayler (tortured for blasphemy), and Fox himself, who was beaten and imprisoned several times.
Roundel 3 is the most detailed, and tells the complex story of Quakers' arrival in Nelson as part of European settlement in the 1840s, and their relationship with Māori. The design deliberately contrasts indigenous and introduced elements. Efforts to implement the testimonies are alluded to in the representation of the Māori greeting or hongi, mirrored in the meeting of the finely-worked thrush and tūī. Points of tension are shown by the inclusion of the surveying instrument: a reference to the Quaker surveyor John Cotterell who was killed in the Wairau conflict in 1843. The New Zealand Company employed a number of Quaker surveyors, including Cotterell, and put them in an invidious position by its dishonest land practices. Cotterell's house in Nelson, also shown, became the first Friends' meeting house in New Zealand when it was purchased by English Friends in 1853 and gifted for that purpose.
The Nelson Quaker Embroidery began in a conversation between two members of Nelson Meeting: Lizi McLeod-Taepa, and Patricia Morrisey. Each brought their particular skills: Lizi as artist and designer, and Patricia as embroiderer. Lizi carried out detailed research on the history, and brought her deep interest in the Māori response to colonial settlement and efforts to find peace. In her design she wished to respect and acknowledge the truth of our bicultural history. Many members of Nelson Meeting have contributed stitches or in other ways. Sue Bowskill sewed Roundel 1. We thank Anne Potaka for giving essential advice. We are grateful to all those who contributed, and especially to Lizi and Patricia for bringing this beautiful and important artwork into being.
The sketch of a small dwelling [in the Friends' Meeting House, Nelson] aroused my interest in the history of Nelson Quakers. It was the first Quaker Meeting House in New Zealand. The Quaker testimonies of Peace, Equality, Simplicity and Truth are important in my life. I was keen to learn something of Māori people, their culture and religion, and interaction with Quakers. The possibility of an embroidered history arose from seeing other histories in pictures, notably the Quaker Tapestry and the Great Tapestry of Scotland - the Scottish Diaspora. Ours would be a mini project! [As it turned out, a three-year project, Patricia completing the stitching of 'Mahitahi' in Roundel 3 just a few days before she died peacefully in her sleep.]
The Meeting approved the project, and agreed to fund it. The embroidery shifted to a higher plane when Lizi Mcleod-Taepa agreed to design and paint the cartoons. We intended involving as many people as possible in research, outreach and actual stitching. We wanted to acknowledge Māori as well as Quaker involvement in the history.
The materials we chose were linen for the background and stranded threads in cotton and silk. (I am allergic to wool and Lizi liked the silky effect of the DMC and Anchor threads). Anchor was a very apt choice because an anchor was to be an important part of the roundel about Quakers' arrival in Nelson. I had quite a large 'stash' of these threads, which meant a small outlay on only special threads, e.g., metallic, pure silk, rayon.
Jane Couch, a member of Nelson Embroiderers' Guild, agreed to help us. She consulted Jeanette Trotman, advised us on needles and threads, and taught us some new stitches. She also lent us embroidery frames and gave us beads, special threads, etc. She has been our 'go-to person' for embroidery queries.
To appreciate the kind of people the first Quakers who came to Nelson were, we needed to look at their history in England. There is a copious volume of this. In researching it I wanted an outsider's view of the movement. The historian G.M. Trevelyan made several observations about Quakers in his English Social History. Among them, this: "the kind of persecution they had now to undergo, of stripes and imprisonment, enabled them to win proselytes by the display of patience and meekness under suffering. With the meekness went a strain of mild obstinacy exquisitely calculated to infuriate the self-important bumbledom of that time, as when the Friends refused to remove their hats before the Court that was to try them. Their protest against the snobbery and man-worship of the age was invaluable, but sometimes it took very foolish forms."
Also, this: "the finer essence of George Fox's queer teaching ... was surely this - that Christian qualities matter much more than Christian dogmas. No church or sect had ever made that its living rule before. To maintain the Christian quality in the world of business and of domestic life, and to maintain it without pretension or hypocrisy was the great achievement of these extraordinary people. England may well be proud of having produced and perpetuated them. The Puritan pot had boiled over, with much heat and fury; when it had cooled and been poured away, this precious sediment was left at the bottom."
As would be expected of such people they became very useful members of the little Nelson colony. Lizi's painstaking research resulted in a superb cartoon illustrating both Māori and Quaker lives and interactions. She later added examples of indigenous and introduced flora and fauna. We worked together on details and practicalities. Problems arose such as the fineness of Lizi's pen strokes being difficult to interpret in comparatively thick thread; the different stitches needed to turn corners (tiny back stitches); good strong outlines (Quaker stitch); shading on the tūī, song thrush and plants (long and short, satin, padding, overlay, metallic thread); the use of beads - and the search for small enough ones.
The stitches were first experimented with and then practised on pieces of the linen stretched on small hoops. The actual roundels were embroidered using a frame. I was very grateful and relieved to find that everyone who took part, set out to practise with a will before venturing to stitch their chosen piece of the embroidery. I think that the result shows this dedication.
I chose to design and emphasise a bi-cultural acknowledgement of our histories, by symbolizing the 'Indigenous' on the left and the 'Introduced' on the right (of Roundel 3). My desire is for these touchstones to encourage and promote peace and a deeper understanding of the truth of our colonisation and de-colonisation process.