12 Nov 2023

'Rural, rustic and exploiting my mother's talents'

From Country Life, 9:13 am on 12 November 2023

Five-year-old Molly Mabel, sitting on a shelf amid pint-sized winter woollies, is among three generations of women helping warm up the desire for wool.

The photo of Molly, taken perhaps a century ago, is propped up proudly in the corner of her grand-daughter Kelsey Smith's shop in Hunterville.

The township is in the middle of Rangitikei sheep country where, if you're not careful, you might bump into life-size statues of sheep on the main street as you amble up to Kelsey's store.

Kelsey Smith with her Molly Mabel clothing range

Kelsey Smith with her Molly Mabel clothing range Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Nine years ago Kelsey decided to honour her grandmother by putting Molly's name on her children's clothing label, which features pure New Zealand wool.

Molly was a great cook but it was Molly's daughter, Renae Rutherford, who had the secret talent, Kelsey told Country Life.

She knew her mother was a very good seamstress and knitter and when Renae retired from her previous job, Kelsey said "Have I got something for you to do!"

And so the knitting and sewing began, with Renae crafting little dresses from vintage patterns and knitting tiny old-style brownish-coloured jumpers in natural wool, with Molly's name attached on a label.

"Invoking memories of days gone by."

The label's size range has grown as babies of the first buyers have grown older. Kelsey has taken on another knitter to keep up with demand.

Woollen booties, part of Kelsey Smith's range of kids' clothing, which she says is all about supporting local

Woollen booties, part of Kelsey Smith's range of kids' clothing, which she says is all about supporting local Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

While wool off the sheep's back is going through tough times price-wise, Kelsey is among many trying to keep interest in the fibre alive.

Her shop, Hunterville Village Bookshop, also hosts a Stitch and Yarn group when people, from 10-year-olds to those in their 80s, gather in the evening to knit and crochet.

"People have learned a new skill ... they might have been able to share some yarn or some patterns or a good old-fashioned talking yarn.

"It's brought a really different group of people together that perhaps wouldn't have connected otherwise."

Kelsey says her clothing brand is all about supporting farmers, the wool coming off the land and local people.

"It's based on being rural and rustic and totally exploiting my mother's talents."

She hopes her grandmother, Molly Mabel, would have been very proud.

Molly Mabel, aged five

Molly Mabel, aged five Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

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