For as long as her family can remember Shona Johnstone dreamed of creating a Southern Lakes tartan reflecting the environment she loves.
Shona, now aged 92, produced her appealing tartan design some five years ago, using early skills learned as a student at the Royal School of Needlework and London School of Weaving.
She has lived for many years in Wanaka and the tartan, which she initially designed for herself and her family, is inspired by the mix of colours associated with Central Otago.
“After many trials on the loom the colours of the region came together. I felt I had captured the essence and the subtlety of the Central Otago landscape in a woven form and the Southern Lakes tartan was born,” says Shona. “For me it portrays the lake and the tussock hills, the snow of winter and the dark shadows of the peaks that I love so much.”
Shona sought the services of a Petone weaving and artisan textile making company, to help make a dozen or so rugs for her children and grandchildren – and that’s when things took a new direction.
“An upholsterer saw the tartan, when Shona was creating a saddle blanket for an old rocking horse, and suggested it should be registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans. She had to get approval from the Queenstown Lakes mayor at the time who gave her blessing and the tartan was duly registered and became the official Southern Lakes tartan,” says daughter, Hilary Johnstone who is now closely involved with the boutique business which has evolved.
“With that registration we have taken Southern Lakes Tartan to another level and now have a range of tartan pieces available and are still adding more. While we are very passionate about it, we do want it to remain a small, humble family business and the ethos is very much New Zealand.”
While it would be more affordable to have the tartan woven overseas Shona is determined Southern Lakes Tartan items should be made at home and the catchphrase is “New Zealand designed wool and weave”.
However, the fabric for the distinctively designed kilts can only be woven overseas and she has chosen to have that done in Scotland.
“We needed a special fineness for the kilts and there was nowhere really suitable in New Zealand,” says Hilary, “so we have worked with the House of Edgar in Scotland and they have provided a very superior kilt weave.”
There has been a strong response to Southern Lakes Tartan’s products which include rugs, throws, cushions, upholstery fabric, kilts, hats and scarves and more recently hip flask covers and small bags.
“We have been quite overwhelmed by the feedback following appearances at the Wanaka A&P show and other Southern Lakes events,” says Hilary. “We rely on word of mouth and as more people discover our tartan the word spreads.”
The beautiful tartan has recently been on the international stage when the Queenstown and Southern Lakes Highland Pipe Band attended a music festival in China sporting Southern Lakes Tartan kilts donated by Shona.
“It was always her ambition to see the pipe band kitted out in her kilts and it was very moving when they came to Wanaka, piped her down the hill and performed for her,” says Hilary.
Shona is delighted to have created a legacy which will live on for future generations –“creating and having my Southern Lakes tartan registered in Scotland has been a real thrill for me. What began as a gift for my family has now evolved into a gift for the region.”