Stitching history together

The Ashburton Museum Archive is always kept busy answering enquiries and assisting people to undertake research on a wide area of topics. Normally the answers to questions are then stored away in a book or computer, and images purchased from us are hung on a wall or printed and published.

Rarely does the information we provide get incorporated into a significant artwork, but that is what happened last year. Expat Kiwi Jan Connett visited Ashburton in January to undertake research on Emily Bland, and Ashburton woman who signed the 1893 Suffrage petition. Jan’s purpose was to create a patchwork panel that would be submitted for inclusion in the Suffrage in Stitches project.

This project was instigated by Vinnies Re Sew, a community group run by St Vincent de Paul in Wellington. Their goal was to create 546 separate panels, which each would celebrate either a woman who signed the 1893 suffrage petition, or a ‘special woman’ from the last 125 years.

1. Jan Connett quilting Suffrage 125.jpg

A secondary goal was to expand the skills of makers and to introduce new people to textile crafts and repurposing. One method of repurposing was to use old fabrics and found items, such as postcards.

The panels accepted for inclusion in the project will be combined into one piece the same size as the original petition and exhibited at the Wellington Museum during the period October 2019 to January 2020.

In order to design and execute her panel on Mrs Bland, Jan used a number of archive repositories to gather information and resources, including the Ashburton Library and the Ashburton District Family History Group, as well as our museum archive.  According to Jan, Emily was a ‘larger than life’ character, interested in photography and technology, and set up a ‘darkroom’ to develop her photos under a blanket on her dining room table.’

2. Jan Connett's Emily Bland panel.jpg

Who was Emily?

Emily Watson was born in 1859 in Yorkshire and married William Bland of Orton Green in 1884.  In 1885 the couple had a daughter Dorah (often called Dora). Sadly, the following year William died as a result of a shooting accident.

Emily continued to run the farm with the help of a manager, however she and her daughter moved back to England so Dora could be properly educated. While there, the dampness which encouraged so many of our ancestors to migrate to New Zealand, claimed the life of poor Dora in 1903. Emily brought her daughter back to Ashburton for burial. Emily herself died in 1938.

3. An image of Bland family sheep that was used in the quilted panel 02.1982.0476.png

Jan’s project

Jan’s work highlights some of the stories associated with Emily, and contains many links to the museum and archive collections and our research services.

The background is a representation of a map that is held in the Ashburton Museum collection that digitally copied for Jan to work from. Another image is a print of one from the museum collection, showing sheep crossing a bridge in Ashburton.

The most predominant items depicted are the grave of Dora and a copy of Emily’s signature as it appeared on the suffrage petition. Archive staff helped Jan find the signature online, enlarge the image and provided a copy for Jan to use as the basis of her embroidery.

4. Emily Bland's signature from the petition.JPG

Other items worked into the design include found ephemera, discarded notes, damaged postcards or fabrics found in op shops.

It was certainly a most interesting project for Jan and the museum staff to be involved with and I’m sure most will agree Jan has designed an attractive memorial to one of our local women.

It is also interesting to see how Jan has used found items, destined for the rubbish bin or recycling in her work. Museum staff often notice how often items in the collection show how people would ‘make do and mend’ by reusing or upcycling items. Perhaps this panel may inspire you to also start collecting scraps and other items and plan your own crafty memorial. Staff here at the Museum would certainly be keen to assist in any such project and given the wealth of interesting stories and the vast number of photographs we hold in our Archive there’s definitely no shortage of ideas.


By Kathleen Stringer



  1. Jan Connett during her visit to the archive at Ashburton Museum, with pieces of the quilt she was planning to assemble, using inspiration from items in the archive collection.
  2. Jan Connett’s Emily Bland panel for the Suffrage in Stitches project.
  3. An image of sheep that was used in the quilted panel.
  4. Emily Bland’s signature from the 189s Suffrage petition.

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