Gratitude for a happy and safe marriage has prompted Stansborough owner Cheryl Eldridge to donate to Women’s Refuge each time a customer buys a New Zealand-made woollen blanket from its new Covid range.
A few months before the March 2020 lockdown Cheryl’s husband and business partner, Barry Eldridge, became ill and died unexpectedly from pneumonia.
The couple, who married in their late teens, had just celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.
His consideration and compassion for others is what has driven us on and was the reason behind the launch of our Women’s Refuge Covid Collection.
“The hope [is] for other women who might find what I was lucky enough to experience for so many years,” says Cheryl.
Each Covid Collection blanket or throw bought will gift a two-night stay for a woman in need of a safe haven at a refuge.
Cheryl says Barry’s death and Covid-19 have been a double blow to her and the family-run business, which made many of the garments worn in Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies.
“So, our Covid Range in support of our artisan team and Women’s Refuge was born, and has proven a great success for both of us and helped drag us through these difficult few months.”
Representing resilience and compassion
“The blankets and throws represent resilience, compassion, sharing and kindness, but, most of all, hope for the future,” Cheryl says.
Cheryl and her team chose white (representing regularly-washed hands) and yellow for hope, not knowing the country’s Covid awareness campaign was about to adopt the same colours.
Lockdown and the approaching winter brought great demand for woollen blankets. After lockdown weaving resumed at Stansborough and sales of the Covid range have been a significant fundraiser for Women’s Refuge.
Stansborough gained extra recognition when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited the mill in June 2020 to meet the team and have a personal tour. She bought and signed a Covid blanket that was auctioned, with the proceeds also going to Women’s Refuge.
History repeats itself
Barry was something of a history buff and would have been excited to learn that just over 100 years ago the company that imported the heritage weaving equipment Stansborough now owns, did its bit to support families affected by the 1918 influenza epidemic.
The New Zealand Times newspaper of 27 November 1918 reported that the Wellington Woollen Company, which had its mill in Cornish Street, Petone, “presented a quantity of children’s clothing to help the object of the fund [that had been set up in Petone to support locals]”.
The paper said many organisations and businesses had supported the fund.
The newspaper also reported that, “Two local women would be visiting every home in the borough that has been affected by the epidemic, and the financial conditions of the families and their requirements ascertained so that relief where necessary may be given.”
The Stansborough story began 30 years ago when Cheryl and Barry concluded that their hill country sheep and cattle farm, situated in a picturesque valley in the Wairarapa, two hours’ drive from Wellington, was a marginal farming operation.
Looked for imaginative options
Cheryl, who has a background in the creative arts, and Barry, looked for imaginative options and bought a flock of blue-grey sheep with their wool originally used to make sails for Viking boats.
These are now registered as a New Zealand breed called Stansborough Grey, which has wool that is unusually durable, silky, soft and lustrous. The couple also started farming alpacas whose fleeces are also sometimes blended with the wool.
They also established a heritage weaving mill using equipment from the former Wellington Woollen Company at Petone.
Cheryl found her first two looms in a shed north of Masterton where the owner used them to make horse blankets. Cheryl did a five-year apprenticeship with him to learn how to use them. Eventually, she bought the looms and Barry gave up his engineering work to support the new business they set up in Petone.
Cheryl later met a man in Christchurch who owned four looms. After he died Cheryl bought those looms and moved them to Petone.
In about 2004, Richard Graham, who had a background in the weaving industry, joined Stansborough and became its weaving manager.
The looms had been developed in England in the 1890s to make fine worsted textiles and are, themselves, masterpieces of design and engineering. They still create heirloom textiles from a bygone era.
Totally natural and eco-friendly
One hundred per cent grown, inspired, designed and created in New Zealand, the end product is natural and eco-friendly, from the sustainable way the animals are farmed, right through to the hand-finished textiles.
The fibres used are in completely natural or biodegradable overdyed colours only (at Stansborough the wool is not pre-bleached and so the dye goes straight onto the grey wool).
The patterns are Stansborough’s own designs, many based on the native trees and bush growing on the Wairarapa farm.
It was when some of their work was on display in New York, the unusual qualities of the Stansborough Grey fibre caught the eyes of the Lord of the Rings costume designers and, thus, began the company’s ongoing involvement in the movie industry.
What started out as an idea to keep a rare sheep from extinction and a farm operating profitably, has grown into a family business that begins out in the paddock and ends in high end fashion outlets and, increasingly, on blockbuster cinema screens.
Sustainable, traceable, chemical-free and 100 per cent pure New Zealand – from the farm, scouring, spinning, weaving, finishing and packaging.
Stansborough’s designer blanket range has been gifted to VIPs worldwide, and has the backing of the Campaign for Wool – led by the Prince of Wales.
The throws and blankets have also proved popular with upmarket New Zealand lodges.
The Stansborough label is now recognised on the world stage for its innovative and highly prized, sustainable, textile creations.
“We do strive to continue to offer some of the very best of 100 per cent pure New Zealand-made textiles while in turn, supporting the whole New Zealand infrastructure with us at the same time,” says Cheryl.
Stansborough’s collection especially appeals to online buyers of New Zealand and overseas gifts. For locals the Stansborough mill includes a gallery and retail shop at its Fitzherbert Street premises in Petone.
As to the future, Cheryl is adamant New Zealand needs to continue to be innovative with wool.
The country has been a leader, not a follower and the quality of its wool has never diminished,” she says.
“Not only is wool environmentally friendly but people are beginning to again value quality over quantity and spend more on one item that will last a lifetime rather than be throwaway consumers,” Cheryl says.
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