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From no sewing to 5,000 bags!

By Pam Ferla

Judy Atkinson creates hundreds of colourful shopping bags for happy customers at Tairua St Francis Church Op Shop.

“Joan Fanshawe started a church sewing group make them,” she explains. “The idea was to reduce the use of plastic bags. She asked me to join the group and I said I can cut material but not sew. So I did the cutting and tea making and a few other ladies sewed them together. I was like the junior apprentice. We used to do it weekly at the St Francis Church House.”

After a sewing machine turned up in the op shop, Judy decided to have a go.

“When I bought the machine home, I couldn’t sew in a straight line. But over the Christmas holidays I got the hang of it and eventually we had about 150 bags. We took them to the community hall market day and made nearly $500 from donations! We always ask for just a donation.

Vicki Murray did screen printing on them and they went like hot cakes.

They are all made from bits of material that cannot be sold. There are bags with lovely patterns on, and pockets, and different sizes for things like jigsaws and shoes and groceries.

There’s an Op Shop design and a BYB (bring your bag) design. Patterns include flowers and even surfing and they end up all over the world.

“I remember a nurse from Starship coming to see me. She was off to Fiji and asked if I could make 15 bags with different patterns. Then mothers visiting their babies could identify their own bag to store their personal surgical gowns, for hygiene.

Children from Tairua School have learnt the sewing process and taken a bag home. Tairua butcher and the organic shop have Op Shop bags.

As she sits at her sewing machine, beautiful ginger cat Puss by her side, Judy reflects on childhood holidays in Tairua. Her father, Bert, owned a paint and wallpaper shop in Tokoroa, and from 1956 the family spent summers in Tairua, after travelling along the windy gravel road from Waihi.

“We had a bach on Manaia Road with a ‘plop and drop’ out the back and you could sit there and watch the football through the cracks in the wall. Then dad built a prefab house on Hornsea Road.”

She recalls that her dad decided Tairua needed a golf course and was instrumental in turning 10 acres of land, at 1,000 pounds an acre, in to Tairua’s original golf course, with the help of many keen golfers and locals.

Judy was Op Shop manager for five years.

“When The Little Shop closed I got the clothes racks so we didn’t have to fold clothes on shelves any more. Then Trevor Ladd put wheels on the racks and that made moving them so much easier. We had so much stuff and nowhere to put the out-of-season stock, so the church decided to buy a shed to store it.”

She encourages people to return bags to the op shop if they don’t need them, so they can be recycled.

Now Judy has her sewing down to a fine art and makes up to 25 bags most weeks. She’s been doing it since 2018, which makes about 5,000 bags in total. Sometimes she wonders where they all are and what people do with them.

Caption: Judy Atkinson with a few of the thousands of Op Shop bags she has made.

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