“When I leave in the evening and come again in the morning before opening, I check every area
- Is everything ready to go?” Robyn Murdoch’s question to herself is about the thousand things in her shop all displayed to give visual pleasure to the customer. At first observation, it looks like a wonderland Christmas shop, and for the season that has arrived, why not? That would make it the only Christmas Shop on the Coromandel Peninsula.
But a glance at the classes going on in the right wing of the store, and a survey of more shelves and other sections of this large attractive area, past the Christmas decorations, Christmas trees and wreaths, this store is so much more. It is everything for sewing in fabrics, quilting, embroidery, knitting (machine or hand), making, or decorating cushions (prescribed designs or your own creations), craft with felt and scrapbooking. In addition, there are many small starter kits for children beginning all these skills and for those more advanced. This is a store brought together by someone who has an enormous knowledge of, and passion for, making beautiful things for the home and who has decided to put everything you need to do that in one shop. And, if you can’t do it, then you can join a class to learn or re-kindle a skill that you once had.
‘Tis the Season, in Campbell Street, Whitianga, in terms of what it offers the customer - ready to buy or make yourself - is still the only shop of its kind on the Coromandel Peninsula.
The walls are arraigned with beautiful quilting made by Robyn, some with the added input of members of her classes. Each Christmas tree is decorated in a different theme of adornments. Robyn says, “People come in and see how something looks on a tree and they can just pick it off and buy it.” There is an array of angels, baubles, stars, wreaths, Santas, globes. The store is a generous and exquisite delight with so many Christmas things to buy or to make for the home, or as a gift in the Christmas stocking.
Hugh and Robyn Murdoch came to Whitianga a few years ago to build a purpose-built shop with this season emphasis in mind. They had to build large as Robyn had in mind running craft, sewing, and quilting workshops so they designed a special area for this with plug-ins for sewing machines and good light for fine work on cloth or fabric. Robyn says, “I teach rather than people bringing their own work to progress. It’s more than a sewing circle. We teach embroidery and patchwork in parallel to groups that roll over every fortnight.” Robyn’s workshops and classes exploded and had to move to a larger area at the side of the shop which was originally intended for display. Now it even houses a long-arm quilting machine.
“We had a similar business in Auckland,” says Robyn, “and that gave both of us a lot of experience. People love to learn new skills and improve on what they know. There is also a very strong social component. The side-effect of the classes is the relationships and networking which is a natural way of solving problems both in your project and in your life. A person might come in with, ‘I have cut this wrong’ and we sort it out, and that one thing put right seems to brighten everything else.” A regular comment is, ‘I never knew that before’. Sometimes, it is not related to the project in front of them,” says Robyn. “It might be a function on the sewing machine or a technique they have never noticed, and it enlarges that skill. It increases confidence and participation in other areas of life as well. We love getting people across the line and I have experienced this with every class.”
Robyn has been doing this kind of work for as long as she can remember. “My grandmother was a Country Women’s Institute, ‘dyed in the wool’, member. She embraced their mantra of, ‘be an amazing provider for the family’. She would cook, sew, create, knit, stitch, fix and repair. Her hands were never idle I thought this is what every grandmother did. My parents worked and I just watched my grandmother, and she would give us samples to do, things to try, work to help her. In my Santa sack, I would always get some kind of starter kit for Christmas from Mum and Dad. That was my journey and I know this is not everyone’s option or desire, but I am convinced that working at creativity and being practical in matters of making beautiful or useful things, is a very important part of growing in terms of your social and mental health. All children should get a chance to create their own things, we can guide them and teach them the skills, and we don’t need to prescribe the colours or the patterns. Give them a piece of felt and a length of thread and they will make something that they love and want to give it to someone who loves them.”
This is a great partnership that Robyn and Hugh have. Robyn fronts the décor and artistic work, customer service, and teaches the classes while Hugh builds and fixes everything.
“I make a sample of most of the kits that arrive,” says Robyn. “They are quite simple and beautiful. Grandparents bring their grandchildren and buy a little kit like a fairy or an angel or a scene for the littlies to get started. Sometimes they might buy bright cottons, some felt,
or fabric and a needle set and do what I mentioned previously, create their own masterpiece.”
“During lockdown, people turned to craft and sewing and embroidery. They needed the company of others as well and learning and rediscovering skills and hobbies was such a boost to the very limited Covid lockdown life. We meet people who have had some pretty tough things happen in their lives. Working on things in the classes, people experience trust and acceptance and before they know it, they become surrounded “appropriately’ by love and acceptance. On very wet days, we are a refugee centre for motorhome travellers.”
“For me it will always be the colour and the joy of making something. I just love the satisfaction,”
Robyn reflects. “My real life is a scientist. I do clinical research in vaccines. When I worked that role full time, I was away too much. I still do some consulting in vaccine research; but I don’t miss that life. I have really retired from that to do something that I think will uplift more people.”
‘Tis The season sends out a crafty Christmassy newsletter. Just go to their website and order one by email. The store is open from Monday to Saturday 9.30am – to 4.00pm but closes an hour earlier on Saturdays.
Caption : Robyn Murdoch in her shop.