Wool spinners weave a new lease of life into Bannockburn's general store

by Jill Heron / 16 September, 2017

Wool spinner Mellissa Uber-Lopez outside the old Bannockburn general store, where she now runs a fibre studio and gallery.

For more than 20 years, Mellissa Uber-Lopez had to set aside her creative urges. Now that the opportunity to let them loose has finally come, she’s grabbing the bull – or more precisely a ram called Jasper – by the horns. 

Born in rural East Malaysia, Uber-Lopez, a kindergarten teacher, immigrated here 27 years ago, after her late husband John, a mechanical engineer and platform supervisor on Exxon Mobil oil rigs, befriended some New Zealanders in the crew. “He worked with expats all over the world,” she says, “but it was the Kiwis that won our hearts.”

The young couple were expecting the first of four children when they arrived in Auckland. Often alone due to her husband’s job, Uber-Lopez had her hands full, and it was only three years ago she found time to learn how to spin and dye wool.

When John died in 2015, after a long illness, Uber-Lopez felt drawn to Central Otago, where she’d seen hills resembling those that surrounded her in childhood. She met her business partner Nicola Galt at a Cromwell craft group, and together they opened a long-imagined cottage business in the old Bannockburn general store.

Local farmers, new friends and customers often drop off wool to the restored 1880 building, which traded until 1971 and now houses the pair’s bustling fibre studio and gallery. Jasper, a hand-reared merino ram, is a favourite source of raw material for their forays into fine wool, and a flurry of new colours and textures are bursting forth in this most Kiwi of enterprises.  

“I love what I do,” says Uber-Lopez. “Sometimes when I get excited the words can’t come out properly to explain, but I just want to make my own colours. I don’t want to be like everyone else. My brain wanders a lot with many ideas. It’s fast and furious. But it’s just the New Zealand wool that I love – and that everything is handmade.” 

This was published in the August 2017 issue of North & South.

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