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

by Jill Heron / 16 September, 2017

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

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.

Latest

Father figure: Jordan Watson on his 'How to Dad' series
93157 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Social issues

Father figure: Jordan Watson on his 'How to Dad' s…

by North & South

The breakout Youtube star talks about 'How to Dad', paternity leave, and his own dad.

Read more
With friends like Donald Trump, who needs enemies?
93834 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z World

With friends like Donald Trump, who needs enemies?…

by Paul Thomas

The US President treats his Western allies to a tongue-lashing while cosying up to Vladimir Putin, causing alarm at home and around the world.

Read more
Who Is America? is predictably alarming – and scarily relevant
93831 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Television

Who Is America? is predictably alarming – and scar…

by Diana Wichtel

Only Bernie Sanders comes out unscathed in Sacha Baron Cohen’s absurdist new series Who Is America?

Read more
Organic wine is getting bigger in New Zealand. These are our top picks
93885 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Wine

Organic wine is getting bigger in New Zealand. The…

by Michael Cooper

Quality rather than quantity drives New Zealand's organic wine producers.

Read more
Killer robots: The question of how to control lethal autonomous weapons
93876 2018-07-20 08:23:45Z Tech

Killer robots: The question of how to control leth…

by Peter Griffin

The computer scientist who has become a leading voice on the threat posed by killer robots describes himself as an “accidental activist”.

Read more
The man who's making sure performing artists are seen in the regions
93813 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Theatre

The man who's making sure performing artists are s…

by Elisabeth Easther

For 35 years, Steve Thomas has been at the helm of Arts On Tour, taking musical and theatrical acts from Kaitaia to Stewart Island.

Read more
The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sustainably
93645 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Economy

The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sus…

by Sharon Stephenson

Millenials are leading the rise of the eco economy.

Read more
Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restaurant-bar in Ponsonby
93862 2018-07-19 15:05:51Z Auckland Eats

Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restauran…

by Kate Richards

Rum, cigars and Cuban sandwiches are on the menu at new Ponsonby restaurant, Cuba Libre.

Read more