New Zealand: Following the Koru


Contributed by Karen Eckmeier

Lucky lizard, that’s me! I got invited to teach in New Zealand for the Quilt Symposium Manawatu located in Palmerston North on the North Island from January 16 – 21, 2015. I had the honor of teaching in New Zealand in 2008 for a month long lecture tour to 12 quilt guilds and was thrilled to be coming back. The Symposium is held every other year and the venue alternates between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The international faculty (or “Tutors” as we were called) numbered over 35, coming from Australia, United Kingdom, USA, South Africa and of course New Zealand. Here is a blurry photo of the happy tutors and the Symposium’s tutor committee. After a week of teaching, everyone was still full of energy and coudn’t hold still or stop talking for even a second to take this picture!


As a quilter and artist I am always looking for patterns and design as I travel. I see them in nature and in architectural formats. From the moment I stepped on the Air New Zealand airplane, I was treated with the fern and koru designs painted on the outside of the airplane.

Air NZ plane
This was just the beginning of seeing koru images everywhere! Koru is the Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) term for loop and it represents new life, growth, and perpetual movement. The koru design is based on the unfurling of the silver fern, and its symbolism can be seen and enjoyed in the intricate paintings and carvings of the Maori.


Here is a koru up close and in the foreground of majestic Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman and Lake Matheson.


The koru design was also well loved by the Austrian artist Friedrich Hundertwasser. While he was living in New Zealand, he designed a public bathroom using the swirl among other typical whimsical elements that he enjoys. I have to admit this is the very first time that I took photos in a public bathroom!!


After the long journey to New Zealand, my suitcase of quilts (95%) and clothes (5%) decided to make a detour to Sydney, and did not arrive until a day and half later. So, the next thing I know, I am trying on flip flops in a graphic fern design in black and whites, just like on the airplane!

After a week of relaxing, it was time to get to work and check in with the Quilt Symposium and start the week of teaching.


I thought it was wonderfully appropriate that my classroom had a large poster for Lord of the Rings (the trilogy was filmed in New Zealand) which featured Golum watching over us everyday. I’m sure I heard him say our work was precious!!


A wonderful bonus to our workshop day was enjoying “Morning Tea” AND “Afternoon Tea” every day. It was served by an “angel” (Tutor’s helper for the day) and we all drank our tea from our orange Quilt Symposium Manawatu mugs.

Morning Tea

The scenery of New Zealand is so varied and awe-inspiring. Beaches, rugged coastlines, snowcapped mountains and glaciers all came together to inspire my students in the “Accidental Landscapes: Mountain Views” workshop and also in creating Kiwi Villages. Here are some photos I took that attempt to capture the beauty of New Zealand:





Milford Sound2

The Quilt Symposium started out with a 2-day “Let’s Make Waves” workshop. This is a technique and design workshop which uses my layered topstitching technique to create wild curves and angles. Here are my students showing off their creations. As you can see, some students started jackets, others aimed for abstract wallhangings (and table runners) and notice that several brave students took the plunge and cut their Waves fabric into strips for impressive results.


The next day, we continued with waves and layered topstitching by creating a Log Cabin block with wavy topstitched logs. No blocks were allowed to be the same size. Then we added “teeth” to our blocks in the form of raw-edge triangles, which really added bite to our blocks. Take a look at the results – quite striking. Notice that many of us are in bare feet. It was Summer time in New Zealand and it was HOT. Did you know that in New Zealand it is acceptable to enter supermarkets and restaurants in bare feet? I still did a double take when I saw people in town walking barefoot, but I didn’t mind adopting the custom for teaching!


This 1-day workshop produced some amazing little landscapes…..accidentally! We combined gently curved strips of green (hills and meadows) with some angled strips (distant mountains) and let the scenes evolve. Every student created a success. And look how many landscapes are basted and quilted in 6 hours! ….and that included time out for Morning Tea, Afternoon Tea and lunch! Everyone was proud of their creations, as well they should be.


New Zealand has amazing flora and fauna AND they have it all captured in fabrics, so why not create a Happy Village using these wonderful fabrics? That’s exactly what we did. Since our projects were raw-edge fabric collage, we weren’t able to get a group shot at the end of the day without the high risk of losing unglued buildings, windows, rooftops, or trees! Here is my sample Kiwi Village and some of my students as they begin the relaxing process of fabric collage.



After Symposium, my husband and I stayed to travel for another 10 days on the South Island. We returned to a New England winter wonderland of snow. Most people would not be happy about this change in climate, but as you can see I got bundled up and put on my snow shoes. It was time for this quilter to “quilt” a koru in the snow to remember her amazing trip to New Zealand!


Thank you, Karen Eckmeier of The Quilted Lizard Fiber Art Sutdio, for taking us along on your fun and exciting quilting journey! I look forward to hearing from other quilters with travels and work to share in OnPoint.  Just drop me a line!

Ann —

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What fun, I was in some of the South Island quilt shops last year. very friendly people. Great pictures thanks for sharing.

Margaret Van Wijk

I was an “angel” at Karen’s accidental landscape class. Although I was not able to participate, I learned lots. Karden is an inspiration in the way she teaches. Gentle and full of enthusiasm. Thanks Karen.