In my great-great-great-grandmother Meri Wehikore’s obituary there is the claim that as a young woman she fought against “Bloody Jack”. Although this is ‘fake news’ (“Bloody Jack” was Ngāi Tahu and fought against Te Rauparaha and Ngāti Toa, plus women almost never went to war) I was delighted by the idea of having a warrior woman in my whānau (family).
When I was given a pre-printed linen with a Victorian woman on each end, I decided to embroider Meri over the top of the image on one end. In this way I could contrast her freedom with the constrained femininity that the Victorian woman, in her full skirts and coy bonnet, represents. I stitched an Aotearoa/New Zealand garden over the English flowers, let Meri’s hair fly loose in the wind, and put a pounamu patu (club) in her hand as a nod to her obituary. She is an image of agency and power and a reminder of the high cost to Māori women of taking on Pākehā (European) ways.
The title for this work comes from the steel needles that Captain James Cook brought to Aotearoa as trade items and which quickly changed local sewing practices.