Creative Yearnings

20 December 2012
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Anna Williams is a rug repairer, traveller, Anthropologist and like the rich threads running through the rugs she repairs Anna’s story is interwoven with the textures and colours of her life both in New Zealand and the Middle East where she regularly travels to immerse herself in some of the world’s oldest rug producing areas.  

I first met Anna at an afternoon tea organised by a mutual friend of both Anna and my mother. Our lovely host Shubnam, whose heritage is Fijian Indian, had arranged an afternoon not only of delicious Indian delicacies and beautiful saris but also a gathering of some pretty inspiring women.  Women in their fifties, sixties and older who had, individually, travelled the world, working in orphanages, setting up charities, living with locals, sleeping on floors – fearlessly living life.


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Anna had recently returned from two months in Northern India where she had been volunteering at the Ryder Cheshire Home ‘Raphael’ in Dehra Dun which was established in 1959 by British Group Captain Lord Leonard Cheshire and his wife Sue Ryder to provide care and shelter to people in desperate need. 

Leonard Cheshire was Anna’s father’s commanding officer during World War II, the two had been great friends. She recalled a story her father often told of how he and Cheshire, having been stationed in Canada, flew down to New York on leave, while there Cheshire met and married a socialite ex-actress 20 years his senior – he being 21 and she 41! The two later divorced.

Leonard Cheshire wrote a number of books in which he described his friendship with Anna's father. So for Anna it was a dream to volunteer at the Ryder Cheshire Home, experience the wonderful work they do and give a little back to a cause and man she felt she knew.

Anna spoke with such quiet passion that I couldn't help being drawn to her and as we chatted I asked if she would tell me her story. So it was a week later, over divine broccoli soup, at her fabulous inner city Wellington home, Anna shared her story.

A child of the 1950’s Anna grew up on a small sheep farm in Central Hawkes Bay at a time when girls became teachers or nurses and thoughts of textiles and far away lands where nothing more than fanciful dreams.

“I was always very drawn to colour and texture and now when I think back to all the beautiful wool fleeces my father used to have - the colour and feel of the fleece was just wonderful,” Anna recalls.

Anna has many memories of beautiful things – her Grandmothers gorgeous shawl and precious trinkets; the yard of lovely white cotton fabric covered in little olive green leaves and tiny pink flowers her Mother brought her.

However, as was typical of the time, dreams of creativity were never given room to grow and on completion of secondary school Anna attended Victoria University where she gained a Social Science degree in Anthropology - going on to train and work as a social worker.

It was in 1975 while on her OE and working as a social worker in Scotland that Anna’s creative yearnings caught up with her.

“In Edinburgh I helped set up a fundraising exhibition of local artists and part of the display was this fantastic weaving exhibit that took up the whole wall. I remember just standing there, completely awestruck, looking at this beautiful work – it was at that moment something inside me changed, something lit-up!”

In 1976 Anna returned to New Zealand to attend a full time weaving course at Nelson Polytechnic.

“My first day at Nelson Polytechnic I walked in and I knew this is what I’m here to do.  I’d get there early, I’d sit under the looms, at times feeling absolutely panicked because of the complicated nature of the patterns and threads thinking ‘I can’t understand this’. But I absolutely loved it and worked really hard to learn and understand the process.”

As much as weaving was now Anna’s passion she never entertained thoughts of it being anything more than just 'her passion', so after completing the two year ‘Certificate in Hand Loom Weaving’ course Anna returned to social work. 

Nonetheless like anyone with a fire in their belly Anna worked in social services by day and turned the living room of her small Wellington flat into a weaving production room by night, making mohair and wool scarves for family and friends. In 1983 Anna joined the Roxburgh 5 Workshop in Wellington’s Mt Victoria and worked full time as a production weaver for six years.

Fast forward to 1992, after the birth of her son and a period once again working as a social worker, Anna read a small advert in the local paper saying ‘Mature woman wanted to work in Turkish rug shop’.  

“It was like it was written for me,” Anna says.

She recalls the telephone conversation with Selo the owner of the Turkish Rug shop, he said “I know you – I don’t want you selling anything, you couldn’t sell a paper bag,” then he said “plus you’re a weaver – you’re going to be my repairer”.

As a result of her work with Selo, Anna went on to develop and grow her own rug repair business and now travels regularly to the Middle East to expand her weaving and repair knowledge.

Anna remembers her first working trip to Istanbul, “I lived in a tiny hotel in Istanbul and every day, for a month, I went to the repairer. I would sit in the back room of an old carpet shop in the bazaar, with the pigeons cooing away and this young man would teach me, in broken English, how to repair the rugs. It was an absolutely amazing time".

“Just being surrounded by people who are passionate about rugs feeds me and at the end of the day what more could you ask for,” Anna says.

Nowadays Anna's main destination is Iran, having travelled there four times in the last 8 years - however now she not only goes to study weaving techniques but also the culture and traditions of the semi-nomadic Qashqai tribe of South Eastern Iran, using her Anthropology knowledge from her university days.  

“The Qashqai have always been a very fierce and independent tribe and weaving is very much a traditional way of making money. But now, because of the lack of demand for rugs, they seek out other work and supplement their income with raising livestock. Plus they’re in touch with the outside world - the women in the tents have mobile phones. So obviously they might not want to be paid $10 for a rug that takes months to produce.”

However, as Anna says, a bi-product of this change unfortunately is that the instructional, collective memory of weaving is going.

“I met one woman who is a fantastic weaver but now works in a pickle factory in Shiraz, so all her memory is going and won’t be passed down to her three daughters who have not learnt to weave.”

It’s hard not to become romantic about cultural change and Anna admits that allowing cultures to transform and evolve is part of the cycle of development, however sad she feels it to be.

Anna now hopes the next chapter in her story will be finding a way to visually record the culture and tradition of the Qashqai before it is too late.

“These tribes have so much richness in their connection to the land and way of life, a richness they express through their weaving and textiles – textiles that people all over the world have loved so it will be a great loss if it goes.”


Anna Williams

Expert repair and restoration work of all kinds of carpets, rugs, kelims, soumaks etc

Email: '); document.write(addy45579); document.write('<\/a>'); //-->\n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. " title="blocked::mailto: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. "> This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: 04 385 8648
Mobile: 0274 927 031



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