Maralyn Meyrick has been making costumes for the Farmer's Santa Parade for 18 years.
Her small team repurpose materials in ingenious ways to create their fantastical floats and characters.
1. How much work goes into the Santa Parade?
Every year we dress up to 1000 volunteers. About 200 costumes we'll make new. The others will be reused from previous years. They're all kept in storage here at our workshop. Some of this stuff has been around since I started 18 years ago. I work fulltime making the costumes, Ronelle organises the volunteers and Pete makes our floats. Officially its 40 hours a week but we all do seven days a week from Labour Weekend
2. Where does your inspiration come from?
It can be simple things you see just walking on the beach or in the garden. If you stop and really look at a flower you'll see the shape of the petals is fascinating. We've made those into skirts. We stalk Pinterest for ideas and to see how things are made. We watch YouTube videos of overseas parades and think, "That's a good idea, perhaps we could do it this way?" They have huge budgets, we don't, so we shop really hard and make our money go a long way.
3. So there's a bit of a Kiwi No 8 wire approach?
Yes, we make most things ourselves. We love Geoff's Emporium. We'll buy fabric and hats there and transform them into a headpiece or something. We make the most of the sales at Spotlight and a store out in Otara. It's worth buying decent satin because it lasts longer and doesn't wrinkle as much. I'll save time by making three different skirts out of the same pattern by adding a bustle or ruching.
4. I've heard your whole family pitches in to help?
Yes they can't help getting drawn in. My partner Michael and I have done a few creations together in our backyard - a helicopter, a fire engine and a snail. He welds the steel to make the frame and then I do the upholstery or foam. This week we're building a robot on an old snowman base I made out of a swivelly chair with wheels. My daughter Ange has covered some big keys for our wind-up dolls which I'll take out to my friend Trevor to rivet on to the back of the belts. Trev does all those sorts of bits for me like the eyelets on corsets - he's terrific.
5. Who do you dress for the parade - is it mainly kids?
Yes. We do get a reasonable number of adults but not as many boys as we used to which is a bit of a bother. It's not cool after a certain age. One guy who can't hear or speak has been coming for about 12 years since a lady from Citizens Advice emailed to say he'd like to be in the parade. This year I've made him a new costume. It was quite hard to explain Steampunk so I wrote it down. He's going to be taming the dragon with his stare. He's thrilled.
6. What's parade day like for you?
Full on. I'm here at 5.30am getting all the clothing racks out to the trucks. Then I head down to the Aotea Centre where Ronelle has been organising the changing rooms and makeup stations and hope like heck we don't lose anything because sometimes things get shifted in the chaos. A costume falls off a rack and the truck guys put it back in the wrong place. One time we lost the crinolines and you can't wear the skirts without the crinolines.
7. What was your worst wardrobe malfunction?
Probably the purple Alegria costumes about 17 years ago. I made hooped skirts out of curtain wire but the zips weren't strong enough to hold them up and on the day, oh my gosh, they all broke! We managed to fix them up all right with safety pins and tape. You just have to think on your feet and make it happen.
8. What was the best costume you made last year?
What I call my "creature". We had some green fabric we bought at Spotlight two years ago just sitting there and suddenly I got inspired by a rubber grasshopper I had sitting on my desk. Once you find a starting point, the costume evolves and grows as you figure out how to do it. I made a cool spiral tail out of boning using an old hat pattern. I needed a motorcycle harness to hold the huge heavy wings. It worked so well out on the road. I've had to make a bigger hat for the guy who's wearing it this year. It took me a couple of days but you don't mind if someone's going to do the costume justice. Kendrick is going to rock it in a big way, I just know.
9. How long does it take to wash all the costumes afterwards?
Three weeks. Our washing machine goes all day and we have a big fan at the back to dry them all. I hand-wash the delicate ones. Lycra's wonderful because it's fast drying. It's also got a lot of give so it can fit different sized people each year.
10. Growing up in Ashburton, did you have an early interest in sewing?
Yes. There were five of us kids so mum's sewing machine was always going. I'd jot little drawings of a shop window and put fashions in it. From age 7 I'd make myself new skirts for Blue Light Discos and by 11 I was charging my friends for dresses. After high school I did an apprenticeship at Justin's in Christchurch which was the place you'd go for suits and gowns. It was fabulous. I spent six months on a hand-finishing table before I was even allowed to touch a machine. These lovely old ladies taught me proper finishing skills like bound button holes.
11. Did you pursue a career in fashion?
Well, I got married and the Air Force posted us to Bulls so that was the end of that for a while. When my husband got transferred to Wellington I went back to work for a boutique called Bottoms. My boss Roland made clothes for the presenters you'd see on TV. He was a pretty cool, switched on guy.
12. You've been working on the Santa Parade since 1999. How did you first get involved?
My daughters were in the parade for years. Every time we came in for fittings I thought, "I'd love to work here". Then my life changed. My marriage ended and this job came up. It was a relief to know I'd be okay to look after my girls. I've been here ever since. It's a great job, with great people - a real buzz. We've watched kids in the parade grow from 7-year-olds to adults. We joke that we'll be doing this in our Zimmer frames.
The Farmers Santa Parade is this Sunday, starting at 1pm