The trend for hobbies and habits of yesteryear is back in vogue your inner.
The first sign was a gorgeous young thing sitting outside Garnet Station Cafe in the Auckland suburb of Westmere, her pot of loose-leaf Earl Grey snug beneath a tea cosy lovingly hand-knitted from odd ends of wool. The next sunny weekend The Little Grocer down the road held a jumble sale. Then someone declared the dahlia hot again, lacy dresses began pouring down the world's catwalks, and supermodel Kate Moss replaced wild partying with making jam. And so a trend was born - we're calling it Nana Cool - and suddenly nothing is quite so fashionable as the old-fashioned.
What's interesting about this particular trend is just how far it's reached. It's not only about wallpapering walls instead of painting, or wearing crochet rather than knit, but reflects a deeper shift in values and what we want from life.
Wendyl Nissen hooked into the nana zeitgeist early on. The former magazine editor now runs a home-based business making cleaning products from homely ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. She keeps chickens, bakes, grows heirloom veges and next month publishes a book called The Home Companion: A Year of Living Like My Grandmother (Allen & Unwin).
"I guess it started for me when I became addicted to reading old books I found in op shops like Aunt Daisy and Handy Hints," says Nissen. "I was interested in how things used to be done and loved the simplicity of it - that you could make your own bread or household cleaners. I thought it would be better for me and my family."
After years of juggling a stressful career with raising children, Nissen believes many women are yearning to be nurturers again and finding joy in time spent at home doing the things their own mothers rejected the moment feminism hit like knitting, sewing and preserving fruit.
"My mother spends her whole time shaking her head at what I'm doing," says Nissen. "She was a modern miss at the forefront of feminism and I'm picking up on stuff she actively discouraged."
It was the recession that helped Nana Cool take such a strong hold. Suddenly rampant materialism wasn't quite so okay anymore and having wardrobes of designer clothes only worn once, shoes too vertiginous to actually walk in and a collection of monstrously large It bags seemed wasteful. Instead many people dusted off their sewing machines, dug out their knitting needles and began making stuff themselves. Some even turned this newfound passion for handicrafts into a cottage business.
Lisa Davis of BigLittle in Tauranga sells the baby shoes and zip purses she makes from vintage finds through her shop on popular US website etsy.com. She's become passionate about recycling beautiful old pieces of fabric into something functional.
"In the 1950s and 1960s in New Zealand there was a lot of amazing handwork done because no one had the money to buy things," she says. "So much care and love went into making pieces that aren't used any more because no one has doilies and tray cloths. This is a way to make them useful again. I go round the op shops at least once a week looking for natural fabrics like linen, cotton, wool, and especially anything embroidered. The other day I found a gorgeous fabric embroidered with violets and was so excited I snatched it off the shelf like I was at a Boxing Day sale and there were 10 people behind me trying to get it!"
Currently she's making a pair of baby shoes out of an old silk tie that belonged to a customer's late husband. "It's a piece of family history and very meaningful to her. She's going to give the shoes to her daughter who's pregnant."
A lot of time goes into these one-of-a-kind pieces, so it's far from a fast way to make money, but for many it has become a passion. All over the country they're cross-stitching, wood-turning, and crocheting, turning over spare rooms and garages to Nana's old hobbies and finding satisfaction in creating things themselves.
Two years ago Karla Hansen set up monthly Grey Lynn market Kraftbomb as a response to the resurgence of creativity. "Now we get bombarded each month with requests for stalls," she says. "It seems there are always new crafters coming through."
At Kraftbomb shoppers can browse for anything from hand-painted plates to plush toys and cupcakes. The market draws a range of people but Hansen says most are searching for one-off pieces made with love.
She believes the trend for Nana Cool has been embraced so readily because it gives people "the warm fuzzies". "Remember how Nana had those crocheted blankets on the back of her sofa? They were all snuggly and comforting. It's hooking into that sort of feeling."
Nana Cool is about rejecting things that are mass-produced, minimalist or homogenous. It's about prettiness and individuality; about creating more for the eye to enjoy; about cherishing possessions and keeping yesterday alive. It's also an awful lot cheaper than most previous trends have been.
When Verity George and her partner Lisa Prager set up their suburban cafe Garnet Station, a big expensive fit-out wasn't an option. Instead they had a nana-style, make-do approach to decor that has resulted in a charming and original space for people to enjoy their tea and cake. An old kauri chest that once belonged to George's grandfather forms part of the counter, she made the lampshades herself with the help of a glue gun, some old bamboo wallpaper and a pair of tights, and she scoured the country for the cafe's trademark hand-knitted tea cosies. "I found some of them on Trade Me and in op shops," she says. "I had my mother scouting up north and there were women in her Scrabble club that knitted for me. Our customers love them. They're part of the fabulous nostalgia that we're embracing now, part of our need to slow down."
The Nana Cool approach extends to the food served at the cafe. Lettuce in the sandwiches has often come from her garden and the baking is done in small batches and always uses real butter. "It tastes different than the food you get at the big commercial franchises where everything is made in huge volumes," George says. "When we do things like jam tarts we find women in their 30s and 40s really respond because they remember their grandmas making them. I guess it's a part of keeping the child inside alive."
Perhaps the place the Nana Cool trend is at its most riotous and colourful is in the garden where tastes have done almost a complete u-turn in recent years. "In the late 90s people ripped out their fruit trees and flowers to put in hard landscaping and structural plants," explains Jo McCarroll, editor of NZ Gardener magazine. "They wanted gardens to be like another room rather than an evolving organic space. But now they've rediscovered the joys of growing veges and beautiful scented, coloured flowers. The manager of my local Kings Plant Barn says sales of fruit trees and roses have gone through the roof. People are planting the things their grandmothers did like zinnias, lilac, dahlias and sweet peas and finding a joy in that sort of garden you don't get from a few succulents and a dragon tree."
It remains to be seen whether Nana Cool is just another fad that will burn itself out and the op shops will empty, the knitting needles be cast aside and the vege patches be left to grow over with weeds. In the meantime, watch out because not all Nana Cool is necessarily the real thing according to Nissen.
"I've noticed when celebrities are on the red carpet and are asked what they're wearing often now they'll say their gowns are recycled or vintage," she observes. "Well you've heard of green washing? I'm beginning to suspect this might be nana washing."