Real Life

Weekly people: Queen of quilting

Tina Onnes’ crafty plan focuses on family and fabric.

By Aroha Awarau
"I'm a 52-year-old who grew up with a huge passion for arts and crafts, but over time had to let go of this hobby. I became a single parent to two sons when I was 24 and life became very hectic. But six years ago, I met my partner Nigel (65).
Between us, we have five adult sons – now aged between 29 and 33. With the birth of Nigel's first grandchild four years ago, out came the sewing machine,a second-hand model my father bought me when I was 16 years old. I decided it would be wonderful to make a cot quilt for the new baby as a one-off– or so I thought.
My working background is in hospitality and although I was always a crafter, I hadn't made a quilt so I went online and watched clips to teach myself. Now as I'm sewing a new quilt, I'm falling in love with it. It's exciting to see each quilt come to life. I don't use a pattern – I have an image in my head and make whatever inspires me.
Tina's life is a happy mix of quilt-making and being 'Tee Tee' to Emilia (4), Baxter (9 months) and Kaiya (2).
Nigel had another grandchild and out came the sewing machine again for a second quilt. The grandchildren live in Nelson and we were in Auckland, but we relocated to be near them. To keep busy, we bought a 'do up'.
The new babies' biological grandmothers have both passed away, and it became important to us that to keep their memory intact, we needed a name for the children to call me other than Nana or Grandma. So we came up with the name Tee Tee.
Although bonding with the babies and our house renovations were keeping me busy, I felt I needed something more in my life. That's when Tee Tee's Designs was born. Making quilts for children quickly became a passion.
I have been giving most of the quilts away but recently I decided to try and make a small business out of the quilts to at least cover the costs. It didn't take long for friends to become fans of the quilts and start placing orders.
I sew during all hours ofthe day and make quilts for all purposes – for car seats, bassinets, cots and buggies. And then came the doll quilts! Of course little kids want their dolls in prams, so there are also toy pram quilts to be made.
My designs encompass all tastes. I have a New Zealand series, a beach series and an animal series, for example. Nelson has a lovely art market so I took my wares along to test the waters over summer and I had a great response.
What started as a passion and a hobby has turned into a home business for Nelson-based Tina.
What an adventure – up early Saturday mornings with a car full of quilts and all the props!
This year, another grandchild was born so we have three under four now! I am in love and totally besotted. My heart melts when they throw their arms around me and call me Tee Tee!
As I was looking for an outlet for the quilts over winter, I decided to create an online store, meaning my life has become very hectic again.
My weeks are now filled with grandchildren – kindergarten runs, swimming lessons, babysitting – plus my sewing and frequent visits to Auckland to see family and friends. But the passion I have for making quilts has helped to revitalise my life. When I give the quilts away, I'm sure my face lights up seeing how happy people are when they receive their gift."

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