Stitching together gorgeous jewelled bunting out of sari material in my sewing room, my heart was filled with joy.
Through the window I could see my fiancé Rudi, then 43, outside, carving cheese platters shaped like angel wings out of kauri, a native Kiwi forest tree.
Together for three years, Rudi and I were handmaking all the decorations for our backyard wedding, which was three months away.
Rudi had a job in engineering and welding, and we both loved working with our hands and creating beautiful things.
It was October 2017, and I’d recently quit my nine-to-five job in communications, to design vibrant clothing for women with bodies like mine.
My father Colin was a fashion designer too, and he loved to make women feel beautiful.
‘Life is for standing out from the crowd,’ Dad always taught me.
Celebrating our wedding on a stunning December day surrounded by our family and friends, including my daughter Jazmin, then 25, and Rudi’s girls, Destiny, 23, and Jamie, 10, it was magical.
Not long after that, I discovered yarn bombing – a type of street art where crafty people decorate outdoor spaces with their crocheted and knitted creations.
Armed with a ball of wool, a crochet hook and a YouTube video, I taught myself how to do a simple crochet stitch.
Crocheting away, with Anzac Day just around the corner, I made a giant red poppy flower.
Supportive of my creativity, Rudi and I decided that this was how we wanted to live.
As the sun rose on Anzac Day in 2018, Rudi and I covered a local motorway overpass with a sea of crimson wool poppies I’d made.
Afterwards we drove past five times, just to look at our work.
Now we were addicted!
Throwing joy around like confetti, we yarn-bombed our neighbours’ fences with hearts and rainbows, and even gave my beat-up red 1991 Mitsubishi car a new lease on life, covering the outside in crochet!
Driving around town in my old girl, I loved watching people smile as they spotted us.
Being able to bring joy to those around us made us feel connected to our community in a deeper way.
With our Maori culture at the heart of everything we did, Rudi began creating intricate traditional Wheku carvings, depicting the faces of ancestors out of polystyrene that I’d cover with crochet in all colours of the rainbow.
With each stitch I made, I couldn’t stop thinking about an even bigger project... I’m going to crochet a whole house, I decided.
And it wouldn’t be just any house, it would be a traditional Maori meeting house – 9.5m long, 5.5m wide and 4.5m high – called a wharenui, it’s a sacred space.
It would be called Wharenui Harikoa, which means House of Joy.
‘I need help, so you’re going to have to learn to crochet,’ I told Rudi.
Quitting his full-time job, Rudi put down his tools and picked up a crochet hook – and he was a natural!
We were very grateful when we received funding from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to finance our project.
By January 2021, we were ready to start!
The wharenui’s structure would be aluminium, while the walls and roof would be polycarbonate, crocheted on both sides in heavy duty fluorescent wool.
Within six weeks, we created two pou – statue-like totem poles – representing Urutengangana, the god of light and Hine-turama, the goddess who created the stars.
They were to stand in pride of place at the front of our wharenui.
Seeing our creations come to life, we were proudly in awe of all our hard work.
When we weren’t crocheting the wharenui, we were thinking, talking, planning and dreaming about it.
And it wasn’t just about crochet – it was a chance to share our culture far and wide.
It was also a way of manifesting intergenerational healing while creating something joyful.
After we shared our story on social media – @lissyandrudi – kind followers messaged, How can we help?
We came up with the ‘Buy a Ball’ project, where people could buy and donate a 47 metre ball of yarn, so they’d forever be part of our wharenui.
Amazingly, generous fans bought around 1000 balls of wool.
After two and a half years, we finally put the finishing touches on the meeting house in June this year.
It’d taken thousands of hours to crochet and we’d used a whopping 5000 balls of yarn.
It was a gorgeous kaleidoscope of colour.
I couldn’t believe we’d built a house out of wool!
Sweeping the last bits of wool up from the floor, Rudi and I looked at each other and smiled, filled with a deep sense of peace at our dream come true.
Captivated by the vibrant colours, our wonderful moko (grandkids), Christian, now 12, Ian, eight, Mia and Indie, both six, and Graeme, three, love playing inside the wharenui.
Surrounded by 130 members of our family, or whanau in Maori, we had a special ceremony at dawn to bless Wharenui Harikoa.
Taking in the rainbow house of joy Rudi and I had created, we felt so proud.
We can’t wait to officially unveil our creation on December 1, at the Waikato Museum in Hamilton, NZ.
It will be there until March.
After that, the plan is for the Big House of Joy to travel around NZ, then the world.
We’re spreading love and joy, one stitch at a time.