Gabriel Alston’s Coat of Many Colours – “You Can Knit a Rainbow Too”

Monday 25 March 2019

This unique coat was crocheted by Christchurch local Gabriel Alston (1944 –2009). Gabriel was a multi-talented artist, entertainer and teacher who co-hosted New Zealand’s own version of Playschool in the 1970s, shortly after colour television arrived in Aotearoa.

Gabriel Alston's colourful coat

Gabriel Alston's coat of many colours. Canterbury Museum 2009.52.1

Former Playschool Music Director, Eli Gray-Smith remembers Gabriel as a “wonderful performer”, who had a great rapport with children. He often wore his "coat of many colours", as his friends called it, while travelling from Christchurch to TVNZ’s Dunedin television studios, relishing the opportunity to depart the aircraft and cross the tarmac in all his technicolour glory.

Boasting numerous crochet techniques, clashing patterns and textures, this coat is quite conspicuously the product of hours of handiwork. The back and hips feature multi-coloured starburst motifs with ruffled edging and metallic detailing. The coat’s sleeves flare out just above the elbow into virago puffs punctuated with pop-corn stitches, decorative epaulettes and just a couple of subtle tassels. One of this coat’s most distinctive details is in the back, where a woollen tail takes root and blooms into a red crochet rosette.

Canterbury Museum Senior Visitor Host and friend of Gabriel’s, Donna Glass, recalls seeing the coat of many colours used as a wall hanging in one of Gabriel’s creatively-cluttered flats. “Most of his creations used to be around a botanical theme because he just adored flowers … he was a great gardener,” she says.

During the 1980s and 90s when Gabriel was on dialysis treatment for kidney malfunction, Donna remembers him "holding court" from his peacock chair. She says he would often knit or crochet for 8 to 12 hours at a time, entertaining a “never-ending parade of friends” while his blood filtered through tubes around them.

Speaking to family and friends at Gabriel’s funeral in 2009, friend Paul Wright thanked Gabriel for helping him through his coming-out as a young gay man, noting that their friendship endured for decades. 

In 2009, Canterbury Museum added Gabriel’s coat of many colours to our permanent collection. Our collection also includes a tunic vest made by Gabriel in a similar style.

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