Work and style

Fabric designer

Avis Higgs’ designs can be divided into four broad themes:

  • Social
  • Marine
  • Flora and fauna, and
  • Indigenous Pacific cultures

Producing her textile design work in Sydney, Wellington and London during the 1940s, Avis designed primarily for women’s dress fabrics. She developed a unique, modernistic approach that narrated the life and adventures of young, independent women during and just after the Second World War.

Her colourful, modernistic designs included lively beach scenes and cityscapes, animals and birds, Australian flowers and New Zealand bush forms. Others had original geometric takes on Māori, Aboriginal and Pacific motifs using modern colour schemes.

Some of Avis’ designs started to appear on newly fashionable two-piece bathing suits. Later, others appeared on furnishing fabrics such as rugs, tapestry cushion covers and lampshades.

Avis also introduced text to fabrics – interwoven with stylish patterns – to comment directly on wartime life. Her original and enchanting designs like Bullseye, Victory and When the Lights Go On Again reminded Australians that the wartime blackout would end one day and it would be party time again. And her Whacko design introduced 1940s surfie slang into printed fabric 40 years before Mambo invented contemporary Australian surf clothes.

She also designed tropical camouflage fabrics for printing on parachutes used by Australian soldiers fighting the Japanese in New Guinea, basing her designs on the New Zealand bush.

Towards the end of the war, Avis created Victory Loan designs for women’s clothing and for men’s ties and hat bands, featuring patriotic war slogans in support of the Victory Loan campaigns.

Avis Higgs’ Australian fabrics had the name STP and the title of the design printed on the selvedge.

Avis Higgs’ work as a textile designer ranks amongst the most important and engaging bodies of work yet created by a NZ designer. (Design historian Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins)


Avis Higgs was an accomplished artist, and painted in a number of mediums. She liked to paint outdoors and to get her ideas down quickly, which suited her calligraphic style, especially in watercolour and ink. She had a particular love of the coast and native bush scenes which were reminiscent of her younger days painting with her father.

Where you can see Avis Higgs’ work today

Textile designs

Avis Higgs’ designs are part of the Dilana Rugs range of designs by New Zealand artists

Avis’ full range of her original and innovative textile designs can be viewed Hawkes Bay Museum


See Exhibitions and collections