Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sew 90 – Renovating your wardrobe

upcycled linen suit

This casual linen suit made ages ago is refreshed by shortening the jacket and covering up the buttons. We renovate houses, why not our wardrobes? One way to do that is to sew it again.

Our clothes encapsulate our body. What we chose to wear is extremely personal – we want to look right, feel sharp, mirror trends and/or make a statement about who we are.

In the same way we may make informed food choices to nurture our health and wellbeing, we can make informed clothing choices which are good for ourselves and the planet.

Over-consumption of the wrong sorts of food is feeding obesity problems in most first-world countries – and that’s exacerbated by the many labour-saving devices we have on hand. Spending time growing a few herbs and cooking meals from scratch makes for a healthful, meaningful life.

By all accounts, the world is drowning in excess clothing and marketers are constantly pushing us to buy more new stuff through sales catalogues, inducements and prestige pedalling.  Continue reading

Sew 89 – Using what already exists

upcycled suit

This silk jacket has shortened hem with sleeves rolled up and is toned down by a jumper-skirt made from a cardigan. Nearly a quarter of the year is gone, which means I’m 25 percent of the way through my Sew it Again year in which I’m following my heart on a creative journey into eco-fashion with no fixed destination in mind except making a difference.

In a nutshell, I’m an upcycling advocate aiming to empower individuals to reuse existing clothing in creative ways rather than always buying new. As an recycler, there are words posted on Day 11: I’m an agricultural scientist by training and my first professional job was as ABC rural reporter working in radio and television in Victoria and Queensland.

Now I’m on a 365-day journey with the Sew it Again project to inspire creative upcycling of natural fibre clothing and revive home-sewing as a life-skill akin to cooking. In between these endeavours, as a communications consultant I’ve run issues-based campaigns such as the 612 ABC Swap It Challenge for health groups, Save the Aussie Banana for growers and water fluoridation for dentists. Continue reading

Sew 88 – Nature and knowledge

upcycled hemp-silk dress

This dress is an old hemp top upcycled with a salvaged silk trim which matches the colour of frangipani flowers that fall from a tree on my local bush-walking track.

Gathering beautiful fibres and found stuff is second nature to me as an upcycler – and for this Sew it Again year I’m integrating these traditions with new knowledge and fresh ideas from a range of sources.

I’m grateful to yesterday have been able to spend time with Head of Fashion Kathleen Horton and Lecturer in Fashion Alice Payne at QUT Creative Industries and source their views on upcycling, fashion and the factors which influence the way we dress.

Kathleen spoke about how fashion is splintering in many different directions and 3D digital printing of clothing is not too far away.

Information about another new-age development came via my WA friend Lucinda Giblett who sent a link to the work of designer Suzanne Lee who is growing vegetable leather using kombucha fermentation techniques. See her amazing ‘grow your own clothes’ TED talk hereContinue reading

Sew 87 – Signpost for wool

Upcycled wool jumper and skirt

This black wool jumper carries the distinctive Woolmark logo but I’m less certain about the fibres in the second jumper I converted to a skirt and scarf for this outfit.

Wool is a beautiful fibre from nature and it is great to see the trademark Woolmark making a comeback after languishing for a period while the wool industry got its act together.

Australia is the leading wool producing nation but New Zealand spearheaded the wool comeback with its Icebreaker Merino story dramatically showing the way.  Check out Southern Alps and Merino 101 here – such a great product and the quality remains long after the price is forgotten.

Prince Charles is an influential ambassador for wool as it aligns with the sustainability philosophy he has championed for a lifetime. The Prince’s Campaign for Wool helped revive the Woolmark as the signature of assured provenance.

Woolmark is owned and funded by Australian growers and it was leadership from Stuart McCullough that brought the Woolmark out of mothballs to celebrate 50 years in 2014 and proudly feature in Italy’s L’Uomo Vogue March issue about Australia.

Today’s upcycle is of a black op shop wool jumper which I smartened up by removing the pilling which can accumulate with wear and now it’s as good as new. The second jumper is too lightweight to be 100 percent wool but nonetheless was perfect for conversion to my signature jumper-skirt, but reshaping the bottom and using the sleeves as a scarf.

upcycled jumper skirt


Sew 86 – Valuing others’ work

upcycled wool and linen

Respecting time, effort and resources of others’ creations is part of today’s upcycle which includes the waistband of a knitted garment now featuring as a loose collar.

Thinking of others is key to the inspiring story told at the Rural Press Club by Danielle Crismani about her leadership journey during the 2011 Queensland floods when a simple act of baking muffins for volunteers sparked an outpouring of baked relief at this time of community crisis.

By giving to others Danielle has achieved many things, including being able to opening dispense her recipe for overcoming depression – which is show gratitude, sleep, be kind to yourself and help others. There were many great pearls of wisdom in Danielle’s speech, which you can get a taste of by reading ABC Landline Pip Courtney’s twitter feed.  Continue reading

Sew 85 – Upcycled history skirt

upcycled history skirt

This history skirt is one of a series of three I made for the Green Heart Fair last year from six reject silk and linen garments, which I wear with an op shop navy wool top. Back home in Brisbane and excited today to be wearing this to the Rural Press Club lunch which is about the power of one person to change things and the power of cooking to bring communities and strangers together.

Baked Relief founder Danielle Crismani, @digellabakes on Twitter, is guest speaker talking about her amazing community leadership in 2011 and the recent #lovetothewest campaign. “When the 2011 floods hit the Lockyer Valley, Brisbane woman Danielle Crismani baked a batch of muffins for the volunteers she saw on her TV screen. Within days of a mention on Facebook, hundreds of people inspired by her act of kindness – were baking for flood hit communities. The accidently created charity ‘Baked Relief’ is still going with volunteers baking for Queensland’s drought hit farmers.”  Continue reading

Sew 84 – Moving along

upcycled silk dress

Hand-stitching an embellishment to a plain neckline is an easy way to change the look of a silk shift dress and it doesn’t need to be permanent – you can change it again any time you want. Investing a little time adapting clothing that’s already in your wardrobe rather than spending time shopping for new stuff is one way you can be part of the Fashion Revolution which is raising awareness of where clothes come from.

April 24 is Fashion Revolution Day, a global movement in response to the Rana Plaza fire on that day last year which exposed the exploitative realities of cheap fast fashion and caused by rethink about ethical and sustainable ways of dressing. Stories like Toxic Clothes on The Project last night are bringing light to problems with some new denim jeans – giving pause for thought.

Fashion Revolution Day actions

Fashion Revolution Day is encouraging us all to be curious, find out and do something about the way we engage with our clothes – in the same way we are now more engaged and interested in the food we eat, how it was produced and where it comes from.  Continue reading

Sew 83 – Second life for crochet

red crocheted wool cardigan

This fire-engine red crocheted wool cardigan was carefully created by an unknown soul before I rescued it from an op shop, rinsed in wool wash, repaired the seams and teamed with a black and red checked wool wrap skirt.

Valuing natural resources by upcycling existing clothing was the subject of a session I shared with Manjimup Senior High School home economics students in south-west Western Australia this morning, and it was great to engage and learn their perspectives. Sustainability is part of the new curriculum and I enjoyed the opportunity to seed ideas for slow fashion and future upcycling projects.

I was in Manjimup briefly to see my gorgeous friend and RIRDC Rural Women’s Award colleague Lucinda Giblett who is doing great work sowing seeds and ideas that enrich life, land and traditions through her community organisation Stellar Violets.  It celebrates learning, living richly, health, land stewardship, local heritage, traditional skills, and the wisdom of elders. Continue reading

Sew 82 – Green leaf eco-dye

Sew it Again 82 web

This upcycle was done in stages with the cotton dress shortened then dyed in a hot pot with green leaves. The skirt offcut becomes a waistband tied with a bow and eco-dyed silk is added to the neckline and sleeves to disguise stains.

I woke this morning to a beautiful view across a dam into a green canopy of tinglewood trees at our friend Jan’s place at Walpole in south west Western Australia. The beauty of the place is tinged with sadness because it was while landscaping Jan’s place that my brother Paul lost his life in an excavator accident here a year ago. I’ve returned with some jarrah timber which we hope in time and thanks to the Walpole Men’s Shed will become a seat somewhere along the Bibbulmun Track that Paul enjoyed walking from end-to-end several times.

Continue reading

Sew 81 – Reviving the sewing machine

jumper skirt

This upcycle is an adapted woollen jumper cropped under the shoulders to become two pieces – the sleeves sewn together as a scarf and the bottom of the jumper becoming a skirt.

When you have a sewing machine and you use it, you have choice about what you wear and can make small changes so existing clothing works better for you.

It was fun to help my Perth friend Pat Milne get her sewing machine out and adapt a few garments that weren’t working very well for her, including a dress that was too big under the arms. Pat used to take classes with friends in a beautiful big sewing studio when living in Orange, New South Wales but had drifted away from the habit in recent years.

Pat Milne sewing

Pat also revealed a special collection of threads and sewing tools bequeathed from her Aunt Bett – including these linen and silk threads on wooden spools and a beautiful authentic thimble.

To make this jumper skirt, I cut the jumper below the arms then added another piece of fabric to become waistband with elastic inside it. The sleeves were sewn together on the diagonal and it wraps around the neck as a scarf pinned with a brooch made from an old earring.

jumper skirt convo