Making feels good – Julie Livingstone

Although it may not be practical for everybody to go back to making everything for themselves and being completely self-sufficient, Western Australian Julie Livingstone believes it is good for our mental wellbeing to be able to create something.

Julie Livingstone wears a vest she recreated from op-shop-found denim for The Slow Clothing Project.

Julie Livingstone wears a vest she recreated from op-shop-found denim for The Slow Clothing Project.

This is part of what’s described (in Womankind Magazine #9) as ‘living directly’ or facing the world in its raw form, rather than through mediated experiences. Examples of living directly are cooking, sewing, chatting to others in person or patting the cat – whereas mediated living is experiences where someone else (film director, advertising executive or social media tools) is shaping the reality for you.

Based on a semi-rural property in the hills outside Perth, Julie likes to ‘live directly’ spending time just pottering around in the garden. “There is a terrific feeling of satisfaction to be gained from getting one’s hands dirty, and making something oneself. As an example, a couple of years ago I picked up an old wooden office chair from the side of the road when it was council clean-up time, and although it sat in the shed for some time before I was able to start, I have now fixed it and re-upholstered it. I’d far rather do that than go to a big box store and buy a new one,” she said.

“We simply can’t go on the way we have done in the past, it just isn’t sustainable. And I think it’s not healthy either, in an emotional way. It’s so easy for people to think they have to have the latest thing, and strive to get it, but once they have it there is always something else on the horizon which seems equally desirable. The satisfaction is very short lived, and that’s not right.”

Julie is part of The Slow Clothing Project because she supports the ethos and is horrified to realise how much clothing just goes to waste every year. She loves the idea of creating something new and wearable from clothes that other people have discarded – and quite often reconstructs or remodels clothes bought from op shops.

While it does sometimes give her pause that she has taken several perfectly good garments, and made only one new one – she knows that a large percentage of the clothes donated to op shops don’t get sold and end up being shipped overseas (often to finish as landfill) so that makes her feel a bit better about it.  She wears the garments she makes, and the leftover scraps are often kept for future projects. “It’s true that what I do throw away ends up as landfill in this country, but I’ve had the satisfaction of making something I enjoy, and I buy less new fabric to feed my sewing habit,” Julie said.

She is fascinated by the effect of wear on fabrics, and how they are changed by being made into clothes and worn. For this project, Julie unpicked parts of denim garments, which fade and acquire beautiful patterns along seams, hems and waistbands. There is an effect reminiscent of shibori dyeing, which she thinks can be too beautiful to throw away.


The vest is made from denim, several pairs of children’s jeans and some legs cut from jeans after converting them into shorts. Children’s jeans are cheap in the op shop, usually only $1 or $2, and they have a bigger proportion of waistbands, hems etc to fabric, plus the fabric is not as heavy as adult jeans and therefore easier to work with. I unpicked the waistbands, hems, pockets, and any other suitable areas that I could find – many hours with a seam ripper! I chose a jeans jacket pattern, stitched pieces together again to create fabric large enough to make a denim vest which I lined with fabric taken from an old sundress (from the op shop), and piped around the facings etc. with a contrasting bias strip.”


This vest and a jacket were Julie’s entries into this year’s Castaway to Couture contest run by the Australian Sewing Guild. Julie won second prize with the jacket! All of the winning entries can be seen on the Guild’s blog here.

Julie actually started learning to sew so long ago that she doesn’t really remember how! But, what she does know is that she hasn’t finished learning yet – there are always new ways of doing things and more skills to perfect.

“I’ve sewn clothes for myself, children, other family members, soft furnishings, dance costumes to name just a few. Oh, and fancy dress for my daughters when they were young, and their ponies. Not as much of my wardrobe is handmade as I’d like, I tend to spend quite a lot of time making just a few things, but I like to make as many of my own clothes as possible.”

“I have been sewing as a hobby all my adult life and now that my children are grown up and have left home, I have more time to develop my skills and creativity. I joined the Australian Sewing Guild two years ago, and I’m finding it an excellent way to network and connect with others with similar interests,” Julie said.

Advice for people starting to sew and make more of their own clothing? “Just get on and do it! There are often sewing classes, and if you can’t get to a class there are plenty of videos, tutorials etc all over the internet. Or ask family or friends, maybe some of them know how to sew and would help.” And you might want to get in touch with the Australian Sewing Guild because its mission is ‘sharing and furthering the art of sewing’.

Upcycling makes unique – Bron Berkin

Bron Berkin’s wardrobe is 100 percent restyled, secondhand clothing, upcycled, and vintage pieces. Her love of vintage fashion, stunning fabrics and workmanship of a bygone era – and her attraction to the unique – led Bron into upcycling and recycling preloved clothes as her work evolved from loving and selling original vintage to hand-making individual pieces using vintage fabrics and material that was retro quirky and different.

Bron Berkin wears her upcycled Wolf Tee Dress for The Slow Clothing Project

Bron Berkin wears her upcycled Wolf Tee Dress for The Slow Clothing Project

She now runs a small business designing, sewing and upcycling at Yeppoon in central Queensland. ‘It has been amazing to see people embracing what I was doing and enjoying the ‘one-off’ pieces!”

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A panel beater – Eliza Kelly

Slow clothing is a different way of dressing and thinking about clothing than the way most of the world sees it, says New South Wales teenager Eliza Kelly. “It is exciting to think that I can dress in a way that uses old, or out-of-fashion clothing to make something new. I love the way that I can create something original, unique and different. Isn’t it awesome when someone says ‘what a nice …… where did you get it?’ and I can say that I made it! It makes me warm on the inside when I know that I have recycled something and given it another life,” Eliza said.

Eliza Kelly from Parkes NSW wears her upcycled denim skirt for The Slow Clothing Project

Eliza Kelly from Parkes NSW wears her upcycled denim skirt for The Slow Clothing Project

“The attitude of the world today seems to be that ‘new is better’, and ‘more, more, more’, but I think that there is so much beauty, uniqueness and stories to be told about recycled and re-modelling clothing. There is so much to be gained by recycling and re-using the materials that we have been given, and changing things with older fit, style or fashion to be useable today and tomorrow,” she said.

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Stitch then bundle – Wendi Trulson

No one is too old or young to learn a new skill. That’s why south-east Queensland textile artist Wendi Trulson believes everyone can learn to create their own garments by just giving it a go.

Wendi Trulson wears her eco-dye upcycled wool and cashmere swing top for The Slow Clothing Project

Wendi Trulson wears her eco-dye upcycled wool and cashmere swing top for The Slow Clothing Project

Wendi’s passion is bundle (eco print) dyeing because of its sustainable and earth-friendly.  It makes one think not only of the material waste but the chemical destruction that poisons the waterways of the world.

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Hand mind creativity – Sarah Lundgren

Sarah Lundgren believes creativity is important for wellbeing and good health – and is stimulated by the work of the hands and mind.


Sarah-Lundgren-wears-her-eco-dyed wool-garment-for-The-Slow-Clothing-Project

She learned the basics of sewing from primary and secondary school, having textile as a subject. Sarah’s grateful now that when growing up, her parents empowered her to mend and hem her own clothes. Reusing and recycling clothes was part of her upbringing, yet in recent years she has become more interested in learning how to make outfits and therefore her sewing skills have improved over time.
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Aussies send 85% of textiles to landfill

Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard 23 kilograms into landfill – and two-thirds of those discards are manmade fibres that take decades to rot.

Sustainability consultant Jane Milburn said Australians are the second-largest consumers of new textiles after north Americans who annually buy 37kg each, and ahead of Western Europeans at 22kg while consumption in Africa, the Middle East and India averages just 5 kg per person. These figures are sourced from north American magazine Textile World.

Textile World graphic of per capita consumption

“There’s been a transformational shift in the way we source, use and discard our clothing which has major social and environmental implications. Fast fashion produced from global supply chains is driving purchasing of excessive new clothing, often discarded after a few wears,” Ms Milburn said.

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Eclectic sustainable style – Kate Fletcher

Kate Fletcher from Tasmania has been involved with making and recycling clothing as long as she can remember. For the past 10 years she has organised a sustainable clothing show at the Local Sustainable Living event in Hobart, motivated by growing awareness of the environmental and social impacts of the global clothing industry.

Tasmania's Kate Fletcher wears her story-filled garment hand-stitched as part of The Slow Clothing Project

Tasmania’s Kate Fletcher wears her story-filled garment hand-stitched for The Slow Clothing Project

Kate’s individual style is influenced by people at home and abroad, many of whom she is connected with through the volunteer program Willing Workers on Organic Farms.

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Upcycling activism – Cathy Stuart

Cathy Stuart from Newcastle in New South Wales believes that the act of making something, particularly from reused or old stuff, can create a deep sense of satisfaction, achievement and self-worth for the maker. Resourcefulness and resilience are enhanced. Being able to re-use and re-purpose an object is, in Cathy’s view, a key skill in becoming more environmentally sustainable. It reduces our need to consume new resources as well as makes us responsible for managing our own waste.

Jasmine wears an upcycled couture creation made by her mother Cathy Stuart for The Slow Clothing Project

Jasmine wears an upcycled couture creation made by her mother Cathy Stuart for The Slow Clothing Project

Cathy is increasingly disturbed by the new ‘normal’ in how our society of planned and perceived obsolescence operates, driving totally unsustainable levels of consumption. “We are somehow lulled into believing that this is the only way our economy and therefore society can survive. I worry about the world my teenage daughters are growing up in, where cheap fashion is close to worthless one season after it is bought, and op shops are even now struggling to cope with the deluge of clothing and homewares they receive,” she said.

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Shibori-dye revive – Denise Traynor

Brisbane-based textile enthusiast Denise Traynor believes that how we choose to spend our money ultimately has an impact on how things are made. “If consumers reject exploitative, wasteful production techniques, over packaging and excessive transport models by insisting on locally produced, fair-traded goods, we can lower our carbon footprint and reduce the demand for unfair wages and slavery used to produce them,” Denise said.

Mei models the dress and cardigan that Denise Traynor shibori-dyed to be a matched outfit for The Slow Clothing Project.

Mei models the dress and cardigan Denise Traynor shibori-dyed as a matched set for The Slow Clothing Project.

Denise also believes that reusing and remaking otherwise obsolete items helps to counteract the wasteful, mass production, mass consumption model that is causing so much environmental and social harm in the world. “I believe our disposable society has contributed to this harm. Plastic fibres, wearing clothes for one or two seasons, produced in third world countries with poor employment and environmental protection records, has made mountains of waste and other pollution.”

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Creative eco-fashion – Mariana Kirova

Mariana Kirova is a professional upcycler, an eco-fashion educator and an agent for change. She  transforms rescued clothing into unique timeless pieces through her Perth-based business Eco Fashion Sewing which she established after studying fashion design in Western Australia.

Mariana Kirova creates an eco-fashion statement ensemble for The Slow Clothing Project.

Mariana Kirova wears an eco-fashion statement ensemble she created for The Slow Clothing Project.

Mariana said it is sad to see lots of fashion students graduating in Australia each year yet only a few stay and work in the fashion industry. “If Australian fashion brands have their production at home, this wouldn’t be happening,” she said.

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