Neroli Roocke knows the satisfaction of wearing or using something that she’s put thought, time and physical effort into. She believes the story behind the garment or item adds to its value and that being surrounded by a richness of stories brings wellbeing and connectedness.
Neroli lives in Brisbane Australia in a household of makers and doers. “My husband and both of my boys are willing to take on projects to build or make something that they want – researching techniques online and using the workshop and tools and sewing machine to achieve what they set out to do. We have made bows and replica medieval arrow bags, detailed and accurate Star Wars and anime cosplay costumes, mock weapons, helmets and armour,” she said.
“We grow vegetables, nowhere near enough to sustain us completely but enough to make a good contribution to some meals. I really enjoy tending the garden as a break from the technology-driven tasks that make up my working day. We have chickens who keep us well supplied with eggs and their cluck and chatter is always an invitation to sit in the garden for a while. As I have teenagers, we are all now sharing the cooking with everyone being responsible for at least one dinner a week generally cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients.”
Thinking carefully about consumption is a key to sustainability, Neroli said. “I am trying more and more to ask myself how I can use something again (a dog-bed cover made from an old curtain, garden ties for tomatoes from old t-shirts) rather than buy new. The more we can do that, the more we become resilient and resourceful.”
“I often find fashion overwhelming – so much is available at such a cheap cost and what is ‘in’ changes with the rapid stock turnover of shops. I think the spotlight on the working conditions and lives of garment makers in overseas factories is provoking a more thoughtful response to clothing. I don’t want to see these workers lose their industries or jobs but I think their work does need to be valued more and reflected in the price paid for garments. I am concerned that fast fashion has spread to fast home décor. Rather than outfit a home with decades in mind, furniture and soft furnishing are marketed as seasonal fashion items.”
About one-third of Neroli’s wardrobe is filled with garments she has made. “I don’t make the basics like black pants for work. The things I’ve made are the feature or special garments – made from stand-out fabric which often I’ve found in unusual places or for special events. For example, last year I made a simple top from a piece of screen printed silk/linen from Gunbalanya in Arnhem Land. I have a piece of silk I bought in Vietnam sitting on the shelf waiting to become a dress.“
“Sewing was a constant part of my childhood. The first shop-bought dress I remember getting was in the mid-70s when I was about six. I was blessed with a mother and two grandmothers who could sew, knit, crochet and embroider. I leaned to sew simply by helping and being part of conversations and the garment-making process. From laying out and pinning to sewing and fitting. Each Christmas or special occasion meant a new hand-made outfit. As a child it seemed like magic the dresses for Mum, my sister and I would always be finished in time. Of course what was happening was a lot of late-night work by Mum who was a school teacher. She made our high school formal dresses, my bridesmaid dresses and countless wonderful outfits for herself, some of which I have now.
“Sadly we lost our Mum in 2008. I really miss fabric shopping with her, seeing and talking over the possibilities in every bolt that caught our eye, and also having a personal advisor on the other end of the phone when I tackled a new project. Since then I’ve come to rely heavily on the pattern instructions and bought a book of basic techniques which has been helpful. Zips however are my nemesis so I avoid choosing patterns that involve zips! It’s one of my goals this year to neatly sew a flat zip into a garment without getting stressed.”
Neroli is a former ABC journalist now doing communications work for a farm group. She signed up for The Slow Clothing Project to be inspired by the creativity of others and to connect with people who think and enjoy the same things she does.
“I have always liked mid-century fabrics, especially those described as bark-cloth. Unfortunately vintage clothing very rarely fits me – people were so much smaller and skinnier then. I’ve started collecting fabric from that era and earlier and have a few items in my wardrobe from vintage fabric. This yellow, charcoal and lavender check was a curtain that I found on Ebay – so my project is inspired by The Sound of Music. It is a heavy cotton with a textured weave. Luckily there was enough in the two curtain drops for two skirts – one for me and one for the Slow Clothing Project. I’ve used a pattern I know well which is quite economical with fabric and has an elastic, but not gathered, waistline (no zip!!). Matching the checks from front to back was a challenge and because I was trying to get two skirts out of the curtain, one has the dark lines running vertically and the other horizontally. I used cotton I already had but bought new elastic to finish them off. “
So Neroli headed off to work this week looking gorgeous in her natural, original, well-fitting skirt that holds her creative energy and sustainable values. Her advice for people starting to sew and make more of their own clothing is just give it a go! “There is so much information to help – instructions included with commercial sewing patterns, Youtube videos, books and many places offer lessons. The trick is to be patient and not too ambitious to start with. I’ve often said to my kids that if you can read, you can cook. Sewing is also like following a recipe, you just do each step as it’s described and at the end you will have a finished creation.” Thanks Neroli for being part of The Slow Clothing Project!