REAL AUSTRALIA

Stitching together the fabric of localism

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by Kathy Sharpe, a group editor with ACM.

Do you remember a couple of years back when everything vaguely homemade was labelled as "bespoke"?

It was around the same time your meal started arriving on a wooden board - I think it was during the great plate shortage of 2017.

Juice and cocktails were served in jam jars, baristas had beards that threatened to dangle in the froth of the chai latte they were taking all day to make, and compulsory attire for any retail worker was a butcher's apron and a dreamy expression.

But the use of the fancy word "bespoke" tells me that handmade things these days are more than just cute; the fact that they are made by a real person who may even live in your town makes this object rare and precious.

Despite having no skills in this area whatsoever, I'm really interested in the idea that there is a renewed enthusiasm for sewing, knitting, crocheting and general crafting and making by a new generation.

Strathfieldsaye's Emily Bibby encourages people to learn the basic skills of sewing, knitting and clothing repair.

Strathfieldsaye's Emily Bibby encourages people to learn the basic skills of sewing, knitting and clothing repair.

I happened to be doing some reporting in the beautiful Victorian city of Bendigo, where I met Emily Bibby, one of those annoying people who is good at everything. She makes clothes, dress patterns, costumes for her local theatre company, toys, gowns, suits, hats and the list goes on.

Emily is frustrated that people view needlework and dressmaking as being in the too hard sewing basket, and says if more young people were taught the basic skills they could easily make and repair things for themselves.

Sitting in her "sewing shack" surrounded by fabrics of all colours and textures, she told me she was taught her skills by her mother, grandmother and aunt, and she is now teaching her daughter.

"I just think there's something magical about it," she said.

Volunteer sewing teacher Liz Steen with Zakia Sultani and Anger Madut working together making re-usable produce bags at Bendigo's SisterWorks workshop.

Volunteer sewing teacher Liz Steen with Zakia Sultani and Anger Madut working together making re-usable produce bags at Bendigo's SisterWorks workshop.

While still in Bendigo, I discovered how communal sewing is doing good in the community.

Anger Madut, who fled war torn South Sudan, told me she spent much of her first two years in Australia feeling desperately alone.

"I felt I had no friends, and nowhere to go. I just stayed inside my house. I was very lonely," she said.

They make beeswax wraps and recyclable shopping bags which they sell, and Anger says she has found friendship, a network, support and a place to practise her English.

Like the Men's Shed movement, these groups are much more than a creative exercise, providing much needed companionship and a chance to socialise.

The benefits of children learning to sew and make things go far beyond the practical, says Warrnambool sewing teacher Sally Jane.

The benefits of children learning to sew and make things go far beyond the practical, says Warrnambool sewing teacher Sally Jane.

Down in Warrnambool at the bottom of Victoria, one teacher says sewing can help children with mindfulness, problem solving and give them a sense of accomplishment.

In one of her regular columns, titled A stitch in time costs a fortune, ACM writer Michelle Haines Thomas, reflected on her mother's skills, back in the day when it was normal for people to make wedding dresses, bridesmaids dresses and school formal finery.

Michelle asks if one day we'll look at sewing machines the way we now look at a blacksmith's forge - a relic from days long gone.

She also points out the economic reality - the cost of materials and time spent on making things from scratch is far greater than the cost of buying something off the rack.

Sustainability expert Jane Milburn says we are seeing a return to localism as many turn their back on fast fashion.

Sustainability expert Jane Milburn says we are seeing a return to localism as many turn their back on fast fashion.

Which brings us to the modern day world of fast fashion. Another of our group writers, Dayle Latham, spoke to sustainability expert Jane Milburn, who reminds us that the most sustainable garment you own is the one already hanging in your wardrobe.

She also supports a return to the dressmaking crafts

"These are every day life skills we think we don't need anymore, because we can just go buy a new one if a button's missing. But that's not very satisfying - it's wasteful and leaves us feeling a bit empty. We're not working with our hands in the way nature intended."

However she does acknowledge not everyone has the time or the inclination, and in that case Ms Milburn says looking around your local community for someone with the skills is the way to go.

"That might be your grandma, or it might be someone who is a seamstress or a tailor," she says. "You might even find someone who can teach you to sew. It's a return to localism. We've done globalism, and there are some efficiencies there, but we are recognising we need to really value our local communities and connections."

Kathy Sharpe

Group editor, Australian Community Media

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