Monday, May 27, 2024

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HomeIssue 25From rags to wearable riches

From rags to wearable riches

A bridal gown from a tablecloth, a party dress from a curtain, a coat from a blanket. And how? Raid the op shops, then recycle, deconstruct, reconstruct, embellish. Sewing skills are a must; tacking is advised. Above all, have an eye for design, for the possibilities.

They call it “sustainable couture” and last night was its fourth showing in Alice Springs. Well-known names were joined by first-timer Jane Lloyd, who has recently found time to resurrect the sewing skills taught by her mother when they lived in Darwin in the days before TV.
There’s a camaraderie between the designers, all of them women. So much so that Nicky Schonkala, known for the clean lines of her designs, feels that her style is “morphing” into Carmel Ryan’s – more complex and decorative.
Something different she’s done this year is design for a man (model David Nixon appeared much to the delight of the audience), dressing up an ordinary suit with, among other things, tails made from another pair of men’s trousers.
Julie Millerick has gone against cutting up old garments as she used to – “that’s not sustainable” – plumping for embellishment instead.
Kathy Frank used the technique known as ‘nuno felting’ applied to fabric from an old kimono and an old sari, to create richly textured effects.
Philomena Hali worked wonders with an old blanket (and a few other things) – fashioning a rose for a choker, cutting wonderful shapes for garments that you wrap and pin and layer, embellishing with roundels cut from the blanket topped off with old buttons, adding frills, stitching patterns, including a new favourite – leaves.
Franca Frederiksen, who first demonstrated the ‘couture’ possibilities of  blankets at the 2008 Wearable Arts Awards, turned her attention this year to curtains. You could still see the curtain rings in the belt of her Amelia Earhart-inspired design, very fitting for the venue chosen for this year’s showing –  a hangar in the aviation museum.
Carmel Ryan was true to form with her delightfully feminine concoctions fitting out a bridal party. She admits she can look at almost anything and
get ideas of what to make from it. This year the gift of a pair of pink satin
bridesmaid’s dresses got her going. The donor was in the audience: “I want them back now!” she called.
There would have been around 400 people in the hangar – standing room only as a veritable festival of textile arts and crafts got underway in Alice. Last night’s show was followed today by a student exhibition and fashion show at Batchelor Institute, and tonight the Centralian
classic, the Beanie Festival opens. – Story and photos by KIERAN FINNANE
Pictured, from top, designs by: Nicky Schonkala x 2 • Julie Millerick • Jane Lloyd • Carmel Ryan • Franca Frederiksen • Philomena Hali • Kathy Frank.
At bottom: The aviation setting inspired the curtain raiser performance.








  1. The yellow aircraft pictured above shows the Kookaburra two-seater glider in the Aviation Museum. It is built mostly of wood. I have fond memories of looping it several times until I was advised it is not rated for aerobatics. I was not surprised as, pulling four Gs at the bottom of the loops, I’m sure I could hear the white ants saying to each-other: “Hang on, mate, here we go again!”

  2. Great article and photos as usual Kieran.
    Thanks so much for your support and coverage and for taking’Sustainable Couture’ to the people.
    Your knowledge, history and passion for local community events make your newspaper stand out from the rest!

  3. Très belle présentation de la mode.
    Je vous encourage à continuer
    Félicitations !!!!!
    [ED – translation: Very beautiful fashion presentation. I encourage you to continue. Congratulations!!!!!]

  4. What a great night! Standing three rows deep in the Aviation Museum beneath the proud nose of a gallant DC3 and that (2 seater!) glider, watching the models in local designer clothes for $5, was an unbelievably satisfying and entertaining time.
    They were all so good, but being an Amelia Earhart fan (recently watched the DVD again with Hilary Swank), I have to say that the jodhpurs with curtain ring belt was a triumph. The blanket jacket set it off with elegance and Amelia was in the room again.
    I loved the bridal dress too – a totally new take for me and very stylish. I don’t want to go on because they were all so fabulous. Congratulations to everyone. What a fantastic community event, proving that period drama and fashion is not only recyclable, but timeless in its appeal. It was Alice Springs Inc. setting the bar.


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