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Upcycling Workshop: A New Source of Fabric

I’m wandering down a brick lined street in Melbourne, confused and lost. Without data enabled on my iPhone, I stare down at my paper map and wonder if I am even in the right part of the city. The large block of apartments immediately in front of me signals I can co no further. Turning on my heels I notice a breeze blocked garage tucked in the corner. White washed, except for the pained face of bat woman, her red eyes urge me to enter the black door to her right. I’ve reached the right place, Laneway Learning in Central Melbourne. One of their many centres that offer cheap, fun and accessible workshops. Founders Tom, Mark and Lucie set up this not for profit organisation in Melbourne for people to try a short class in a subject without committing to a full term of evening classes.

I booked in for an upcycling shirt workshop advertised as part of the Sustainable Living Festival taking place in Melbourne that weekend. As a keen fashion upcycler, I wanted to learn some new techniques and meet like minded people during my visit to this very cool city. Not knowing what to expect, I’d entered into a compact and deconstructed classroom. Insulation fibres poking through the eaves in the ceiling and the month’s class schedule chalked up on a black wall. The décor is perfectly suited to Melbourne’s street style. Skye Bennett, the Melbourne manager welcomed me in as she plonked an overflowing box of men’s formal shirts on one of the large tables filling the room. Donated by carl Nave especially for this evening, the shirts were a conservative blue and white. I spied a piece of purple gingham poking out of the box and claimed it for my own.

With a burst of energy our teacher for the evening rushes into the front of the class carrying a dressmakers dummy and a bag of textiles. Gay Naismith set up the School of Sewing and Upcycling in 2015 with an emphasis on sustainable sewing. With a whole range of classes at her Footscray school, she volunteers at Laneway Learnings to introduce students to new techniques. There are around twenty of us in the rom all holding onto our shirts in anticipation of what new outfits we can make from one simple item. ‘Men’s shirts are an amazing source of fabric’ Gaye tells us as she demonstrates what can be down with a little ‘wrapping, reconfiguring and some cutting’, no sewing machines required.

Louise Angrilli in the photo above is modelling a new skirt she created by simply buttoning two shirts together and tucking the sleeves in to make pockets. Louise is an avid fan of the Great British Sewing Bee and came along to experience the part of the show she loves best, where they deconstruct a garment to make a new one.

Sally is holding a beautiful bark cloth shirt she picked up at an Op Shop and came along to gain ideas on how to refashion the shirt. I hadn’t heard the term Op Shop before but Sally explained it is short for an opportunity, a charity or thrift shop. We swapped tips on shopping for vintage fabrics, her motto being ‘one out, four in’. Gaye’s advice on altering Sally’s shirt was to shorten the sleeves and remove the collar to give it a more feminine shape.

Inhibitions soon forgotten, everyone was buttoning each other up in an assortment of cotton shirts. Finding scissors on the table, I chopped the collar off my shirt and fashion it into a dress, buttoning it up at the back and reforming the sleeves into a belt. ‘You need to release your avant garde fashionista doing this sort of thing’ Gaye chuckles to the class. ‘So many existing fabrics in the world goes into landfill, the stats are outrageous’. Like me, Gaye had attended the ‘Wardrobe Crisis’ discussion panel at the Sustainable Living Festival on Saturday. The global issue is just starting to reach customer awareness. ‘Set yourself a challenge to spend a year only wearing outfits made from men’s second hand clothes’ Gaye suggests. I certainly had fun in this hour long class and learnt some new upcycling ideas. I think this shirt dress is going to need a bit more work before I feel comfortable wearing it in public.

Gaye recommends the book Stylish Remakes by Violette Room

Closer to home in London, Fabrications host excellent classes on how to repair and upcycle clothes. Or pop into mine and Eleanor’s regular repair and refashion class, Fast Fashion Therapy.