Sewing the history of my life – Brisbane

16 Jan

I wrote this the evening Brisbane was slowly disappearing underwater, but didn’t post it, feeling it a bit self-indulgent. But my Darling Fiance thought it was interesting to see how my dressmaking is an integral part of my personal history. So I figure there is really no harm in posting it, now it is written…

My 22nd year was spent in Brisbane. I lived in Auchenflower and later Toowong, worked in Taringa, shopped in Indooroopilly (Ah, Sckafs, the wonderous Sckafs!). The scars of the 1974 floods were everywhere if you knew what you were seeing. I reckon at least one of the houses I lived in would be underwater today.

All the images, all the names, all the streets and suburbs splashed all over the news has brought memories of my time in Brisbane back so sharply. (I confess, there have been tears).
I was ill, able to work only a few hours a week, and very poor. I had no sewing machine, my wardrobe made up of the few summer clothes I had brought back from Auckland, padded out with the odd op-shop find. Then I got a new flatmate whose prized possession was her grandmother’s sewing machine inherited upon her death a year previously. It was one of those old, sturdy workhorses that will still be going when me and my old flatmate are grandmothers ourselves.

With incredibly generousity she let me use it. Suddenly my wardrobe was on the up. That is what I remember of Brisbane! The clothes I sewed. Sadly I have no pictures of them, too poor to be able to take many photos (it was pre-digital photography back then) and in the few I have I was wearing op-shop clothes.

But I remember still:

  • A lovely georgette-with-cotton-lining shirtwaist dress in grey with soft pink flowers, pattern from New Look, fabric from Lincraft.
  • I had long admired the short-sleeved business suits the girls on the train would wear in summer on their way to work in the CBD. No way I could afford an rtw suit, but with my hands on that sewing machine, a trouser suit in sage green summerweight wool from a clearance fabric store upstairs in Towoong village soon became my prized wardrobe possession. I might have been only working a few hours a week but oh did my 22 yr old self feel so grown up and sophisticated running up and down those stairs at Auchenflower train station!
  • A few oddly shaped and sewn T-shirts – my first fumbling steps at sewing knits.

One dress needs a special mention. I became very good friends with a woman who lived in Warwick. One visit to her, I found in the local shopping centre, a straight dress of very simple line in white rayon with sprays of purple flowers scattered upon it. (We had a bit of a giggle about going from Brisbane to Warwick to buy clothes – and fabric! The local fabric shop there had some sandwashed silk for $7pm. I bought up big, and still have some of it awaiting the Perfect Pattern.)

Back home in Darwin the next year, (coz you can take the girl out of the Territory but I discovered I couldn’t take the Territory out of the girl…) I was able to use mum’s machine again, the same one I had learnt on when a kid, as familiar to me as the back of my hand. I needed that machine! My health improving I was starting to be a more healthy weight, growing out of my Queensland clothes, including what had become known as “my Warwick dress”. So I simply traced the pattern off it, added a bit at the seams, and made another dress. Then when that wore out, I made another… and another. All ‘Warwick dresses’

Years later, my Warwick friend had moved to Brisbane… Lincraft! Need I say more? I couldn’t wait till I got home to Darwin to start sewing the gorgeous fabrics I found there. Fortunately I had had the foresight to bring a few patterns with me. The advent of a digital camera in my life means from this time on, I have a lot more photos of me and my clothes.

Blue rayon dress from a vintage pattern from an op-shop in Auckland,, fabric from Lincraft, Carindale QLD.
The grey skirt I made in Brisbane 8 yrs ago (self-drafted pattern) and still wear on my travels south, (Photo taken this Nov in outback Vic.) Fabric from Lincraft, Carindale QLD.
My “poppy dress” from a Burda pattern, fabric from the stash of my friend in Brisbane.

There, in the livingroom of my friend’s house, as I crawled about her floor, cutting out the clothes, and sewing on her sturdy old machine, one of the most rewarding things in my entire sewing career happened. My friends daughter, then 15, and already a ‘hard core’ punk rocker girl (stunning voice! brilliant guitarist) in an up and coming band. Part of her integral Look were op-shop clothes reworked creatively, cut to shape and held together with safety pins. (They were very poor, op-shop clothes were all they could afford. Fortunately punk, springing originally from such poverty or worse, lent itself well to her clothing approach.)
Her mother and I had presumed the safety pins were all part of The Look. Turns out, no, she just didn’t know how to sew the new improved-shape seams together again. One afternoon, she brought out a pair of old-man trousers cut down to fit her stunning svelt figure, the sides of the legs held together with safety pins. Sadly the edges were fraying and the pins ripping out.
“Can you help me fix this?”
I could indeed. I ended up teaching her the technical basics of sewing, and spent the next few weeks watching her take what I had taught her and run with it, creating (Or saving one she had made already) garment after garment. Creative, funky, totally unique, thrifty, and completely in harmony with her dynamic personality. I learnt so much from her, as she did from me. Soooo rewarding for us both.

One Response to “Sewing the history of my life – Brisbane”

  1. Anonymous January 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    >I enjoyed reading this, and your relationship with cities and the clothes you made there. I have a similar sort of relationship with my clothes. I can still see in my mind's eye clothes I made 50 years ago, if they were significant in my life, and which city I lived in at the time.


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