AS a guest of Jane Milburn and Ele Cook at Brisabne’s TextileBeat sewing studio, it is safe to say their passion for “upcycling” is completely infectious.
After being personally instructed on how to transform a slouchy old jumper into (a totally wearable) skirt, the two vivacious women behind this marvellous concept outlined their appreciation for nature, agriculture, sewing and holistic living.
Intrinsically connected through a genuine concern for rural Australia, these soul sisters met through the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, were both recipients of the RIDIC Rural Women’s Award, and are now “study buddies” for their leadership courses through James Cook University.
In a freakish coincidence, further reflecting their grounded love for nature, both Jane and Ele are avid collectors of heart stones that have been perfectly shaped by nature.
“We couldn’t believe it when we realised that we both collect heart stones,” Jane said.
“It is absolutely amazing what you can find in nature when you are looking,” Ele agreed.
Established in 2013, TextileBeat is about inspiring the upcycling and recycling of natural fibres, fabric and textured objects, and following the heart – a recurring theme for these women - on a creative journey by working with integrity, creativity and purpose.
“For me it is about wanting to be surrounded by likeminded people,” Jane said.
“I believe that you can make leaps and bounds working in teams.”
Both women have been devoted op-shoppers all their lives - inspired out of necessity while studying – and years later still nothing excites them more than ‘fill a bag for a fiver’ days.
“When I started going again about two years ago I realised there was a lot of great stuff out there– silks, wools, and linens – all just sitting there discarded,” Jane said
“So much amazing material was just going to waste.”
However, once confined in the walls of a second hand store, rather than being transformed into consumerist animals, Jane and Ele ensure that they buy garments made only from natural fibres.
“We are trying to rescue those treasures that shouldn’t be shredded and thrown into rag bags,” Ele said.
“It is about taking the opportunity to appreciate the energy that has gone into some of the old needlework, and honouring the historical journey of these amazing pieces.”
With Jane having spent her life as a rural journalist and media advocate for agribusiness, and Ele an organic beef producer as well as ex-country journalist, both women are devoted to putting farmers in the spotlight.
Inspired by the paddock to plate mantra that has evolved in the food realm, TextileBeat aims to demonstrate the lifecycle of our natural fibres.
“I see this as a way of honouring and preserving natural fibres in a novel way, and I think this will also connect urban people with the product off the land,” Jane said.
With an exhibition already booked for January in Ele’s hometown of Coolah, NSW, the women dream of displaying their wares in galleries across Queensland.
“We are confident it would be well received - it’s cultural and social – there would just be so many benefits for small communities,” Ele said.
“2014 is sort of what we are working towards for the main rollout,” Jane said.
In a further effort to revive traditional sewing skills that Jane and Ele believe have largely been lost, TextileBeat have already started running sewing demonstrations and workshops in Brisbane.
“It’s such a nice feeling to recycle an old garment in the wardrobe, rather than just discarding it,” Ele said.
“I was lucky that my mother sewed a lot of our clothes when I was a kid, and so I learned those skills,” Jane said.
“But generally it is such a forgotten art.”
“I really want people to realise that sustainability and using natural resources all contributes to that overall sense of wellbeing.”