17 April 2024

Amanda’s stitch-up against the fast-fashion tide

| John Thistleton
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woman in her sewing classroom

Amanda Greenwood has taught ballroom dancing, tutored maths students and has her sewing pupils engaged in casual employment, enabling them to earn money while furthering their sewing skills and knowledge of sewing machines. Photos: John Thistleton.

When a few crusty blokes finished a game of draughts over coffee in Goulburn recently, the conversation took an unexpected turn from their usual dissection of all that ails the world.

“Look at this,” the draughts winner exclaimed to his mates, retrieving his bag from under his chair. “The stitching is fantastic.”

All eyes focused on the bag as the blokes asked, who does that sort of mending these days?

That would be Amanda Greenwood, who believes everyone should learn to sew, and the nation should become more self-sufficient for clothes, rather than being dependent on foreign manufacturers.

While many high schools have discontinued textile and design courses, and Australians now rely on mass-produced fashions from abroad, Amanda has a little teaching enterprise in West Goulburn going against the fast-fashion tide.

Four of her school-aged sewing students take in enough jobs such as hemming, alterations and repairs to earn money while they train.

Amanda began teaching about four years ago. Her biggest year was 2022, when she added the hands-on repairs business. She is teaching her sewing students invoicing for jobs, payroll, customer service, helping with lessons, and even cleaning.

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Amanda learned sewing in high school. But her best mentor was her mother, Elizabeth.

“I was involved with ballroom dancing when I was a child and mum made all the ballroom gowns and did all the hand sewing of the beading and sequinning,” she said. “She made her own curtains, knitted and did hand embroidery. She didn’t give herself enough credit as to how good she really was.”

Elizabeth worked into the night making her daughter’s next outfit, sitting up late sewing on individual beads. As a teenager, Amanda found herself sitting up late too, doing hand embroidery, wanting to try knitting, crocheting and to help her mother with beading and sequinning.

She left that all behind when she completed high school and focused on her career.

ball gown

A modern ball gown with crystal organza and hems completed with fishing line and turkey boa, with sequinned detail in the bodice.

“It wasn’t until the latter years caring for my mum with cancer that I started to get to the stage where I really needed something for me again,” she said.

She began making pet mattresses, dog jackets and similar small items.

Then a woman approached Amanda and asked her to teach her daughter sewing.

“She [the daughter] had wanted to go into design and was mad on sewing,” she said.

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This led Amanda to offer lessons and take on more students. Four years on, her original pupil is continuing lessons, has completed her Higher School Certificate and is working casually for Amanda and enrolled full time at the Canberra Institute of Technology studying design.

“She is very big on costuming. She loves corsetry and period costumes,” she said.

Amanda teaches the basics with a sewing machine: threading the bobbins, machine set-up, standard stitching for seams, straight stitching or zig-zag, and progressing to overlockers for a professional seam finish. Her machines range from standard ones to embroidery machines, a semi-industrial model that can do 1500 stitches a minute, and a cover-stitch unit. Amanda also teaches hand sewing, hand embroidery, how to read patterns, and kids’ craft classes. She has pupils under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

delicate needlework

Some of the delicate needlework in an older-style ball gown Elizabeth Greenwood made many years ago, when the fashion was to have gowns sticking out with big tulle petticoats. This gown was made for Amanda Greenwood when she was 11 and features numerous sequins and seed beads.

Meanwhile, customers bring in their hemming for jeans, trousers and skirts, or ripped work trousers for repair, alterations on sleeves and basic mending. Her pupils look after this.

“They’re on the payroll, that’s another part of the administration. One of the girls sits down every Thursday and puts in the hours the others have turned around.”

Amanda has made clothing including nurses’ scrubs, tops and trousers.

“It’s not where my love lies but we have done it in the past,” she said.

Her passion is teaching and craft work such as patchwork and making quilts. She hosts workshops for people aged eight to 78 and points out the social connections they make are as valuable as the craft they are rediscovering.

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