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Sewing classes in Brisbane have become popular

The “handmade not manufactured” design revolution.

Worldwide there is a genuine resurgence in “doing it yourself”. How many people do you know who have chickens, want to get a beehive, long to plant vegetables, dream of building a backyard pizza oven or wish that their mothers/grandmothers had taught them to sew and knit?

Is this a reaction to our fast-paced lives where we simply exchange our hard-earned money for the goods and services that we want? Is it a longing to be more connected to the processes that create our food and our clothes, a desire to be more closely involved with the products that ultimately shape our lives?


These were the thoughts that were going around and around in my head in 2012 when I made a decision to start my new business – Ministry of Handmade. You see, I had grown up in family where just about everything was handmade (and this is before handmade was trendy). My mother was a dressmaker and my father could turn his hand to anything and produce perfection every time! I had watched my parents recycle, reuse, and reinvent but mainly out of economic necessity. Handmade was second nature to me but what I saw happening in 2012 was different…. unlike earlier generations, craft and “handmade” were no longer economic or social imperatives but a response to a deep desire to find a real emotional connection ….a connection with how life was in simpler times.

I guess in all probability the shift away from handmade had begun in the 1960s and 1970s with the growth of mass production in countries where labour was cheap, coupled with increasing prosperity and development in western nations. It became a sign of success to be able to just go out and buy home ware items and clothing readymade. For the first time it was cheaper to get your garments from the shops. Handmade started to not make as much sense…..you could get it faster and cheaper if you bought it, rather than making it.

And with the prosperity that came with the 1980s we were on the slippery slope to larger and larger scales of mass production in third world countries, increased consumption of household goods and food (to feed our egos and show everyone how well we were doing), the inevitable drop in quality of goods and the growth of a “disposable” culture where it was OK to use something till we tired of it and then throw it away. This resulted in the slow demise of the artisan, the craftsman, the tailor and the gourmet cook. We stopped teaching our children how to sew, how to cook properly, we stopped growing our own vegetables and keeping chooks in our backyards. We stopped teaching our children how to fix a broken chair or repair a torn jacket or recycle an out of date garment into something more current.


But the pendulum swings, as my mother used to say to me……

I think most of us are hard-wired to be creative in some way. Humanity has sustained itself for hundreds of thousands of years by making and doing, building and cultivating. And I guess after a three or four decades of just buying everything we needed (and wanted), a strong disconnect emerged. We became hungry again to “know how”….. how to sew our own clothes, how to cook, how to make furniture, how to carve wood, how to reupholster a chair. And coupled with a strong global push to eliminate waste by reusing and recycling, there is a real desire to be ethical about the materials we use and consume.

Since starting Ministry of Handmade, I have discovered that there are thousands of people who want to learn handmade skills. I guess it is because they realise that in every handmade object there are elements of the maker – an investment of time, a unique choice about what materials to use, and a sense of pride, accomplishment and value that can’t be found in a piece of clothing from a chain store or a lampshade picked up in a home wares mega-store. From seven years old to seventy, they all want to “get their craft on”! In workshops all across the country people are picking up scissors and tape measures, wool, needles, hammers and staple guns. In the workshops I run, they come to learn how to make cushions, sew their own clothes, to reupholster furniture, upcycle an op shop lampshade, make an ottoman, cover a bed head, create a quilt.

I like to give people permission to go slow. With a slogan slow down, explore handmade, everyone is encouraged to switch off from their everyday and lose themselves in the process of being creative and learning new skills. I jokingly say that handmade only has one speed…slow!! Over and over again, I have watched joy spread across the faces of workshop attendees as they are able to take their time and to be present and in the moment. For many people it is a real tonic to slow down and create something.

Julie Hillier

Ministry of Handmade for class information click here.

This article was published in Issue 9 of our print magazine, April/May 2015.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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