Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in a town called Whangarei in New Zealand’s north. It has lots of beautiful coastlines. I spent lots of time at the beach. I left school at the end of my 16th year, then, returned to study in my early thirties as a mature age student. I have a BA Hons in Film Studies and an MA in Visual Culture both from Monash Uni. I also have a CertIII in Small Business and a CertIV in Training and Assessment.
What is your current business/creative pursuit/job?
I run The Gaye Abandon School of Sewing and Upcycling. I live and work in Footscray and recently moved my business from a tiny Victorian shopfront to more spacious premises nearby. The school offers sewing workshops and courses that cater to all skill levels, ages and genders. In keeping with my personal ethos, the school promotes sewing as a sustainable practice. We do this by encouraging the use of thrift and remnant textiles and sewing notions wherever possible and offering workshops in mending, alteration and upcycling that help students to rethink and reduce consumption of textiles. I also try to maintain the creative practice of clothes making and abstract stitching.
Tell us about your career
For the past 4 years, I have been a sewing teacher, working both in my own business and for community organisations and other small businesses. Before launching my sewing school in 2017, I had another business for 10 years, creating hand made accessories, homewares and garments from mostly upcycled textiles. I sold these at markets, online and wholesale under the labels Gaye Abandon and Body Parts Winter Accessories.
During and after my studies, I worked at ACMI as a film cataloguer and CSO. In my twenties, before I returned to study, I pursued my interests in photography and sewing and supported myself with all kinds of odd jobs, including hospitality roles and as a milliner’s assistant.
How did you get into this industry?
After 10 years of hand making products created from recycled textiles at a micro-business level, I needed a change. I started teaching a few sewing classes at Laneway Learning in late 2015 then, over the course of 2016 shifted from making and selling product into full – time teaching.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
In this business, you need to offer classes when most people aren’t at their day jobs, so I work evenings and weekends. I’m very lucky to have two amazing makers-- Aly Peel and Zoe Gymer-Waldron-- along with a few guest teachers, who carry some of the teaching load. During the day on weekdays I’m doing the multitude of things that need to be done when you’re a sole trader – admin, fielding calls, answering emails, processing bookings, updating the website with forthcoming classes, promoting the business via social media, making and putting up posters, prepping for classes-- the list goes on!
What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career?
Probably the challenge I’m facing now, which is how to work less in and on the business and set aside more time for creative practice. While I love the flexibility of having my own business, I often find the workload and responsibility overwhelming. With the move to my new space, the ‘to-do’ list has ramped up even more. I’m in my late fifties now and at a stage in my life where I crave more space and time for creativity.
With the help of a business mentor (Jane Vandermeer also a CWC member), I am working on strategies to reduce my personal workload while running a successful sewing school.
Best creative memory?
A recent one-- In March this year, I went on a textile tour (retreat I recreate) to Morocco with a wonderful group of women. One of the highlights (there were many) was taking a book-binding workshop in the old medina in Fez, Morocco with Craft Draft. It was a beautiful morning with the sun streaming in and the sounds of the old town below. We drank mint tea and learnt leather embossing and stamping along with Coptic stitches to create the binding.
What do you love best about your job?
The flexibility that running my own creative business affords. While there is always a long to-do list, I can choose to take time out when I need too. For instance, I wouldn’t give up my Friday morning yoga class for anything! I find teaching sewing skills to adults and kids very rewarding, especially when they have breakthroughs and start getting really passionate about sewing as a means of creating a more sustainable lifestyle.
What do you get up to when not working?
I spend as much time as I can at a wee house my partner and I are renovating in the Yarra Valley. It’s so beautiful up there-- especially at this time of year. Our place is right by the Warburton Rail Trail, so when we’re not renovating, we’re walking or gardening. Country life and being in nature is so calming and re-invigorating.
What’s on the horizon for the future?
Hopefully, much more time for sewing!
If you could be anyone else for a day, who would it be and why?
Probably my longest-time friend, New Zealand artist Kim Pieters (http://kimpietersstudio.com/). I met her when we studied photography together in the late seventies. She’s an abstract painter living in Dunedin. I admire her total commitment to her artistic life despite the financial cost. She paints every morning, walks or cycles in the afternoon-- always with camera in hand, reads philosophy in the evenings and is one of the most content people I know!