Australian dressmaker Carmel Ryan recognised for sustainable wearable art piece

Australian dressmaker Carmel Ryan recognised for sustainable wearable art piece

By fijivillage
Tuesday 24/10/2023
Carmel Ryan (right) creates wearable art from materials she finds while walking on Wagait Beach. (ABC News: Michael Franchi )

No wire, no velcro, no zips, no elastic.

This was the challenge dress and costume maker Carmel Ryan faced in creating her piece for this year's Australian Wearable Art Festival in the Sustainable Nature category.

Instead, her piece — which earned her a place as a finalist — is made mostly from things she found in her backyard and around her home at Wagait Beach, near Darwin.

The piece is made from things picked up on beaches across the NT. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

These include items like animal bones, avocados, palm fronds and coffee filters — which are kept together with nothing but hand stitching and a homemade glue made from flour and water.

"Basically, this dress has to just lay down on the ground and decompose back into the earth," she says.

"The base I have used is from a recycled chair.

"I've just found different ways to actually make it very strong and durable."

Ryan says the idea of death and new life was the inspiration for her piece.

"I call it 'Love 'till Dust' because, obviously, when you love someone and you lose them, you still love them after they're gone," she says.

Ryan's piece is made of items including fish scales and coffee filters. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

"In the last couple of years, I have lost family members to cancer, and I've also welcomed new grandchildren.

"It's that whole birth and then death and where we go, where we come from."

'I don't buy anything new'

Ryan has been sewing since the age of around 10, following in the footsteps of her dressmaker mother, and making her own clothes since she was a teenager.

She says sustainability has become a major part of her approach to fashion design.

"I reuse or recycle, I remake. I don't buy anything new," she says.

"I just feel there's enough materials now in the world when you consider how much goes into landfill these days."

Before the Australian Wearable Art Festival in August, Ryan was named a finalist three years in a row and won a number of prizes at Wearable Art Mandurah in Western Australia.

She says because models have to wear her pieces for hours at a time at competitions, she makes them as comfortable as possible.

"Wearable art should be wearable," she says.

"I think to be flattering on someone it's nice to have a waist…have the bodice which is actually fitted to their form.

"As an artist and a dressmaker I feel like I like to make it so it actually looks like a garment, flows like a garment."

Carmel Ryan won two categories for her work called Net We Forget at Wearable Art Mandurah. (Supplied: Carmel Ryan)

Story By:  Sarah Spina-Matthews and Shane Schafer/ABC News

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