Sewn into the fabric of Wānaka life

Wānaka fashion creative Jess Rasmussen, 34, holds her son Finn. She is wearing her own...
Wānaka fashion creative Jess Rasmussen, 34, holds her son Finn. She is wearing her own refashioned clothing. Beside her are garments she has made for Wānaka Wastebusters' annual Refashion Shows. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
Wānaka has provided a creative sea-change for former Brisbane theatre manager Jess Rasmussen and her partner Max Wasley, who moved to town four years ago without having visited before.

Ms Rasmussen has now immersed herself in Wānaka’s creative "slow fashion" scene through her job at Wānaka Wastebusters.

"Working at Wastebusters also gives me an interesting insight into how much waste there is, especially in linen and clothing. Wastebusters sells heaps and it can’t keep up with how much is being donated," she said.

This month, she is working on four outfits for the town’s popular Refashion Show.

She displayed her creative bent early while growing up in the small seaside town of Bargara, in central Queensland. 

Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother encouraged her to sew and she lived for theatre productions at school.

She continued theatre studies at university in Brisbane. By the time Covid shut down Brisbane’s art scene, she had been managing a thriving performing arts centre for four and a-half years.

As soon as the transtasman travel bubble opened, she and her partner moved to Wānaka because they wanted to live near mountains and do more outdoors. 

Her carry-on luggage was her sewing machine. 

"I think because there were so few flights at the time, they were ‘OK, just come on board’." 

The couple immediately fell in love with Wānaka and stayed, although Ms Rasmussen does at time miss the bigger arts scene she left behind.

"In Brisbane, I was exposed to costumes, design, theatre production and seeing how things were being made to adapt to live performances ... 

"With the whole Covid lockdown, I had more time on my hands to reignite my passion for slow fashion," she said.

"I started with making fabric face masks and developed my own patterns from there. Then I thought, if I can do that, then I will see if I can expand that out to other things.

"I didn’t get into making clothes lots until I got sick and tired of clothing that was plain."

She takes joy in fossicking through op-shops and bargain bins for colourful remnants, vintage fabrics, sheets and blankets.

The clothes she loves wearing become patterns for new garments. She also explores online for inspiration.

Ms Rasmussen is now mum to 4-month-old son Finn, and is on maternity leave.

When not designing clothes for the Refashion Show, or taking part in activities with Wānaka’s Fabricate club, she is designing breastfeeding dresses, cutting patterns for baby clothes and making two dresses for her November wedding (one is a practice run; the other will be the real thing).

She also makes clothing and hats for her family. Her partner and son are happy to give interesting fabrics a second life.

"I feel settled here. Sewing is an outlet in Wānaka. It gives you a sense of purpose. 

"For me, a creative outlet is important."