Remaking it anew

Fiona Clements (left) and Fiona Jenkin in the new Stitch Kitchen remakery workspace. PHOTOS:...
Fiona Clements (left) and Fiona Jenkin in the new Stitch Kitchen remakery workspace. PHOTOS: LINDA ROBERTSON
From stitching and mending to remaking whole systems, a Dunedin social enterprise is broadening its ambition, Tom McKinlay writes.

Stitch Kitchen’s cotton store.
Stitch Kitchen’s cotton store.
Filing cabinets at Stitch Kitchen are still filing cabinets. They are just better, upcycled and enlivened, softly folded kaleidoscope treasure troves.

Open one drawer and be drawn into myriad prints, tantalising riots of patterned fabric. Open another and a single colour walks through its many hues.

Filing cabinets may never have been put to better use than these pre-loved concertina haberdasheries. It tells the story of this place as well as any words.

To scan the walls, the cupboards, the drawers, the shelves, tables, chairs and jars at Stitch Kitchen is to witness the world being remade better. Even, it turns out, Stitch Kitchen itself.

Because this is Stitch Kitchen — sewing and fabric-craft social enterprise and community hub — take two, bigger, brighter and more ambitious still. Together with sister project Res.Awesome, it has shifted to new larger premises in the old Prince of Wales Hotel, in Princes St.

The two women at the heart of these workspace and "remakery" studios, co-founders Fiona Jenkin and Fiona Clements, remain central and as energised as ever — possibly more so.

Take Res.Awesome, for example.

Fiona Clements’ main work station.
Fiona Clements’ main work station.
It’s the new vehicle of Fiona Clements and an ambitious extension of her zero-waste clothing label Senorita Awesumo — and builds on initiatives such as Stitch Kitchen’s upcycled "Bags for Good" shopping bags.

Resource recovery and zero waste have always been integral to Senorita Awesumo’s ethic, but becomes the central purpose of Res.Awesome.

Clements, who is also chair of Sustainable Dunedin City, says her efforts to minimise waste in her own life and in her business led to an understanding that the approach needs to be more widely — or even universally — shared.

To achieve that, to operate in ways that are genuinely better for the planet, businesses will have to work together, Clements says.

Possibly the coolest pincushion ever.
Possibly the coolest pincushion ever.

The missing piece of the puzzle, she says, is a connected resource recovery network. A way of one business knowing what resources might be available from another that if not picked up and used, were heading for landfill. That’s where Res.Awesome comes in.

"One of the first projects I have been working on is creating a database of all those businesses, whether they are individuals or NGOs or large companies, anyone doing resource recovery, anyone doing repair — all those sorts of things — so we have our baseline."

It will identify where the resources are, where the services are, to enable sharing and collaboration: "Every kind of business that is pulling things apart for reuse."

A "waste jam" facilitated by the Dunedin City Council and StartupDunedin last year helped create some momentum, bringing together people to brainstorm ideas around waste minimisation, Clements says.

"That’s where Res.Awesome was born. I kind of had the idea in my head already, but it was through the process of going there and spending the weekend having conversations with people and getting feedback that really made me go ‘this needs to happen’."

A conversation with her father, a Habitat for Humanity builder among other things, in which he expressed his frustration with waste services, was also important.

"One day he was almost in tears with having to put polystyrene in the landfill.

"Seeing how deeply it affected him made me go ‘OK, I am actually capable of changing that through creating that new system’."

The database will both identify what’s happening now and what is missing, where the gaps are, Clements says.

Stitch Kitchen’s upcycled filing cabinet haberdashery. Cover image: A rag rug 
Stitch Kitchen’s upcycled filing cabinet haberdashery. Cover image: A rag rug made from Fiona Clements’ offcuts by a team of local weavers.
A $27,000 waste minimisation grant from the Dunedin City Council has been crucial, allowing Clements to employ people on the project.

An early focus is a sterilisation project, drawing inspiration from Waiheke’s Washpitality scheme.

Washpitality supplies cafes with jars to use for drinks, then collects, cleans and returns them, avoiding the need to use disposable cups.

"We are working on creating that sort of system for Dunedin and to also service the Farmers Market."

Another recent example of the concept in action involved recycling old council street flags into conference bags, with help from industrial launderer Alsco.

The remakery’s Princes St site is a community focal point in more than aspiration. Already the shift and redecoration has been the work of many hands — friends, family, supporters.

"I think because everyone who has come and worked on the space has been incredibly generous and really understanding and cares about what we want to do here — so I think all that energy and that love and that care and that kindness is built into everything," Jenkin says.

"It is painted into the walls, literally," says Clements.

Critically, there is now more space for people, Jenkin says.

The historic Prince of Wales Hotel gets a new lease of life.
The historic Prince of Wales Hotel gets a new lease of life.
At the old Jetty St base — home since 2014 — Stitch Kitchen had been limited to six people per class, and even then those taking part in the sewing and mending sessions were a bit on top of each other.

More floor space means larger community groups will be able to attend together.

"We would really love to hear from other people about classes they would like to run or tutor," Clements says. "We can imagine things all we like, but if other people have ideas we would love to hear about it."

"There are so many people out there in the community with amazing skills that we don’t have," Jenkins adds.

Among the courses to transfer to Princes St are Stitch Kitchen’s sewing for beginners courses, which cover basic use of a sewing machine, how to handle fabrics and avoid problems .

"If you are just beginning and you get a thread tangle, or you get a random knot and you don’t know what’s gone wrong and you can’t fix it, it can really put you off and take you a long time to come back to sewing again," Jenkin says.

Get those basic things right, though, and all sorts of possibilities open up.

At the more advanced end, there are classes on adapting patterns to tailor-make garments.

"It really gives people a fresh awareness that it is not their bodies that are wrong, it is the standard sizes of the clothes they try to wear that’s wrong," Jenkin says.

"So it is a really good positive message about good body image and feeling good about who you are and the shape you are in."

The courses also give people a better idea about what it takes to make a whole garment, engendering greater respect for that work, an understanding of the price a pair of tailored trousers should command and a sense of empathy for sweatshop clothing workers.

"So I guess what we are doing is really trying to show in a positive creative way — and getting people to rethink about fast fashion by showing them — slow fashion," Jenkin says.

It’s a process of shining a light. A once disused, dark and somewhat neglected space in an old hotel has been given a coat of paint and a new lease on life.

"It is honouring the character of it but very much adding a new story to it too," Jenkin says.


 - Wednesday to Saturday 10.30am-4pm, Fridays to 5.30pm.

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