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   Jun 13

A tablecloth fit for a bridesmaid

Once a tablecloth: Now, a dress, through the deft hands of sustainable seamstress Laura Burghaus. Picture: Marina NeilLaura Burghaus is adamant in her opinion.
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“There are enough second-hand clothes to supply the world over,” the sustainable seamstress says.“Not only that, but so much of what’s out there is poorly made and not flattering for the person wearing it.”

Burghaus was professionally trained as a seamstress in Germany, and lives in the Hunter Valley creating yoga bolsters and dresses in the most environmentally ethical way she knows how through her company, Kissen .

“I have always been interested in wrapping material around a female figure. When I was young I would make clothes for mydolls. I would cut armholes and make little wrap-around tops and sarongs,” she says.

Burghaus struggles with her love of creating dresses and the challenging issues that surround fashion including waste, chemical dyes, synthetic materials and sweatshops in South America and south-east Asia. Fast fashion is second only to oil in its devastating environmental impacts, and this is why her label uses only fair-trade, organic and/or upcycled products made in .

Team effort: Seamstress Laura Burghaus fits Alex Morris with a dress that began life as a tablecloth. Picture: Marina Neil

“Fashion is not sustainable, full stop,” she says. “There’s absolutely no need for more clothes on this planet. But people love to look pretty. Clothes make you feel good. When I put on a beautiful dress I feel so different. I don’t think people comment just on the dress I’m wearing, I think I’m exuding energy of confidence and contentment, and that’s attractive.”

I hired her to make me a bridesmaid’s dress for my best friend’s wedding in Austin, Texas. Held on a farm, the ceremony will be laid back and beautiful. The bride’s name is Ivey Kaiser, and we grew up together in South Carolina. Now, nearly 15 years later, she has given the bridesmaids plenty of flexibility for selecting our dresses on her special day.

Kaiser requested we find a peach, apricot, salmon or yellow dress within our budget that we’d wear again. The dress should be above the knee, but the style and sleeves are up to each of us.

It’s easy to find something cheap online, and I knew that asking a skilled n to custom-make a dress would be more expensive.

But I also knew about sweatshops. If I could help it, I didn’t want one cent of my hard-earned money to go towards these horrifying working conditions. I was keen to support a local business and sustainable fashion while buying something that would fit me well.

Hiring Laura Burghaus to make a dress for me at her leisure over the course of a few months put my ethical uncertainties at ease.

Burghaus took my measurements while we discussed dress options. Every time she gets commissioned to make a piece of clothing, she creates a practice dress first to make sure it fits perfectly.Often she re-uses this material afterwards.

She measured me up, drew lines, stuck pins and cut away at the trial dress to flatter my neckline and bust.Then she showered me with different ways we could meet the dress’ objectives while also giving it its own personality. We went through heaps of styles, colours and fabrics. She has a wealth of knowledge about creative ways to be sustainable.

“It costs so much more to make ethical fabrics. They are generally plain weaves,off-white (unbleached),very durable and notcrease free,” Burghaussays. “Cotton is the least sustainable fabric because it uses lots of water, and if it’s not organic cotton, chemicals are used which runoff into rivers.”

Through her company, Burghaushas found a clever way to recycle fabric scraps, which otherwise would go to landfills. She’s reached an agreement with a company in Sydney to take their scraps, and she uses them to fill all her yoga bolsters. When she does use new fabric, she prefers to use a wholesaler called Hemp WA.

“I like hemp because it’s a sustainable fiber. It doesn’t need much water to grow and it grows fast. To derive the fiber from the plant doesn’t have a huge chemical process. It’s hard to use hemp for pretty dresses due to its properties being similar to linen,” she says.“In an ideal world we would all be wearinghemp, but it does sometimes look a bit daggy.”

I was hesitant to use new fabric for my dress unless I could trace it back to the cotton fields where it was grown and knew the pesticides and dyes that went into making it. A way to work around this dilemma was to use fabric from a friend or a second-hand shop. Sure, chemicals might be on this fabric too, but at least I won’t be directly supporting it.

I told my friend and colleague Cath Burden about my quest for the best fabric, and she thought of her cotton tablecloth that she’d only recently stopped using. Given to her as an engagement gift 25 years ago, it was a little rough around the edges, but the fabric itself was in perfect condition.

Sustainable seamstress Laura BurghausPhotos of the finished dress will be on Laura’s website (kissen苏州夜总会招聘.au)at the end of March..

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