March 1, 2024

Julia English

I rarely get rid of clothes, and don’t have many items that haunt me; the closest thing would be a red and green swing-coat of my nan’s, which sits waiting for me to practise my invisible mending on its moth holes, and to fix its lining. I walk past it often, and feel a twinge of guilt for not having fixed it yet, and really hope it’s not getting more moth holes while it waits! That coat, and the rest of my mending box, are probably the things that haunt me the most. I do have one inherited ‘haunting’: when I was a teenager my mum told me about a green and navy coat she made, showing me the pattern in her pattern box. She wasn’t sure what happened to it and regretted that she no longer had it, as she thought I would love it. I am a little sad I never got to see the coat, though there are many other clothes she did keep, and I do wear. The story of the coat has always made me want to keep my own clothes, to have that legacy for my kids one day.

A dream piece of clothing for me would be a 1920s beaded tabard, to restore and wear over the top of pants and things, to show how fancy dress can be worn for fun. I think it would be so fabulous, but I want one that needs a few repairs—I would feel bad wearing one that was still in good condition. My other dream piece is a really nice tailored suit, something I could wear regularly, and that had the right fit so it was functional but fitted. I think I’ll end up making one, eventually. As for what it is for, for me it would be an opportunity to revel in something beautifully tailored, to wear for teaching (I teach in fashion & textiles at RMIT), and to just throw on to feel really schmick.

My most treasured piece is a scarf from my grandma (my mum’s first husband’s mother—she was essentially another grandparent, and we called her grandma.) While the sentimentality is part of why I love it, it is mostly because of its functionality and ongoing presence. 

Its brown shades and soft floral pattern tend to work with most outfits, and its fine wool has a beautiful soft drape. It has become something that is easy to throw on and appear put together, and I feel a bit fancier when I’m walking the dog. It’s also perfect for throwing on for a zoom meeting or draping over my face to sleep on a flight. It can cover up weird necklines, and seems to just work with everything. It’s got a few holes, but between the print and the fact that I generally fold it in half to make a triangle, these are barely noticeable. It has been a constant in my wardrobe for over 10 years. There are a few photos of me in the scarf from when I was around 14 to 16, and I recall thinking at the time that I looked quite nice in these photos, and I think this has contributed to how I see the scarf as flattering for me—I haven’t seen a photo of myself in it that I don’t like. 

I know some people might want to keep a scarf like this boxed away but for me the joy is in wearing it. It has almost a magical quality for me now where it feels like it just makes everything work. I know one day it will wear out but I hope it can survive another decade or more. I don’t feel tempted to stop wearing it because the thing that makes it special is that it is always getting worn—if I stopped it I would feel like I was stealing its purpose. 

Julia English is a PhD candidate at RMIT University in Melbourne/Naarm. Her research focuses on local reuse practices, with her PhD examining remanufacturing and up-cycling collaborations amongst SMEs. This research is further explored through Seam Change, her podcast on how Australian fashion businesses are collaborating with other brands and designers to remake, resew, redye, remanufacture, or up-cycle textile ‘waste’. Julia’s developing creative practice has included circular design projects for the Redress Design Award, 2019 and Ellen MacArthur Foundation‘s ‘From Linear to Circular’ London programme, 2020. Her current repair projects include contributing to establishing RMIT’s Repair Café, and repair projects with local councils and designers.