With a measuring tape draped around her neck, Wendy Mylrea moves between the many racks of frocks she has saved from the landfill.
The central Queensland seamstress has rescued hundreds of items of clothing by upcycling – taking a tired or dated piece and whipping it into something new.
“I like things a bit uneven and a bit different,” Ms Mylrea said.
Her quirky way of looking at clothes has caught the eye of fashionistas with one of her creations winning Fashions on the Field at the Brisbane Races last year.
“I was so ecstatic when I won, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
“A little country girl like me.”
An early start
Ms Mylrea grew up on a property about 40 minutes north of Rockhampton and her family encouraged her creativity.
“I’ve always just been creating as long as I can think,” she said.
“When I was five or six, my mother had a needle and thread in my hand and I learned fancy work. A lot of kids would not know what that is nowadays.”
Her first creations were dolls and doilies to sell at local markets and from there, Ms Mylrea started working at different shops as a seamstress, which eventually led to the opening of her own shop in Rockhampton.
It wasn’t long before she filled it with metres of fabric, and buttons of all shapes and sizes.
“Every time I go somewhere like an op shop, or Spotlight, if I find something, even if it’s a tiny little piece of material, I can envisage that in something and create something with it,” she said.
“I have a lot of scraps because I can’t throw things away.
“You would be surprised when someone comes in and their outfit doesn’t fit them, you need something on hand as you can’t pull it out of thin air — you’ve got to have it.”
Saved from the bin
Not long after, Ms Mylrea’s collection grew as she acquired clothing from shops that were closing.
She saw the potential in taking tired frocks and whipping them into something new and eye-catching.
“I help customers think about how they can upcycle, and they leave with great big smiles on their faces and it’s awesome,” she said.
Ms Mylrea said the upcycling trend had grown with more of her customers wanting to turn their items into one-of-a-kind pieces.
“You can have an outfit as a base, but it’s not always going to fit so you’ve got to work with the body and the material; both tell you how to create an outfit,” she said.
“It’s whatever the individual needs and it makes them think twice about going into a shop and buying an item; they can use what they already have.”
A signature style
Rockhampton resident Madonna Boodle owns 20 pieces created by Ms Mylrea, many of which are outfits that were repurposed for different occasions.
“Wendy can make anything,” Ms Boodle said.
“She creates something for you and your fashion identity.”
One of Ms Boodle’s pantsuits was transformed into a jacket and skirt combo, which ended up winning a race-day fashion competition.
“It’s a lot of fun just watching Wendy’s face as she comes up with ideas; it’s so magical,” she said.
Country at heart
When she’s not at the shop spinning the wheel on her sewing machine, Ms Mylrea spends time on her cattle property with her husband, daughter and grandchildren in tow.
The eccentric seamstress said she would never be found buying new clothes.
“I basically upcycle what I’ve got in my wardrobe,” she said.
“I haven’t bought an outfit for years.”