Michelle Walker bought a secondhand sewing machine one day and taught herself to sew.
Her first creation was a simple bag of her own design.
A professional cleaner by trade, she happily admits she doesn't know what's trendy and what's not. She doesn't know labels or designers. She hasn't set foot in a clothing store for years. She doesn't use patterns or read fashion magazines.
She does, however, have her finger on the pulse when it comes to sustainable and in-demand fashion.
She lives with her two dogs, Max and Bella, at Belmont North.
Her brightly coloured upcycled creations caught my eye online. She was selling a discarded crocheted blanket that she had transformed into a long coat. You know the blankets? A kaleidoscope of colours, warm as toast and made with love by someone's grandmother or aunt.
The kind of blanket often kept in the boot of a car and hugged tight while watching children's sport on a chilly Saturday morning, or most likely sitting, forgotten, at the back of a cupboard.
I take something that would otherwise have been forgotten or thrown away and hang it in a closet to be worn at a party or a festival.
Anyway, it was the jacket's price that caught my eye: $65. Just a few days earlier I had seen a similar garment online with an asking price of $US850. Yes, you read that right.
I saw another being sold by an Australian designer for $750. Another for $160. Concerned that she may be selling herself short, I made contact, and discovered that this was simply a labour of love for Michelle Walker, aka Revamped Hippy House.
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Designing and making clothes from unwanted materials like old blankets, tablecloths, bedspreads and even doilies is a hobby for the self-taught seamstress. Her reward is the gasp of delight from her customers when they try on her quirky creations for the first time.
"I'm more or less revamping everything and anything I can find but a lot of it is blankets and linen being thrown out," Walker says.
"I take something that would otherwise have been forgotten or thrown away and hang it in a closet to be worn at a party or a festival."
No one in her family taught her to sew, and she didn't study textiles in any detail at school. She simply bought a secondhand sewing machine and overlocker and, though trial and error, taught herself how to use them.
"I started it as a little hobby. I would see things I liked and think 'I can make that, I can copy that' and I went from there."
Walker worked as a cleaner for 17 years at John Hunter Hospital (seven of those in the pathology department) and now cleans at a shopping centre in Cardiff. She allows herself plenty of free time to sew.
"I can't tell you the last time I went into a new clothes shop and looked at current fashion. I don't even remember the last time I went to Kmart," Walker says.
"My inspiration is walking into an op shop or a garage sale and picking something up and picturing it as something else. I'm not really looking at the clothes, I'm scanning the material. I then turn it into something else."
She doesn't crochet the blankets, but rescues them from landfill by visiting op shops, garage sales, council kerbside pick-ups and so on. Friends also keep an eye out for her and drop off their finds.
Every piece of clothing she makes is one-of-a-kind.
"The idea came to me one day, I thought 'I'm gonna get a blanket and I'm gonna cut it and see if it actually stays together'. They're actually overlocked first, and then sewn," she says.
"So I made a bag and put it in the washing machine and dryer and it was fine, and went from there. I first started making bags because they were easy. If anyone wants to start sewing I would tell them to practice with bags.
"Also, I don't use a pattern, like a bought pattern. I will get an old shirt, cut it up and then use that as the pattern. I find that easier. I just get the scissors, cut, and off I go."
She makes T-shirt dresses from men's T-shirts she buys from op shops and garage sales, sometimes for as little as a dollar.
"You've only got to cut the arms off and make it thinner down the side and you've got a dress," she says.
I tell her that T-shirt dresses are in fashion. She laughs and says she had no idea.
In addition to making jackets and long pants from the crocheted blankets Walker adds her own flair to old jeans and denim jackets.
"I made these linen tablecloth pants and they're so gorgeous I had to keep them for myself. They've got embroidered flowers on them," she says.
"A lady said to me the other day 'Oh I really love your pants where did you get them?' and I said 'I actually made them, they're a tablecloth'. She could not believe it.
"I also sold a lady jeans that I had upcycled with a vintage tablecloth at the bottom, and flared them out. She sent me a photo of herself rollerskating in them. I do a lot of tie-dying, too, and I've gotten old boots and covered them in denim. They looked so good."
Walker even made a top out of an old-fashioned doily for a customer.
"I saw it in the op shop and didn't want to cut it, it was so pretty. But I added some purple ribbon and it looks absolutely stunning on her and she loves it. There is no one that's going to have one exactly the same."
Walker was surprised, to put it mildly, when I showed her how much people were prepared to pay (and charge) for garments like hers.
"I keep my prices what the girls can afford," she says.
"Someone did buy some clothes from me once and put them in her shop and they sold out. I don't know what prices she had on them though.
"I love seeing the girls wearing my clothes. When they try them on for the first time you can see it in their face, they're like 'I so love these'.
"I had a larger size lady contact me recently who absolutely loved the jackets. She offered to pay more as I'd be using more blankets to fit her size. I refused and her smile just made my day. That's what I get out of my creations."
She would love to turn her hobby into a "proper business" one day and open a shop.
"Whatever I do, I would like to keep revamped clothing at an affordable, realistic price. Oh, and I still haven't been to a clothing shop since we last spoke [laughs]. I really don't need to."
Check out her creations on Instagram @revamped_hippyhouse
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