Colette Reynolds is a diminutive, energetic, warm and passionate people person who is a stalwart of the Bronte community. She has been resident at her light filled and beautifully curated Macpherson St studio for many years which served initially as the shopfront and production house of her children’s wear label, Sprouts and for the last 9 years as The Bronte Sewing Room which has won Waverly Council Brightest and Best Small Business Awards in the ‘Creative Services’ for many years running.
I met Colette when I decided to return to sewing after a prolonged ‘leave of absence’ and felt that my rusty skills could do with some updating. I only wish I had done so earlier. I learnt so much in those Friday morning classes and met people who have become great friends, including Colette. Furthermore, Colette had just lost her crochet teacher and somehow I found myself with a new job. I have had the pleasure of teaching crochet and knitting at The Bronte Sewing Room ever since.
The Bronte Sewing Room is where people come and learn to sew and sometimes knit and crochet and do a bit of pattern making and is a lovely space for both adults for kids. We run classes right throughout the year and we can cater to any level whatsoever. So you can be an absolute beginner or you can be quite an advanced sewer and we will be able to help guide you and teach you with whatever you want to know.
“I was not trained as a sewing teaching but I have spent 30 years working in the industry, initially making theatrical costumes then running a sewing magazine for childrens’ clothes and then later with Sprouts.”
“I opened Sprouts on these premises in 2003. By 2009, the GFC was coming and everything was feeling a bit shaky and to be honest I was losing the passion for retail. It was hard work and online shopping was about to take over. I had already seen the effects of that on my customers, who were often mums with newborns. It was much easier for them to buy online. I’d had the idea of teaching in the back of my head for some time.”
For centuries people have come together to knit, sew, quilt and weave, sharing a creative journey and a community spirit. With such a passion for all things hand crafted I wanted to create a space for local people to learn these skills.
“I love offering a service rather than a product. I love engaging with people and what I really love is making people feel good about what they are doing. It doesn’t matter how hard or easy a project is, it is about getting that energy back from a person who understands what you’ve said and goes on to do something that they might not have thought they could do. Just that whole energy is infectious. I really love it. I also love the fact that beautiful friendships form in the Bronte Sewing Room. Sometimes, often actually, people who have never met each other engage in the most amazing conversations. When they are making things the barriers come down. I love that.
It happens with the kids as well. There is nothing nicer than seeing the kids that come to after school classes from different schools just clicking with each other. Before you know it they are going shopping at Spotlight together and they are friends for life. So just through the connection of a shared passion, really wonderful things can happen.
One of my other major passions is the ocean and the ocean environment. I am a regular swimmer at Bronte Beach most days of the year. My passion has really developed into I guess what you would call Environmental Activism. For the last 8 to 9 years I have been chipping away at seriously trying to get some changes happening in my great local community. I started off 8 or 9 years ago just collecting stuff – mostly plastics – as I was walking along the beach before having a swim. Plastic straws just seemed to jump out at me as something we could do something about because they are unnecessary – we don’t need them and they are a real problem. They are one of the top polluters on our beaches and [getting rid of them] is something that seemed achievable. We now have a wonderful group called Plastic Free Bronte [link] which is made up of very passionate community volunteers. We are fully supported by the Sustainabiity Team at Waverley Council and we are engaging with businesses and the local community to change people’s behaviour around plastic straw usage. Every café at Bronte Beach is about to sign an agreement about not serving straws at their cafés. It might sound like something small but gettting that done has been a lot of leg work. We are also educating people. We are holding regular beech clean-ups and hosting film nights. We are all very busy people but we are managing to find time to devote to something that we are really passionate about.
“Not surprisingly, I also have a passion for textiles. Oh My Gosh, they make me fall on the table! I think my love of textiles began when I first went to Indonesia in 1978 when I was a teenager. My eyes were opened up to Batik and Ikat. I then spent 3 months in India when I was 17 and ended up buying textiles and bringing them back to sell at markets. I particularly love fabrics made by indigenous people from around the world. Whether it is hand weaving and dying, something with texture, something with a lot of hand stitching or just beautiful techniques which have been handed down for centuries. Colour and pattern can absolutely send me into a hilarious state of mind! But I think I am one of those people who doesn’t actually want to do it myself. A lot of people love going to workshops and learning how to do a batik or block printing from India. I just love some of the old techniques of getting patterns onto and into fabrics but I don’t necessarily want to do it myself. I just like to learn more about how it is done from the original craftspeople.
Recently we have been working together on the idea of making recycled bags as part of Boomerang Bags.
“I was approached by a friend and given that I have the facilities here at The Bronte Sewing Room decided to give Boomerang Bags a go. Boomerang Bags are a fabulous initiative. Two young women in Northern NSW had the idea of community volunteers coming together to create and make tote bags out of fabrics that already exist in the world – it might be out of an old set of sheets or a tablecloth or curtains and those tote bags will then be distributed to shops so that they can be given out as an alternative to plastic bags. The original idea was to borrow a bag, take it home and then bring it back. We haven’t adopted that exact strategy. We are just gifting the bags to our local grocery shop here in Macpherson St, with ‘Boomerang Bags Sustainably Sewn in Bronte’ labels on them so that they can give them to their favourite customers. It is all part of the big picture of reusing, recycling and reducing and fits very nicely along side my single-use plastic hatred!The hard thing is finding time to dedicate to the Boomerang Bags given my busy schedule, and that of the other ladies in the group.
Related to Colette’s Boomerang Bag initiative, she has kindly offered both her space and expertise to Shared Threads, for our upcoming Reusable Shopping Bag Making Workshop to be held at the Bronte Sewing room on Sunday March 18th from 2-5pm. We are looking forward to seeing you there.
Susan and I met through our regular Thursday morning Pilates Class. I was struck by her flexibility and grace and assumed that she had been a dancer given her slim build, her poise and posture. She grew up in Cape Town but has lived and worked all over the world with careers as diverse as dental hygienist to International AIDS educator, professional potter and Ikebana Master. She is great fun to be around and rather wicked. She and her husband are now settled back in Australia where she is working as a volunteer with the homeless and teaching Ikebana workshops amongst other things. She is always up for a challenge and despite not having picked up knitting needles for many, many years she came to two of our Shared Threads workshops last year. At the first, she made a Pussy Hat in the wonderfully thick and soft Morris and Sons Empire yarn. She was delighted with the result and was keen to knit some more. For our December Time Out workshop Susie announced that she was ready to tackle a scarf. We found the Simple Panel Scarf pattern, a really simple but elegant knit in chunky yarn and away she went. I was blown away when she contacted me last week to say that since December she has completed a phenomenal 7 scarfs all from the same pattern! She thinks it might be time for another challenge.
Susie says she is now completely hooked. She can’t imagine sitting in front of the TV without her knitting in her hands. “I love it!”.
Last week Susie and I attended a fund-raising lunch and 2018 program launch for the Sydney Community Foundation and Sydney Women’s Fund. The fund is “….an independent not for profit fund that actively encourages philanthropic investment from individuals, government and business for Sydney and its people now and for the long term. They aim to ”build stronger Sydney communities”. We met lots of interesting women who are either actively involved in or benefit from or who support financially the efforts of the organisation. The foundation supports a range of small grassroots initiatives across Western Sydney that make a significant difference to the lives of women living in difficult circumstances.
It got us thinking about how important it can be to have someone there to support you, provide hope, comfort, security and resources whilst you find your own strength – and how satisfying and rewarding it can be to provide that support to another person.
Susie and I looked at a few new patterns I had found for her on the Knitting and Crochet super-website, Ravelry. She looked rather horrified at first: “I couldn’t possibly knit those!” she said. I talked her through the different steps involved in the scarves, each one of which I had carefully chosen as they introduced a new technique that I knew she could manage. In the end she has sought out a different pattern – a beautiful chunky cowl, the Welted Infinity Scarf . She will have to learn to knit in the round and to use stitch markers but she will be fine.