Drawn back to dressmaking

Drawn back to dressmaking at Geraldton


Life & Style
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Kaye Teede is designing clothes and making dresses in Geraldton, proving you don't have to go to the city to get a fashionable outfit.

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A special mother-daughter moment captured between Kaye Teede (left) and Debra on her wedding day last year. Kaye made Debra's bridal gown.

A special mother-daughter moment captured between Kaye Teede (left) and Debra on her wedding day last year. Kaye made Debra's bridal gown.

FOR many parents, seeing their children get married is one of their greatest highlights in life, but for Kaye Teede her daughter Debra’s wedding was more special than she ever could have imagined.

Kaye is a fashion designer and dressmaker based in Geraldton, and although she has created many stunning garments for women over the years, including her daughter’s ball dresses, to Kaye it would be pretty hard to top seeing her daughter walk down the aisle in a dress she had made.

It’s a fact of life that precious moments between parents and their children tend to become fewer and far between in life as children grow up, move out and sometimes far away, start careers and even their own families — however making Debra’s bridal gown was probably the mother and daughter experience that many dream of.

“It was amazing – it’s difficult to put into words actually,” Kaye said.

“Seeing her walk down the aisle was very special.”

The process, which took more than a year, started with Kaye and Debra browsing through different books and designs to gather ideas and they looked at different fabrics to see what could work and wouldn’t.

I love natural fibres – they are easy to work with and they tend to steam better and mould a lot easier. - Kaye Teede

The final product was a beautiful v-neck gown with delicate lace detailing around the neckline, back and bottom of the dress.

All the lace was intricately hand sown with pieces being placed in different directions and Kaye said two sections of lace on the bottom of the dress took her 10 hours to sew, so one can only imagine the time and attention to detail it took to make the gown.

“To go through the whole process of finding a design, cutting it out and shaping it to fit her was so great,” Kaye said.

“Working with Debra, I knew what she wanted and what would accentuate her figure.

“So I was guiding her but letting her choose what she wanted.

“It has definitely been the biggest highlight (of my fashion designing career) so far – it was something that really touched my heart.”

As a girl growing up at Carnarvon on her family’s plantation, Kaye had her sights set on being a hairdresser.

But this dream changed as Kaye’s passion for sewing was sparked when she first picked up a sewing needle at boarding school at Kobeelya Ladies College, Katanning, in the 1970s.

Guided by her sewing teacher, Kaye studied clothing and fabrics as an after school option which she said, “was probably where I got a passion for it first”.

In 1978, while still at boarding school Kaye entered a design competition at the Wagin Woolorama which was judged by high-profile WA designer Liz Davenport.

As expected at the Woolorama, the competition was organised to promote wool and the criteria that Kaye had to meet included designing a garment to be made from wool and getting a commercial pattern which had to be adapted to show come creativity.

She was runner up in the competition which she is still stoked with as it intensified her love for sewing.

“The girl who came first in the competition was actually my sewing teacher’s daughter and her garment was absolutely stunning, so I was so chuffed that I got second to her,” Kaye said.

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Kaye said that having the opportunity to be guided by Liz was still one of the key events that influenced her success, especially given that Liz is a country girl like Kaye, but from Gnowangerup.

After finishing school, Kaye moved back to Carnarvon in 1979 and was planning on doing hairdressing, but as fate would have it, she was drawn back into sewing.

The salon where Kaye was going to study her hairdressing apprenticeship with changed hands and she was made redundant, however she stayed in Carnarvon that year and worked in a local clothing shop.

“Funnily enough the shop I was working at had sewing machines and fabric – so that’s just how life goes,” she said.

That same year Kaye bought her first sewing machine – a Bernina 830 – which she still uses today.

Around this time in her life she was still deciding on a career path to do go down, and being inspired by Liz Davenport, Kaye and her mother went to Perth to see Liz to discuss potential job opportunities.

Liz suggested that if Kaye wanted to get into fashion designing and dress making, that she should think about doing a fashion designing course.

Kaye ended up studying fashion designing at Perth TAFE, which later moved to Bentley.

There were a number of years when Kaye didn’t sew as she moved back to Carnarvon to work on her family’s plantation and took over the operations until it sold in 2006.

“I did sew for a little bit when I went home, but being on the plantation things were really busy, so the sewing machine got put in the cupboard for a bit,” she said.

In the same year the plantation sold, Kaye moved to Geraldton with her children (Debra and Jason) who went to the WA College of Agriculture, Morawa.

In 2016, Kaye was struck with the blow of being made redundant by one of the major businesses in town, but perhaps it was a blessing as it prompted her to increase sewing.

Geraldton local, Karen Thompson wore a 100 per cent pure stretch woven Merino wool dress to the WA Country Cups Geraldton Fashions on the Field recently. In this classic design made by Kaye, Karen placed in the top 10.

Geraldton local, Karen Thompson wore a 100 per cent pure stretch woven Merino wool dress to the WA Country Cups Geraldton Fashions on the Field recently. In this classic design made by Kaye, Karen placed in the top 10.

At this time Kaye was making Debra’s wedding dress and had done a number of clothing alterations around town.

“So since then I have been busy doing alterations and I have made about half a dozen outfits for the WA Country Cups Fashions on the Field, as well as ball dresses and mother of the bride outfits,” she said.

Kaye said sourcing the right fabric of good quality was the most important aspect in dressmaking, but it was also the biggest challenge of being a fashion designer in regional WA.

“The quality of the fabric is very important and takes a lot of research to find the right fabric,” she said.

“I have a reasonably good understanding of whether a fabric is good quality and what it might be like, which is important when buying fabric from overseas.”

Sourcing the perfect fabric for garments is so crucial that Kaye has made purchases from all over the world including Albania and Latvia, but said it could be very time consuming getting samples sent, particularly to rural areas.

“I do try and source local and wholesale fabrics, especially wool and cotton which are great to work with as they breathe, are more sustainable and support farmers,” she said.

“I love natural fibres – they are easy to work with and they tend to steam better and mould a lot easier.

“Sometimes synthetic fabrics don’t drape or hold their shape as well.

“Usually I find a fabric to suit a design but sometimes a fabric might change how the design works.

“Although many of the women who come to me have an idea of what they want, I would say that my inspiration definitely comes from quality fabric.”

Even though Kaye has experienced the difficulty that most regional businesses face, being distance, she said it could work in favour.

“Being from the country, I have a good understanding of the needs of country people,” Kaye said.

“I can offer them something unique without them having to go into the city.”

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