Q&A with Caroline of UsefulBox

We have a chat with Caroline, sewing teacher and event curator, in the lead up to her Sydney Craft Week events!

Caroline, please introduce yourself and your business UsefulBox.

UsefulBox focuses on helping you learn to sew or improve your skills with our workshops and to inspire you through our events.   I am a garment sewist and I sew for my family and I. Thus I focus on garment and bag making beginner classes with the hope to add in some specialised workshops for more advanced sewists next year. Along with a weekend long retreat and BYO sewing weekends!

How did you get your start in the business of sewing?

I began sewing when I was 9yrs old at my Mothers knee.  Sadly she passed away when I was 12yrs old so I kept sewing to be close to her….and I haven’t stopped including studying Fashion Design! Whenever someone found out that I could sew, they would say that they would love to learn or that they had a machine but never taken it out of the box.  So I thought I would try teaching a workshop that sold out so I have been happily teaching sewing for the last 2 years.  I love teaching beginners and seeing their confidence rise throughout the class and then feel so proud of themselves when they have made something!  

What are the benefits of sewing?

There are many obvious benefits of sewing.  The most obvious is being able to handcraft your own wardrobe to your style and have the ability to make clothes that actually fit our unique shapes.  I see a lot of students coming to me after being unable to find ready to wear clothing that fits. It’s a fabulous feeling wearing clothes that fit and flatter! There is also the ethical and environmental side to sewing.  By sewing your own wardrobe you are not entering into buying from companies that use unethical employment or those that hurt our environment with dyes, water use and waste.  There is a whole movement in the sewing community to rebel against this mass produced fashion and to find out where our clothing comes from. By sewing our own, and perhaps using recycled, organic or upcycled fabric, we know where our clothing is from. I do think though that the main benefit of sewing is the effect it has on our mental health.  Sewing gives us a challenge; a purpose and can take us out of our daily routines, putting our minds to something else.  And the pride in which you feel once you have made something is exceptional.  Sewing has gotten me through some dark times in my life and I am so grateful to sewing for that! Also now that I am a mother, and teach mothers, I see that sewing is a great hobby for much needed ME time in a busy family life.

You encourage your audiences to wear something they have made to the events you host. Tell us a bit more about why you do this, and some of the memorable garments or accessories you have seen.

What better excuse to make something!  As sewists, we may make every day garments for ourselves, or our family, but there is something extra special about making a garment for an event.  Especially one where you know others will appreciate the effort it took, the fabulous fabric you choose and your mad skills! There is always a lot of fabric petting, pattern swapping, ohh and ahhs when we check out each other’s makes.  The community is so supportive and friendly and ready to support each other. I love seeing the effort and pride sewists put into their makes.  A lot of garments are memorable and all are awesome.  But a sewist who made her outfit, bag AND shoes, stood out at Frocktails in February! Obviously, you don’t need to make something to wear to come along, I won’t be checking at the door! I guess I am just giving you an excuse to do so if you can!

Jennifer Irwin, the costume designer for Bangarra Dance Company and Opera Australia, will be talking at your event Frocks, Tales and Tea. She has had such an interesting creative career and has received many awards and accolades for her work. What do you think audiences can expect from the talk with Jennifer?

Sewists and Makers are always ready to be inspired and pick up some tips, so I am so excited for all that we will learn from Jennifer Irwin.  We will learn about her creative process, how she designs with the dancers bodies and movement in mind, and what has lead her to this point in her career, along with some stories to inspire us.  She will be bringing along some costumes that we can touch, feel and inspect.  The day will also be about meeting new friends, winning some awesome prizes and feeling part of a greater community of makers!  


Glenn Barkley ceramics. Photo by Leeroy T

Meet Caroline at one or both of her events that she has planned for Sydney Craft Week!

UsefulBox Learn to Sew Beginner Weekend Workshop

When: Saturday 7 October and Sunday 8 October

Details: $325 including some materials, coffee and cupcakes, 6 students per class, suitable for ages 16+ years.

Where: The Art Room Suite 7.12, First floor, Building 7, Precinct 75, 75 Mary Street, St Peters

More info and booking links here.


Frocks, Tales and Tea

When: Saturday 14 October, 2pm – 4pm

Details: $80; The ticket price includes a sparkling wine on arrival, guest speaker and afternoon tea. Prizes and vouchers will be available on the day too. 

Where: Boronia Tea Rooms, 624 Military Road, Mosman 

More info and booking links here.


Interview: Kylie Walsh

Images: Courtesy UsefulBox