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Tasmanian designer Lyn Hellewell turns Sydney Opera House chair fabric into bags

Jun 17, 2023

Source:ABC Radio Hobart|Program:Tasmania Sundays

Lyn Hellewell: Opening the package was fun. Then I had to work out in the constraints of the size of the pieces because they come from, as you imagine, theatre chairs. There's like a back of the chair sized piece and a seat piece. We can all probably visualise how big those pieces are roughly. And they're not very big. So we had to sort of work on what we could make with the size constraints and also with the constraints of the type of fabric because it's quite a thick sort of woven fabric that also has the added fun of fraying quite easily. So it was exciting and then excitement turned into kind of knee trembling fear. If that answers the question.

Lucie Cutting: Was there any room for error at all? Could you make some test bags and just see how it worked out?

Lyn Hellewell: Thank goodness, yes. So I had to work with the fabric a bit to sort of get used to just working with it because I hadn't actually worked with this type of fabric before. There were a few testers. Maybe I won't tell you how many. Actually, I can tell you how many. All right then. I'll fess up. Okay. So I'm just actually having a look. There's a little clutch bag, an evening type bag, which I really hadn't done before. So it took me three or four goes to really finesse it, the design, and to get it to a level that I thought was, you know, good enough. No pressure at all to go into the shop at the Opera House. So I did have enough to have a bit of a practice. The other bags that I made, the tote style bags, which are made from advertising street banners, previous, I think more recent than the Joan Sutherland ones, that's a sort of design I do quite a lot. So I felt a lot more confident going ahead with those. But it's been a great learning experience and also just a great experience in general.

Lucie Cutting: Yeah. Do you know how old that upholstery is from the Joan Sutherland Theatre?

Lyn Hellewell: I was Googling that this morning and didn't actually come up with anything. But it's pretty robust fabric. So I would be imagining it had been on those seats for quite some time. Having said that, before everyone's sort of thinking, eww, it could be quite grotty with people sitting on it all those years. Obviously, everything was meticulously cleaned, meticulously removed from the seats in the first place, which was interesting. So in 2017, the Opera House were obviously thinking, oh, we might get the chance to do something with this one day. So it has all been meticulously removed from the seats and beautifully cleaned.

Lucie Cutting: What a special project to work on and so cool that you as a Tasmanian ended up getting the opportunity given that it is the Sydney Opera House. Did you have a lot of say in what that final product would look like or was that also directed by the Opera House?

Lyn Hellewell: I suggested to them really because they sort of gave me an idea of the type of thing that they would like. But then it was also kind of guided by the fabric itself, what we could and couldn't do. So the clutch bag was actually an idea that I came up with and then halfway through sewing them all I'm thinking - me and my great ideas. So it was partly guided, it was kind of a three-way thing, them, me and the materials sort of guided what we ended up with. Oh, I wanted to also mention just about the re-purposing aspect. I tried to sort of make the bags as much out of repurposed materials as I possibly could. So the kind of inner part of the clutch bags or the stiffening, you know, so they're not floppy basically, is also made from another banner from the Opera House which is like a plastic or a vinyl mesh. And then I made little tassels for the bags which are made from, as you do, repurposed pond liner from a water plant nursery.

Lucie Cutting: Oh, wow.

Lyn Hellewell: That hadn't been used, it was off-cuts from when they relined their ponds. Wow. Yeah.

Lucie Cutting: Yeah. A lot of designers give their bags names to represent whatever it is they want them to represent. Have you named these bags?

Lyn Hellewell: I haven't named these ones. I do name my own bags in my sort of everyday bag making life but I haven't named these and I haven't spoken to them about that either. So that's actually an interesting idea that I probably should speak to them about. Thanks, Lucie.

Lucie Cutting: Get back to me about that.

Lyn Hellewell: I will. We'll call one the Lucie bag.

Lucie Cutting: I'll head up there now and buy it. This is Lyn Hellewell of RECOLAB bags. We are talking about a very special project that she's had the opportunity to work on involving the Sydney Opera House and upholstery from a particular theatre at the Opera House. Lynne, will you get the opportunity to see them in the shop at the Opera House?

Lyn Hellewell: I don't think I will, Lucie, because I think they'll all be sold out before I could possibly get to Sydney, which is exciting. We did a very small run to start with but I believe I've been talking to them today and I think we will be doing another run of these. They're beautiful. The Joan Sutherland Theatre clutch bag and little pouches are a beautiful sort of burnt orangey to red sort of colour.

Lucie Cutting: And I imagine a bit velvety feeling, I imagine.

Lyn Hellewell: They're soft but they are a woven sort of fabric and then we've got a nice bit of gold bling. So they've got that sort of, I don't know, maybe Joan Sutherland might have rocked one back in the day even.

Lucie Cutting: I love it. Well, congratulations, Lyn. And any other exciting projects coming up that you can share?

Lyn Hellewell: Not that I can share!

Lucie Cutting: Okay, I'll have to check in with you at another point then.

Lyn Hellewell: Do, please do.

Lucie Cutting: Thanks very much, Lyn.

Lyn Hellewell: Thanks so much, Lucie.

Excitement to knee-trembling fear is how Tasmanian designer Lyn Hellewell describes repurposing fabric removed from the Joan Sutherland Theatre chairs at Sydney Opera House.

In 2017 the Sydney Opera House removed upholstery from the Joan Sutherland Theatre and stored it for future use.

This year marks 50 years of the Sydney Opera House and to celebrate, Lyn was selected to turn the chair fabric into a series of bags.

The chair fabric, along with outdoor theatre banners, were mailed to Lyn in Tasmania.

"It is quite a thick, woven fabric," Lyn said.

"That also has the added fun of fraying quite easily."

After making a few tester bags to better understand the fabric, Lyn proceeded (with caution!) to create a collection of clutch, tote and toiletry bags.

"It's been a great learning experience," Lyn said.

"And also just a great experience in general.".

Lyn spoke with ABC's Lucie Cutting about the bags and what other recycled items were used to create the collection.

In this episode

Published: YesterdaySun 27 Aug 2023 at 12:00am/with Lucie Cutting

Published: 20 Aug 2023Sun 20 Aug 2023 at 12:00am

Published: 20 Aug 2023Sun 20 Aug 2023 at 12:00am/with Lucie Cutting

Published: 20 Aug 2023Sun 20 Aug 2023 at 12:00am/with Lucie Cutting

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