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November 14, 2021

Supporting Asylum Seekers with Quirky Tea Towel Dresses by Sue-Ching Lascelles

Crafted through the work of several Australian designers, these distinctive dresses go to auction this week to raise funds for women in need.

Brisbane-based artist Sue-Ching Lascelles has transformed a slightly wacky lockdown project into a charity auction supporting women caught up in war and conflict. Using humble kitchen tea towels to create five one-of-a-kind dresses, the self-proclaimed purveyor of ‘making happy things’ is selling the playful pieces to fundraise for important resource and education programs that help asylum seekers.

Lascelles has a long history of creating installations and textile sculptures, but only started sewing clothes during last year’s COVID lockdowns. In June 2021, she decided to experiment with some thrifted tea towels, giving the old but brightly patterned pieces of cloth a new life in a wonderfully swishy and kitschy dress just for her. When the garment received a huge amount of support and praise online, Lascelles was inspired to turn this positive energy into something bigger. She has crafted five different tea towel dresses to be auctioned off next week, with all proceeds going to organisations that support asylum seekers. All money raised will be split between the Romero Centre, who provide resources like food and English classes to asylum seekers in Lascelle’s home city of Brisbane, and Women for Women International, a not-for-profit that helps women who have survived war and conflict to develop economic skills and strong communities.

These little utilitarian pieces of cloth can be so much more than something to dry your hands or wipe a dish [with].
– SUE-CHING LASCELLES, DESIGNER.

To create a more contemporary look for the dresses going to auction, Lascelles worked with four Australian designers who donated their modern tea towel and textile designs to her project. With brilliant florals by Dancing with Juniper’s Hannah Stromberg, bespoke fabric patterns by Anna Spiro, hand drawn motifs by Aqua Door Design’s Angela Richardson, and lively abstract wiggles by Claire Richie, the vibrant designs are all full of a real joy. Despite the hardship faced by the people this project is supporting, the dresses themselves are a reminder of the hope and life that awaits them with the right support. The dress shape was loosely inspired by Birgitta Helmersson’s Zero Waste Gather Dress – although Lascelles’ dresses aren’t completely waste-free, she has minimised the impact on landfill by using almost all of each tea towel somewhere in each dress and sourcing all buttons from old garments.

In connection to Lascelle’s cause, her dresses have been modelled by women from a refugee background. Khatra Nekzhad’s family fled Afghanistan when she was just two years old, while Lascelle’s friend Caroline Ochoa had her parents come to Australia through the Special Humanitarian Program that supported refugees escaping the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s. Reflecting on her history and this project, Ochoa says that ‘Australians sing of “boundless plains to share” and I hope they can extend their support to more refugees in danger’.

Close To My Heart is a meeting of beautiful, handcrafted design and thoughtful social awareness. The auction for all five unique dresses opens this Sunday November 14 and will run until November 21, 2021. You can place your bid to own one of these amazing gowns on the auction website here and learn more about the project on Lascelles’ Instagram @suechinglascelles.

If you liked this article, you might enjoy our feature on #WeWearAustralian, the initiative that has been supporting the Australian fashion industry through the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo Credits: Danielle O'Brien

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