Farming inspires agri-couture

Danella BevisThe West Australian
Natalie Tonkin with her prize-winning Paddock Tree creation.
Camera IconNatalie Tonkin with her prize-winning Paddock Tree creation. Credit: The West Australian

Inspired by a lone paddock tree on an autumn day, a Moora artist has branched out from traditional fashion-forging techniques to win the top prize in the Act-Belong-Commit Ag Art Wear competition.

The mostly cut-out metal garment took out top honours in the avant garde section of the competition for Natalie Tonkin, winning her an expenses-paid trip to compete at the New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays.

Now in its fourth year at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days, the unique call for farming-inspired fashion attracted 13 entries across three categories - more than double last year's total.

The competition challenges designers to push boundaries and show off creative flair by producing a piece of farm art for the body.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


Mrs Tonkin's intricately designed garment, The Paddock Tree, was made from a 44-gallon drum.

"We had a pile of those on the farm and I love the paint, the way it's worn … I also make furniture and stools using them and arm cushions from recycled jumpers," she said. "I just use anything that I can get locally or from our farm."

The accompanying accessories were made using fencing wire, a belt woven from baling twine and the top and pants were made out of wool pack material.

Her other entry, Paperbark Girl, a dress constructed from paper bark, foliage and nuts, was the winning garment in the Landcare awareness category.

The winner of the designer traditional category, South Burracoppin's Kirsty Mackenzie, said her 1960s-inspired garment was the result of weeks of pleating work.

The self-confessed history buff's aptly named Crapper Flapper dress was made by pleating newspaper and paper used to cover toilet rolls, then attaching it to "fabric" made from fused plastic bags.

"I have a love affair with all eras and I love to research about different eras and fashions - at the time the 60s were prominent in my head," she said.

Mrs Mackenzie said she loved to spend time sifting through old farm rubbish tips and had designed the head piece for her winning entry around a headlight from a vintage car.

"I find old bits of a wheel and stick it on a table as a centrepiece; there's so much beauty in rust, I think," she said.

Inspired by life on the farm with husband James and their three children, Mrs Mackenzie said her garment, Junk Fairy, which placed second in the avant garde section, had evolved to become a representation of the facets of her own life.

Competition judge Rose Crane said the panel of three judges were impressed by the wide range of materials used.

"The standard of entries was fantastic as was the presentation, quality of sewing and construction right through to the innovation of the garments and use of materials," she said.

"Black rubber and black plastic were popular materials - they were studded and shaped."

Ms Crane said one of the "stunning" aspects of this year's entries were the intricate and beautifully made head pieces which went with the outfits.

"They were really structural and strong statements and worked as part of the overall outfit, they were not last-minute additions," she said.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails