On a windy Monday afternoon, the door creaks open to a small room in the corner of the house. Inside are sewing machines, a mannequin modelling a blue-and-white floral dress, an assortment of fabric and a closet full of clothes. To an outsider, the contents of the room may show a place that can be used for storage or just an average room. However, for Maria Bose, this tiny space houses her achievements in dressmaking and the four white walls that surround it display the story of her journey towards fulfilling her dream. Even when she is working as an instrument technician at Casey Hospital’s Sterilization Services Unit, 55-year-old Maria is keeping her dream alive.
She looks forward to spending time altering or making dresses. When she’s doing what she loves, every garment she makes from scratch becomes a reminder of hard work in the past and the origins of her love for making dresses. For Bose, sewing is more than just a hobby as it is a skill that has been able to direct and influence her life.
“My experiences with sewing started off when I was 12 years old. My mother and grandmother always had a passion for sewing and all sorts of crafts work,” she says. “My mother then encouraged me to use the 1930-style foot pedal sewing machine to practise sewing straight with paper and no cotton… it was the only machine we had at the time, unlike the power machines we have today.”
Born and raised in Tasmania, Bose grew up in a society where schools expected girls to study sewing and cooking while, boys were encouraged to focus more on woodwork. She was eager to pursue a career in sewing.
A turning point came when her mother discovered a news story about a successful student who attended RMIT’S School of Fashion and Textiles in Melbourne. This inspired Bose to study hard at school to earn a place at a school of fashion in Tasmania. But a family tragedy meant that her determination to achieve her goal was shattered and it seemed more and more far-fetched. “My mother passed away in a tragic car accident while I was in Year 7 and that devastated me so much and affected my chosen career to become a dressmaker,” she explains. “I was not sure if I still wanted to proceed with the course without my mother there as she has always been my guidance and mentor.”
Bose was at a crossroads but she knew that her mother had wanted her to chase the dream. So, she made a promise to herself that if she didn’t pass the first year of her course, she would not continue.
“After finishing my secondary schooling, I could not stop thinking about becoming a dressmaker,” she says. “I came to a decision and enrolled myself to the School of Fashion in Northern Tasmania, focusing in Pattern and Clothing Construction which was a three-year course at that time.”
All the effort, the sacrifices she had to make, working part-time as a seamstress for a furniture store, finally paid off. Bose passed all three years and graduated with her certificate. In addition, she studied ‘Fashion Design Drawing’ two years later and received her qualification.
“My father was so happy when I finished; he bought me a Bernina sewing machine that I still use today, a dress model and a skirt maker,” she says with a smile. “I started a casual business with dressmaking and alterations where I made various garments which included bridal wear for myself and many clients in my own home.”
This accomplishment was only the beginning. She decided to enter in the Tasmania Gown of the Year competition twice. For her first entry, she was asked to model her own design.
“I was an entrant and a model who was able to lead all the other models on the stage in front of 4000 people.”
The following year, she entered for the second time and won, claiming the coveted title, ‘Gown of the Year’. That victory led to word-of-mouth praise for her work and Bose was able to gain more customers and ongoing tasks to complete.
She and her husband, Mark, moved to Melbourne some years later. After handing out flyers to letterboxes around her hometown, Berwick, word-of-mouth helped her grow the business. “That was back then but now it is quieter because people buy more and when they can’t find something, they get it customised,” she explains. “Now, I mainly do alterations and it gets difficult because a lot of people are setting higher expectations and don’t take into account that they won’t look like the model in the picture.”
She has been working as an instrument technician for 13 years due to the change in demand but her love for dressmaking is just as strong as it was before.
“She’s a nice person to work with and she is known by colleagues for her abilities in design and alterations because she is good at what she does.” says Aristedes Teanila, who’s been working alongside Bose for seven years.
It’s evident to others like Lilette Leveque, who has been friends with Bose for more than 20 years, that sewing is a massive part of her life. “She loves her sewing even now and even though she has had other interests, has kept her passion for sewing alive,” says Leveque. “She has even help me with my sewing challenges a few times and made a baby basket for my son when he was born.”
As the interview came to a close, she stood up, straightening her pale, pink jumper. She smiled as she spoke about of the latest dress along with the matching blue cardigan that she had made for a wedding. She also displayed the old gown she had made for her only son, Michael, during his christening and reminisced about how it came to be.
Dressmaking is more than just a pastime for Bose. “I love sewing so much that I just get a feeling inside me and if I had the opportunity, I want to boost my knowledge and would like to teach short courses to others.”
Despite the limited time that Maria spends in her dressmaking room, her passion isn’t locked away. It’s something that has been a part of her for as long as she can remember.
“The shops can close, but I never close as a dressmaker as it’s who I am.”