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mental health support worker and burlesque star Rosie Rivette in a yellow crochet bikini lounging on leopard-print day bed
Photograph: Supplied/Rosie Rivette

Seven cool and unusual hobbies you can try out in Sydney

We spoke to the Sydneysiders who found inspiration in weird and wonderful new hobbies during lockdown

Written by
Stephen A Russell
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As fabulous literatti Zelda Fitzgerald once wrote in her essay Eulogy on the Flapper, “she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring.”

There are all sorts of fascinating ways to spend your days, so boredom need not be a thing. We spoke to some pretty awesome people about the cool and unusual hobbies that keep them eternally interested and interesting. Maybe you’ll be intrigued enough to try one out?

And if you think your hobby is pretty cool, shout out and let us know by emailing stephen.russell@timeout.com.

Looking for a less intimidating new skill? We road-tested five lockdown hobbies that you'll actually stick to.

And here are a bunch of ideas for more fun things you can do.

Sydney's most unusual hobbies

The fabulous Rosie Rivette is a mental health support worker during the day, and usually a burlesque dancer and art model by night. But lockdowns have derailed both halves of her professional life, with the latter on hold and the day job forced to happen over the phone, instead of in-person. As enthusiastically upbeat as she is, she acknowledges. “It’s actually really hard to be on the phone for hours and just remain focused, and the clients I’m supporting are going through really stressful times as well, so I started crocheting as a coping mechanism to soothe my anxiety.”

Teaching herself the technique via YouTube, Rivette’s inspired imagination took over. It’s safe to say her unique focus on vulva beer stubbies and boob plant holders, crocheted bikinis and penis wall hangings aren’t the first things that spring to mind when you mention the knitting-adjacent hobby. But her mates were bowled over and soon suggested she sell them on Instagram. A cottage industry exploded.

“It’s my way of preserving my love of characters, costume and performance, and celebrating bodies and nudity,” she says. And her careers have a really beautiful way of overlapping, bringing mental health, crochet and body positivity together as one. “I’ve done cossies for women who have had double mastectomies, and a body harness for a very beautiful, voluptuous man. It’s about celebration of every body, in every form.”

Rivette never expected her works to become as popular as they have, but she’s been flooded with super-appreciative pics of folks posing with her crocheted works. “It makes me realise that people really appreciate things that are made by hand, where you know love and time and energy has gone into that object. It’s so heart-warming. It just shows how beautiful the sense of community we’ve created is and how supportive everyone is of one another. I’m so grateful for it.”

Learn how to bind your own books
Photograph: Supplied/Sabrina Berger

Learn how to bind your own books

When Sabrina Berge was growing up in Durban, South Africa, her mum worked for the municipality and she used to love hanging out with the Scotsman who was their in-house bookbinder. She was fascinated by his handiwork. But it wasn’t until many years later, now living in Sydney, that she decided to try it out for herself. She signed up for an introductory class at Owl and Lion in St Peters as we emerged from lockdown in 2020.

“It was just a one-off to try something different, and here I am nearly a year later, fully invested and having made many, many books since,” she says. “I couldn’t believe how beautiful a process it was. It was something tangible that you could hold in your hands afterward and say, ‘Look, I made that’. You know it’s not going to fall apart, because it’s been sown together like a garment.”

As led by Isabelle McGowan, who trained in Italy and even worked in the Vatican’s libraries, Berger discovered there was a vast range of techniques to try out, and even a return to lockdown couldn’t stop her. “Isabelle took the classes online, and she sends you boxes with everything you need.”

As well as handcrafting new bound books, Berger also enjoys the conservation process of restoring old tomes that need a little love. “The satisfaction of repairing a beloved book is just unbelievable, and you’ll want to show it off to everyone.”

She finds the process exceedingly calming. The books make for great presents too. “It’s something you can give to somebody and say, ‘I was involved in every single part of this, from beginning to end’. It’s a very heartfelt gift.”

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Make a splash with freediving
Photograph: Supplied/ Sara Ehrlich

Make a splash with freediving

Sara Ehrlich first got into the habit of freediving during lockdown in 2020 – minus scuba gear, and relying solely on lung capacity. She was inspired by YouTube videos to go exploring in the waters off Bronte, but began to worry that she didn’t have any training. “I loved it, but I felt like there was a massive gap in my knowledge.” Luckily for her, she bumped into Bella Massey, founder of Immersia Freediving, on the beach and signed up for a course.

Even the latest lockdown couldn’t thwart her, with Zoom lessons helping to perfect her technique. “Bella runs through what happens to a body when you freedive, which is really important. So she speaks about the dive reflex and how to trigger it; things like making sure your face is in the water, and you get your eyes wet before putting on your mask. She’s very focused on safety, which was exactly what I wanted. I found out I was wearing my weight belts wrong, which is quite a vital thing.”

Massey could observe Ehrlich's breathing technique and offer advice on how to push through contractions when your body wants to give up. “It’s been amazing. Holding your breath feels a bit like meditation. It fully calms you down, and you learn to control your heart rate. I feel very peaceful and I’ve noticed a massive difference when I go diving now.”

Fashion your own doll head lamps
Photograph: Supplied/Jody Rigby

Fashion your own doll head lamps

Jody Rigby has always had an eye for period pieces. She has worked in vintage stores, lighting boutiques and antique dealers in her time and has picked up plenty of make-do-and-mend skills along the way. But it’s safe to say her particular passion for crafting lamps out of mid-century doll heads and old tins, cigar boxes and glass jars isn’t for everyone. “It does freak some people out,” she says. “Including my boyfriend. I don’t like the comparison to [horror film character] Chucky, because that wasn’t what I was going for. I think they’re beautiful pieces of art.”

She loves the doll heads because they have “nostalgic, beautiful, cutesy kind of faces, and when you light them up, they look so innocent”. But you have to take care when illuminating these once-beloved toys. Rigby uses her nifty wiring skills and LED lights that don’t emit heat, because a lot of ‘50s dolls use celluloid (the same material found in old movie reels) and can be flammable. She dips into her collection of broken jewellery, jars of lost buttons and orphaned scrabble letters to adorn the lamps. But it can be a challenge sourcing the right materials. “It’s a bit like the toilet roll shortage,” says Rigby. “It’s really hard to find beautiful quality doll heads, and if you’re after early 1950s models, you’re looking at upwards of $200.”

Working on new pieces helps Rigby focus: “It’s great to have a goal for the day and to feel like you created something.”

You can check out her work on Instagram at @covetvintage.

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Make your dreams come true with 3D printing
Photograph: Supplied/Alex Audet

Make your dreams come true with 3D printing

Former graphic designer Alex Audet has always been a maker. Even as a little kid he preferred crafting things out of boxes rather than playing with what came in them. His love of comic books led to costume-making and regular cosplay appearances at conventions. Then, after reading about them in science mags, he picked up an affordable 3D printer and explored making his own props. “I remember I was doing Star-Lord [from Guardians of the Galaxy] and I spent three days making a replica of his Sony tape recorder.”

Amateur electronics are a side hobby, so Audet knew he could fix his printer if it broke. “You could literally 3D print an upgrade for it, so it’s like something out of Star Trek.” It turns out there’s a really tight 3D printing community that offers plenty of advice online for new starters exploring what’s possible. And the short answer is a lot is possible, even if you don’t have a big studio. “I live in a very small one-bedroom apartment, which is perfect for this kind of thing, because I can’t afford a lot of tools.”

Pop culture Christmas baubles are one of his favourite applications, with Audet creating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars-themed ones, and he’s continually branching out into new ideas. Funnily enough, once you’ve designed the product, the 3D printing process is like having an army of Santa’s elves to do your work for you. “I’m able to press print, go to bed, wake up and I have a finished object (save for sanding, painting and assembly). It’s very fun.”

When his day job made him redundant during the 2020 lockdown, Audet made his passion for making things into a full-time pivot. He regularly takes on commissions. You can explore his projects on Instagram at @tinkertailormakerguy.

Capture a moment with corrosion casting and taxidermy
Photograph: Supplied/Arianna Kokkinakis

Capture a moment with corrosion casting and taxidermy

It’s not uncommon to stumble across a sheep’s heart defrosting in Arianna Kokkinakis’ fridge. She studied environmental biology at uni and clearly remembers being fascinated by the art of taxidermy after a demonstration in class. But it wasn’t until years later that she stumbled across Rest in Pieces, an institute dedicated to the preservation and presentation of animal specimens in Melbourne, and organised a trip to learn the trade.

Now her bedroom is full of stuffed animals of the non-teddy bear type. “At first my family were absolutely horrified, but now they love it. Sometimes I’ll come into my room and I'll catch my mum speaking to the animals that I’ve made.” That menagerie incudes a rabbit, mice, a squirrel and a baby chick.

Last year she added corrosion casting, or the preservation of a heart in resin, to her skillset via a course also taken by Time Out's Alannah Maher. “It brings together three fields that I’m really passionate about, which are science, art and anatomy,” Kokkinakis says. “With taxidermy, you’re reconstructing the animal itself. But with corrosion casting, you’re going further into the organs, which I find really fascinating, actually getting to see how blood flow happens. You’re basically injecting a part of the animal with a resin substance, it solidifies and then you macerate the flesh, leaving a cast of the blood vessels.”

Kokkinakis finds it beautiful, but doing it at home is a bit more full on than at a weekend workshop. “It’s very, very stinky, and I live in a house with nine members of my family, so they’re going to be exposed to the sights and the smells.”

She highly recommends the practice: “It’s a really fascinating skill, learning more about the animal and I find it’s really good for anxiety, being able to focus on doing something productive. It’s quite cathartic.”

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Tickle your fancy with feather fan dancing
Photograph: Supplied/Sheena Miss Demeanour

Tickle your fancy with feather fan dancing

Time Out Sydney lifestyle journalist Alannah Maher has always been a fan of vintage glamour and body positive expression, dipping her toes in the burlesque scene over the years. So she decided to throw herself into feather fan dancing classes run online by Sydney Vintage Dance Studio. “Feather fans have always been something that I have admired,” she says. Luckily, her flatmate, up-and-coming burlesque performer La Petite Morticia, happened to have a couple of pairs of fans she could practice with. Maher plucked the peacock feather ones first. “But they’re much more ornamental than danceable.”

Moving onto a fluffier pair bedazzled with rhinestones, Maher soon found her wrists were pretty sore as she worked over her routine. Her instructor Sheena Miss Demeanour spotted what was going wrong. “I was using fans that do not lock open, which means that while you’re dancing, you have to physically hold them open.”

Now she’s flying, learning conditioning exercises and wrist stretches in addition to ‘clam shell’ and ‘palm tree’ fan formations. “I’m really drawn to the feminine, raunchy aesthetic of it. I’m a little bit of a show pony with a dormant performance side and I like that burlesque can be a reclamation and celebration of your own body, sensuality and sexuality.”

Maher reckons investing the $200 or so in your own beginners set of feather fans is totally worth it. “They also make a great decorative statement piece, so my bedroom is about to get a makeover.” In the event that she takes her new skill to the stage, she says that her first performance will be dedicated to her Granny, whose running joke (or threat) to do a fan dance at her grandchildren's birthday parties even made it onto her gravestone.

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