Sunday, August 29, 2010

Use It or Lose It

Are you one of those people who can’t look at a woven plastic vegetable bag or a sturdy cardboard garment tag without considering the artistic potential it might contain? I confess that I am one of those. I spend an inordinate amount of time collecting castoff relics that other people just throw in the garbage. But there’s good reason for such behavior.

Since 2003 I have been making a serious effort to add recycled items to most of the quilts I make. These recycled elements might take the form of plastic milk jug stoppers, wine corks, and discarded orange “weedeater” cord. I have even used melted plastic bags to construct quilts. But my favorite junk takes the form of natural fiber.

If you use fabric for anything, you can usually glean some recycled fibers when you handle it. When I buy new fabric to make quilts or garments, the first thing I do is wash it. (You need to remove that possible formaldehyde, you know.) If the fabric was cut from the bolt, especially if the cut was uneven, you will be rewarded with a wonderful little bundle of tangled threads. Cut this off while it’s wet and form it into a small nest until it dries. Instant embellishment!

Wash your new fabric in loads of similar colors. When you take the fabric out of the dryer, check the lint filter for a cool glob of colorful lint. (I even find myself searching out fuzzy fabric to wash.) Lint can be captured under tulle on a fabric surface. Or if you’re into fiber sculpture, the pigment for your sculpture medium is free!

My other favorite recycled fibers come from ripping fabric. I use a lot of evenly woven cotton fabric in my work, and the best way to get a straight line is to rip it. In a quilt with a lot of strips, you will find an amazing amount of threads result from ripping the fabric. I save them all, unless the color is muddy. And if the fabric is some that I have hand dyed, you can bet that I’m not going to let one speck of that gloriously colored thread go to waste. These threads are also wonderful for embellishment and for making fiber vessels.

Other crazy recycled artist types are out there. The Atlanta art show “Not Biodegradable” is on display at whitespace gallery through September 4th. One of the artists is Mireille Vautier, who creates her artwork by embroidering on plastic bags. It sounds wonderful! Stop by and see the show if you can.

Whitespace is located at 814 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta, GA 30307. The phone number is 404.688.1892. Gallery hours are Wed. – Sat.11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  You can see some of the work on these websites: and
If you want to see ingenious ways to recycle garments, check out the fun at

Happy recycling!


  1. Leisa Rich ( also works alot with recycled materials of all sorts. Also, there is alot of talk lately about plarn, yarn made from plastic bags. Handwoven Today has a short article about plarn with several links at:

  2. I forgot to mention a couple of other things! First, there is a store in Atlanta called Reinspirations ( and all they sell is recycled items. They combine "art, recycling and affordability in a retail store with a special emphasis on items made in Georgia, by local artisans, with recycled materials." Also, there are plans to start a nonprofit creative reuse store in the Atlanta area! If you're interested and want more information, email creative2reuse-contact