Miina Leesment

Lessons learned from textile waste workshops

August 19, 2013

I have given five textile waste workshops during the last year. I learned enormously from those experiences, and I would like to share some findings from those five case studies. The key lessons I learned are in bold and italicized text below.

Workshop in Kaveri, southern Estonia, near Tartu, end of summer 2012

The first workshop was held during a three-day gathering event of Estonian eco communities. There we put up a creative space for upcycling. The room was organised in a way so that participants could dye with natural colors, weave on looms, sew with sewing machines, and use a lot of smaller handicraft tools. Mainly post-consumer waste was used as a new resource. We provided some, and people brought their own old clothes and things that could be used in the creative workshop: buttons, zippers, threads, fabrics. In addition to the eco communities, the workshop was open to all age groups and local village inhabitants. The main aim of this workshop was to give basic knowledge in determining the aging level, the damage volume, and the potential of textile waste in order to upcycle these in the best way possible (reuse the clothes if needed and possible, upcycle the other ones by using coloring, machines and/or handicraft tools, and if the materials were no good for upcycling then these could be used to make rags).

A temporary textile and handicraft atmosphere is a great common theme to unite generations together. Different generations tend not to meet so often these days outside their families and social networks. This kind of temporary atmosphere gives a chance to share experiences with strangers and at the same time is a place to make new connections. The younger can learn from older techniques and skills to apply during the creative process and vice versa. For example, it was great to see how one young girl who did not receive good guidance on knitting at school picked up techniques from an old lady during the workshop. It was also nice to see how the kids' enthusiasm infected the older people and how the old people's dedication and commitment infected the younger ones.

Continuing hands-on practice has great results. Working three days in a row with the same subject and having a continuing interest and commitment showed clearly that people's inspiration and imagination expanded as a result. It was amazing to see how people started to open up and flourish; they got inspired and enriched each other.  

Working with material waste evokes inventiveness, and it is a great way to study intensively about materials (about its possibilities, properties, and outputs). Working with used materials and with substances that may vary enormously in volume, size, color, property, texture and so on challenges you to solve problems in more steps than anyone could possibly predict. It is hard to master, but it gives you a lot of satisfaction if you stick to it. 

Workshop in science centre AHHAA in Tartu, southern Estonia, September 2012

This was quite a short workshop, put up for just few hours. It was held during the Researchers' Night Festival programme. The idea of the workshop was to make simple bags out of clothing materials that were not usable at the same level of material hierarchy. People in the workshop were visitors of the Festival and AHHAA.

Organising a workshop in an open space makes it possible to attract far more people than the ones who are already interested in the subject. From the AHHAA workshop experience, I learned that it is a great opportunity to introduce upcycling by organising workshops in places where a lot of people pass by the workshop space itself. Some people were ready to get involved immediately, and some were happy to have a small peak into what was going on. Either way, the message spreads.

Leaving the workshop with a self-made item that is ready to use is more than just a memorable experience. When putting an upcycled object into use, people can experience the real benefits of upcycling and are more open to related subjects.  

Workshop in Kihlepa, in southwestern Estonia, November 2012

There was weekend workshop series held in one small community centre in Kihlepa. The upcycling workshop was one of them. The aim was to enliven local community life in order to show the space potentialities and benefits. The goal was to inspire locals to start using the centre more often.

Familiarisation and refurbishing sewing machines that were created in different eras to solve the same problem gives participants a lot of information. It gives the real essence of how textile operations were being done and different ways to approach the same kinds of problems. Looking at tools from different eras could be the key to understand better real needs and come up with sustainable solutions in the field. Looking at all these machines was like a hands-on history lesson.

Sometimes it is good to have one certain textile object as an assignment. It could be the backbone of the workshop to study and teach upcycling possibilities with one object. In order to get good results, upcycling needs focus and some kind of commitment. It is easier to start this journey with one certain object — for example with a bag. I can tell from my own experience that it could be very surprising how many possibilities lie behind a bag in the context of upcycling.

Workshop in Risti, in small village in western Estonia, January 2013

I was asked to give a workshop about upcycling clothes there. We had two whole days to repair, redesign, and upcycle clothes. 

Upcycling workshops can be a simple and nice way to take a personal approach and deal with peoples' real needs. Have you ever had problems finding exactly what you need in shops? The most common thing is that you can easily get something that fulfills your needs to some extent, but it is very hard to find something that exactly satisfies your needs (in terms of function, fit, colour, style, psychological, and technical properties, etc.). That explains why fast fashion operates so well: it does not satisfy clients totally, so they must keep buying. What often happens is that people's needs are not met exactly and they get substitute products, but as time passes they go around longing to meet their real needs.

There are loads of style solutions for every person.The workshops atmosphere is a good place to get to know your own potentialities and find your own right fits, styles, and materials. I can say from my own experience in working with people that there are so many fears and misunderstandings about themselves. A workshop atmosphere provides a great opportunity to break the habitual concept of how person see him- or herself. My experience shows that people's understandings about themselves are too often built on other people's expectations rather than on reality and real needs.

Workshop in Tartu Art College, in Tartu, March 2013  

I guided an intensive workshop for textile students at Tartu Art College. This time I took an in-depth look at the reuse.ee platform, contacted suppliers, and meet some of them personally. I collected different types of industrial waste. The aim of the intensive workshop was experimenting freely with material leftovers and finding outputs by using an artistic or design approach.

It makes a huge difference how materials are defined and perceived. When materials are seen as waste or trash, it makes it harder to transform them into something new and worthwhile. Seeing material as a new resource, a raw material that could be used for creating new objects gives much better results.   

There is power in working many hours with the same thing. It became very clear that working continuously with one subject has a greater effect on results when compared to a more hectic routine (working in small bits and having big pauses in between).

Documenting your creative process provides long-lasting learning material for yourself (and possibly others).Students documented every step they made in the creative process. In my view, it is quite a powerful method because students learn to look at their work from a distance and this enables them to see their work more objectively.

photos from workshop with students from Tartu Art College

photo & hat prototype made by Kaisi Rosin 

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