By Brenda Toutant
Magazine Issue: Fall/Winter 2022
In weaving, sustainable art practices are nothing new. Inspired by a member’s completed project, the Manitoba Weavers and Fibre Artists (MWFA) guild formally adopted the 3 Rs—reuse, recycle, and repurpose—as their focus between 2021 and 2022. MWFA guild members reused and repurposed fibre from sweaters and even plastic bags to weave artistic items, often seeing that additional work (or re-work!) warrants more satisfaction, a more sentimental item, and sometimes, a better outcome.
The weaving process requires a warp, which runs vertically on the loom, and a weft, which is woven between the warp threads horizontally to create the cloth. During the weaving process, loom loss occurs. Loom loss (or thrums) is the lengths of fibre (yarn) that cannot be processed by the loom due to its design. Thrum fibre could range from cotton to silk to hand spun alpaca. Thrums were a common subject of reuse as weavers explored repurposing not only the byproducts of their practice but also other discarded materials. What follows is several of the projects made during the 3 R “season” at the MWFA guild.
Jose Milne has been weaving for over 30 years, primarily scarves, throws, and baby blankets. Reusing is a way of life for Jose: she has not purchased new yarn in many years but works with previously owned or reclaimed yarn from worn knit garments made of natural fibres. Jose dismantles the garments and unravels the yarn, then employs the yarn as is or modifies the thickness of the yarn by splitting or doubling it to an appropriate weight for the project. Says Milne:
I find that my approach adds to the creative process, any perceived limits become challenges to use what is available to achieve the desired end result. The textile industry negatively affects the environment through consumption of water, use of pesticides, loss of biodiversity, energy consumption, use of toxic chemicals, pollution of water, emissions, and the production of non-biodegradable fibres, all resulting in a glut of new and used garments in storage facilities and landfills around the world. My contribution to a healthier environment by reclaiming yarn is very small but the potential for change is massive.
Jo-Anne Tabachek has woven household or decorative items and accessories for more than 40 years. Jo-Anne used curtain and fabric strips as weft for some of her earliest work to produce placemats. "I enjoyed using repurposed fabrics because they had a softer feel and were easily woven into place."
A drawback to using fabric, as opposed to yarn, is the time required to cut strips and sew them together before they can be used as weft. Accordingly, Jo-Anne prefers to repurpose large pieces such as flannel sheets and duvet covers for future rag rugs rather than clothing to avoid dealing with the bulkiness of seams.
Embracing the 3 Rs, Jo-Anne wove a striped wall hanging and a rag rug, repurposing fabric strips from rag weaving workshops she had taken many years ago. As she put it, "It was good to give the fabric strips a life beyond being in a box in the closet."
Carol Kaye started weaving in 1970 and began repurposing fabrics judged too valuable to send to the landfill. Her weaving stash has nearly always included reclaimed fabrics. Having accumulated many used jeans, she wove denim rag rugs. For MWFA members, it is eye-opening to see the many variations in colour, weight, and weave structure of denim. A favourite tote bag, woven of cotton fabric recycled from a dress she wore on a holiday in Jamaica in 1971, is more than practical; to Carol, it “holds wonderful memories.”
Susan Styrchak recalls receiving her first batch of yarn 50 years ago–10 lbs. for $20, and it was all synthetic (oh dear!). Rather than spend money to return it, Susan found a way to use it, thus beginning her foray with twice-woven rugs.
As the name suggests, twice-woven rugs go through the weaving process twice. The first weaving uses a “spaced” warp, which provides space to cut the woven cloth into strips to create the chenille yarn for use as the weft in for the second weaving. The second weaving follows traditional rug weaving practices using the chenille yarn for the wefts.
Patricia Sauder, an experienced weaver of 35 years, is one of the teachers of the guild’s beginner weaving class. She weaves scarves, table linens, tea towels, rugs, blankets, and more. The pieces Patty wove for the 3 R Challenge were made from old t-shirts and mop fibre that the mop company was going to throw out, which Patty reclaimed for her fibre stash. She twisted the two fibres together, cutting out the oil stains as she wove a rag rug. She also wove a rug from just the mop cotton.
Tricia E. Brock is a young practicing artist with a focus on tapestry weaving and felting, often using thrifted yarn and thrums. She finds that loom loss expands her creativity to explore new ideas. Tricia is currently working on felting bricks to build a small-scale house and weaving colorful abstract houses, for which she was a Canada Council grant recipient.
The 3 R Challenge, born from one weaver's regular practice, led to a demonstration of the economical and creative possibilities of sustainable weaving. The Challenge also served as a reminder that reusing, repurposing, and recycling are not new but have been approaches to weaving from the beginning.
Brenda Toutant is a member of the Manitoba Weavers and Fibre Artists guild located in Winnipeg.
Manitoba Weavers and Fibre Artists (MWFA) is celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2022. The MWFA guild of 40 to 50 members fosters teaching, mentorship, the sharing of ideas and projects, making local connections, and the promotion of weaving in Manitoba. The MWFA offers meetings, workshops, rental equipment, and a physical and electronic library. Their members are mainly weavers and tend to be multi-disciplined in the textile arts. Find them at MBweavers.ca or at instagram.com/mbweavers.