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Artistic recycling

I love old things. They have lived another life and it is there shining and glowing. It shows in worn spots in wood, stone or fabric—whether faded, rubbed, held or scratched—it is there...a mark of the past. Secrets and stories are part of the history never to be revealed but they are part of the evolution of what the object has become. 

Old beads were shaped by hand in clay, stone or glass and they are imperfect, full of personality, unlike modern beads that are shaped by machines making them even, perfect and less interesting. Silver is a metal I like a lot and I enjoy it more with an age tarnish on it. Instead of shine there is more contrast, and a bit of buffing makes the texture uneven and more interesting to me.

Although I like foreign objects, I really love tribal and ethnic pieces in all forms of craft work. So much labor has gone into many of the pieces and one can feel the respect that has been accorded to the artist or craftsperson.  With the old fabrics, you can see the small, careful stitches and feel the time necessary to complete the work. The use of color is important as well as the type of fiber used to construct the fabric. Silk has a luciousness and strength, and accepts dye at a deeper level than other fibers. Wools are wonderful to work with, as well as linen, which has a sheen to it unlike cotton.

I am aware of how much work goes into making yarn and thread from fibers, because for years I spun my own yarns from sheep fleece and silk. After I had amassed a good pile of spun yarns, I loved to dye them with natural plant dyes. I would collect leaves, bark and flowers with my friend, Helen, and we would boil dye baths and experiment with straight dying, over-dying and mixing colors. All of this activity gave me a deeper understanding of the work and the amount of labor needed to produce beautiful results.

The quality of the handwork made long ago by tribal peoples displays the respect and knowledge of all forms of art and craft. Careful stitching on fabric, delicate use of signifant icons in the work and color choices is involved in creating a beautiful art piece.

When visiting Turkey, I found a delicate piece of lavender silk made into a drawstring purse and “fringed” by tiny woven little triangles nicknamed “teeth.” I spent time collecting these old pieces. The newer ones were more quickly made using heavier store-bought threads and had lost the delicate beauty of the older pieces.

The same thing happened when Germany introduced their chemical dyes (especially red) to ethnic weaving communities throughout the world. The color quality changed. Today, many weavers in Mexico have returned to preparing their red dyepots with the ancient cochineal bug, which produces the loveliest reds. 

Many years ago I bought an old silver bracelet with some turquoise on it. It came from somewhere in Asia.  I always fantasized about a woman who might have worn it walking across desert sands in a flowing skirt, carrying a jug of water on her head. It made the bracelet more dear to me. 

When I travel I really enjoy going to flea markets, antique stores, estate and “yard sales” to find treasures to use in my own art work. Finding something once prized by another that is now just waiting to be used by me as part of a project is a pleasurable experience. I love the various foreign, to me, flea markets, “car boot sales” and second-hand shops throughout England. To spend a day wandering around booths and tables filled with potential treasures is my idea of a wonderful outing.

I have two favorite antique shops in Sweden near my friends’ house and we often visit a flea market. I stuff all the found treasures into my suitcase and line them up on my table to enjoy for a while when I come home. 

For doll making I use wool sweaters from thrift stores, which Helen washes and shrinks for me. (I don’t have my own washer and dryer any more). Once shruken, old woolen sweaters can be cut up without fraying and can be sewn easily. My garage is filled with plastic drawers full of sweater scraps just waiting to be chosen.

Using the old to create the new is a great direction to travel. Thinking of new uses, and enjoying the age and the history of an object is a smart and satisfying path to follow.