The Upcycling Academy at the Knitting and Stitching Show

4 October 2013

Barley Massey, the creator of the Upcycling Academy.
It's almost that time of year. The Knitting and Stitching Show, Europe's BIGGEST textile bonanza at Alexandra Palace, is coming (10th - 13th October).

There's an overwhelmingly exciting array of stalls, workshops and textile temptations that make up the Show. So much creativity and only one lifetime per person to achieve even some of it.You'll need sharp elbows and quick wits to acquire your bargains and / or expensive delights. Oh, and do watch out for the Nana of Nuneaton, usually a lady of a certain age who wouldn't say "boo!" to a goose the rest of the year. But at the Show when she is unleashed... be warned. She'll be the first one body surfing across the bargain bags of yarn and has been known to deploy a well-aimed tapestry needle upon anyone getting between her and a unicorn-themed crewel kit.

So before you join the throng let me suggest you drift across to the Panorama Room. There you will find the contained, focussed and buzzing vibe that is the Upcycling Academy. The powers that be at the Knitting and Stitching Show realised a few years ago that as much fun as the Nanas of Nuneaton are, they will not last forever. Thus fresh blood was needed. Cue Crafters: The Next Generation or "Yoof", searching for inspiration, craving - often without realising it - an outlet to make things, beautiful things. However the fact that Yoofs are youthful means there's often not much money sloshing about to indulge in expensive bundles of fat quarters or £100 sets of crochet hooks.

The Upcycling Academy at the Knitting and Stitching Show
Hence the Upcycling Academy. A space at the Show where young crafters and artists can have a go at creating beautiful things... out of materials found at the back of their wardrobes or on a rack in a charity shop. A space where they can gain the confidence to make and thus enjoy the satisfaction of making. A space where they can think about the bigger implications of making versus consuming. A space to add value to materials, making and personal creativity.

So, with that ambitious remit the initiative was handed over to textile artist, Barley Massey.

You couldn't have a better organiser than Barley. Her shop, Fabrications on Broadway Market in Hackney, is a temple to the prefix re-. Reuse, recycle, recreate and rethink rubbish. More precisely the mountains of rubbish made of garments that people believe they don't need any more. The mountains of garments that have cost a vast array of the Earth's resources to produce. For example, just think of the petrochemicals alone used in say, fertilising and harvesting cotton, then shipping it to be turned into cotton jersey, then shipping it again to get stitched into a T shirt, the power needed to run the factory to make said T shirt, then packing it up and shipping it out to the West, followed by driving it to a shop before a customer buys it for a few quid wears it a few times and then tosses it. And we are all too aware of the human cost of a cheap T shirt.

Barley is an inspiring teacher nurturing people's inherent creativity. Why toss a T shirt when with a few snips and a bit of weaving have a stunning statement top?

Statement, weavy T shirt plus skirt made out of a shirt. Love it.
Oh? You've more ties than you know what to do with? Then why not make a curtain for some cupboards.

1970s style tiles, cupboards made of old fruit boxes and a curtain of old ties at Fabrications. Job done.
And as for all those inner tubes from bicycle tires (of which there are bajillions in Hackney due to all the hipsters on their fixies)? Cue the Caught Pouffe.

Pouffe captured by a net of bicycle inner tubes. The seat-tester in the background can vouch for their comfiness.
Inspiring, isn't it? And not expensive and it makes you think about the bigger picture. The fact that we're all part of a ginormous economic and social network that extends well beyond our immediate friends / family / high street. This also fits into Barley's ethos that making and craft are what help bind communities together, giving us an appreciation of objects and the people that create them.

Barley's Upcycling Academy has proved a roaring success, often cited as one of the highlights of the entire Show. Since its first year legions of GCSE Textile students and their teachers have attended, never mind teenagers dragged kicking and screaming by Grandma only to find that by French knitting a jumbo necklace from yarn made of cotton T shirts they've decided to become fashion designers or professors of economics specialising in corporate responsibility / environmental sustainability / social cohesion. Working in conjunction with TRAID, War on Want and (for the first time in 2013) Craftivist Collective, participants get involved in a production line of activities, a production line that references those which make the clothes we in the West so casually discard. By pulling apart the garments and recreating them participants are pulling apart and reconsidering the ethical and social implications of our obsession with consumption.

Participants at the Upcycling Academy
It's a brave and exciting venture. The Academy gives young people - the Nanas of Nuneaton of Tomorrow - the chance to be the change, restoring value to notions of creativity, community and ultimately human dignity.

So much creativity waiting to be unleashed upon so many unloved cotton T-Shirts.

With special thanks to Barley Massey for her help with this piece. It's always a delight and an inspiration to speak with her and I continue to be grateful for her ongoing support of my ad hoc attempts at becoming a writer. 

(Images: Zoë F. Willis & Fabrications)

1 comment:

Sarah Buck said...

Zoe this is such an interesting article and you are so right about those nana's, it was quite petrifying walking around. As for the Upcycling Academy side of things, it really makes me want to dig out those old t-shirts i have lying around and maybe knit a bath rug?! Ps. it was super lovely to meet you today and to talk to you about your writing.