Creativity can trump waste, and we love seeing the wonderful creations of local upcyclers who come up with something special. Kate Stuart, Founder of The Phoenix Green, works with reclaimed, recycled or repurposed materials to produce brilliant designs that are also long-lasting and could be passed down.
Why is working with recycled/upcycled materials important?
I’ve always worked with recycled materials, out of necessity, then out of respect for the planet. There is no question that we take more from the planet than we should, and my belief has always been that in any work I do, respect for the planet has to come ahead of everything – so in my choice of materials to work with (recycled/reclaimed/repurposed), in the type of products I make (one of a kind, practical, hand-down-able), even in the energy supplier I use (Ecotricity) and my choice to hand finish items like my heirloom patchwork quilts. I want to challenge and change the idea that an item, a garment, a quilt, is good for a season, and must then be replaced when fashion dictates it should –rather, I want people to fall in love with my products and keep them, use them, honour them, for a whole lifetime, then hand them on to someone else, for them to do the same. I want to champion the idea that we can mend our clothes, mend our bedding, mend all the things that come into our lives and that rather than the mending being some kind of negative social symbol, that it can be reborn as a symbol of care for our planet, a badge of honour that we respect the energy that has been put into making an item enough to fix it when it breaks. It’s that feeling, I think more than anything else, that drives me. The sense that every piece of fabric, every material, every garment that we own is full of the energy of all the people who contributed to its existence, and to chuck it away, let it rot in landfill, is disrespectful, as much as wasteful.
How do you feel about Christmas shopping – what does it mean when people buy from you as a small business?
Ah, this is such a double-edged sword, Christmas shopping! Of course, I must, as we all must, pay my bills, keep a roof over my children, feed us – and therefore must sell the things I make to do so. Christmas custom is a huge part of our annual income, but oh, I do wrestle with consumerism!! I love the idea of people spending their money with small business, over the big chains, of course, and think that this is where the true revolution will be – if/when Ecocide becomes law, I hope it will be the small businesses with their local, eco practises, that will triumph. Communities held together by their talents and their trade. As we move through into this new year, I hope 2022 will see even more people shopping locally, trading time and energy as well as cash, and making gifts, as well as buying them. There is a balance to be had, and while we‘re not there yet, I have to believe that we are on the way.
My favourite product to make has always been my patchwork quilts. I make memory quilts, from clients' old, beloved clothes, but I also make what I call “scrappy” quilts – multicoloured patches of fabric destined for landfill, reimagined into usable, cosy blankets, hand quilted for strength and ready to last much longer than your average polyester duvet. So much of our bedding is made with plastic – from mattresses and polyester sheets to man-made duvet and pillow innards, so it feels really important to be bringing natural materials, reclaimed and recycled materials into the quilts that I make. I use textiles to create visual stories of deeply held connections to home, the comforts, the challenges, the changes – and these stories, the pieces I make, help open up important conversations about who makes the textiles we use in our homes, how, and at what cost to the earth. I am driven in all my work, whether it be hand embroidered exhibition pieces, practical home wares or words on a page, by the passionate belief that it is possible to exist as a human on this planet we call home, without leaving a trail of destruction and ecocide in our wake. Patchwork quilts embody for me the bringing together of waste materials into something that can bring comfort, connection, story. And stories always bring discussion, conversation, deep, important contemplation. 😊
So where can we find all of your stunning work?
I have a Link tree site, which will show you my online presence, from creative zero waste work and mending clothes as an act of rebellion, to writing about other creatives, the planet, and our Home Education journey, all the links are here!
I have work currently in exhibition with The Barony Centre, in West Kilbride (Our Stitched Conversation), The Brooklyn Art Library, USA (The Sketchbook Project), The Storey, Lancaster (I Am Witch/Medicine Spoon Memorial) and contributed to both The Coat of Hopes and the Buy The Kilo Banner (both Glasgow COP26)
What first inspired you to start selling on Etsy?
I opened my Etsy shop when I was first starting out on my freelancer journey and it seemed like a good platform to use - popular, easy to navigate, recognisable, trusted. All the stuff you want in an online platform. Of course now, most of the clients I create work for come to me through word of mouth or social media, and I’ll be launching my own Big cartel site in 2022, which feels scary and exciting in equal measure!
I’m really excited about a new body of textile work I am creating that seeks to explore how our connections to the landscapes that surround us have been fragmented, eroded by consumerism and societal pressure for “more”. I am hoping it will help to create more conversations around the work we must, as a human collective, do to stitch it all back together again. I began the journey with a piece made for a community banner, carried at Glasgow COP26, by Buy The Kilo, an amazing zero waste shop in Tynemouth, UK. The Land is Changing will be exhibited in Tynemouth, in July 2022.
About the images
Featured image: Lockdown quilts, photo taken in Leazes Park
Image 1: Kate, with the first patchwork quilt she ever made, behind her.
Image 2: Patchwork quilt, in a tree, in Jesmond Dene.
Image 3: Hand embroidered felt leaf brooch, photo credit Hazel Plater – made from a washed up woollen jumper, and hand-me-down embroidery threads.
Image 4: Overwhelmed. Waste textiles, hand embroidered with
reclaimed/recycled embroidery floss, onto a napkin, rescued from landfill, with a whole bag full of
others by a local woman holidaying in Scotland, and given to me with the hope I could “do
something with them”.