Crafting the loop explores ways in which craft processes may engage with waste, disused or unwanted materials to extend the lifecycle of a product or even create something new.

Craft is a creative practice which constantly engages with resourceful, economic and human-centred approaches. With its supplemental nature, craft naturally finds purpose alongside larger scale industries by making use of waste and under-utilised materials to create something new, useful and meaningful.

In this insight series we will take a closer look at how some of our Craft Network members utilise waste materials as a primary resource in their craft activities and, through this resourcefulness, address local issues relating to waste and its impact on local communities and the environment.

Craft is inherently transformative, realising the ingenious vision of a craftsperson to transform a raw or dormant material into something new, useful and meaningful.

An experimental crafts process encourages exploration and familiarisation of the nature of a material. Bending, shaping, forming, reducing – these are some of the many actions at play as a maker learns how to interact and respond to a material, informing the craft process. Building an intimate knowledge of the limitations of a material is the first step towards realising its value and potential. Here, the craft process engages with an early phase of prototyping, mapping out within the mind and hand of the maker the transformative possibilities the material presents, and how it can become utilised in production.

Craft sees the value and potential of waste through recycling, reclaiming and renewing. This isn’t a ‘new’ concept or process – it has been engaged for generations through the more frugal act of mending, passing-down and modestly ‘making-do’. The act of recycling, reclaiming and renewing naturally resonates with crafts-based processes, embedding a new sense of value and significance to otherwise disused or dormant resources. Driving this act of transformation is the underlying ‘need’ to utilise such unwanted or disused materials and with CBSE’s this provides the opportunity to address a social or environmental ‘need’ whilst engaging craft.

Carpet of Life, Transforming disused garments through traditional boucherouite weaving
Transforming disused garments through traditional boucherouite weaving

For example, Carpet of Life addresses a lack of local resources to sustain the continued practice of boucherouite carpet making in remote regions of the Moroccan Sahara. Their CBSE concept and craft process engages the consumer as co-creator, providing materials for the artisans in the form of disused garments of sentimental value. The artisans then bring new life and new value to the garments, transforming them into a ‘Carpet of Life’ which is returned to the consumer with their memories woven into the new materialisation of their wardrobe – a carpet.

Here the need of the artisans to continue and sustain their craft practice with access to resources, has been partnered by the need of the consumer to address and make use of their fashion waste.

Another example, Quazi Design, utilises paper waste from a local Swazi magazine printer to create their range of ethically made jewellery and home decor pieces. This provides an affordable (if not free) source of material to sustain their craft practice. Their exploration of materials and method has driven the development of their product range, using varnished and laminated paper, layered adhesions, molded paper pulp forms, and the mixing of recycled glass ‘crusts’ to add a shimmering point of difference to their usual paper textures.

Craft minimises waste by giving it new value

Craft performs exceptionally well when utilising waste from large scale activities. Prior to plastics and the industrial age this may have been waste from agricultural activities, like husks and fibres for weaving and basketry, shell waste for decorative crafts, bones for carving and skins for tanning leather – to name only a few. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of craft provides another life for waste, crafting it into useful objects that have place and purpose in everyday life.

Craft also embraces the imperfections of waste: through exploring its materiality the craftsman embodies a human sense of value and scale of the hand, shaping and working the waste material and transforming it into something that is familiar and humanised.

The scale and imperfection of waste provides two characteristics which can be leveraged through creative craft practice to transform waste. We see this increasingly so with ‘modern’ waste such as plastics and other synthetic, non-biodegradable materials: the abundance of these man-made materials globally has provided a catalyst for craft engagement, with many CBSE’s established through the need to address the problem of plastic waste which is upsetting the balance both environmentally and culturally.

Essentially craft engages and explores waste to give it new value and meaning so we can maintain balance in our lives.

It is frightening to think that on a relatively small stretch of coastline in Kenya, there is enough waste washing ashore to sustain a CBSE, let alone one which sources only flip-flops in their crafting process. Ocean Sole has grown to become iconic in their creative and colourful transformation of washed up flip-flops into sculptured animals of all sizes. Their focus is on raising awareness of sea pollution, and the impact it has on both marine life and shoreline habitats. And whilst we are learning that plastics and other synthetic nasties are enemies of our oceans, it also highlights that plastic waste is a global responsibility.

Crafting the Loop - Ocean Sole
Crafting colourful animal sculptures from reclaimed flip-flops

Plastic is a material that, when washed into our waterways, can find its way from one end of the world to the other. Unlike other natural forms of waste, plastic is without origin (non-localised or native) – instead, man-made and globalised through its synthetic composition. Although a product of man, plastic is a material that is foreign to the environment in which it can now be found in abundance and it is through the explorative process of craft that we can discover new ways of transforming this waste into something that is useful and meaningful whilst responding to an urgent social and environmental need.

Each insight provided by our Craft Network members explores different methods of recycling, reclaiming and renewing through craft. As a result we will learn that, through the resourcefulness and ingenuity of craft, waste can be transformed into something new and meaningful whilst addressing some of the social and environmental issues the CBSE seeks to address.

Feature image by Quazi Designs, Swaziland | Recycled Paper Jewellery


Posted by:Alexandra Sommer