Tools & Materials: thoughts on using only sustainable fabrics & what to do with the "other stuff" in the craft cupboard

One of my ecourse students recently emailed asking me this:

ok, I'd like to share a personal questioning and reflection

REFLECTIONS ON Natural or synthetic materials

Between my visual art materials (gathered for years and years) and my textile materials (gathered mostly during the last 10 years), I have a lot of natural, ecological and sustainable stuff and a lot of synthetics too. The thing is, I have always this eco-living-thinking philosophy and it's getting very hard to use non eco-sustainable fabrics and threads.. At the same time, keeping all that in boxes and shelves is neither useful nor ecological or Feng-Shui attitude. So, what to do? Just thinking aloud.... 


I'm glad you asked this, because it's something that I ponder a lot too. And I'm pretty sure we're not the only ones. There must be many others who start their creative journeys, which then evolve through to deeper meaning. And while we're learning we use more and different materials than we might today. 

I myself have boxes and cupboards of materials and tools and.... stuff.. that I used to use. I even have books that I've bought over the years, that I no longer need or want. And piles of fabric that no longer fits my aesthetic, or needs (either personal, creative or business). I have boxes of threads and zippers and tags and labels... All the things I've thought I might need, or used to use long in my other creative outlets. I have tubs & tubs & tubs of screen printing paint / ink from when I used to make and sell homewares.

I think one thing many of us creatives most often have in common is that we like to dabble and discover new things, which means new tools and material required. Am I right?  

So... now the ethics of it all. 

What I personally think is this:

  1. If you keep it stuck in boxes, piled into your storage shed or garage then it's doing two things - a) being wasted and hence adding to the environmental problems by not being used or re-used. and b) making you feel overwhelmed and guilty by the fact you've spent money on it, it's taking up mental, physical space.
  2. If you get it out and use it in any way possible the environmental factor doesn't come into play, because the product already exists and needs to be used, not become landfill (even if not for another 30 years... it's still landfill).
  3. If you don't want to use it - due to changes in your aesthetic - that's absolutely totally ok. Makes sense to me. But I know that there is a big probability that there's someone out there in the world who might be able to use it. Or perhaps you can re-think a way to re-use it.. to change it, alter it to fit closer to your personal ethics, creative looks. 

Here's what I'd do:

  • Sell it or give it away - consider (before sending it to an op-shop) places like pre-schools, primary or even high schools (who have a small art budget), GumTree or Craigslist or Facebook buy, swap & sell groups for your region. I recently sold a heap of beautiful craft books that I no longer needed and were taking up space in my home, through an Instagram page I set up - I made over $200 and other people got some fabulous books at excellent prices.
  • Use it! Is it horrible fabric that you can't imagine using or wearing? Perhaps you can cut it up and weave or crochet it into a new fabric. Perhaps you can overdye it or print or paint it. Or turn it into fabric gift wrap. Or tear it up into strips of fabric and weave with it, or crochet or knit.

I don't think you should guilt yourself about what you have, but rather find a solution for moving it from your life. And most importantly, learn the lesson from it (whatever lesson you want to learn).. think clearly before you buy new supplies, look at those same places to see if you can buy someone's cast offs, and research your new purchases to know if they fit your current ethics. 

I'd love to hear what you're hoarding in your art, craft cupboard (shipping container, garage, loft..)......