Wasted Thread saves planet one sock at a time
Fiber artist collects, recycles textiles for an installation at Blend Studio
By MiChelle Jones • FOR THE TENNESSEAN • July 26, 2009
Tiffany Denton spent part of her summer vacation on a road trip through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Chicago. Though she and her husband logged an impressive number of miles while visiting his family, that’s nothing compared to the distance covered by some of the pieces in her upcoming installation Wasted Thread.
A fiber artist, Denton says she always tries to use recycled materials in her framed collages, as well as in the projects she makes with her students in her day job as an elementary art school teacher. But this is the first time she’s attempted something of this scale, collecting pieces from across the country. The installation opens at Blend Studio in the Arcade during next weekend’s First Saturday Art Crawl and remains on view through Aug. 29.
Give me your tired, worn out pieces
“Our goal was to get 500 pieces,” she says, “I have no idea how many I have, but I definitely have 500.”
After posting about the project on her blog (www.wastedthread.blogspot.com) and on her Facebook page, the project just took off, she says, as it was picked up and reposted on friends’ pages. It was also the subject of a feature on the Cool People Care Web site. After that, donations started coming in from the West Coast, the Ohio valley and even Turkey. Denton hopes to label each donation with the city and state from which it came.
“Basically, I wasn’t necessarily looking for clothes that could be donated to someone who needed them or (that could be) resold, but more things that you would normally throw away,” she says.
Single gloves or socks, clothing with holes or stains, worn-out towels — this is what she was looking for. She says these are the kinds of things thrift stores can’t use and that end up being shipped out of state for recycling — the practice of large operations like Goodwill — or simply thrown away when smaller stores can’t afford to ship them out.
Going green to make green
But exactly how are textiles recycled? Denton gives two examples: In some cases, the items are run through what is essentially a fabric shredder and then rewoven into rugs. At other facilities, the textiles are torn to bits and the fibers reused in a various ways.
This may very well end up being the fate of some of the material in Wasted Thread, but Denton also has other ideas about that. First, she’d like to show the installation in other cities before dismantling it. Once it is taken apart, she plans to create new products with the fabric and then sell them locally and farther afield.
Proceeds from those sales will be donated to Kiva.org, a Web site that links donors to people seeking micro-loans. Denton has already selected a large family in Cambodia to receive any money raised through Wasted Thread. “She’s a weaver and he’s a recycler, so I thought they were the perfect family to connect with this project.”
But first, Denton has to create the installation. She’ll use a sewing machine to stitch individual segments into one long piece that will pour out of a trash can suspended from one corner of the ceiling. This will drape into each corner of the space and then go back to the ceiling. People will be able to walk in, around and under the maze-like piece so they can read the labels she’s hoping to include.
While color and texture won’t dictate the arrangement of the segments, she is aiming for something “pleasing to look at, with patterns that flow together,” she says. “I’m thinking it’s going to be fairly random, I don’t want one whole section to be baby clothing or one whole section to be men’s clothing.”
Art and community
Blend Studio is only a couple of months old and is the brainchild of artists Samantha Callahan and Ben Vitualla. Callahan says they wanted to create a space for artists who work on community-based projects, and Denton’s idea was perfect for their mission.
“As an art teacher, you do not have the funds that you necessarily need and I learned that week one of teaching seven years ago,” Denton says. “There’s rarely a week goes by that we don’t do something with random recycled things that somehow show up. People have learned that you can eventually make something out of everything, so they give me bags of all kinds of things.”
One of those random things Denton re-purposed is the trash can in this installation.
“That came with my house,” she says. “It has no bottom and is very much falling apart.” It’s shown in the promo photograph with piles of material spilling out of its top. All that material was one donation and was really the start of the project.
Denton is also encouraging people to come to the gallery with textiles they want to donate to Wasted Thread. “It’s going to be an ongoing thing, it’s not going to stop with the exhibition.”