Spin Cycle: recycling and reclaiming textile traditions

By Margot Fagan, Rachel MacHenry

Throughout history and across cultures, people have always reconstructed, refashioned, and reinvented textiles, both in response to personal and cultural expressions and to the needs of day-to-day living. Today, we call this “recycling” and we practice it in the name of ecological preservation and concern for the future of our planet. Spin Cycle aims to draw parallels between current interests and innovations in recycling, ecology and technology, and the many precedents found in historical and ethnographic textiles from around the world.

Sixteen designers and artists from Canada, the U.S, Japan and the European community have been invited to participate in this exhibition. Their work epitomizes the scope of what environmentalism is bringing to contemporary textile design. Unconventional materials and techniques are partnered with a variety of art, craft and design practices. In some cases, their work addresses the concept of reuse and serves as potent and delightful models of possibility. In others, ecological concerns have resulted in practical design applications.

We have also invited a number of manufacturers to participate, each of whom is at the forefront of the “greening” of the textile industry. Companies today cannot afford to ignore the need to eliminate the risks of pollution, due both to public concern and to changes in the law. And the global nature of textile production and trade means these changes are being felt around the world. We have included representatives from both the resurging eco-fibre and recycled fibre industries. The eco-fibre produced work uses organically grown natural materials including Fox Fibre® cotton, hemp, nettle and ramie. In the recycled textile industry, pop bottles, industrial waste and clothing are incorporated into new textile products. In both sectors, efforts have been made to investigate less harmful dyes and finishing processes. However, this area of production is new, constantly evolving and operating with little regulation. Some of the processes are controversial and people need to be informed about them in order to make educated decisions about their use; we have provided a resource area in the exhibition where audiences can read about the various materials and processes shown.

Recycling once meant coming from an impoverished setting and “making do” with what was at hand out of economic necessity. Today it is a vibrant, creative and constantly evolving area involving the disciplines of design, craft and art, as well as large and small industry. This diverse group is exploring how ecological thinking can move us towards a more meaningful and sustainable future.

© 2007 Textile Museum of Canada