Yesterday I sat in a community meeting focusing on a new ‘green’ initiative that is underway on Arran and I felt my grandparents right next to me. As discussions got under way about a fabulous project called Eco Savvy I listened with a light heart. Upcycling is coming to Arran! There are, of course, a number of existing upcycling micro businesses on the island but this new project is on a whole new level. So what were my grandparents dropping by for? I lost my grandparents many years ago but they both lived into their late 80s and in their lifetime they knew nothing other than make do and mend. In fact, when I first heard that expression I thought it had been invented for them!
They lived through two wars and they learnt to use what they had. They rarely bought new and if something was broken Grandpa would go off to his workshop and fix it. If the house needed a little more comfort Grandma would get her sewing machine out and transform an old pair of curtains into a patchwork quilt. I have written about my enchanting relationship with my Grandma on my memoir page so you might want to pop across and meet Ella for yourself.
My grandparents taught me about upcycling well before it became trendy and I have always ensured some of my creative work stems from their school of ‘make do and mend.’ Yesterday the island community began a truly inspired journey and I just knew that my grandparents were nodding their heads in approval. Waste is a major global problem but for the UK it is particularly embarrassing. Many countries are way ahead of us in their thinking and their application that has led to a culture of reusing. We seem to have got stuck in our little bubble of recycling but that model fails to solve all the problems faced by a global tidal wave of waste.
Last year I visited the Isle of Eigg and saw for myself just what can be done. Their self sufficiency knows no boundaries and the islanders put the rest of us to shame. Their waste has to be processed with great care and the reusing culture is alive and kicking among the 85 residents who own their own island. Our island might be a long way behind Eigg but we are underway and I think that is the important thing of note at this time.
Eco Savvy will be running a new community shop for second chance and upcycled products and we are only limited by our imagination. The shop will provide a focus for all things green and projects will grow naturally from their green underpinning. I can clearly see Eco Savvy community vegetable gardens and Eco Savvy upcycling workshops on the horizon and it feels very exciting. Of course, like any good project a lot of work has been done behind the scenes to get the project to where it is and I do hope the islanders appreciate these efforts by a few inspired individuals.
I have always found my creativity like some people cook. I look to the ingredients I have and then I see what can be done. Today has been spent cutting up a beautiful but redundant silk hankie to provide silk applique butterflies for little gift bags made out of fabric from the 1970s. I love all things vintage and retro so I was in my element. Half a dozen bags done I turned my attention to a pile of knitted squares that were knitted to use up odd bits of wool. It didn’t take long to turn these squares into a little cat blanket which I topped off with a little fabric fish cat toy made from old curtain fabric.
I already use vintage tea cups as containers for cut flowers and soy candles but I also use them to make pincushions. A few years ago we ran a wholesale gift company and some of the lines were made using vintage tea cups and plates. I thought it was a gamble as we rocked up to our first trade show because no two products were the same. Retailers like to come along and order 6 of any one thing so I wasn’t sure how they would cope with my vintage collection. We ended up with the opposite problem to the one we thought we might encounter. Too many buyers loved the collection and too many orders were made and I had to run around madly sourcing more vintage tea sets! Serves me right.
Now we have the smallholding we have scaled our gift business down to direct selling and it strikes a nice balance. We sell at craft markets on the island but this new shop will give us an additional outlet. That said we are trying not to view this project purely from our own viewfinder. This is to benefit the community so I am also volunteering for some shifts in the shop and have also offered to run workshops. It will be important for us all to see this through the same viewfinder as it is a real opportunity for the island to tackle their waste issues. Currently our waste gets shipped off the island and this project is a partial response to that but it does need commitment from everyone if it is to be successful. We might not all be upcycled craftworkers but we can all donate unwanted things and we can all do some buying in the shop.
It is a journey towards a greener island and that can only be a good thing. I could become quite obsessed as I feel like I have been waiting for this my whole life. Since I was a child sitting next to my grandmother sewing my very first pincushion out of an old cushion cover I have been fascinated by the ability to reuse something. Ella and her husband Peter left the room before the end of the meeting and I felt them leave but believe me they were both smiling. I am smiling too.
Speak very soon. xx