This weeks Upcycled Artist is (Tree)Theresa Dellinger crafter behind New River Quilts Work on Etsy.
How did you first get into upcycled crafting?
Several years ago I read Warm Fuzzies by Betz White and was immediately hooked by the idea of using shrunken wool sweaters as a source for wool felt. My local thrift stores frequently have bag sales and I found an endless supply of wool clothes to felt up and use in my crafts. While cruising the thrift stores I began to notice that there are plenty of cotton and linen clothes with beautiful prints and colors that are perfect for quilting. You can stuff a lot of clothing in a grocery bag, and at $4.00 a bag, that’s a lot of fabric for projects! It wasn’t until later that I thought about how my grandmothers reused old clothes in their quilts and how that’s a very traditional source of quilt material in Appalachia, where I live now.
What was the first upcycled craft/artwork you ever made?
I was about 7 years old when I made a little sculpture from driftwood and seashells. I made little animals using the shells, put googly eyes on them, and glued them to the piece of driftwood. Both the shells and the driftwood were things I found on the beach on vacation. It was thirty years later that I picked up some felted wool and made my first Christmas ornaments with it.
What mediums do you typically work with?
I’m mostly a fabric artist using felted wool from shrunken wool knits and cotton fabric, buttons, and trim reclaimed from old clothing. I tend to grab any fabric remnants, buttons, thread, and embroidery floss I find at garage sales and thrift stores.
Upcycling diverts usable resources back into the consumer loop and out of the landfill. It also provides a creative outlet, which I think is so terribly important to our well-being. Personally I love the challenge of finding a new use for something discarded by someone else, and each item I make is always one of a kind.
What kind of music do you listen to while you craft, give up your top 5 songs…
Lately I’ve been tuning in to either our local NPR affiliate or an internet radio station called “Martini in the Morning” that plays a marvelous selection of Frank Sinatra and other “Rat Pack” lounge music.
Describe your studio to us…
Um…my studio is very, very messy. I was so very tempted to send you a picture of a nice, bright and organized craft studio from Martha Stewart’s website instead of one of my own disaster area. I wrote a post about my messy studio on my craft blog in April and it’s certainly not gotten any cleaner since then (http://newriverquilts.blogspot.com/2011/04/crazy-at-work-part-2.html).
I tend to be visually oriented so I’m always stacking fabrics in piles to find combinations that I want to use together. I could store my supplies in totes and bins, but then I’m less productive because everything is put away and out of sight. There are piles of woolen knits to be felted, old clothes to be cut into usable fabric, stacks of idea books, and odds and ends scattered everywhere. At any given time I might have 3-4 projects in progress piled up on a craft table beside my ironing board.
My sewing machine is set up in a spare bedroom in our basement, but most of my supplies are located in a small hallway in a different part of the basement. Wool tends to make a lot of lint, so I usually cut my wool fabrics outside on the back deck to help keep the house cleaner. This means there’s almost always a stack of sweaters beside the back door waiting for me to cut them up. And I save all the wools scraps to use as stuffing in my ornaments, so there’s usually a paper bag of those by the back door, too. Really, it’s a total organizational disaster. I’m very fortunate that my husband is extremely tolerant of it all.
Name an upcycled art/craft you would love to create in the near future…
I save fabric scraps from my quilts to make cloth yo-yos. I’d like to make yo-yo garlands for the holidays. Maybe not the most exciting upcycled craft, but it does use up those last remaining scraps of fabric.
Who are a few of the artist you look up to?
Betz White of Warm Fuzzies (http://www.betzwhite.com/), Alicia Paulson of the blog Pozy Gets Cozy (http://rosylittlethings.typepad.com/), and Lisa Jordan of the blog Lil’ Fish Studios (http://lilfishstudios.blogspot.com/) are a few crafters that I regularly follow online. When I first discovered them, these women were making items that I found really appealing in terms of their style and use of materials. Mostly they’ve moved on to making different crafts now, but I still find their creative processes fascinating and enjoyable to watch. Plus, they’ve been very successful at marketing themselves and developing their following, so I consider them role models in that regard, too.
Some of my work with felted wool draws inspiration from primitive motifs, which in turn are often inspired by nature. Sometimes I just need to go out and take a walk in the woods or through my gardens to get new ideas. Other times I’ll pull out my supplies and play with textures, colors, and patterns until something strikes me. I can always find inspiration by visiting the internet or craft shows and seeing what techniques other artists are using. But every so often I just have to set the crafting aside and go do something else for a little while. Sooner or later a new idea will come to me when I’m not forcing it.
Why do you think homemade art/craft is so important?
I think it serves two purposes: it gives the artist an outlet for creative energy and the recipient gets a thing of beauty (or charm, whimsy, usefulness, or what have you). When I was in grad school and later working as a research associate, I found that science appeals to my analytical nature, but it does nothing for my creative side. Once I started to explore creative outlets like crafting, photography, and gardening, my life came more into balance than it had been for years.
I particularly enjoy the artisan aspect of arts and crafts. Something original, hand made, and not available just anywhere has a special value that cannot be duplicated, but of course not every craft has to be an heirloom item in order to be appreciated by the recipient.
Most people probably wouldn’t guess that I am a feral lab rat with a PhD in entomology.
Tree (Theresa) Dellinger
New River Quilt Works
My craft blog: http://newriverquilts.blogspot.com/
My personal blog: http://treedellinger.blogspot.com/
My Etsy shop: New River Quilt Works http://www.etsy.com/shop/NewRiverQuiltWorks