In celebration of our long-held belief that garments are a resource to recycle rather than waste, we’ve partnered with the Crafts Council UK, and asked eight talented textile artists to renew TOAST pieces from our archive - each bearing a slight fault. Here we meet them, learn about their style and process and discover how they have reinvented and mended the clothing sent to them. The finished pieces will be sold at auction from 14th - 21st May, with all proceeds being donated to Crafts Council UK.
Peckham-based, textile artist Isabel Fletcher has made an art of using cast-off material to create bold homeware and clothing. The 28-year-old works from her split-level Victorian apartment designing, sewing and dying fabric. She works hand-in-hand with various fashion labels, in particular a bridal designer, from whom she collects unwanted scraps of white fabric and silks (these make the ideal canvas for her intricate dying techniques).
Using natural ingredients such as onion, logwood and annatto she dyed multiple pieces for her three projects: a coat, dungarees and a simple shirt. “My favourite piece is the navy coat, which took around 15 hours. It only had a tiny rip in the pocket, which I repaired and a missing buckle,” Isabel explains. “I wanted to create a canvas for future repairs by sewing bold panels so that any future additions would feel in harmony. I also wanted it to feel cosseting and warm so quilted into the layers of the coat making it a warm winter coat. I wanted you to be able to see the stitched lines and for it to look simple and graphic.”
Having studied fashion design at Leeds University Isabel quickly realised she was more interested in finding ways to repurpose fashion's discarded excess. “I run workshops which focus on how to use off-cuts and curb waste. I just want to help spread the word and inspire others that there is a different way to do things.”
Known for her eclectic and colourful embroidery, British-Egyptian textile designer and RCA graduate, Hannah Refaat started her business after winning the Radcliffe Craft Development Award in 2018 and is now based at Cockpit Arts in Holborn. “I embroider all of my products using traditional methods, but in organic and experimental ways. I view my work as painting on a canvas – the stitch is my paint, and the silk base of my accessories is the canvas.”
This is evidenced in the duo of TOAST pieces she has lavished with bright thread work. “I had a pink checked shirt with prominent bleach marks on the front and back as well as a black dress. They were both made from cotton, one was voile and the other poplin,” she explains. Choosing to chime in with the shirt’s squared pattern, Hannah wove a geometric design, following the lines of the base fabric. “I used a running stitch, by hand, to appliqué the linen patchwork. I still wanted to stay true to my aesthetic, so I applied patchwork in areas that did not have bleach marks so that it had an organic feel.”
The dress was revamped using recycled, torn-up remnants of fabrics appliquéd onto the piece using a couching technique and hand stitching. “I decided to use one colour, orange, so the main focus was on the detail and the range of embroidery techniques. I used embroidery thread of different densities and thickness, as well as organic floral-like satin stitch as a decorative element.”
Amy Freeman has been turning heads with her joyous, feminist artwork, which she adorns on everything from hand-turned bowls to canvas to clothing. The 29-year-old, Falmouth Art School graduate lives in Brighton and describes the foundation of her aesthetic as coming, in part, from trips to Egypt as a child; “I was overwhelmed and enticed by the ancient art on the walls,” coupled with the influence of her illustrator mother (who took her own inspiration from American Folk Art), and a visit to a Dorothy Iannone exhibition, whose humorous, naive and bold style struck a lasting cord.
“TOAST sent me two garments. Dark blue dungarees and a vibrant orange jacket. Both pieces were in very good condition, as rather than mend clothes, I paint them,” she explains. After doing several preparatory drawings Amy set about cutting out guides to draw around, to ensure that scale and placement were spot on: “There is no going back if you make a mistake!” She used Jacquard opaque white ink, watered-down to the perfect viscosity to flow from the brush and allow movement in her lines. “It’s nerve-racking, sometimes I forget to breathe,” she admits, “but when it begins to take shape, and the lines get bolder and more confident, it always gives me a buzz.”
Melding together her skills as an architect, product designer and textile artist, Rashmi Bidasaria approached her TOAST projects - a white shirt and corduroy dress - with her uniquely analytical eye. The 27-year-old who moved from the UK back to Hubli, her hometown in India, last year has been exploring different perspectives of craft post finishing her masters at the Royal College of Art.
For the white cotton shirt, which had a small stain, Rashmi wanted to showcase a celebration of the block printing craftsperson, “hand block printing, a 500-year-old traditional craft in India, is now becoming redundant due to advanced digital printing systems,” she explains. By recording the nuanced signature movements of individual artisans (who often work for 10 hours continuously everyday) using analogue techniques like light and motion study in photography and digital tools like virtual reality, Rashmi translated them into patterns.
The archive collection TOAST shirt bears the markings of 48-year-old Seema Shah, who mentors the younger artisans. “The patterns you see on the garment illustrate her movements on the printing table; the grey dots signify the left hand and the white dots signify the right hand.”
To tackle the terracotta coloured corduroy dress (which had a small mark on the back), Rashmi sought a different route, she wanted to “delve into the process of learning from a master, switch off from YouTube tutorials and focus on receiving knowledge first hand, in person.” So she sought out time with her mother, a textile designer in her own right. “Together we explored how to tweak a basic sewing machine to make wider, thicker stitches, she taught me how to embroider and also to cultivate a practice of precision and patience when it comes to handmade work.”
London-based artist and Royal College of Art graduate Richard McVetis is known for his intricate, monochrome work, striking timed drawings and meticulous embroidered pieces. “My work is about labour, refinement and investing time in very ordinary materials,” he explains “I very much bury myself in the process. The method of making is both a form of isolation and escapism from the world around me.”
He was sent a peacoat, made from a seaweed coloured boiled wool. “I have never created work for the body, so I felt a little out of my comfort zone. But I was excited by the opportunity to renew it, add to, and continue its story.” The simplicity of the fabric and silhouette provided the perfect blank canvas and Richard drew heavily on his interests, looking at found textures, patterns, signs of wear and tear for inspiration.
It took a week of research and planning before the 37-year-old artist set about putting his mark on the piece: creating a new pocket flap in heavy cream wool and embellishing it with running stitching. “I embroidered directly onto the pocket front by stitching long, neat rows of running stitch, then using a second thread to weave under the running stitch to create a series of geometric waves.” He also added an electric blue flash of colour to the jacket vent using a couching technique and embroidering a top button by “covering the metal button in wool flannel, which I had embroidered with my signature seeding stitch. This, I think, was my favourite element. I like the intimacy and scale of the object, the texture and feel.”
Multidisciplinary textile artist and designer Alice Burnhope was awarded the Sarabande Foundation scholarship to fund her Loughborough University Textile degree and her interactive and socially engaged work was recently selected for the ‘Make It’ award at Cockpit Arts for 2021.
The south London-based artist chose to collaborate and co-create with the public on the first of her two pieces: a linen canvas coat. Setting up interactive drawing workshops with children from an Islington youth group to explore the concept of renewal, she selected three participants’ drawings to be embroidered onto the coat. You’ll also find playful embroidery inspired by the children's sketches on the inside of the piece and an external detachable pocket, which she added as a nod to the history of pockets as a symbol of women’s independence.
For her second piece, a grey linen apron, Alice wanted to “highlight and educate the public on the longevity of textiles.” So she sourced vintage linen and unwanted fabrics from clothes swaps and charity shops, collecting second-hand jeans and cotton napkins before dyeing them using food waste including onion skins and avocado peels. The organic patchwork pockets are inspired by nature and to “highlight the practicality and joy of bringing life back to things that are thought of as waste. I want to show how mending can be seen as investment and builds emotional durability between the owner and the garment.”
Brixton-based Tiffany Mumford combined her three passions, photography, sewing and sustainability when she started her own label The Wolves during the first lockdown. Her focus is on transforming “bleu de travail” workwear garments with whimsical hand embroidery.
“Making embroidered clothing that tells a story was something I had done for myself in the past but I hadn’t seriously considered it as a business,” the 51-year-old artist admits, “I wanted to make sure it was something that was sustainable and that I would like to wear myself. A lot of the designs are stories of travels or time spent with people who are very important to me.”
The two TOAST pieces she was sent to work on, a black workwear-style jumpsuit and a pale blue chambray midi dress, fitted her skills to a tee. Using DMC embroidery threads and embroidery hoops, Tiffany began by sketching and placing sketches onto the blank garment designs digitally. “I hand draw the design using fabric pens, lay out threads to get the colours right and then start embroidering. Each piece took around two days.”
Tiffany wanted to be sure that the embroidery suited each garment, which were quite different from each other but also stayed true to her aesthetic. “The jumpsuit has different phases of the moon on each sleeve. For the dress I looked at botanical drawings, in my spring collection of California wildflowers.”
Author and artist Arounna Khounnoraj lives in Toronto, where she runs a small but influential studio, Bookhou with her husband John Booth. With two books under her belt: Punch Needle and Visible Mending, the 47-year-old has an experienced eye when it comes to reimagining a garment. Describing her style as “minimalist and inspired by nature and botanical elements” she took an organic approach to her mend.
“I was sent a lightweight cotton shirt that had a placket at the front and a fine black and white grid pattern,” she says. “The shirt was not very old but on the edge of the placket it had a ripped edge.” Using a litany of stitches from her skillset from blanket to whip she set about restoring the piece. “I wanted to start by mending the ripped edge, but then extending beyond the mend by creating a growing pattern; with the stitching acting as a bridge into another form of appliqué, with solid bold shapes and colours. I particularly enjoyed adding small, detailed stitches such as the whip stitches where the wonkiness of my lines became a nice contrast to the strong perfect lines on the shirt's print.”
Watch each artist as they guide us through their creative process of renewing their auction garments.
Words by Vishaka Robinson.
Images courtesy of each artist.
Find out more and bid on our Renewal garments in partnership with the Crafts Council UK on our auction page.