As we continue to explore the issues designer/makers face around sustainability, ethical practices and the circular economy, we talk to textile artist Lizzie Kimbley about this area of her practice.
Design-Nation asked: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.
Lizzie Kimbley answered: I am a textile designer and artist working with woven textiles to create contemporary artworks for galleries and interior spaces. Inspired by my natural surroundings and a love of walking, I create works with a narrative of place. I have a materials-led approach and often use natural found materials or those leftover from other design processes.
I started my business in 2019 after completing an MA in Textile Design. It still feels like early days, especially with 2020 being such a strange year.
D-N: What inspires you?
LK: Materials are often my starting point. I find it really exciting to work with the leftovers from other people’s making processes, to see how the materials can be transformed into something to be valued.
I’m often inspired by place and gather inspiration while out walking. I love seeking out colour and texture. I’m also drawn to structure and grids and seem to be obsessed with fencing on my current walks especially those with signs of repair.
D-N: Do you address the issues of sustainability and ethical practice in your practice at the moment? What have you done and what impact has this had on your practice?
LK: The focus of my MA research was exploring responsible and circular design within textiles. In recent years I’ve become more conscious of the volume of ‘waste’ sent to landfill and for incineration each year, and the need to value our natural resources. This has shaped how I work.
I think more holistically about the materials and processes I use, and the work I create. From the outset, I consider the whole life cycle of the materials and the work; the material content, the processes that have been used and those that I will use, how the piece will be used, how long it will last and what will happen to it at the end of its life.
I use only natural materials so that they can be recovered or will biodegrade at the end of their life. I use repurposed materials where possible; surplus and redundant mill stock as well as materials from other design processes such as willow tips from furniture designer-makers par-avion or offcuts from clothing designer-maker Phaedra Clothing.
The main impact this has had on my practice is that I am more selective in my material choices, but at the same time I’ve become more open-minded as to what my materials can be and what they can become.
D-N: What are your concerns around making your practice sustainable and or ethical?
LK: I am always keen to learn how I can make my practice more responsible. I haven’t yet focused as much on the ethical considerations of the materials I’m sourcing. When I buy new materials, I’m always careful to question the material content and processes, but don’t necessarily ask about the ethics of the supply chain or working conditions of those involved. This is something I can work on.
I also want to make sure that every part of my process fits with my values, even down to the framing of work. This has led to conversations with a local framing workshop about using offcuts, repurposing parts of old frames and using natural glues.
D-N: The cycle of making is a creative act but also produces waste. Have you thought of how to reduce waste?
LK: I am mindful of the waste I create when I’m making. Warp ends leftover from the weaving process and ties from dyeing yarns are saved and used as weft yarns or to create small basketry pieces. Plant materials leftover from the dyeing process are composted, while dye baths are reused until exhausted.
D-N: Do you know the background of the materials you use? Where do your materials come from?
LK: Most of the materials I use are repurposed from the waste streams of other makers or surplus and redundant mill stock rather than virgin materials. There is a paper yarn that I love to use that isn’t repurposed, so before ordering I researched the background of the materials and the processing involved. Many of the natural dyes I use are gathered locally or from food waste, but there is room for more research when I buy dye materials.
D-N: What would make it easier for you to change your practice – what kind of support would help you embrace sustainability and ethical making practices? And what topics interest you for future research and development?
LK: I’m getting back into the habit of questioning and interrogating my practice regularly since my MA. I find it helpful to reflect every so often to consider what else I could be doing. For me, belonging to a community and sharing ideas, good practice and working towards common goals is an important part of this. I’ve recently joined Katie Treggiden’s Making Design Circular community for this very reason!
For the future I’m always looking for interesting overlooked materials to work with. I enjoy being led by the materials, working with the processes they suggest. I’d like to spend more time researching our relationship with materials, the value we place on them and how this is changing as our finite natural resources are depleted.