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Valuing Longevity & Narrative: Sustainability in Making

Continuing our series on the stories behind our new exhibition Design-Nation: Our Journey, this month we explore the second theme, sustainability, and how our exhibitors imbed this into their working lives. (Other blogs related to this show are on the themes of Excellence and Diversity.)

We know that “sustainable practice” is much talked about these days. But what does it mean to our designer-makers in real terms?

The brand name Reworked makes Sam Isaacs’ values very clear. He says, “I think we as a species need to take control of the destruction we are doing to our planet. I do not wish to contribute to it. I live on the North Cornish coast and see the plastic and other detritus cause endless grief. It also looks terrible. I try to address some of this by reintroducing marine litter and flotsam into my work that I find on beach cleans. I also strive to reduce waste by turning unwanted objects and obsolete bits and bobs into desirable products that people can use and want. Reusing is far better than recycling as it requires less energy. I value the additional narrative that the donor parts bring to my work, where it came from, who had it. I celebrate the knocks and scuffs as it portrays the history. Character not defect which adds personality and individuality to my work. Each one is unique.”

Sam’s values extend to his work place: “I work from a decommissioned shipping container which I converted into my studio. It has been made using lots of salvaged materials, just like my work. Old windows from skips, doors from unwanted conservatories, pallets for timber and gnarly old fence posts have created a usable space.”

For Hannah Lobley, sustainability in her work “means giving longevity to the paper and wood I use and continuing its lifespan.” Her aims are twofold: “To source the materials as locally as possible. To create a long term, treasured piece of work that will reuse or recycle the materials, and reduce waste by using traditional woodworking techniques.”


Materials focus is central to ethical making. “For me it means being conscientious of where my materials are coming from and the impact they might have had on the environment before they arrive at my studio. It’s the part of my craft practice which I have the least amount of control over so I try hard to do my research, find out as much as I can about my raw materials and take steps to improve where I can,” says Lucy MacDonald of Arra Textiles in Aberdeenshire.

Fellow weaver Lizzie Kimbley in East Anglia goes further, saying, “For me, sustainable practice is about taking a holistic approach and considering not just the materials and processes I use, but the whole life cycle of the pieces I make and the materials used. ”

Sustainable practice is a serious business and requires a hard and continuing look at all aspects of  work. We asked makers what they strive for most.

London-based metalsmith and sculptor Jacky Oliver describes her approach. “In my work I aim to develop skills in making and to explore ways to tell stories, communicate ideas and start conversations. Researching a subject in depth is an important aspect of my process, searching through archives, getting the most up to date information, writing to specialists in the field, discussing ideas and running workshops allows me to get a rounded insight to my chosen subject.”

Jacky continues, “I aim to create pieces that don’t explicitly illustrate the subject, but suggest it, in a way, that should the viewer want to look a little closer and engage with the piece for a bit longer will be able to look beyond the pure aesthetic of the work and consider the deeper message that is being shared.”

“For Our Journey I have created ‘Catch’. For years I have thought that fishing was a better way to put food on our plates than farming animals, however when I discovered the impact on fishing on the environment, I knew that this was something was important for people to consider, so they could make informed decisions about the food they eat.”


Hannah Lobley’s focus is on, “Changing perceptions by creating a transformation, through intriguing, tactile shapes and textures, and a surprise element. The reward is seeing the recognition on someone’s face once they realise it’s lathe turned paper and that paper doesn’t have to be a delicate short-term material.”

And Lucy MacDonald advocates for a subtle emphasis. “I strive to create thoughtful pieces which have nuance and identity at their heart. My work may not contain loud, thought provoking statements but instead has subtle, calm and interesting detail. Sometimes the gentle, quiet crafts can say the most.”

Ethical practice often goes hand in hand with ethical living choices. Do our exhibitors practice at home what they “preach” professionally?

Of course they do. Hannah Lobley speaks for a multitude in trying to repair and reuse wherever she can, and recycling household waste. Outside she plants wildflowers. “We also have bee and bug hotels in the garden.”


The outdoors has had a profound and lasting impact on Lucy MacDonald. “After working in the garden alongside my grandmother since I was a small child, I’ve developed a strong interest in small scale biodiversity and the natural world. I think it’s important not to be too controlling with our gardens, and let plants, seed heads (and the occasional weed) spread naturally to encourage and help wildlife populations grow. Using plant dyes and organic indigo in my work has come from this time spent working closely with plants and having a wide variety of plant life in the garden provides me with a wide variety of colours in the studio.”

The colours and textures of nature are celebrated throughout the exhibition, from Lucy and Lizzie’s weaving, to Scott Benefield‘s glass pieces, Ash & Plumb‘s wooden vessels, the skies, seas and flora of Janine Partington‘s etched leather, Linda Bloomfield‘s lichen-inspired glazes and the organisms depicted in Verity Pulford‘s kilnforming.

Images (all courtesy the artists unless otherwise noted)

On Blog index page: lamp by Sam Isaacs of Reworked.

Beach detritus foraged by Sam, and the interior and exterior of his Cornish studio, a repurposed shipping container.

Globes by Hannah Lobley.

Weaving in progress on Lucy MacDonald’s loom (Arra Textiles).

Samples in Lizzie Kimbley’s studio.

Detail of Repurposed I by Lizzie.

Jacky Oliver (in green jacket) with guests looking at her work Catch at the Our Journey exhibition. Other artworks shown: Globes by Hannah Lobley in foreground, Ebb and Flow by Lucy MacDonald on wall to right. Photo courtesy The Hub.

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Liz Cooper


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