How do you solve global problem of textile waste?
More than 85% of textiles ever produced never get recycled, and about 15% of textiles produced never reach the end consumer. Those gently used clothes and textiles we donate to charity shops? Only 15% of them get sold. Worse yet, used textiles and clothes end up polluting cities and shores of less developed countries with lax environmental laws.
Knowing this, what will you do differently? Thoughtfully? Consistently?
Gathered Cloths is an ongoing textile project initiated during Climate Creative Spring 2021 cohort participation. It started with questioning the notion of “textile waste” in our daily life, especially in the Global North region. While we are surrounded with fabrics and cloths throughout our lifetime, there is a consistent disregard to real value of textiles and we tend to take them for granted.
Treated as mere commodities and easily disposable items, textile waste is one of the major problems of overconsumption and waste. How we treat textiles, our level of awareness of their lifecycle (from production to landfill), and complex sustainability issues – affecting garment workers, raw materials, and our planet – shape our perspectives of cloths. And for those who regularly create with textiles, how do we overcome the continuous struggle of repurposing or upcycling textile waste before they eventually end up becoming throw-away waste?
Manifestation of Gathered Cloths project is inspired by the state of second-hand textile waste mountain, clothes graveyard seen in countries like Indonesia and Ghana. Export of second-hand clothes from the Global North to less developed countries gradually makes this environmental hazard of continuous piling of unsold second-hand textiles in villages, towns, and cities that are supposed to be safe dwelling places for people to live and thrive.
- to bring awareness to textile waste and overall textile lifecycle
- to progressively contemplate what it means to reuse, repurpose, and upcycle materials as a creative maker
- to encourage more discussions and actions to minimize daily household waste
Call to Collaborate
Being a solopreneur, there’s only so much I can create by myself. If you’d like to contribute finding more applications of Gathered Cloths and discovering new channels of discussions and community outreach, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cotton and cotton blend fabric scraps and remnants that are gathered or rescued around San Francisco Bay Area. A large portion from the initial batch for Week 1 and 2 are leftovers from Covid-19 initiative project. The rest are accumulated from my own stash as well as unwanted textiles gathered from neighbors and non-profit organizations.
The term “gathered” in Gathered Cloths refers to several terms:
- act of gathering unwanted fabrics / scraps / textile waste from the local community
- sewing technique commonly used to create ruffles in fabric manipulation
- practice of assembling many cloths together to create a bigger garment or object
Creating and Assembling Gathered Cloths
Strips of fabric are cut, gathered into ruffles, and applied on a base cloth. Remnants that are too small are layered and stitched together to form ruched cloths. The results are gathered cloth pieces in various dimensions. They are then assembled temporarily to create a bigger object, depending on how much area the assembled pieces can cover.
At the end of each week, the gathered cloths are disassembled to their individual pieces. As more gathered pieces are added, they are reassembled to create a new piece. For the first few weeks, the gathered cloths are assembled to form a garment. However, in the future, there will be less constraint on dress form and the cloths can be assembled to form a bigger non-garment piece – anything the assembler can imagine.
The growing number of Gathered Cloths will gradually overwhelm both storage space and expand assembly possibilities. This will expand assembly possibilities and hopefully, meaningful discussions around overconsumption and textile waste.
Finished cloths: 7
Total Gathered Cloths: 7
On the first week, 7 gathered cloths are assembled to create an unfinished waist corset and a shoulder cover.
Throughout the week, the highlight is about taking time to create, not being concerned of ruffle non-uniformity, as well as creating a realistic timeline for stitching ruffles into base cloths. There are a couple techniques explored for making ruffle / ruche which makes sense for these first few gathered cloths.
They are relative small in size (see picture with grid backgound – a square is 1″ x 1″) for now, but the base cloth’s size will get continuously bigger as more gathered cloths are made.
Another consideration is limiting number of fabric patterns in one gathered cloth, and whether to concentrate certain colors on the fabric edge for easier assembly process.
Finished cloths: 8
Total Gathered Cloths: 15
On the second week, 8 gathered cloths are added to the pile. They are then assembled to create a mini dress with a trailing vertical strip.
As a more comfortable stride of making process is established, larger pieces of Gathered Cloths are made within the same time spent (roughly 10 hours) in the first week. I experiment with taping and ruching long thin strips of fabric onto a large rectangular base cloth. It ends up as a total failure, but a lesson learned regardless.
Color scheme clashing is no longer an obstacle. Instead, there’s a rule of thumb: pick the same or analogous color that is visible from the previous ruffle. If that’s not possible, then try picking fabric pattern that contrasts well.
Finished cloths: 6
Total Gathered Cloths: 21
On the third week, 6 gathered cloths are finished. The picture below shows four pieces that were finished first.
Total of 21 cloths are then assembled to create an asymmetrical coat.
This marks the first week of working with long rectangular base cloths. I acquire some deteriorating cotton table cloth with eyelet details. Divided into 3 sections of similar size (approximately 30” x 13” each), they become base cloth for most of the gathered cloths finished this week.
Due to the large size, I pin cloth strips onto the edge of base cloth before sewing them. While finishing a large gathered cloth take time (about 1 – 1.5 hour each), it’s more efficient since idle periods between pinning cloth strips and sewing are eliminated.
Finished cloths: 15
Total Gathered Cloths: 37
On the super productive fourth week, 15 gathered cloths are finished. Four of them are large rectangular cloths, similarly sized as the ones introduced in the previous week. Moreover, one long narrow strip done on second week is cut in half.
Starting from this week, the Gathered Cloths assembly is somewhat stabilized to create variations of an outerwear garment that fits various bodies (instead of a size 6 professional dress form). With the adjusted number, a total of 37 cloths are assembled to create a long coat that grazes the floor.
However, this coat is mostly dissembled one day after assembly. The top part is more securely assembled using whip stitches in preparation of a public showcase a week later, and it’s basted in a way that can fit various body types.
Finished cloths: 7
Total Gathered Cloths: 44
On the fifth week, 7 gathered cloths are finished. All 44 pieces are ready for its first public showcase at Climate Creative Showcase on July 17th, 2021 at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. They are assembled into a kimono-inspired coat with an extended train. See Logan Evasco, Qi Diaz, and Lisa Anderson wearing Gathered Cloths on the pictures below!
Finished cloths: 19
Total Gathered Cloths: 63
After the fifth week, Gathered Cloths project went into a hiatus throughout the rest of 2021, even though new pieces are being made as more remnants (and spare time) are available.
In Spring 2022, total of 19 new pieces of gathered cloths are added to the mix. All 63 pieces are then assembled into a draped cloak with hood.
Earth Day 2022
Gathered Cloths Offshoot Project for Earth Day 2022
48 mini pieces (8 pieces each in 6 colors) of Gathered Cloths are made to represent various representations of climate hazards. These climate hazard pieces become part of a climate-themed ball throwing game “Stop, Drop & Roll: Chasing Growth” by Al Grumet. The physical structures of the game setup also includes cardboard boxes covered in reclaimed textiles, courtesy of Tracey Kessler.
“Chasing Growth” was part of Earth Day 2022 celebration at Mill Valley Community Center on April 24, 2022.
Finished cloths: 21
Total Gathered Cloths: 84
The 7th iteration involves the most complex process yet. The growing number of cloths make the assembly more time consuming and labor intensive. That said, I believe their growing presence makes insightful discussions around textile waste more likely. This tree-like, towering figure becomes more imposing when it’s digitized and sculpted into a 3D model.
The 3D model of Gathered Cloths’ 7th iteration is first unveiled in Climate Gallery’s inaugural VR exhibition “A Study in Artivism” in the Textile Arts Gallery.