We are excited to continue our weekly series, FeelGood Features, with fiber artist Daisi Toegel! FeelGood Features will do exactly what its name implies: feature a new fiber artist each week. Our goal is to feature artitsts that work primarily with upcycled/recycled and sustainable materials. Because it’s not only important WHY we quilt, but it’s also important HOW we quilt. Our hope is that this series will introduce you to artists that you will love learning about and demonstrate the ways in which you, too, can incorporate sustainable materials into your craft. Thanks for being here!
Why do you feel called to use upcycled or recycled materials in your work?
I have always loved working with recycled materials, as it challenged me to improve my creativity. My passion for creating something absolutely new from an item that didn’t have a purpose anymore is what makes repurposing fantastic to me.
How did you get started using these types of materials?
When I was growing up, wasting or being able to choose was never an option. So I had to create my own things most of the time, and that would be from using recycled materials. I am very thankful for that having happened to me. I learned so many techniques such as oil and acrylic painting in canvas, watercolor, wood burning, decoupage, mixed media, knitting, crocheting, jewelry making, scrapbooking, sewing, quilting, etc. I have a long list of crafts I still love to this day, because I had to teach myself how to make my own things — and how to build my own world — through recycled materials and repurposing.
Before, when I was a kid I would clean and select all sorts of durable recycling materials: mason jars, cereal boxes, paper bags, yogurt containers, etc. – basically all glass, paper, and plastic, and if I was lucky some fabric from old clothes. Everything that was set aside had a purpose before I decided to keep it. Otherwise, many of these things would have been thrown away. But the things I kept would definitely be used as a brand new item after I transformed it! As time passed my taste changed, and nowadays I go to thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets and destash groups mostly looking for fabrics and sewing/quilting notions. I always look for non-stained fabrics that are 100% cotton (any brand). I do choose the colors and patterns of what I bring home. And I generally have a purpose for any fabric that makes its way to my shopping cart.
Were there any particular challenges or surprises to using upcycled materials?
Yes!! All the time, especially with second hand fabrics. The challenge is finding fabrics in good shape (although living in New Jersey, there are flea markets and thrift stores basically every 2 miles). If the fabric has any small stain, it is enough for me to leave it. Whether it smells, or if it’s ripped, are also questions to be analyzed, since every single item I bring home gets fully washed and sterilized right away. The good thing is about how surprisingly often I find really good products, brand new fabric bundles, brand new sewing notions and etc. I am very lucky finding designer fabrics (although most of the time from 2010 or older) these are still quality fabrics and in very good shape.
What would be your advice to someone who is curious about using sustainable materials in their own work?
I believe in the beauty of someone’s work, the final product, not the brand of the material that’s being used or how it was constructed (specifically about the judgment of being made of a cheap or expensive item). When it comes to a handmade work, in my opinion the final art independently of what’s in it, but how it looks, what type of emotions it brings to who made it (or who bought it) is what matters. If I find or make a sculpture, what will be important to me is the aspect that made me fall in love with it, the color, the texture, the size etc., not if it was made out of gold or newspaper. Using recycled materials or repurposing can add so much value to a piece of work that we can’t imagine. My advice: first have a purpose before you collect anything, that way you won’t wind up hoarding stuff you will never use. Second, concentrate on transforming: that’s the beauty of repurposing.
The impact of using recycled materials is immense in my life, it makes me see things totally different. Recycling and repurposing means transformation for me, and being able to transform these things transforms me. As everything in life has a bad side, sometimes recycling and repurposing is wrongly labeled as dirty, old and undervalued. Don’t worry, the ones who label it this way are the ones who have no idea of what true art is. An artist knows the value of creating and transforming, therefore in general if you are an artist your right public will essentially have an artistic soul or ability in them in order to recognize the value of your work, anyone else is not who you’re targeting.