There’s a beautiful thing happening in the world of handmade, and it might change the way we think about how our favorite handcrafted goods are sourced. At the intersection of handmade passions and environmentally friendly practices, an exciting new brand of maker is born: the eco-conscious, sustainable crafter.
What is Sustainable Crafting?
First, what exactly does it mean to craft sustainably? From thoughtful material sourcing to scrap waste reduction, there are many paths to sustainable crafting and the eco-maker landscape continues to evolve. Handmade aficionados with an eco-conscious bend are beginning to think more carefully about the materials they use to create their goods–including where those materials come from and even what those materials are.
For example, some sustainable crafting methods might include:
- Using repurposed, recycled or scrap materials
- Sourcing materials locally when possible
- Efficient use of scraps producing during making process
- Using biodegradable or non-toxic materials
- Reducing waste produced during the making or packing process
- Packing and shipping with sustainable materials (or only selling in person)
It can be difficult to do all of the above, which is why tackling the challenge of eco-friendly making can take various forms. Different elements in the handcrafting process can be made sustainable, and artists continue to create their own distinct approaches in order to find the solution that fits their vision. To get a better sense of the possibilities, let’s take a look at few local Philly sustainable makers.
1. Sustainably Handmade Upcycled Clothing: Touch Threads
Touch Threads clothing creator Madelyn Snow tackles the issue of garment and textile waste by breathing new life into pre-owned items using intricate hand-painting and dying techniques. This thoughtful material sourcing effectively diverts usable clothing away from the waste cycle while creating wearable works of art. Each piece is carefully chosen for fabric and quality, then adorned by hand with unique painted artwork.
2. Handmade Collage Art from Envelopes by Turnstyle Art
If sustainable crafting is all about recognizing new opportunities for using existing material, Christine Tischio has found the motherlode: junk mail! Each breathtaking collage in the Turnstyle Art collection is made from pieces of the inside of envelopes, cut and arranged by hand. After seeing the level of detail and texture Christine is able to accomplish with each collage, you may never look at your mail the same way!
3. Upcycled Glassware by Bird & Brush
Jackie Nunery of Bird and Brush Art uses upcycled vessels like glass bottles and vases to create new works of everyday functional art. Each vase, drinking glass, and storage container is made from the types of glassware we may typically toss into the recycling bin without much thought. But once cleaned and hand-decorated, Jackie’s finished pieces prove that spent bottles and thrift store glassware have a lot to give! These delicate botanically-inspired designs offer a transformative look at the true potential of an empty vessel.
4. Sustainable Textile Art by Juicebox Workshop
Julie Woodard of Juicebox Workshop uses upcycled or salvaged textiles to handstitch loving homages to landscapes near and far. Each eclectic mix of pattern and texture comes to life with handstitched elements and carefully selected frames. If you’ve seen these pieces in person at any of the local maker fairs, you may catch yourself disappearing into the complex universes that come to life in each unique frame. Julie is an expert at crafting magical worlds and filling them with rich details worthy of a long, admiring look.
Image: Juicebox Workshop
5. Pillows, Bags & Clothing by The Corner Store PHL
Crafted from sustainbly sourced fabric scraps, items in the The Corner Store PHL collection includes patchwork pillows and other delightfully scrappy items like tote bags, purses, pouches, and scrunchies. Owner and artist Madison Byler uses thrifted fabric scraps and materials to create thoughtful designs with a modern look. Each of her patchwork items is uniquely constructed with an artful eye for color, texture, and shape.
6. Sustainable Prints and Paper Goods by Elaine Knox
Elaine Knox is an illustrator with a passion for sustainability whose shoppable designs are printed using colorful risograph inks and recycled paper. Risograph printing is a naturally energy efficient and biodegradable method of printing (who knew!) and each piece is shipped in a plastic-free rigid mailer. Elaine’s commitment to making the entire process of her artwork as eco-friendly as possible sets the stage for other print artists to follow suit.
7. Plush Toys Made from Reclaimed Fabric by Squeebaby
Locals may have spotted these incredibly lovable handmade plush toys at nearby shops, pop-ups, and maker’s market craft fairs–or at the Resource Exchange gallery! Maker Kathryn Kolb crafts each unique plush toy from sustainably sourced fabrics (including vintage textiles) which only adds to their charming character. If you’ve seen a Squeebaby Toys plush, you know it: they're adorably expressive and designed for maximum hug-ability.
These eco-conscious Philly makers are engaging with sustainably sourced materials in exciting and new ways, inspiring our own waste-busting creative pursuits and showing us the vast possibilities in shopping sustainably. Be sure to follow them for shop updates and information on upcoming craft show appearances.
Pro tip: Visiting makers market craft fairs eliminates the need for shipping, making your handmade shopping experience even more sustainable!