A Closer Look: Emily Kircher, Recycling Artist

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Emily Kircher:
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Flickr name: recyclingartistemily

Emily Kircher makes wonderful crocheted rugs and handbags, when she’s not making charming bottle cap magnets, cat toys or mosaic tiles. Best of all, almost everything she makes is crafted from recycled materials, giving old sheets and t-shirts and even bottle caps new life. I first fell in love with one of her lovely kitty rugs, which looked like it belonged in some sort of idyllic B&B, assuming the owner was a mischievous witch. The skull rug only confirmed my opinion. And Emily is indeed a sort of witch, as she transforms what some might see as trash into pieces imbued with their own kind of magic. As she says in her Etsy profile, she’s “always looking for a new way to use garbage.”
Arwen: How did you first get involved with crafting?
My mom was definitely the person who introduced me to crafting. She is a pretty crafty lady and she always encouraged and supported any crafty desires I had, from cross stitch to polymer clay to beading to paper crafts and beyond. Whenever I wanted to try some new craft, she got me supplies and crafted with me.
Arwen: So why crochet?
Well, it’s kind of random, but one day my mom and I stopped at an estate sale where there was a ton of yarn for sale. I decided that I’d like to make a blanket and my mom said she could teach me to read the pattern to crochet a blanket. That was my last summer before graduate school. (A doctoral program in Environmental Toxicology — the study of poisons in the environment. I thought I could save the world through science; turns out, I can’t…) Anyway, all through graduate school I would pick up crochet projects as a hobby and to make gifts for people. Also, I crochet because I never learned to knit.
Arwen: What got you interested in making rugs?
Part of the problem with my crochet projects was that a lot of them were abandoned because they took SO LONG because yarn is so thin. I was searching the internet for crochet patterns when I came across this website about crocheting rugs from old clothes cut up into yarn. I tried it and I was immediately hooked! I loved that I was able to use something that wasn’t wanted as it was in its current form, and that I was able to make a big, functional item fairly quickly — at least quicker than making a blanket from yarn. I made rugs for everyone I knew and eventually left grad school to make it a full time job.
Arwen: How do you come up with the designs?
The great thing about crochet is that it is really easy to make shapes with stitches. I think about something that I want to make and sit with a pen and paper and doodle how I would crochet the shape in a continuous-line drawing. So far I’ve made kitties, skulls, squids, suns, and turtles. Another way designs are made is to incorporate embroidery and weaving through the crocheted part. With this technique, I’ve made oranges, lemons, limes, kiwis, and most recently, a baseball.
Arwen: What about the bottle caps? How do you decide which design to use for those?
Most of the images for those come from kids books that I collect from thrift stores. Others come from junk mail and greeting cards. Pretty much any image that is about the size of a quarter is fair game, but I really like making ones that just have something funny or cute in them.
Arwen: Any other projects in the works? What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on organizing the Craftacular with Naomi Richardson, the owner of the Glitter Workshop. It is a 15-20 vendor show that we hold in a local bar three times a year. Our last one was June 16. Besides that, I’m working on making rugs and other stuff to take to other indie craft shows like Art vs Craft and Shadow Art Fair.
Arwen: What inspires you?
I’m inspired by castoffs. Thrift stores are full of linens and remnants and clothes that have incredible texture and designs. They are also full of books with incredible illustrations and glassware with great colors. I love shopping for my materials knowing that I can take an unloved castoff and give it new life by recycling it into something functional and beautiful. I love the challenge of being limited by these castoffs. Part of the fun is collecting lots and lots of materials until the right combination of stuff ends up in my craft room to make a lovely rug, purse, or mosaic.
Arwen: What’s one tip you’d give to other crafters?
Go ahead and dive in. See what happens, but when it is done, learn from your mistakes so you can always being improving your craft and your technique.
Arwen: What are your favorite crafting books/magazines/websites?
There’s a lot. I read the Craftzine blog everyday. I also love Craft magazine and Readymade. I check in at Craftster.org fairly often. And I like blogs dedicated to showing off indie businesses like Indie Fixx and Modish. As for books, I love the old ones from the 60’s-80’s with big bold designs. I collect those and flip through them for inspiration once and awhile.
Arwen: What are some of your most important influences?
I entered the Environmental Toxicology program because I wanted to learn how to help the environment. Turns out I hated being locked away all day in a lab, but I still loved the idea of working for the environment and doing the actual experiments with my hands. I took the best parts of that and incorporated it into my crafting. I love that when I display my wares at a show, I get to tell people that everything was made from recycled materials. I get to see that people are amazed that a purse was crocheted from a bathrobe or a rug was crocheted from old sheets. I hope that it educates people that just because they don’t want something, it isn’t garbage and doesn’t need to go straight to a landfill. Hopefully I can inspire them to craft with their own unwanted materials or at least to take their outgrown clothes or old linens to a thrift store where they can stay in circulation where people can use them.

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