New Exhibit Highlights the Creative Potential of Scrap in Textile Design

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s latest exhibition showcases high-minded examples of textile upcycling.

The exhibition Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse showcases examples of textile upcycling.

Courtesy Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

When it comes to dealing with old clothes, there’s the Goodwill drop-off and then there’s the old Japanese way—painstakingly stitching them into exquisite kimonos called donja.

Not all forms of textile recycling are created equal, suggest the curators of Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse, which opened September 23 at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. The show focuses on three design practices that work with pre-consumer waste like rejected fibers, discarded cuttings, printing trials, or unsold stock. “All three are examples of upcycling,” explains cocurator Matilda McQuaid. “Scraps are used to create something much more valuable than their original state.”

Luisa Cevese of Milan-based Riedizioni, for example, works with silk selvages, the trimmed-off edges produced by industrial weaving, turning them into avant-garde bags and belts. Dosa’s Christina Kim,
on the other hand, works largely with handwoven fabrics. For her apparel line, she combines a “zero waste” approach to cutting fabric for garments—pioneered by Yeohlee Teng and Issey Miyake—with jamdani saris from India.

The third case study in the show is the work of Reiko Sudo, the managing director of Japanese textile company NUNO. Cocurator Susan Brown says that one of her favorites in the show is a piece by Sudo that uses a part of silk cocoons that has to be thrown away when drawing thread. “It’s something that’s just gunking up the machinery,” Brown says. Sudo takes this material that’s doubly discarded, first by silkworms and then by silk manufacturers, and turns it into “large membrane sheets that look like silky handmade paper, which can be used to make lovely lampshades and blinds.” That’s recycling as a form of alchemy.

Artisans in India working with the fabric for Kim’s Dosa brand.

Courtesy Yoko Takahashi for Ku:nel magazine

The Eugenie Skirt, made of jamdani fabric, from Christina Kim’s spring 2008 collection.

Courtesy Dosa Inc.

Gold- and silver-leafed strips of washi paper are used in manufacturing kimonos, but the exacting weavers sometimes reject improperly made strips. Designer Luisa Cevese turns these discarded scraps into table mats produced by her Milan-based company Riedizioni.

Courtesy of Hosoo Co. Ltd. Photography/© Luisa Cevese Riedizioni

Recent Viewpoints