Feature

Creative recycling

Green Lifestyle magazine

A love of fabric and a creative flair inspired Gaye Naismith to turn her hobby into a novel recycling business – making beautiful homewares and accessories from old woollen jumpers.

Creative-recycling

Gaye Naismith, founder of Gaye Abandon and co-founder of Body Parts.

Credit: Rachel Von Mylius

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Winter is a busy time for Gaye Naismith, founder of Gaye Abandon and co-founder of Body Parts. The designer and crafter spends most days in her West Melbourne studio creating homewares, accessories and, most recently, wall hangings from felted secondhand jumpers.

Gaye grew up in New Zealand, making her own clothes from a young age and developing a love of vintage fabrics. It wasn’t until many years later, however, that she considered taking her hobby seriously. The idea first sparked while she was working for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne. Tired of working in offices and wanting to explore her creative side, she started making wallets from vintage fabrics and old postcards. Her colleagues loved her work and she was asked to create an ACMI-themed collection. Then followed a series of market stalls, and so Gaye Abandon was formed.

The Gaye Abandon label includes table mats, coasters, table runners, ‘hottie’ covers, cushions, purses, ‘pod cosies’ for iPods, ‘pad sleeves’ for iPads and wall hangings, all from felted garments. While selling these at a market, she met Melanie Hill, a local craftswoman who was making and selling tights. They joined forces and Body Parts was born.

Now, Melanie does the rounds of the local op shops hunting for what has become a rare commodity – the pure wool jumper. When they’re put through a hot wash cycle in a washing machine the fibres become matted, creating the felted fabric Gaye and Melanie use for their creations. Gaye sews the items together and then hands them over to Melanie for embellishing with embroidery, buttons and scraps of felt – nothing is glued, only sewn. Gaye photographs the items and sells them online through Etsy and her own website, and negotiates with retailers. Body Parts now produces arm warmers, scarves and midriff warmers.

Working with recycled materials is not without its challenges. No garment shrinks in the same way and quality control is difficult. Gaye takes these challenges in her stride and continues to look for ways to reduce waste. Because the jumpers are woollen, the offcuts will naturally break down, but some scraps are used for making embellishments, and Gaye recently started experimenting with making cushions and wall hangings from strips of scraps. One of these wall hangings was recently shortlisted for the Geelong Wool Museum Quilt Prize.

Even though Gaye and Melanie are making as many products as they can physically manage, the high value of the Australian dollar means that it is hard to be competitive as an online store, and hand warmers and ‘hottie’ covers don’t sell so well in the summer months. To grow the business, they would need to start mass producing or at least outsourcing some of the work. However, Gaye is not interested in doing either. She enjoys her craft and believes that part of the magic of her products is that each one has been handled, designed and crafted (at least partially) by her.