On a chilly December night, hunkered down in a cozy space in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, sit three women surrounded by piles of scraps from Abeego Wraps. It’s the last night of an eight-week weaving class, centred around using the factory cuttings of Abeego strips to create entirely new storage containers and pieces of art.
When I arrive, the women have just finished their holiday potluck dinner, and are settling into their final hours of the class. As I walk around getting a feel for the environment and observing their careful techniques, I can tell that the night is going to be an informative one.
Hosted by Sharon Kallis, the workshop was being run by the EartHand Gleaners Society, in partnership with Hives for Humanity, two Vancouver-based organizations that educate and inspire people to live conscious, environmentally friendly lifestyles, and provide artists with natural materials for sustainable art. Proponents of a zero-waste lifestyle, both organizations were eager to come up with a creative way to use Abeego scraps to make unique and functional art, as well as help the community.
The workshop was made up of weavers of all different skill levels — from beginners to advanced — everyone was welcome. Each participant was encouraged to create products using techniques they learned over the course. While most of the final products were taken home, each person in the workshop donated at least one piece to the Hives for Humanity silent auction taking place in April.
Hives for Humanity is a non-profit organization that encourages community connections through beekeeping — also known as apiculture. Their mentorship programs are made possible through partnerships, friendships, and community support. Hives for Humanity works in communities throughout Vancouver, sharing skills and understandings, empowering residents, enhancing connectivity and building ownership. The silent auction will help raise funds for their therapeutic beekeeping, mentorship programs, and other programs that support at-risk populations of people and pollinators.
A collection of beautiful completed works was already sitting on a table under the glow of the warm studio lights. While I admire them, I’m blown away by the wide range of looks, styles, and scale. While some are small catch-all dishes, others are tall vase-like structures that look as though they can hold an entire bouquet of flowers.
With over 30 pounds of scrap donated by Abeego, the weavers had more than enough material to create their masterpieces. But with the wide range of strips came a couple of challenges. First, not all the strips were the same size or the same texture. This meant that the designs and patterns had to be improvised at times to accommodate wider vs thinner strips. Slightly different textures between the strips meant the weavers had to be careful in how they treated their products. While the newer strips were more resilient to temperature changes and prolonged handling, the original strips tended to pick up dirt and lose their waxy texture the more they were worked.
A second challenge faced by the weavers was one of aesthetics. Because some Abeego strips were cut from sheets of patterned fabric, not all of the strips were uniform in their appearance. Some strips featured the word “abeego;” some had illustrations, while others were completely blank. This meant the weavers had to stretch their creativity to come up with patterns that could stand on their own, or combine all of the wonderful irregularities together.
While the women methodically weave their strips over and under repeatedly, Sharon talks about why she participates in this, “labour of love,” and explains her passion for educating the community on the real cost of goods — especially handmade ones.
“We live in a culture where people are not accustomed to paying the value of what something is worth,” she says. In hosting these workshops and educating people on the huge amount time that goes into creating sustainable, high-quality products, Sharon hopes to change this concept and help people recognize the real value of locally made goods.
Inventor, founder, and CEO of Abeego, Toni Desrosiers, agrees with Sharon and adds, "We always called our scrap, 'a waste generated resource.' We know how valuable all the materials that go into Abeego are, so we waste none of it. I'm thrilled they can weave it into something entirely new, useful, and beautiful."
As I get my things together, I can’t help but smile to myself as I overhear one last conversation. It’s about the leftover scraps. Even though these women have spent weeks weaving baskets, lunch bags, vases, and small dishes out of what many people would consider “waste,” they can’t help but wonder about what else they can do with the even smaller, left-over scraps. Fire starters, plant fasteners, and slow burning candle wicks are some of the things they discuss as I walk out into the cold night feeling inspired. There seems to be no end to the creative force driving these women and companies striving for a more educated, connected and waste reduced future.