Recycling? That’s so last year. Now, it’s all about the upcycle… and cunning crafters have known it for years.
Now – as tonight’s Hitch crafting meet-up at The Bluecoat shows – there’s a thriving scene, in Liverpool, of industrious, and inspiring artisans ready and waiting to show us that, when it comes to beautiful gifts, there’s more to life than John Lewis.
SevenStreets’ favourite upcycler is Oxton-based Alison Bailey Smith. Smith’s work might be multi-disciplinary, but there’s a thread running through it: and its copper-like and shiny… oh, ok – it’s wire.
“My parents are the kind of people who can see the potential in otherwise discarded objects,” Bailey Smith tells SevenStreets, “My Dad was a physicist and created prototype inventions from Meccano. We always had a few televisions in reserve so he could fix our old TV set. We loved Blue Peter but we never seemed to have the same exotic rubbish as Val, Peter and John so had to interprete what their guidelines were for creating a doll’s house or a chair from a Ski yoghurt pot into what we had to hand.”
In true Blue Peter style, Bailey Smith, who studied Jewellery at Edinburgh College of Art, has plenty of examples of ‘one that she did earlier’. Only, unlike many of her crafting contemporaries, Bailey Smith’s work spans sculpture, millinery, shoes, bras, jewellery – even jewellery caskets.
“My initial wire work, Metal Millinery, was purely hat based. When I lived in Australia and Canada, I sold more hats and had an agent who would sell my work in New York and Paris. But my jewellery sells better here,” Bailey Smith says, “…oh, and handbags. I scour the charity shops for satin covered bags and up-cycle them with my wire work.”
Bailey Smith’s latest collection – the bright, playful flowers and posies of ‘Junk Jewellery’ created from recycled packaging – is available through Landbaby and Editions Gallery in Cook Street. You’ll see it at tonight’s Hitch open evening.
“I’d been working on discarded TVs for twenty years,” Bailey Smith says, “It was time for a change. I am a bit of a hunter-gatherer with my materials, so I’d saved all my household’s usable clean packaging for Junk Jewellery. I still get donated televisions to dismantle for the wire and keep my eye out for local skips and in the scrap yard for anything usable.”
Bailey Smith’s work, SevenStreets ponders, makes a refreshing counterpoint to the city’s increasing love affair with glittering chandeliers, WAG couture and ostentation. Deliberate?
“Perhaps because I’m in my 40’s, the bling and WAG culture is not my style,” Bailey Smith says, “but there are some good designers here who are doing high end work such as Nook and Willow with their handbags and Kirsty Doyle in Liverpool One. But in my own work I want my creativity to be the value of the piece not the cost of the materials going into creating them. And I have concerns about the mining conditions in some diamond and gold mines.”
For Bailey Smith, the process of creation, the alchemy of transformation, has always been the driving force but, she admits, it’s not the easiest way to create TV gold: “I’m taking a summer off this year to recuperate from muscle exhaustion down my right hand side after a tough year of working last year. Business is slow, but it is an exciting time to be creating in Merseyside. The Capital of Culture lead to many grass roots enterprises, with many little craft events and networking events cropping up,” she says.
The future of cathode ray TVs? Certain doom. The future of crafts in this city? It looks pretty healthy to us.
Alison Bailey Smith is offering SevenStreets readers the chance to test out their own creative skills, too…
“If anyone is interested in doing a workshop, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and once I have ten names I’ll run a day workshop either in Wirral or in Liverpool for just £20,” she says.
“The workshop will show people how to recover a handbag. With wire, sweetie wrappers and broken jewellery, we’ll all create our own bespoke, upcylced bag.”
Hitch, 6-8pm, 18 June: The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool