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Upcyling with Alternative Fibers Lecture with Melissa Maddonni Haims

Upcyling with Alternative Fibers Lecture with Melissa Maddonni Haims

On September 20th, Philadelphia-based fiber artist and sculptor Melissa Maddonni Haims came to Abington Art Center to talk about the connection between upcyling with alternative fibers and her work as an artist. Where recycling breaks down a material to its raw form to be reused again, upcycling uses the material as it is, transforming it into something new.


Melissa Maddonni Haims explains how she sources material from videotapes to use in her work

Haims began her lecture with an introduction to some of these upcycled materials. She passed out samples including scraps of yarn, ribbon, and lace, Madagascar grass (raffia), old neckties, and cassette tape (see photo on left). She discovered a pillow factory that produces over 1500lbs of scrap materials every year through their manufacturing process. She takes those scraps, that would otherwise be thrown away, to use as stuffing for sculptures or to transform into thread to knit or weave. Haims also went over the process to create “plarn,” using upcycled shopping bags to create a plastic yarn that is strong, waterproof, and great for making into beach bags or mats.

Haims has exhibited her work internationally, and some of her “yarn-bombing” was recently on display across the grounds of the Morris Arboretum. “Yarn-bombing” is essentially covering parts of public spaces – like electric poles and benches – with knitted or crocheted covering. Although technically a form of graffiti (often installed guerilla-style), it is generally welcomed by communities because it’s not harmful and brings vibrancy to otherwise dull spaces. This positive reaction has fueled her mantra, “I always ask for forgiveness, I never ask for permission.”


Haims’ work at Morris Arboretum featuring a bridge covered with a patchwork of squares created by enterprising knitters from ages 6 to 86.

Haims has also worked in soft sculpture, what she describes as a “free-form version of knitting and crocheting,” using mostly scrap yarn. “Why buy something new when you can do something with free materials?” she asks, as she explained how upcycled materials bring a quality to her work not found in something store-bought and brand-spanking-new.

Whether it’s rescuing leftover blocks of walnut to be covered by Italian wool or stitching the address book pages of a Holocaust survivor into a quilt, Haims is always finding ways to celebrate and find use for the things that many of us would not think to give new life in this way.

Haims would like to encourage interaction with her future installations. She loves the idea of “walking into a room where someone just left and kind of rearranging the furniture… you can choose to touch or not to touch.” It’s this reaction that reusing fiber materials can elicit. The work’s soft textures beg to be felt and touched. Upcycled fibers enlarge the sensory palette of a fiber artist like Haims — plasticky, shiny cassette tape creates contrast with fuzzy felt scraps or plush, unspun wool.

If you missed this lecture and are interested to see more, Haims will be teaching a workshop here at AAC in November on knitting with yarn upcycled from t-shirts. More Information

To see more about Melissa Maddonni Haims, visit her website.