Interview with Handmade Spark Member Emily Kircher, Recycling Artist
Recently while searching Handmade Spark for artists/crafters who create with recycled materials, Emily Kircher’s fun colorful pieces caught my eye. Cute & clever, her rag rugs, baskets and bowls are made from reclaimed fabrics. She also makes whimsical necklaces from bottle caps, vintage playing cards and old children’s books.
Emily kindly agreed to share with us about her life & art. (By the way, you can click any of the photos for details about each piece. They are all available through her Handmade Spark Mini Site )
EK: Hi. I’m Emily of EKRA (Emily Kircher Recycling Artist). I’ve always been a maker, but it wasn’t always my full time job like it is now. I used to be a scientist!
I was always interested in biology and concerned about the environment. My concern for the environment and love of science and learning led me to an environmental toxicology (ie. the study of poisons) PhD program. I had dreams of working for the EPA, or the DNR, and figuring out how to save the world.
Little did I know when I started graduate school that what I would really be trained for was to work for a pharmaceutical company. Yikes! That’s not what I wanted at all. In fact, working in a lab turned out to be pretty lonely. I was working on a project that so few people in the world new about, I didn’t have much to talk about with normal people.
So, how did you get from a career in science to creating unique home decor pieces with salvaged fabrics?
EK: Fast forward 4 years. It was getting harder and harder to get up in the morning and go to my lonely lab. My boyfriend (now husband) said to me, “Do you know you don’t have to do this?” I had no idea! I could change my course! It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me and I immediately started actions to leave grad school with a MS and not continue on to complete my PhD.
My science friends were shocked! Everyone wanted to know what I would do. I didn’t know, so I told people that I would get my teaching certificate. Others believed that was a viable option, but I didn’t. I’m not a patient person when it comes to teaching. I pretended this was my plan, but had a secret plan in my head….
I had always been a maker, crafty, whatever you want to call it. I had been crocheting rugs as a hobby and giving them away as stress relief while in grad school. I would try to turn my hobby into a business! I loved crocheting rugs and I had also taken a class in mosaics. I called myself a Recycling Artist because I didn’t really know what I wanted to focus on except that I would use recycled materials.
What are your favorite materials and why?
EK: I like working with / recycling fabrics. When I lived in Madison, WI there were tons and tons of thrift stores and there were limitless amounts of fabric to be recycled. I could take my pick of the best sheets and linen.
I recently moved to Carbondale, IL where there are far fewer thrift stores. So… I had to get creative about getting fabric to recycle. One of my new sources is a warehouse that houses factory mill ends. When factories are making things like sheets, or pillowcases, or whatever, they will take an entire roll of fabric and cut it to the widths they need. A small portion is left over called a mill end. This fabric is narrow and yards and yards and yards long. It is essentially waste to the factory but great for making rugs with. I like this form of fabric because I can get large amounts that are the same color and texture which allows me to make solid colored rugs and appliqué them. Also, it allows me to make style of rug over and over.
I still go to every thrift store I see and do a lot of yard sale shopping in the summertime. I love fabric!
Where do you find inspiration?
EK: Lots of places… I like to browse through the treasuries on Etsy.com and I follow a few design blogs. I also draw a lot from things that I like, and hope others will like too. When I was young, I wanted to be a marine biologist, and I still like sea creatures, so they show up in my work a lot.
Do you listen to anything while creating? If so, who is on your current playlist?
EK: When I’m working alone, I alternate between watching TV and listening to my iPod. When the TV is on it is usually on some sort of Law and Order. I cycle through “favorite bands” pretty frequently – right now I’m playing Standard Fare, Wavves, and Soft Pack over and over again. One band that is always at the top of my favorites list is Jaill – a band my brother is in.
How long have you been selling your pieces?
EK: I started selling my work in 2004, as soon as I registered my business.
EK: My favorite rug right now is the Happy Narwhal Rug which is collaboration with Aorta.etsy.com. Jessica, the woman behind aorta, makes the most amazing appliqués’! I found her on Etsy when it first started, either 2005 or 2006 and have been a big fan of her work ever since. Every time I wear one of her pieces, I get tons of compliments. I contacted her to see if she would be interested in selling me her appliqués to use on my rugs and she said yes.
What do you like to do when you are not creating?
EK: When I’m not working on making things or running my business, I like to read, travel with my husband, and play with my cats.
Emily, thank you for stopping by & sharing your whimsical work today.
And thanks to those of you who visited with us. Please be sure to leave a comment. Your interest in these features is what keeps them coming! And the artists & artisans love the feedback.
Want to see more of Emily’s recycled creations? Check out these links:
www.etchouse.com/ekra – also lists retail locations for buying Emily’s rugs
Stacey is one of the talented members of our writing team. She loves working with her hands, blogging, painting and restoring antiques.