Quite often, it is the things that go unnoticed that have the biggest impact. Take fire labels for instance. They are a small part of a chair, or sofa, yet without these little pieces of legislative fabric, the whole piece of furniture cannot be reused. And even though they do seem small, they are often cut off as they flap about under cushions. We like things neat, so the flappy bit goes – and many of us do not realise that this then consigns our furniture to landfill at the end of its life. This is the baton that The Great Recovery have taken up over the past year or so in their ‘Rearranging the Furniture’ project. What does a circular economy sofa look like?
Starting with one such fire label-less sofa, four designers (Ella Doran, Xenia Mosely, Kirsty Ewing and Sarah Johnson) set out to rethink the sofa – initially by taking it apart, learning the differences in construction between a cheap and quality piece of furniture, then developing a fabric with Camira to cover the stripped back, refurbished frame – over the process of about a year.
And so, to celebrate the end of the project, The Great Recovery held a day as part of the London Design Festival, looking at the project and with demonstrations from the designers and practitioners who took part.
Patrizia Sottile and Andrea Simonutti – of Urban Upholstery are no strangers to reuse, as their pieces use rescued frames which are brought back to life with traditional methods, and the first part of the session was dedicated to a demonstration of how to refurbish a sprung chair, which itself had been recovered for a new life.
Springs were connected with string, meshed together in a pattern that will be both strong and flexible, then covered with hessian, stitched, then covered again with coconut fibres. This is a craft – hand created and little altered in centuries. And, as the Urban Upholsterers explained, allows a piece to be reused, recovered, refurbished and repaired – unlike the cheap and mass produced pieces that we can pick up from chain furniture stores. Cheap construction means that recovery and reuse is often impossible.
We also got to see the recovered sofa from the ‘Rearranging the Furniture’ project up close – and as well as the beautiful exposed frame, the fabric was something to behold.
Created by British fabric manufacturer, Camira, in collaboration with The Great Recovery, the ‘Survivor’ fabric was developed to use as much pre-consumer fabric waste as possible. The new weave, created with 30% recycled fibres, uses offcuts from the upholstery industry – recovered, shredded and woven into a new, tweed like fabric.
And whilst 30% recycled yarn does not sound like a lot, it is actually quite groundbreaking. Each time a fabric is recycled, the yarn shortens, making it unusable in a new fabric – it literally is not strong enough. However, if it is mixed with some virgin yarns, a natural recycled fabric is possible. The Survivor fabric is just that – and will soon be available to specifiers.
On the day, we were able to use the beautiful fabric to create our own cushions, in any variety of the three colourways – blue, red, or violet. Plumping (excuse the pun) for blue and red, each of our cushions was stuffed with recycled (post-consumer) yarn and finished with more traditional skills – we each learnt the ‘invisible stitch’, allowing us to close our cushions with no stitching visible.
The day concluded with a round table discussion between many of the partners involved in The Great Recovery, with representatives from Suez recycling, Surrey Reuse network, Surrey County Council as well as the designers themselves. Quite often the discussion was around connections – how can we ensure that bulky waste, such as sofas are directed to those who need them / want them? How can we encourage reuse and of course, how can we ensure that these pieces are not consigned to landfill or incineration as they are no longer sporting their fire labels…?
More thought early on in the design process is often the answer, or at least part of the answer. And my cushion? It got its first test on the train back to Brighton from London Bridge, as surprisingly, there were no free seats. Lucky I’d just made one.
(images by claire potter)