July 14, 2011

INTERVIEW: Elisabetta from Renewfabrics

As a sewing enthusiast I often peer over to my ever growing mound of fabric scraps and think “what will I ever do with those tiny pieces of fabric?” Rest assured, there is an answer! Renewfabrics them. Renewfabrics is a small business founded by Elisabetta, an inspirational sewer/crafter from Italy who currently resides in Berlin. Elisabetta utilises already existing materials (including those unwanted scraps) to create loveable handmade brooches and bags. Each piece of recycled fabric that enters the Renewfabrics studio is manipulated, transformed and revitalised and given a new lease of life.

Having previously studied International Relations and Human Rights, Elisabetta is concious of the the social and environmental impact of fashion; this is reflected in the Renewfabrics methodology. An aspect of Elisabetta which I found refreshing was her love of textile art and her desire to incorporate already found objects into her work. She designs each piece while considering the history and context of the raw materials.

I sat down with Elisabetta to chat about renewfabrics; influences; the handmade movement and life in general.

Why Berlin???
The quality of life is good...it is accessible and there is the creative scene. You can pretty much do what ever you want.

Familial influences???
My grandma was a seamstress.... I have always been around fabrics. My mum knits really well, my uncle paints and we have musicians in the family so I guess it's a natural thing for some people. It is kind of weird to say that it is a natural thing and I guess that you can be brought to it by life, but it helps to be encouraged.

What made you start to sew???
I started to sew myself from fixing jeans. I got interested in the process of sewing things and then I started to research textiles and history and all the social aspects and from that I learnt to sew.

Why do you continue to sew???
I really like it and I like to build things and to make my own clothing.... I have the impression that it is our responsibility to keep on doing it otherwise the skills will get lost. It is important that I learn to do things with my hands and it also helps to develop other skills.

What is your view on recycling and sewing???
When you sew you have all of these small things that stay there; when I started to sew I thought that it was a pity that they get lost and thrown away. I thought, well I have to think of a way to reuse them. I am not saying that I am developing new ways, I am rediscovering normal things from society.

One thing that I have used is eco felt which is made from recycled bottles but that is really an exception. Most of my things are there already. My fabrics come from shops that have fabric with defects. I really try not to use new stuff because even though it is always positive to use these fabrics that come from recycled bottles or eco resources, it is better to try and source things locally as well as pieces that already exist. I think that people are kind of suspicious when you come with bio cotton or for example the big bamboo problem. It is really hard to source it even in a way that is sustainable. Of course in the long run we need to find solutions that are actually sustainable. That is the big thing for the fashion industry.

Where do you find inspiration???
Books are a big inspiration for me, especially the history of textiles and crafts. I am really influenced by books that incorporate found objects and textile art. This has been really important for my sewing and designing......They take into account the history of the piece and then build upon it. I guess to some extent this is the idea behind the small pieces that people send me. A lot of inspiration also comes from my photos.. it starts from stuff that I can see around me.

Being a sewer/Crafter in Germany???
In Germany it is not that easy, I get the impression that unless you are a taught designer or you have gone to school you're a hobbiest so there is not too much respect. It's not that well established here, where as in the US I feel that it is more accepted. You can learn by yourself and it's normal that you pick up a skill. Here it seems more that the mum knits or sews or crochets, it's kind of a different culturally.

What are your thoughts on fast fashion???
It has a negative impact on what we think things should cost. We have been accustom to things being so cheap that we don't believe that the real price should be something else. But it is hard to educate consumers that you need to have a fair wage and you need to pay for your expenses.... we don't take into account what makes it possible for things to be so cheap. How are things are produced and under what conditions? We should ask ourselves what is the impact.

Having a business???
I had one specific idea of how I thought the business should be. And now things are actually evolving. It is really important to stay open and you need to adjust as things progress....The big thing for me was selling at the markets and seeing how people reacted.

What do you need to be a sewer, what are the positives and how should someone start???
You need patience, you will make plenty of mistakes. It is also good because it allows you to really create your own things and knowing that you can put your personality into a skirt. It is the satisfaction that you have, I think that that pays off all of the frustration.

It can be fun to learn with other people and it can be a good way to socialise and communicate and do it in a group. There are bars that you can go and sewing cafes I think that is a great way to start instead of being at home reading a book and cursing at the sewing machine. Maybe start with a friend and that can open up other things too, other ways of community building. It's easier to start with a place that has fabrics that you can already try. You can also go and take a course, refashioning, sewing, embroidery. That is a really good thing. Etsy has brought a lot that. Lets hope that is not a fashion moment. Lets hope it stays.

You can read more about Elisabetta on her renewfabrics website. Elisabetta sells her goods at the small design markets (this Sunday she is at the Handmade-market) as well as some flohmarkets (e.g. Neukoelln markets). You can also find her handmade items for sale on Dawanda

Photography: Michael Dooney


  1. such a good idea and inspiring to use existing materials, it's surprising the amount of material we tend to throw away that could be used in other ways.

  2. I can recognize my process pretty much too!:) It's fun and it it's never premeditated:)) You start somewhere and where you end up is a surprise for everyone including yourself!

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