Q&A for Circular Cambridge with Jenny Langley, reclaimed textiles artist and founder of CirculART

I’m a textiles artist and have always used reclaimed fabrics in my work. Things took off in 2012 when I started making pieced denim bags for selling at craft fairs. This has been a real eye opener for me. It started as a ‘good environmental’ thing to do and has now connected me to so many people who have kindly given me fabric, all delighted that it will be used. It has made me realise that everything we have is precious and made me so appreciative of what I’m lucky to have.

• Why did you decide to get actively involved in Circular Cambridge?
I’ve been volunteering with CCF for a little while and felt very inspired at the launch evening. I wanted to do something creative as this can speak to people in lots of different ways.
• Please tell us about your circular project.
I have always loved charity shops and they are such great reusers and recyclers. Some of them have provided so much material for my work I wanted to say thank you. To promote them, Derek and I have been preparing an upbeat online guide for all the local charity shops. This is being expanded by CCF to include other aspects of the local circular economy – repairers, vintage/retro/second-hand/antique shops, stalls and auction houses. It’ll be on-line from May 2016 onwards. Many of the shops and businesses included have been carrying ‘We are Circular Cambridge’ posters in their windows – it’s lovely to see as you walk around.
‘The CirculART Trail’, launching on 8th June will feature displays of upcycled/repurposed/reclaimed arts and crafts made by local artists and makers in over 20 charity shop windows all around the City and Sawston. The trail lasts for a month, so there will be plenty of time for people to download the online trail or pick up a fold-out map and explore the inventive exhibits.

Jenny sign• What have been the best bits?
Just how generous and positive loads of people have been about the project. Some shops are giving over a whole window for the displays. The artists are putting in lots of time and I’m getting very excited as some of the displays sound amazing – I’m looking forward to see how inventive people have been.
• The most challenging?
The admin. I hate doing paperwork and being dyslexic, writing lots of emails just isn’t me. The amount of persuasion some of the head offices have needed to be involved is unbelievable.

• How have artists and charity shop workers reacted to your talking about reuse, repair, upcycling, rehoming, refusing etc?
I haven’t talked to lots of people about all aspects of the circular economy, it’s mostly been about reuse. Having the tick boxes on the posters has been useful as it’s made them think about what they do already and what other things they might do. Some people really just get it and are right on board straight away and those conversations have been a great emotional boost for me. Others have needed it explained carefully, so I think I’ve been doing a lot of education on the quiet. I’ve helped some managers to realise that lots of their customers repurpose and upcycle and being part of that community might benefit them.
• Which are your favourite local 1) Creative places/spaces 2) Creative events
1. My friend’s dining table! She has a huge dining room and table which I use to put together my big story mats for museums. I just don’t have the space at home – but here I get to see the final thing come together, which is a real buzz for me and a chance to sit around and chat over cups of tea. Thank you Marion!
2) I almost chose Cambridge Open Studios but decided on Textiles in Focus. This is my local ‘Textile Pig-Out’. Three days of textile related displays, exhibitions, workshops, traders and a lecture. I usually exhibit or demonstrate there and love talking to fellow enthusiasts. I’ve been to lots of workshops over the years and tried out batik, indigo dyeing, printing, made a brooch, learnt new stitch techniques, made a felt vessel etc. Great fun!
• What motivates you to give your time and energy to sustainability issues?
Where do I start? The science is so convincing; the planet is in terrible trouble and I just can’t stand by and not at least try to be part of the solution. I love being out in beautiful countryside, watching birds and animals and all that is threatened. Its a justice issue for all the people and ecosystems on the planet. And now we have a beautiful granddaughter – what will her future bring? I’ve also found being around likeminded people invigorating – I’m making lots of new friends being involved with CCF.