Gathered from the cutting room floor of our Thornbury factory and design studio, pre consumer denim waste destined for landfill, is re-routed into the talented hands of weaver and designer, Georgina Whigham. Here in her Canberra- based studio, on behalf of her eponymous label George, Whigham wove throughout lockdown and the weeks beyond to create a series of truly unique, one of a kind recycled denim bags, fully ‘closing the loop’.

Surprisingly, the catalyst for this collection was the generic disposable shopping bag, one of the most highly produced and discarded plastic products globally. Informed by the products simplistic shape and form, this is where the parallels stop. Designed incite a conversation on textile waste, mass production and consumer impact, the woven bags completely reject the notion of single use and plastic materials and question our own consumption habits and resulting effects as consumers. 

Prioritising a slow approach to manufacture and design, each bag is meticulously handmade by Whigham using her traditional four shaft floor loom. Completely left to chance, the colour palette of each piece is determined by whatever denim fabrication has recently been cut at our Thornbury based factory. From scraps to luxury artisanal bag, the process Whigham several hours to complete via the laborious process of cutting, layering, weaving, sewing and screen printing. The final result is one of textual, Wabi-sabi brilliance; heroed by the unique inconsistencies and imperfections within each denim weave, intended to be worn and last for years to come.

What is your creative background, and how did you get introduced to weaving?

My mum is very creative, so I grew up watching and learning from her. I began weaving 5 years ago and was keen to learn from the Indigenous women. This led me to Mapuru in East Arnhem Land where I wove with the Yolngu women. My love for the process took off from there.

Formally I studied a Bachelor of Industrial Design and then went on to complete an intensive short course at Kawashima Textile School in Kyoto.

How did George begin, what principals is it built upon?

George grew from a desire to practise traditional techniques with the influence of modern concepts, while fostering the knowledge and craftsmanship of the handmade process. I explore the ability to create interest through the interaction of the common, overlooked and discarded.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

My inspiration varies with each project. This collection was inspired by the impact we have on the environment and landscape. On average a person uses a plastic bag for 12 minutes... Each year an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. This equates to over one million per minute.

These bags are a creative response to this enormous problem we have within our communities. I was interested in the notion of drawing from an object that is mass-produced and disposable. I wanted to emulate the characteristics of a plastic bag but sought to counteract its throwaway connotations. These bag stands as a symbolic reminder of the impact we have on the land and community as consumers.

Repurposing denim has been a new addition to your practise, how did you find using a new material?

I love experimenting with new techniques and materials, as there is a sense of uncertainty and challenge that comes with it often instigating a new direction. As I began weaving with the off cuts, I found each seasons colourway/style of denim responded differently to the weaving process. This created small unpredictable details within each weave. I reacted to the way each denim behaved which formed the direction for the next bag, flipping and reversing the denim to achieve different results.

Can you expand on how each denim bag item is made?

The bags are woven on a 4-shalf floor loom. Due to the characteristics of the hand-weaving process each bag is unique. Normally I use a shuttle with yarn, but for these bags I hand cut the denim into strips and arranged each piece in place. This added an extra element to the process but allowed the possibility to alter the consistency of the weave. I designed the bag to be woven in one linear continual pattern piece rather than weaving fabric and cutting the pattern pieces out. This reduces the seams and forms a simplified and refined bag. I honour the inconsistencies and imperfections that come with the handmade process and the beauty this imbues into each piece.

Do you listen to any music or podcasts while you weave? If so, can you share what you’ve been listening to?

There are certain points during the weaving process where I’m counting threads, so silence is best but if I’m not, then I’ll have something playing. Music wise I’ve been listening to Khruangbin, Tim Maia and HNNY. Podcasts, an old favourite it 99% Invisible and I have recently been enjoying Ologies and Everything Is Alive which has been a nice shake up from the current news feed.

Is there any correlation between your design aesthetic, and your personal sense of style?

I think it all rolls into one, especially in relation to this project. I tend to gravitate towards clean lines, block colours and vintage classics that stand the test of time. When I design I am always keeping this in mind.

There is a really beautiful relationship between time and clothing whether it is time spent making, time being worn or how clothing represents time. Using an ancient practice to weave a bag out of old garment offcuts just adds another layer to this story and reinforces the importance of giving a garment a new life.

The pandemic has caused a lot of people to slow down, and drastically change the way they live their life. How do you see your work fitting in this new world context?

I think my work will continue on a similar trajectory. George is a creative outlet for me and embodies the beauty and value in the traditional handmade processes. I think the pandemic has made people slow down and appreciate the small things more; therefore, they are more likely to engage with and value the arts.

What’s next for George?

I have some new concepts, which I’m looking forward to developing and expanding.

Any parting tips or advice for anyone who is inspired to try their hand at weaving?

Weaving is very therapeutic so a perfect skill to take up during the pandemic. Basket weaving is very forgiving and only requires a fibre of your choice and your hands, so is a good place to start. 

Photography: Lean Timms | @leantimms

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