June 20, 2022
Upcycling Textiles in the Basque Country
I always enjoy traveling alone and meeting new people, learning about different cultures, and acquiring new skills - and VAWAA made all this possible. Upon arrival in Bayonne, I was a little nervous. There was a considerable age difference between textile designer Andrea and me, I thought there might be a language barrier, and I had decided to stay in her home instead of a hotel so if it was awkward - there was no escape.
When I arrived at the train station I got my first happy surprise - no language barrier! Andrea was British, and although Spanish is my first language, I feel just as comfortable speaking English - so we got to talking straight away! Andrea took me to her beautiful home, where I met her family, her husband Andrew, her daughters Grace and Hannah, and their pup Scott. From Day 1, I felt super comfortable and at ease with all of them; when you share passions and common goals, everything seems to fall into place.
I was a financial analyst, but I quit my job and started my consignment shop. I have always been into fashion and wanted to start a business that also had a positive social impact - so Preloved was the way to go for me! Here I got the chance to do all the styling, curating, photoshoots, etc., and really found my groove. However, I noticed I received SO MUCH clothing that was barely worn but had a little stain here and there, mostly from being in storage or just hanging around unused. That’s when I started getting interested in upcycling; it seemed like the next logical step.
I first saw VAWAA in a National Geographic magazine a couple of years ago, and it had always been in the back of my mind. I had planned a trip to France and had a few days to spare, so I decided to look at the VAWAA website and see if there were opportunities to learn textile printing! BEST DECISION! I found Andrea’s textile printing VAWAA, and it seemed perfect for me, calling to me - and it was!
We spent four days in Andrea’s studio learning how to upcycle textiles using different fabric dyeing techniques. We started using small squares of fabric Andrea had at home, then went to a “kilo shop” to get vintage pieces that needed a little extra love. This was her special treat for me since I told her what I did and why I was interested in up cycling and fabric dyeing.
Andrea taught me to screen print - a convenient technique for covering up spots. Dip dyeing - an artsy uneven effect that intentionally gives that upcycled “look” intentionally, " foil printing, and other techniques that allowed me to change the colors of the fabrics. Each type of fabric needed a special dye recipe, which was interesting and valuable to learn.
All in all, we created five REALLY cool pieces, including two tops and a jacket in which we included some of Andrea’s original artwork. This was really special for me because I loved her artwork from the get-go. I bought a piece from her to hang in my apartment that was very similar to one she had hanging up in her home. From the moment I went into her house, I was mesmerized by the art. She came up with these bug, plant, and human forms that really spoke of our interconnectedness. A female form with a tulip head, delicate leafy lungs, buglike legs for arms, an upside-down bee for hips all seemed so real, so representative of our true oneness. And this type of art was all over the house. The room I stayed in had an IKEA cupboard which she had upcycled with prints of human forms superimposed with butterfly wings and other wing-like inventions that conjured up images of evolution, the Vitruvian man, us, and nature. I felt right at home.
Despite our age and cultural differences, Andrea and I clicked over our love of art, nature, and fabric. We worked long hours in her studio every day and then went out for fun! We went to an Indian restaurant with her husband one night, to San Sebastian with one of her friends - who was also really into vintage clothing and had amazing style. We also went to Biarritz for wine and pizza; never a dull moment!
One night we stayed in, and she and her daughter cooked the most amazing black rice and prawn dish - afterward, we sat on the couch and watched TV. I bonded with her daughter Hannah who was a couple of years younger than me, by helping her on a graphic design project she was working on, as well as over her sustainable swim line Ulumatti. Between quitting my job and starting Preloved, I did a short stint back in school studying graphic design and launched a now-defunct swim line embroidered by female artisans. However, here, I only did the business side, collaborating with a friend who was a designer. Talk about synchronicities! It was surreal. I felt like I had been friends with the whole family for a while; there was no shyness, no awkwardness, and everything flowed. By the end, I was even playing fetch in French with Scott. “Va cher cher, bien y si.” - Pardon my spelling if that’s not exactly it, but he understood.
My VAWAA was truly a fantastic experience. From Andrea to her art, family, and our creations, I loved every moment of it and coming back from the trip, I was inspired to start my line of upcycled pieces, hopefully launching in October! Forever grateful to Andrea and VAWAA for this creative experience!
Written by Rebecca Rose
Vacation with Andrea in Bayonne, France
For more stories and new artist updates, subscribe here.