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BH Upcycled Designs Gives New Life to Old Clothing


By Ruth Melville

We all know there’s too much waste in the modern world. The days of “make do and mend” are largely gone, and new clothing is available so cheaply that most people prefer to throw an old shirt out and buy a new one.

But Norfolk Farmers Market vendor MaryLynne Boisvert takes those old T-shirts and sweaters that nobody wants and turns them into the cheerful, eco-friendly clothing and accessories that she markets under the name BH Upcycled Designs.

Boisvert gets her cloth from thrift shops, and only natural fibers will do. Wool and cashmere sweaters are felted, while cottons, linens and silks are simply washed. Her 21-year-old son does most of the preliminary cutting of the material for her and passes on a bundle of scraps. She goes through the bundle, picking out what she can use for her designs. What she can’t use, she stuffs into dog beds that she makes out of big T-shirts and then donates to animal shelters.

She repurposes her “upcycled” fabric into a wide range of wearable art, including swingy paneled skirts out of either cottons or wools, color-blocked scarves out of felted cashmere, striking jackets made from squares and rectangles of felted sweaters, dresses, tunics, dryer balls—pretty much anything you can make out of cloth or felt. Her mittens are wonderfully thick and warm: they’re made out of two layers, an outer layer of felted wool, and an inner one of soft felted cashmere.

Boisvert started doing needlework when she was 10 years old. She learned from her grandmother, a quilter and a seamstress whom she describes an “all-around, all-the-time crafter.” “I can remember her in her 80s, down on the floor pinning together a quilt.” Boisvert still has that quilt, “in tatters now,” which she and her grandmother made together.

Boisvert has always liked to have her hands busy. In college she did counted cross-stitch and braided rugs, but when a friend taught her how to felt sweaters, something clicked. “I thought, this is so cool,” she says, “I started to see all the possibilities.”

Boisvert decided to turn her love of sewing into a business about 14 years ago. Now she travels to fairs and shows throughout the year. “I try to work as much of the year as I can,” she says. “This is not a hobby for me, it’s how I pay the mortgage and pay for the car.” She used to try to do two shows in a day, but that was just “crazy-making,” even though she loves showing her work to people and seeing them try on the clothes. “It’s such a thrill, even if they just look at the stuff and smile.”

Boisvert is passionate about handwork, but she feels equally strongly about the importance of recycling. The reuse of old materials is a crucial part of her life and her business. As she puts it, “I rescue clothes people are done with. There’s so much use left in these things. I cannot abide waste. I want to leave the place better than I found it.” She notes that quilters, who piece together new blankets from scraps of old material, are “natural-born recyclers.”

Her goal is to create clothing that is beautiful, sustainable and fun to wear. As her business motto says, “Sustainable Fashion, Made With Love.”

Boisvert will not be back in Norfolk until next summer, but in the meantime you can catch her colorful creations at the garlic festival in Bethlehem, October 6-7; the Fiber Festival of New England in West Springfield, Mass., November 4-5; and the annual holiday market at the White Hart in Salisbury in December. Pictures of her designs and her fall schedule are available on her website, bhupdesigns.com.

Photos by Bruce Frisch.

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