Mona van der Velden: ‘up-cycling’, especially fur

November 21, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

An old sweater, a fur coat or fur wrap: these can be up-cycled into something new by seamstress and textile artist Mona van der Velden, who says, “I’m do bookkeeping and I’m a seamstress and my specialty is fur.”

To begin, “I put an old sweater in a hot wash and hot dryer two or three times, which tightens the fibres. Then, I deal with it like a fabric; the process alters the consistency of the fabric. 

“There are different types of felting,” she explained. “It means tightening the fabric.”

Once the basics are done to the old sweater, there are wonderful mutts to come, very often trimmed with real fur from old fur garments.

“I make teddy bears from old fur coats. It’s the process: so many people have old fur coats that they’ve inherited. This way you get to keep the piece but it’s been reinvented. I use donations, coats from thrift shops and I save them from the landfill. It’s up cycling. That’s how I got into working with old sweaters and old coats: you can’t get rid of them but you can’t wear them.”

She said, “I like to think my teddy bears can be handed down through the generations.” 

Reflecting on the combination of her various talents, “There ‘s a commonalty that I didn’t realize – it’s all about math. Bookkeeping and sewing are all about math. Sewing is numbers and relationships. It has to be the right length, proportionate to itself. When you look at it – it’s all about numbers.

“I’ve sewn since I was 14,” she began to relate her history a bit. “I’ve always been creative but sewing is always in the thing I’m doing. I stared making teddy bears 30 years ago, originally from faux fur and, then, somebody asked me to do that from an old fur coat that she had.

“You want something made out of something that is yours.

“It was a learning curving because faux fur is fabric and real fur is dealing with a hide. I’m a trail and error kind of a girl – you’re learn things when you’re just trying it out because what didn’t work leads to another idea. That’s the most exciting thing about what I do because it’s creative.”

The treasures she produces that are standing about in Dragonfly Arts on Orangeville’s Broadway are all sizes: how about those beautiful little Christmas trees: “Even when you’re doing something small like the trees or the mitts, it’s still creative. I love the birch bark base. All the little bits that make up the trees are from something else that I’ve done but they’re too good to throw away.

“There’s not a lot of people that work with fur. The most interesting piece that I did was a lady wanted her fur coat made into a poncho. To make it, I took the coat right apart and then put it back together again in a new way, a new format,” her voice said she was proud and happy with the project.

Basically, she distinguishes fur by hair length: “Different furs work differently, between short and long hair. I do almost all my work by machine. There are three sizes of bears. Mink makes the smaller ones and to use long hair, I either trim it or create a bigger bear. My largest long hair bear is in Dragonfly. People can see the workmanship there; see what I can do with their furs.”

Ms. van der Velden lives in downtown Orangeville.

“I’ve been here about 15 years,” she commented. “I was in Grand Valley for eight years and still working in Toronto at †he time. It was a better commute from Orangeville. 

“I like the community here. I lived in Barrie and Orangeville was similar, that small town feel. I like the theatre; I have volunteered there. 

“As you walk down the street you know people. I hope they hang on to the down town core. We really need to keep it open; we have some great shops.”

She told us, “Every once in a while I work at Dragonfly and it’s always a positive experience when people come into town.”

Looking forward, she commented, “Professionally, I just want to improve my skills as a sewer. Right now I’m learning to make patterns; learning to develop the skill set to get an idea for an asymmetrical dress and then I’ll make that dress and sell it. That’s one of my personal goals.

“There’s so little that is Canadian made. There’s not the same standardization; there are so many aspects to how the fabric is cut, how it’s sewn, even with the same pattern. I want to be able to make a pattern just for myself. People aren’t necessarily going to find a custom piece affordable. It’s all about the clientele that you attract.”

The day to day alterations are part of her work too, “Right now, I like doing the alternations. People have clothes that need something, hemming people’s pants – you get all sorts. Right now, I’m doing a lot of zippers for winter coats. It’s been the standard fare for the last week.”

Another artist ready to praise Joan Hope, owner of Dragonfly Arts, Mona van der Velden was clear: “I consider myself an textile artist. Dragonfly was the first place that gave me the opportunity to show my work. You don’t know what you don’t know until you start down the path. Joan helped me know what’s appropriate and about pricing and all that, which you don’t know until you do.

“I have some of my products in Studio 41 now, in Alliston, and I have started working with Blue Mountain Arts Foundation on Simcoe Street, in Collingwood. It’s a co-op and I’ve just started working with them. This is very new for me.”

She remarked, quite reasonably, “I’m just looking to expand my circle. Dragonfly is my only place here, so, I’m looking to find others, in Owen Sound and in Guelph. 

“I did the Spinners and Weavers Show in the Gibson Centre in Alliston, selling my products but I’m not doing any other shows. 

“It is very personal,” said she. “You put your heart and soul into your work. People do bring up the animal [cruelty aspect of fur] but I explain, these animals have been dead for a number of years; I don’t use new fur. I tell them I’m up cycling and they are respectful of what I’m doing.”

At a time when waste is finally being understood as being such a problem, Ms. Van der Velden sees herself as part of the solution: “It’s good for people to see how recycling keeps things out of the landfills and recycling is a lot of work. But it’s true to my nature. People say to themselves, ‘I don’t want to keep a fur coat – I just want to re-use it.’ If it’s no longer useable throw it away but if there’s any way to use it, I find a creative way to recycle it.

“A person says to me: ‘I’ve held on to this fur coat; I pull it out, look at it and put it back.’”

They tell her: “Now, you make something new.”

“It can have a new life,” she said.

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