The idea of using old washing machine drums for our furniture designs came to us about ten years ago. A local exhibition in Beirut explored different approaches to dealing with the environment. We decided to look at upcycling, that is, upgrading something that is considered worthless. There was a real rubbish crisis in Lebanon at the time. In Beirut, all the scrap yards were overflowing. So we went to the nearest junkyard to see what would inspire us and we came across a huge pile of washing machine drums. Lea saw the perforations of the washing machine and, because she is a big fan of sewing and knitting, she immediately felt like using these holes as a kind of frame for embroidery work. That' s how it all started.
The biggest problem was making the stool stable enough. At first we just put a big cushion on the opening of the drum - but our bottoms sank in every time. So we went back to the junkyard. Lebanon is a very hot country, we Lebanese use fans like crazy. So it was little surprise that we found countless old fan housings at the junkyard, that is, the outer, lattice-like casing that is around a stand fan. We’d discovered the missing piece of the puzzle! One half of such a fan casing fits perfectly on the washing machine drum, and covered with foam you can sit on it very comfortably.
The patterns we embroider are very oriental, but also Ottoman. We are inspired by the local Lebanese architecture and Islamic art. We let off steam artistically when we dyed and embroidered the washing machine drums. Many different cultures come together in Lebanon. The country has been overrun by different powers time and time again, leaving behind countless cultural references. The patterns we embroider are very oriental, but also Ottoman, inspired by local Lebanese architecture and Islamic art. In this way, we have embroidered a small part of our origins and cultural identity into the stool.
As a pair of artists from Lebanon, we were very unsure how people would react to our product, because in Beirut it is a big taboo to use rubbish for anything. Most people didn't even know what upcycling meant at the time. But surprisingly it became a big success, we were able to sell many of our stools - and it led us to start our small furniture design company “Junk Munkez” (“Garbage Monkeys”). Our success stands as a strong argument for the fight against rubbish.
We named our stools “Knit-Knacks” because they have a storage space inside for all the little things that usually lie around at home. In English, these odds and ends are called “knick knacks”. We made a little play on words out of that, because “knitting” means knitting. Even now, ten years later, we produce handmade, individual Knit-Knack stools. In the meantime, we live in Canada because the political situation in Lebanon has become so difficult. But even here, in Montreal, we wander the streets looking for old washing machine drums. We also make coffee tables out of them now. The most fun part is getting started, so thinking about what design we're going to use. Because every single washing machine drum has a different kind of perforation - sometimes the holes are closer together, sometimes they are further apart. So we have to find a different design for each drum. There was one particular drum where the perforations were so close that we could embroider the Beatles! We were thrilled.
As told to Gundula Haage