For many artists, the process begins by figuring out what they want to make and then how to go about it. For WindanSea resident Brenda Sacks, the process was a little different. A longtime garment maker, five years ago Sacks felt the need to design something new and switched gears, knowing only that using environmentally beneficial materials was key for her. She ultimately decided on spill-resistant tablecloths made from recycled plastic bottles, appropriate for indoor or outdoor use. Her company, BottleCloth, sells the pieces online and at local retailers.
Although Sacks said she originally set out to make placemats, she was more interested in what was going into her products than what the products were. “I didn’t know what ‘it’ was going to be, but I wanted to design it,” she said, and because she often entertains, she thought she would start with placemats.
“I was going to make something out of silicone, but silicone is made from sand and I saw huge chunks of earth taken out to harvest the sand to make silicone,” Sacks said. “I couldn’t be responsible for some mountain being removed ... I know everything is made out of something, but I didn’t want to do that, so I looked for something else.”
She attended fabric shows and festivals around the world searching for new sustainable materials. “I came across a fabric they called ‘recycled polyester’ and wondered where that came from,” the native South African said. “I found out, in Taiwan, they use a lot of plastic bottles to make a yarn. They break the plastic down and spin it into a thin yarn. It’s a plastic you can make anything with.”
As such, the recycled polyester yarn is spill-resistant and does not need to be ironed, simply thrown in the dryer to de-wrinkle. “I entertain a lot, but could never find a tablecloth I loved and then when I did, it required so much work and was too high maintenance for me to juggle while making dinner,” she said.
Further, she said, having indoor/outdoor tablecloths rather than more formal linens is more in line with her Southern California lifestyle. “The ease of use is incredible,” she said.
Because the recycled fabric is made in large sheets, Sacks veered away from her placemat idea and started making tablecloths. Preparing to design them, she said, “I got myself into a painting craze; I bought large brushes and large sheets of paper for grand-scale work. I came home and painted what I felt, which ended up being a lot of line work with deliberate brush strokes.” The large sheets of paper gave her an idea of how her patterns would look on a tablecloth. The simplistic design draws attention to the art of brush strokes. Sacks’ gingham check pattern shows the imprint of bristles on the edges. Her large spiral pattern was made with a child’s sponge roller-brush.
Sacks’ assistant Amy Smith said the tablecloths are just as much works of art as they are usable for dining. People have come to her asking if they can hang the sheets on the wall or take them to the park to use as picnic blankets.
The finer details — and ecological responsibility — were part of what made BottleCloth appealing to retailers. Shannon Turner, owner of Girard Avenue Collection (which carries the cloths) said, “One of our shop designers, Pam Taunten, found the line and we loved the recycled element and, of course, the stylish, hip designs.”
Sacks is no stranger to hip designs, as she spent 15 years in the garment district of Los Angeles. “I started in the T-shirt business in the 1980s and we had a contract with other manufacturers. But then I started working for myself and we had our own factory and sold to retailers such as Charlotte Russe, JC Penney and Wet Seal,” she said.
She left LA and moved to La Jolla in 1999 to be with her now-husband Jeff Sacks. She said being near the beach is inspiring for an artist and she often spends the day walking in the sand.