Jillian Buning: A creator upcycling her life

Upcycler Jillian Buning makes fresh starts through art. —Jillian Buning

—I met Jillian Buning at the first Mini Maker Faire, held at the Ag Hall last May. She displayed a variety of upcycled goods, from hobbyhorses made from old sweaters to lace dreamcatchers, to purses and quilts. Ms. Buning calls her business Refind: Upcycled Gifts and Decor. I had the opportunity to visit her in her Chilmark studio in June. The room is bright with natural light; there are quilts hanging from one wall, felted sweater wreaths laid out on a work table, and an assortment of small hoops stitched with hand-drawn images including a cat, a VW bus, and the Island.

I wondered how this young lady from Georgia ended up here. She tells me she married young, had two kids and divorced after a decade, then got into an abusive relationship from which she literally had to escape after being kidnapped. She came straight to Martha’s Vineyard to her best friend during the snowstorm Juno in December 2014. Now, a surprise to both of them, they are a couple. Her front chipped tooth and recent rotator-cuff surgery are thanks to that time.

She is not afraid to talk about her life. She is a survivor, and since regularly seeing a therapist at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, she understands how important it is to share her story so others can find the strength in themselves to get help and move on. Ms. Buning didn’t have the easiest childhood, growing up with a mother who was in and out of jail and a biker dad, but she is still close to her half-sister, who is nine years older. Ms. Buning has always loved crafting and making art. She learned to sew and quilt from her grandmother, who also made her clothes and costumes. Her aunt cleaned at a church, where Ms. Buning got to hang out in the craft room of the Sunday school and make stuff. “It was heaven for me,” she said.

Starting her own upcycling craft business was a natural for Ms. Buning. She uses old crocheted and lace doilies for dreamcatchers, repurposes fabrics for reversible shoulder bags, and collects sweaters for use in coasters, hobbyhorses, and wreaths. Everywhere you turn in her studio, there is art. People give her bags of leftover materials and sweater scraps.

“I don’t draw as much as I used to when I worked my first job at 19, in a tattoo shop,” Ms. Buning said. She apprenticed “with an old Cherokee for two years learning to tattoo.” She also worked in Atlanta’s Little Five Points area in Bang On, a T shirt shop that designed and silkscreened its own products. I wondered what some of her favorite things on the Island are, and breaking into a warm, wide smile, she said, “I love Donaroma’s, and have to go every time I’m in Edgartown, buffalo wings at Coop de Ville, Dock Street Diner, and of course Chicken Alley. Anne Marie from Chicken Alley hooked me up with this felting machine before my surgery three weeks ago; it melds any fabric together. I love it, it’s so cool, and I can’t wait to work with it.”
For more information, visit refindmv.com.