Monday, 30 March 2009

A sustainable story

Once upon a time, there was a tree. The tree fell down and became a fork. The fork carried a salad into a mouth. But the fork got tired of carrying salad. It wanted a new job. So it applied to become a plant label. Now it is a plant label and it says "sweet basil". Soon there will be basil plant and the former tree that became a fork with have a friend.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Thirsty work

Remember my earlier post about a temple made of glass bottles? My mom brought a story to my attention about a couple of college students with an innovative idea for dealing with plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are an example of an opportunity to apply “cradle to cradle” thinking to design. By definition, a plastic bottle is only useful as long as it contains a drink; it’s usefulness is exhausted as soon as the drink is consumed. Every drink manufacturer knows this, so you’d think they’d incorporate this knowledge into the initial design of the bottle. Matt Naples and Peter Zummo are two clever guys who have invented bottles that can be used as building blocks as soon as they have been emptied of drink. The idea is that these could be used to build housing in the third world. How refreshing - home sweet home.

(Want to know more? Visit Popular Science to read about it.)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Fits me to a T

Here's a shirt I got last year at Target in Atlanta. Love the colour, love the cotton... do not love the fact that it was the last one on the rack and therefore two sizes too large. I had it in my gigantic stash o crap to sell at a carboot sale taking place at an undisclosed time in the future, but then I had an idea to recreate this little tee tree shirt into a wee summer top.

First I cut it straight across from armpit to armpit. With the remaining tube top I did a zigzag stitch to finish the resulting raw edge. By unpicking the collar salvaged from the other smaller piece, I had what would become the straps. I just sewed a straight seam along the length of the collar and used a safety pin to turn it inside out to create a thin tube of fabric. Once I had one long strap, I cut it in half, knotting one end of each of the resulting short lengths.

But back to the top itself: I pressed the new edge under, then did a straight seam, leaving a tiny hole rather than sealing it all up. Into the hole I threaded some elastic, again using a safety pin to guide it. Once I had the two ends of the elastic poking out of the hole I sewed them together and sealed up the hole with a seam that followed the existing seam. I sewed one end of each strap to the top edge of the front of the shirt, equally spaced from the side seams of the tube top. The other ends could be tied behind my neck. Don't take my word for it though; you can see a selection of how-to pics on Flickr.

Now I'm ready for summer. If only if it would stop hailing outside.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Not junk mail

This weekend I hemmed two pairs of jeans on my sewing machine, and the result was a feeling that I had acquired a whole new wardrobe. I often wonder what it would be like if my sewing skills extended beyond the creation of a simple straight line of stitches. For now, I must leave more complicated stitchery feats to the experts. Experts like... Junky Styling.

Junky Styling developed when two friends, Annika Sanders and Kerry Seager, started to make clothes for themselves to wear out clubbing in the early 90s. After extensive international travel and countless compliments on their clothing, a business was founded. Charity shops and jumble sales are their chosen source of secondhand traditional suits to deconstruct and then redesign into twisted tailored garments.

They've now launched their new diffusion line, which takes recycling to a new level. Statement pieces include pirate waistcoats, jumptee dresses, crisp tailored jackets, tulip skirts and this season’s must-have slacks. Have a look online ( or even in the real world (Junky Styling, 12 Dray Walk, The Old Truman Brewery, 91-95 Brick Lane E1 6RF).

Sunday, 22 March 2009

This is only a test

The photo above illustrates:

a) A man on the Southbank with a collection of plastic stools, upturned cooking pots and plastic containers.

b) A man on the Southbank with an excellent drum kit.

c) None of the above.

d) All of the above.

Your answers in the comments box, please.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Cycling up, down, around

If you're trying to help the environment, why stop at cycling? Make like the owner of this trusty two-wheeler just seen in Charing Cross and upcycle at the same time.

The upstanding upcycler has requisitioned (legally, I'm sure) a shopping basket which has been secured to his vehicle with items found about the house: a bungee cord, a padlock and a chain bike lock. He has then taken a reflective sash, such as those favoured by school safety patrols in the US, and woven this into the mesh of the basket.

In addition to this work of genius, he has obtained a plastic Lidl shopping bag with which he protects his bicycle seat (and thus is own seat) from the elements.

(In spite of what snobby types might tell you, Lidl is an exceptional source for delicious bacon, mascarpone cheese and sliced ham for sandwiches. Clearly, here is a man with taste.)

And the entire ensemble is colour-coordinated. Mr Crafty Cycle Man, I salute you.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Wearing of the green

On the British high street one might find British Home Stores - BHS. It's kind of like JC Penney in the US. Don't ask me why, but I often feel compelled to browse these places. On one occasion I discovered some green necklaces on clearance for £1. They spoke to me; I obtained them; I clasped them together end-to-end; I created... a statement necklace.

What exactly is the statement? That's for you to decide.

While you're deciding, I will be browsing charity shops for further interesting necklaces to hook together in a quest to become utterly, cheaply, greenly bejewelled.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Blog love

I have searched the vast interweb and there is a genius living in there. Here she is:

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Growth industry

Packaging is bad... and yet it is so good. How I love me some good typography and a zesty palette. When I see a good package that has served its original purpose I endeavour to find it a new purpose and hence extend its lease on life.

Meanwhile, there's a new 99p store in the Elephant & Castle shopping centre, and an even newer 98p store too. This tomatoes-in-a-bag growing pouch (99p, get 'em while you can) gave me the idea to upcycle this coffee package from Morocco. I'm going to use it as a planter - it's almost the same size at the prefab pouch garden and it's waterproof. Once it contains some soil, seeds and rainwater, my work here will be done.

Below are some other planter ideas. The box is from my family home in the US and it was originally used to ship live pansies to the original owners of the house in the 1920s - it still has the shipping label on it. The blue bag is an upcycled grain bag that was transformed into a shopping bag by the good people at John Lewis. I poked drainage holes in the bottom and it became a house for pea plants last summer. I also used a milk jug for a rosemary plant, a zinc bucket for more peas and a wallpaper paste bucket with holes drilled in the bottom for courgettes.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

This could be the making of me

My friend Clare Kelly has a new feature out this month on Vivienne Bartholomew, a vintage clothes dealer with a shop called Vien in Crystal Palace. Vivienne is fond of upcycling, and Clare writes that “Nothing is wasted” could be her motto. She's fond of chopping up an old garment with a dodgy cut but great fabric in order to make accessories or eye-popping trims.

She explained to Clare: “Vintage is good for society, it teaches people to look after their property and it makes them more conscious of what they buy, which I feel, in turn, makes them a better being. This generation is realising that there is an alternative. They are looking at how things are made – there’s an awareness which is really encouraging.”

Vivienne's website says: "We create new designs in vintage material. Our dresses are cut and tailored by our Saville Row tailor to suit modern tastes. So you can have a new dress made from vintage fabric. Our designs are made to limited quantities, depending on the quantity of fabric at hand. The chance of finding yourself at a party or function with someone else wearing the same item is almost zero - your dress will be practically unique to you."

Get in there: Vien, 79 Church Road SE19 (020 8653 6943), open Tue, Thur-Sat 10am-6pm; Sun 11am-4pm

Just in case studies

There was an article on a new book called Thrifty Chic in the Homes & Property section of a recent Evening Standard featuring case studies from around England, naturally with plenty of examples of upcycling contained within. I'm possibly too thrifty to part with £19.99 for it, but the article offers some tasty ideas for free including:

"Her long oak kitchen table was made by a local carpenter out of Victorian pews their church no longer wanted"

"If you are loitering down by the plumber's merchant (looking for a cheap and reliable handyman), buy copper piping cut to length to hang your utensils from"

"A good trick is to transform your stairs: paint a striped runner form top to bottom in fashionable and fresh colours"

"Even the dog, a friendly Saluki called Benji, is recycled - he came from the rescue home"

Monday, 9 March 2009

Feeling fruity

Some packaging is inevitable. By now everyone in the Western world has any number of eco-friendly bags that are supposed to discourage us from getting disposable bags every time we shop, but sometimes a disposable bag can’t be helped. Once a disposable bag has come into my possession I feel obligated not just to recycle it at the end of its life, but also to upcycle it during the course of its stay in my home. For example, we don’t have a kitchen rubbish bin or recycling bin. Instead our rubbish goes into a plastic bag that has somehow made it in to our possession, and recycling goes into a paper shopping bag that can either itself go into the communal recycling skip or be reused again and again.

Recently I became a bit depressed when I visited a supermarket and came across individually wrapped prunes. Each little prune had made it all the way from California in its own plastic clothing together with all its friends in a hard plastic house, and for me this is the saddest thing in the world. Here’s a picture I found on Flickr of many happy dried fruits in Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech, just like the ones I saw when I was there last month. I can tell they are really delighted with themselves because they have a very teeny tiny carbon footprint, unlike their American cousins.

Shiny shiny

Ok, so this is as much about reclamation as it is about upcycling. Who cares - to me this is a lovely little kitchen. Here is a picture of my friend Amy and me scrubbing a grill pan that has seen the sharp end a bacon rasher or two. Amy is staying in a friend's flat while it's being renovated. The kitchen cabinets are from the 1950s and look like they could have come from a laboratory where one of the more recent entrants to the periodic table was discovered. They were made from melted down aluminium left over from the war effort. The overhead rack for pans is made out of the kind of metal tubing that is normally seen as handrails in public parks, and the flooring was salvaged from a water damaged building. Now we're cooking on gas.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

I'm board

If I look out my window I can see the set workshop of the Young Vic Theatre. They're always making clever things, not just to go on stage but also for the bar and restaurant. Theatre people are often really imaginative and efficient (they have to be - think about all those ten-second scene changes) and I think it shows in the design details in the Young Vic. In the bar, the stools are actually very sturdy boxes. The last time I was there I noticed each one was numbered. Then a barista opened one up to reveal stacks of paper cups; I peeked in another and discovered it was where the tealights are stored. These are some some highly achieving, multi-tasking, triple-duty bits of cardboard. What if every disposable container were designed to serve so many purposes within its lifetime?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Train of thought

We've got holidays on the brain, and we're blaming it at least a little bit on February's BBC Homes & Antiques magazine. The issue features a holiday home called The Dodo, which is made of two 1930s railway carriages linked together to form a house. The bedrooms retain original features like carriage lamps, leather safety straps, ventilation windows and compartment doors. It's an inspired, atmospheric reuse of resources that's almost too gorgeous to describe, so pick up the mag or have a look online in The Daily Mail for their recent feature on the same property.

That souks

Once I've stopped feeling a bit sorry for myself I'll post some pics of upcycling that we took during our trip to Morocco which ended about 24 hours ago (sob). In the meantime, here's a date for your diary that landed in my inbox. If I squint my eyes and suspend my belief, maybe Spitalfields will look a little like a souk...
"Thought you might be interested in a swishing session we’re holding at Old Spitalfields Market on Saturday 7 March. If you’re not familiar with ‘Swishing’ (which I’m sure you are!) it's basically a fashion swap event - bring at least one item along which you no longer want, browse want others have brought, and then get swapping (or swishing)! Perfect for all those recessionistas out there!"
Title: Swishing at Old Spitalfields Market
Date: Saturday 7 March 2009
Time: 1-4pm
Venue: Old Spitalfields Market, Brushfield Street, E1 6EW
Further information: