Monday, 31 August 2009

Bank on it

My friends are plagued by my constant requests for upcycling examples. Last week Amy sent me the following in an email:

"I don’t suppose you’re interested in hearing about how my sister and I used to make 'piggy banks' out of Pringle cans by wrapping them in flowered contact paper and cutting a slit in the lid? No? NO?! Yeah, our neighbors weren’t that impressed either. I don’t think anyone could even be convinced to buy one out of pity."

While the piggy Pringle bank enterprise was not a success, could it have laid the groundwork for Amy's future creative endeavours? The formula of taking a container and cutting a hole in it is certainly a good one. Just take a look at the seating arrangement above, which I snapped at Amy's flat yesterday. With a bit of vision, it seems her great aunt's steamer trunk is now not only very handy for humans, but also for cats who can enjoy the hidey-hole access to a litter tray.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Garbage men

The Prodigy - Warrior's Dance
A raisin reader (whose most excellent blog can be found here) left me a comment about her friends' creative project. Their medium? No, not oils, not clay, not pastels, not even pipe cleaners. They commandeered a video camera, a track by The Prodigy and some cigarette packets. It's super clever and well worth three minutes of your time. By the end of it you may be dancing around in front of your computer screen dreaming of creative uses for your own trash.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Sew very simple

Last month in Atlanta I came across an exceptionally easy upcycling craft project in New Life Journal. Joti Marra is a crafter based in Asheville who's come up with a dainty set of directions for transforming a little candy tin into a sewing kit. Check out the full how-to here, and then treat yourself to a wander through the archives, where Joti reveals how to make origami organisers, twig trivets and other fun stuff from so-called scraps.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Boards not bombs

One of my friends is a travel journalist, and she told me about the village of Phonsavan in Laos. Unexploded bombs dropped by American B-52 bombers during the 1964-1973 Secret War litter the countryside in the province. Enterprising residents have upcycled these into fences, pillars and furniture, and Dang Ngo has some amazing pictures of this in his Flickr photostream, so sneak a peak.

In another example of American policies creating privations in other countries that have led to upcycling ideas that leave me in awe, visit one of my favourite magazines Huck. The new issue is on newsstands now, which means you can browse the June/July digital edition online for free. The article by Sarah Bentley on page 76 explores surf culture in Cuba:

"Little is thrown away in Cuba, with everything reincarnated into something new once it fails to serve its original purpose..."

Sarah goes on to describe the upcycling centre that is the workshop of a shaper called Eduardo, who has been known to reclaim the foam from inside old US-made Westinghouse refrigerators in order to make blanks for boards (see pic above), and to use old cheese graters to shape them.

The world is your oyster

Last week I posted from the Peach State about subway trains being recommissioned as offshore reefs, but being an equal opportunity blogger I wanted to post about something I came across in the Tarheel State too. During our recent vacation there, we took our recycling to the facility in Kill Devil Hills where there were the usual bins we're all very accustomed to: aluminum, paper, cardboard, glass... But there was an additional bin I'd never come across before - one for oyster shells. North Carolina has launched an unusual initiative that's helping to establish reefs off the Outer Banks. Browse the excellent website to learn more, or just feast your eyes on the following which I lifted from their homepage:

"North Carolina is launching an innovative recycling program to collect oyster shells from individuals and businesses and place them back overboard to help turn the tide on declining oyster stocks.

Baby oysters begin life as free-floating organisms but quickly settle to the bottom attaching themselves to hard surfaces. That's why oysters grow in clumps on pilings and concrete, but their favorite most productive place to grow is on other shells.

A mound of oyster shells placed in brackish water with good tidal flow will quickly become colonized by a multitude of marine organisms, including oysters. This mound, also called an oyster reef, serves a number of purposes - first and foremost, it helps produce oysters.

Secondly, it provides habitat for other beneficial organisms, such as algae, worms, barnacles, crabs, small minnows and fish. The small fish attract a diversity of larger fish and before you know it, you have a veritable metropolis of critters congregating at your reef and all you did was put the shells over - in the right spot.

Oysters serve an additional important purpose - they clean water by feeding on plankton and waterborne detritus. One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, so the larger and healthier our oyster population, the cleaner the water."

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Just peachy

Greetings from The Peach State. Yesterday my mom and I went to Heard County to deliver some artifacts to the local history museum for an upcoming exhibit. The county's excellent museum is housed in the former jail which was built in 1912. Upstairs you can wander in the old cells and see where the only escape in the jail's history occurred. Two prisoners filed through two bars and jumped out of a window before being apprehended. The bars were patched up with a bit of an old plow, which makes sense given that Heard County is a rural kind of place where old bits of agricultural machinery would be in abundance.

Modern-day upcycling is often less practical and more decorative, but you don't have to apply your upcycling skills to keeping the peace in order for them to of value. The Vintage Flea in nearby Newnan illustrated some creative ideas: here reels of tickets are price tags; typewriter keys become bracelets and pendants; bulldog clips and plantation shutters are reborn as jewellery racks.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Last stop

Some time ago I wrote about a phenomenon I witnessed in Borneo - the citizens of a riverfront village had dumped a kids' bike in the water to serve as a little artificial reef. The plankton growing in and around the bikereef fed the seafood that the fishermen would later catch. Our guide explained that in the US he'd even heard of public transport vehicles being used as artificial reefs. And it turns out, he's not wrong. The Savannah Morning News recently reported on a massive exercise in upcycling that's seeing New York subway cars submerged off the coast of Georgia enjoying a useful new vocation.

"Artificial reefs are needed in Georgia's waters because the ocean bottom is mostly composed of loose sand and silt, which make it difficult for natural reefs to form, said Doug Haymans of the Department of Natural Resources. The reefs create habitats for sea life as well as fishing and scuba diving opportunities, Haymans said. Georgia pays $2,600 per car, but the state benefits economically by boosting recreational activities and luring fishing tournaments to the state because of the sea life that inhabits the artificial reefs… The reefs are artificial in name only. ‘The material is man-made, but all the organisms that adhere to it are natural,' he said. 'In 20 years, you won't even know they were subway cars.'"

Saturday, 15 August 2009


My friend Clare (who has a great blog by the way) came across a great space in Hackney. Fabrications on Broadway Market is a gallery and studio run by Barley Massey. Barley sources materials from local business waste, then combines these with traditional textile techniques such as weaving, knitting, ropemaking and sewing. Her 'Remember Me' service enables people to bring along clothes or textiles which hold sentimental  value  to be upcylced into personal furnishings and special gifts with long-lasting memories.

Fabrications runs a range of workshops which pass on textile skills  with a social or environmental theme, and these were the inspiration behind Barley’s ingenius range of craft kits called Rethink Rubbish. So don't be shy - call the shop is on 020 7275 8043 or visit noon to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Got the blues

I love denim. My fashion-forward friend assures me that the streets of London will soon be awash with the stonewashed flavour of my favourite fabric, and I so I am going to try my best to love this latest version too.

When it's time for you to update your own personal jeans file, you may be interested to know that your old Levis can go toward a higher purpose (higher perhaps even than protecting your backside from nudity). Cotton From Blue to Green is a project that assists in rebuilding homes for communities in need. In the past three years, the Cotton From Blue to Green denim drive has collected 89,799 pieces of denim. The donated denim has been converted to UltraTouch, a natural fiber insulation that is obviously sustainable. This fluffy stuff has contributed to over 100 Habitat for Humanity houses throughout the gulf coast region of the US.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Very bright idea

How's this for a turn-on? Ted Harris is all about making lighting from discarded doodads. Read all about him in Lisa Cregan's article in today's New York Times. Or if you're in Chicago, his work is being exhibited at Scout through 15 September.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Two favourite topics

These days I seem to mostly be thinking about (in no particular order) plastic bags and surfing. If you aren't quite weary of bag chat, then have a look at the Guardian's article on the plastic bag debate by Leo Hickman, who writes:

"James Lovelock, the climate scientist, has referred to the current obsession with plastic bags as 'rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic'. Patting ourselves on the back about how few plastic bags we each now use allows us to ignore far more pressing environmental issues such as, say, climate change, overpopulation, rapid species extinction and the depletion of resources such as fresh water. Today's war on plastic bags is certainly worth fighting, but not if it is at the expense of these other concerns."

And if you aren't too tired of my constant chatter of upcycling in the surf world, then feast your eyes on Adam Scott's Seat With a View (above), a chair fashioned from a former surfboard.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Get a life

Recently I wrote about how so-called bags for life are in fact plaguing my life. These horrible things are seriously going to outlive me, and I'm concerned. The long-life plastic ones drive me crazy - they are too plastic, too bright and too too branded (see above). If they were beautiful to behold and irresistible to carry then I might feel differently, but I just saw one being carried out of my local Thai restaurant and it was just a terrible old boring super-durable thick plastic bag that had the name of the restaurant written on it in black letters. Ick, how can anyone be expected to upcycle such a thing?

So let's talk about the alternatives. Someone gave me an Envirosax and it's awesome - the fabric design is cool and I love the construction. When it's all rolled up and fastened with its snap, it's small enough to carry around all the time (4 x 1.5"), and then when it's unrolled it can carry loads of stuff. Just ask Justin Timberlake (who has the same style as me) or Kelly Slater (obviously someone you can trust because he's the world's best surfer).

I've also just obtained ZPM's gorgeous new invention called Bagz. (So far Justin and Kelly haven't been fortunate enough to receive theirs, but no doubt they'll be keen to do so when they learn this natty invention was highly commended in the recent Gift of the Year Awards.) Folded up, the Bagz is roughly three times the size of the Envirosax, but then it does contain three bags. Unzip the pouch to release two shopping bags, and you'll find that the pouch actually becomes a pocket on the outside of a third bag. A snaptastic strap lets you attach the whole shebang to the handle of your shopping cart. As with most ZPM things, the fabric is tasty and if it hung around for your entire life, you might not be too sad about it.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The bitter truth

An article by Lucie Greene in last week's Sunday Times quotes a squatter as he defends tactics to take over disused buildings and vacant lots: "We see it as recycling empty buildings. You do it with glass and plastic, so why shouldn’t we do it with property?"

I'm not really convinced. For one thing, the owner of glass or plastic recycles it when he or she is finished using it. It's not really the same when someone moves into your house and volunteers to "recycle" it for you. And I think appropriating language from the environmental movement to justify your desire to live in someone else's property for free is slightly disingenuous. 

On the other hand, what Frank Boxer is doing to an old Peckham car park is genius. Frank trained as a bar manager at the Anchor and Hope, then founded Italo Delicatessen in Vauxhall. His head chef Mike Davies used to work at The Fat Duck in Bray, St John Bread and Wine and the Anchor and Hope in Southwark.

Frank’s Campari Bar is a new pop-up in Peckham open Thursdays to Sundays until 30th September. Positioned on the 7th floor of a multi-story car park, the terrace sits alongside Bold Tendencies III, a new group show by the Hannah Barry gallery. We went last night and had insane views of the city skyline, cult Campari cocktails from Negronis to Americanos and piles of lip-smacking antipasti like lamb, hummous and gazpacho. 

I admire anyone who has the ability to find a space designed for one purpose but see its potential for another. If you do too, then go to Peckham Rye Station, cross the road and head left toward the cinema - the car park's behind the cinema and you'll find this smashing, dashing bar on the tippy-top floor.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Enough already

There are a couple of items that are taking over my life. Lanyards and so-called bags for life keep entering my world in increasing and worrying numbers. I feel like I can't find a use for them all but I can't possibly throw them away because they will take one squillion years or more to biodegrade. Here's a takeaway sushi bag that contains my recycling. (Honestly, how robust does a bag holding a couple of California rolls have to be?) And here's a lanyard holding our balcony door open. (For the most part, I hate lanyards - what's wrong with those stickers that read "HELLO my name is...'?) But I only have so much paper to recycle and just one door to the balcony to prop open. Does anyone have any ideas? (To answer, come find me - I'll be living under a stifling mountain of bags for life.)

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Take it as read

Mostly restaurant reviews bore me, but Fay Maschler has a superb eye for detail and a great turn of phrase. Here's what she observed at the Swan and Edgar pub in Marylebone:

"The bar in the diminutive ground floor is made from books stuck together into a curved wall and varnished. A plank of wood seals the top. If you love books, or even like them, it is rather a distressing sight, the sort of pointless act that moves people to ask rhetorical questions like what is the world coming to?...  Pieces of spare fabric have been turned into patchwork upholstery for chairs and banquettes, old copies of the Financial Times make a pale pink papier mâché layer over shelves, cornices and the ceiling rose. And the loos are tiled with Scrabble letters."

I really like reading but I'm not one of those people who hoards books. Once I finish with one I like to keep it in circulation, unlike my father who has multiple copies of certain classic books he particularly likes. (He just can't bear to see them go unnoticed and unloved at a yard sale, so he buys them for a quarter and stewards them into their old age as they languish on his overcrowded shelves; his mother was a librarian so could that be why?) 

Anyway, I digress. While Fay is sad to see books transformed into furniture, I have to say it makes me happy. If no one's going to read them, aren't they better off helping to serve drinks than slowly rotting in a dump? And as for Scrabble letters as floor tiles, I'm sorry but that's just genius. In our very small flat we somehow have three Scrabble sets (including a gargantuan deluxe version that naturally my father bought me at a yard sale), and when you start losing tiles things get can out of hand. There should be an orphan tile amnesty, and then the world and its floors would be a better place.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

More plates to spin

Oh dear, I'm running the risk of overdosing on handbags. And old LPs. And old license plates. But when I saw some bags in Berwick Street yesterday I felt compelled to find out their story. And now I have, and now I'm going to share it.

According to the Tilnar Art website, these recycled vinyl handbags are made by an artist called Noel Geyer who lives just outside Cape Town. A benefactor donated a box of old LPs, and these inspired Noel's work. He uses basic tools and rents space in a local school to serve as his workshop.  

My continued wanderings of the Tilnar Art site also introduced me to the handbags below that incorporate recycled car number plates and car tyre inner tubes. They’re handmade by Leonard who's from Zimbabwe. Because there's no opportunity for work in Zimbabwe he lives in the outskirts of Cape Town too and sends the money that he earns to his family at home. His vision is to go back to a free Zimbabwe and to run his business from there. I like these bags because the bright spectrum of number plates at Leonard's disposal are cooly abstract in their simplicity. 

Monday, 3 August 2009

Showing their mettle

Today at the Pure London fashion trade show I came across a stand devoted to the rescue and reuse of license plates. Although you can probably get the general idea from the pic above it's easy to get distracted by the fact that this young eco warrior appears to have forgotten to put on her trousers. So I've copied from the press release from Littlearth here:

"In a past life they were car license plates, hubcaps and fenders. Innovative designers Rob Brandegee and Ava De Marco had a simple idea: design and make unique handbags and accessories by reusing and recycling materials that would otherwise be overlooked or thrown away. That was some 15 years ago. The innovative process of reusing and recycling the most unexpected materials has become the canvas for intriguing ideas. An eclectic mix of graphics adorns these bags, from sophisticated chic to funky fashion.  Each is exquisitely adorned by hand with Swarovski crystals and carefully packaged in recycled boxes at our factory in Pittsburgh."

Rob and Ava offer lots of cool things for kitsch collectors who like to literally wear junk on their sleeve. But not everyone wants to advertise their upcycling agenda through old bottle caps and rubber recycled from car tyres (as in the case of the awesome belt below). Some people want to support the reuse of existing resources but don't want to make a big deal of it. For these, there are the FenderFlair bags (see bottom pic), which give no indication of their previous incarnation. They're just super nice bags in their own right.