Monday, 30 November 2009

All's fair

This Sunday I worked on a stall at Spitalfields market selling t-shirts for my friend Gerry, who silkscreens onto fair-trade tops in a studio in Hackney. I gave him a hand at his stall in the Sunday Upmarket too, and passed by the Eco-Design Fair on the way.

Being on the clock, I couldn't stop in - but today my friends Giff and Wendy have told me it's their mate Louise who organises it. I was checking out the Eco-Design Fair website and came across something too good not to share.

"This Spring, Eco-Design Fair teamed up with Regenersis – The UK’s biggest mobile phone recycling company, to run a design competition during Love London Green Festival 2009. Designers were invited to create an original and innovative product suitable for any sort of domestic use; from a piece of jewellery to an item of furniture, using old mobile handsets as raw material."

Anna Kompaniets snagged a runner-up spot with this snazzy hat. Inspired? Intrigued? Don't miss their next fair or crazy upcycling competition - sign up for the mailing list at

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Table top sale

Earlier this autumn I interviewed Elsie Pinniger who makes bespoke wetsuits in Newquay through her company Neon. She also does womenswear (non-neoprene thankfully), and upcycling contributes to her her efforts:
"One style of summer dress I make out of old tablecloths from charity shops. It's really nice stuff, all the little embroidered ones. It's about reusing stuff and being efficient, not buying new all the time."

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Sock it to me

Today everyone in the world is surfing but I am not because I am writing up an article about... surfing. I could cry but I shall not. Instead I will give you a preview about an upcycling initiative that features in the story.

Katie and Chris are the pair of people behind a business called Oddsocks. They source unloved and redundant 1970s curtain fabrics at boot sales and charity shops - the crazier the better. This stuff tends to be fantastically durable, which means it would take approximately one squillion years to break down in a landfill. Katie sews the end-of-line booty together with natural unbleached canvas sailcloth to create drawstring surfboard bags. The board socks are whipped up on a hand-wound (as in not electric) sewing machine she bought on Ebay for £15, purchased from an octogenarian whose own grandmother was the machine's original owner. 

The bags suit soul surfers who ride hand shaped sticks and like a bit of personality in their kit. Says Chris, their customers are looking for a bag "that can rise to the occasion". Each one is completely unique, and they aim to create products that are in fact "one-off pieces of art that just happen to be functional".

I do believe the Oddsocks website has been redesigned since I last checked in, and it's looking lush. Take a peek, and in the meantime let Katie's words inspire your own upcycling efforts: "With the board socks I wasn't aware it was something I was capable of doing until that very first one - I think you can surprise yourself!"    

Friday, 27 November 2009

A little birdy told me

It's always gratifying to come across people who can teach a dedicated upcycler like me some new tricks, and Bird is a venture in Ravenscourt Park launched by a pair of girls who could write the book on creative reclamation.

First they upcycled their casual relationship (their kids are school friends) into a business partnership, just as they upcycled their hobby of going to antique fairs into a vocation. To seal the deal they upcycled a railway arch owned by a garden centre called Ginkgo into a showroom and retail environment dedicated to "found objects and furniture rehab".

I visited yesterday and encountered a host of fantastic upcycling ideas. As Thanksgving is now behind us, the most relevant of these relate to Christmas. I'm particularly enamoured with the Victorian salmon nets now posing as festive trees (see below), as well as the old toy cars and spools of thread posing happily as Christmas tree ornaments (above). How very merry!

Bird at Ginkgo Garden Centre, 17 Ravenscourt Avenue W6 0SL, 020 8563 7112,


Triple word score

Why is Pixie Lott in my blog you ask? Those who know me understand that I have an unhealthy fixation on Scrabble. Look closely and you'll see Pixie herself has an appreciation for little wooden (or plastic) letter tiles, which she's wearing on her fingers no less. (That E on her pinkie finger is from a deluxe set, ooo.) 

The jewellery designer behind these cunning inventions is Katarina Louise, who also uses Lego, dominoes and vintage buttons in her work. Definitely take a peek at to browse and buy - prices range from £5 to £20.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Santa's secret: upcycling

Ok chaps, here it is: Christmas is coming. You can either buy your Secret Santa less-than-a-tenner crap at Tesco, or you can take the opportunity to support upcycling. The choice is yours.

If you're thinking of joining the latter camp, then take that mouse of yours and pop on over to the Eden Project shop. Shown above you'll find something I quite like - the Acarage coin purse made from recycled ring pulls. It's a handy home for loose change and ladies and gentlemen, it costs £10.

While you're there you might want to put together your own wish list. I have, and this is on it: a retro wall clock made from recycled coffee cups. The entire ashortwalk recycled range is designed, sourced and manufactured in the UK and made from recycled vending machine coffee cups. The innovative material looks and feels like natural slate, and the clock is £24.95.

And I've got one last bit of holiday cheer up my sleeve - they're also selling Christmas crackers for the cause. Each one is made in Dorset from newspaper and contains a packet of Seeds, a recycled paper hat, an environmental message about the planet and of course a bang, all for £12.95. So there you go - ho ho ho.

Flow with it

Lucy at West London Living kindly keeps her eye out for opportunities to further the upcycling cause. Here's something she came across and sent on over to me...

To coincide with the turning of this year to the next, Flow gallery presents Transformations, an exhibition running from December through to February 2010 showcasing the work of 13 artists who are concerned with the transformation of the old into something new. The exhibition will explore the different ways artists alter existing, discarded and forgotten objects to give them greater significance, unexpected beauty and new life. I’ve chosen a few artists to highlight here along with images of their work.

Grant McCaig explores through his work the use of silver and the meanings that we attach to it. “I enjoy playing with concepts of preciousness,” he says, “combining the silver with the throwaway and the discarded to create familiar but alternative objects.”

CJ O'Neill revamps existing ceramics by adding new patterns and cutting away geometric forms from them. Rejuvenating discarded objects with new features allows the story of these objects to be continued.

Barbara Massey and Helen Rogers are concerned with the need to consider our environmental impact. They imaginatively integrate recycling into their contemporary design practice by weaving with discarded materials. Old army maps were used in the fabric of the tea towels shown here.

Maria Militsi is interested in the power of absence that makes us look, the dimension of the lack and the space left by a missing object. In an attempt to absorb what already exists rather than adding to the world, Maria collects objects that have suffered a loss; the loss of their owner or the loss of their function. This triggers a desire within her to complete them, to reassess their function and to fill their empty space with precious metals.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

mOma said there'd be days like this

I've just interviewed Tom Mercer - a neighbour of mine and the man behind mOma - for Living South magazine. Tom's venture mOma makes and sells breakfast foods at mainline rail stations that are uber-healthy and super convenient. Think Bircher muesli and thick smoothies packed with probiotic yoghurt, fresh pressed juices, jumbo oats and fruit that come in in grab-and-go pots and bottles. 

Entrepreneurs are interesting to interview because they tend to be innovative thinkers and problem solvers who make the most of resources in getting their enterprises off the ground. Tom's story even includes a little bit of upcycling in the form of repurposed drinks bottles and a souped up filing cabinet:

“Back at the beginning when it was a real grassroots start-up company we did trials on the streets of Waterloo with old water bottles filled with product. Our first stall in Waterloo Station was made from a filing cabinet that had wheels on the bottom and branding put on the side.”

Find mOma at Euston, Charing Cross, London Bridge, Victoria, Liverpool Street and Waterloo.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Thirsty work

Being from the American South, I am no stranger to bourbon or to Southern Comfort. I have in my time put away many a JB&C (Jim Beam and Coke), as well as the occasional SoCo cocktail. Earlier this week we went to the launch of Four Roses bourbon at the Light Bar, organised by the dapper Antoni Heatley. In a nod to the country casual ways of the traditional Deep South drinker, cocktails were served in jars. Just about since birth I've been a fan of bourbon and ginger ale, but Four Roses were mixing with ginger beer - an outstanding invention, and one that I vowed to recreate at home, with an upcycled jar for authenticity.

And now Southern Comfort's latest news has landed in my inbox too and their Christmas cocktail is called the Louisiana Jam. It contains apricot jam and is mixed and served in a jam jar, so if you're in an upcycling mood, I suggest you wash out an old glass receptacle, follow these instructions and treat yourself to a drink...

35ml Southern Comfort

20ml lemon juice

20ml apple juice

2 teaspoons of apricot jam

8 mint leaves

15ml sugar syrup 

1. Place mint leaves into a clean, empty jam jar and gently muddle.

2. Place remaining ingredients into the jam jar.

3. Half fill with crushed ice, put the jam jar lid on and shake vigorously.

4. Remove the lid and top up with crushed ice.

5. Garnish with a lemon wedge and a sprig of mint.

Visit for more Southern Comfort Christmas cheer.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Free for all

Le Cool magazine is my new best friend. It's like Time Out, but for people who don't have time to read through anything remotely irrelevant and can no longer see the benefit of communication that is paper-based. You will love it too, so subscribe - subscribe I tell you! 

To convince you of how relevant and wonderful it is, here is something I've casually copied and pasted from their latest issue - an insider pseudo shopping opportunity that's too good for all us rummagers, upcyclers and cheap-skates to possibly miss:

SHOPPING Non-Commercial House

Organise a cricket match with the passing bankers at the Old Spitalfields Market. Drink a stolen beer from Dirty Dick’s. Throw a step aerobics class on Liverpool Street Station’s escalators. Beg for a penny, to spend in the station toilets. Eat one of the free copies of the gutter press handed out at Bank. These are just some of the myriad things you can do for free in the City. Ok, they might be a little bit silly, but you haven’t heard my best proposal yet: The Non-Commercial House is indeed, a shop where everything is free; a space that promotes community without consumerism, in the heart of Europe’s centre of finance. People recycle stuff they don’t need (anything really) and you can simply pop in, have a cuppa tea and take what you need. And they don’t expect anything in return. Can you believe it? An uplifting glimpse of what the world could look like. / Marta

where Non-Commercial House, 165 Commercial St

when Opened from Fri. to Sun. 12-8pm (Tue. at 7pm house-meetings)

how much Free!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Up, up(cycle) and away

Recently I went to Liberty and spent all of 68p on a piece of ribbon. I also went to the magical cobbler on Lower Marsh who never seems to want to charge me for anything. (He's fixed handbags for me twice, using quantities of stitches and glue, and didn't want any money either time.) I got him to punch holes in these pirate boots I got at Shellys a long time ago. (I know it was a while ago because a) the Neal Street Shellys isn't even there anymore, and b) after I bought them I met my friend Emily at Souk and that was before she had any kids and now she has two kids and two dogs.) So I threaded the 68p ribbon through the holes and laced the boots up in the back. Now they are thigh-high, and I am ready for anything. 

Monday, 16 November 2009

Use it or lose it

When I was growing up, old car tyres (tires, if you will) were used for making swings or as floatation devices in river rafting scenarios. This kind of upcycling is all good and well if you like to play all day, but if you have to go to work then allow me to present to you a more suitable application.

Cyclus make bags and accessories out of recycled inner tubes, shop awnings and umbrellas salvaged in and around Bogota, Colombia. They also incorporate fabrics woven by indigenous tribes with a profit payback scheme to ensure that money is paid back to grassroots development. So you see it must be true - what goes around comes around.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Blankety blank

Some time in the early 80s, a quilt making frenzy swept the neighbourhood where I grew up. My mom and her pals couldn't get enough of it! Only I guess they did eventually get enough of it, judging at least by the number of half finished quilty things I come across that have been quietly squirelled away in my parents' household.

Quilts have a real Little House on the Prairie vibe, which speaks a little bit to the make-do-and-mend tradition of early American homesteaders who were so fond of this particular art form. An old pair of trousers, a christening dress, a bedsheet, a nightgown with holes in it, a stained workshirt... Did Laura Ingalls Wilder put such things in the landfill? Did she heck. She would have made a snuggly nostalgic blanket from said castoffs, and these days you can too.

Beyond Fabrics in Columbia Road is offering quilting classes. The next one is 21 November 9am to noon and costs £35. 

Monday, 9 November 2009

Reclaim for Christmas

Last week I was working at the Spirit of Christmas Fair at Olympia. It seems just a tiny bit early for Christmas carols, but not at all too early for upcycling ideas. Antiques by Design was exhibiting, and let me tell ya - these people are upcylomaniacs.

Here's how you can tell. Their website lists such mysterious and exciting items as:

Piglet feeding trough herb garden

BSA car grill mirror

Tennis racket mirrors

Galvanised water tank lamp table

Norwich jail window mirror

French gate console with white Carrara marble top

And don't even get me started on their lighting. I'll put it this way - in their hands, no cello, boxing glove, shotgun, snowshoe, Second World War helmet, fire extinguisher, oar, bowling ball, watering can, discus or cartwheel is safe from their illuminating reclamation antics.


Thursday, 5 November 2009

Roll with it

I have a skateboard, but I'm a bit scared to ride it. Maybe it's a skareboard. I'm just afraid I will get broken on it. Real skaters worry about other things - like their skateboard getting broken. My pal Clare has directed my attention to an outfit called 2Revert - they create jewellery out of 100% post-consumer recycled skateboards. That is to say they make nice stuff from old, busted skates. Please direct your attention to the fantastic cuffer linkers above, available on Etsy. If I fail to master my skateboard, at least I can rest easy in the fact that I could always make it into 100 natty sleeve fasteners instead.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Climbing the walls

I still haven't been to Anthropologie on Regent Street, but I have read an awful lot about their indoor vertical garden. I've been looking into vertical gardens, and came across London's experts in the "field" - Garden Beet is a company that helps walls grow green things. They sell Woolly Wally Pockets, which is a vertical gardening system you can use inside and out. And while that is fairly special, guess what else is special about them? They're manufactured from old plastic bottles, hooray. I nicked the following Q&A session from the WWP website for all of us to enjoy...

What is breathability?

Plants need oxygen in their soil in order to thrive. Woolly Pockets are made of felt derived from recycled plastic bottles that allows the soil to refresh its oxygen supply. This feature is called breathability.

What are the benefits of breathable containers?

There are two primary benefits to container gardening in breathable containers. First, it allows the soil to aerate naturally, which reduces the need to drain the containers and also helps to conserve water. Second, when the roots sense air they do something called air pruning. This is the natural process of stopping their own growth when they sense they've reached the limits of their space. This keeps the roots healthy and stops plants from becoming root-bound by growing in continuing circles as they do in non-breathable containers such as clay pots.

What are Woolly Pockets made of?

Woolly Pockets have two main components: the breathable felt and the built-in moisture barrier. The breathable portion is made of 100% recycled plastic bottles that have been industrially felted. The moisture barrier is made according to military standards for impermeability from 60% recycled plastic bottles. We stitch each pocket together by hand with a double lock stitch and strong, UV-resistant nylon thread.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Feeling fleeced

Just when you might have thought there would be no more upcycling inspiration to come from chez Graeme, I have some happy news for you. Graeme's girlfriend Nicky is also an upcyclophile. Here are some ideas from her to you via me...
"This is my current favourite way to 'release the fleece'. Easy peazy - you just get a jumper which is no good for actually wearing and shove it in the washing machine on around 60, along with towels if needed to fill up the drum and ensure plenty o friction. If it's not quite woolly enough for ya, then put in spin dryer until satisfied (check regularly - it's quite difficult to make anything with a postage stamp). Once you're happy with your fuzzy felted item, just use it as fabric - cut, sew or sculpt - whatever turns you on. Bags are my obsession at the mo as you can see. Identify the features of the garment and try to incorporate into your bag design; I used a nice panel of cable for the duffel and kept the fairisle tank top more or less intact, just constructed the whole thing around it's original structure. As I'm an avid collector of vintage buttons it also puts them to a good use."