Thursday, 25 February 2010

Burn baby burn

Have you heard about how enterprising old ladies are upcycling old books? Basically high fuel costs, the minimal value of most secondhand books these days, and the severity of this winter's weather have combined forces to entice pensioners into charity shops to buy old paperbacks and then burn them back home for warmth. Some people are outraged but I'm not so sure it's a bad thing.

Maybe you disagree, in which case you need to get yourself down to SE1 next week. Here's an event announced in today's City AM:


Now here’s a worthy event if ever there was one. In honour of World Book Day on 4 March, Team London Bridge is holding a two-day lunchtime book swap, open to local residents, employees and anyone passing through the area, in Potters Fields Park next to City Hall. It is thought that 500 books will be exchanged over the course of the event and you’re sure to find some gems. Potters Fields Park, SE1. 12- 2pm on 3 and 4 Mar."

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Two for tea towels

And here's another find from Clare at Pass the Pattern.

Now I've made cushion covers from cotton napkins and my mom has made me tea towels from tablecloths, but Suzie Stanford has taken this idea to the extreme. She upholsters whole chairs and sofas with flavourful old tea towels. You can see her work at Liberty in London or see her lovely website here.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The key to creation

When eating fish tacos with friends in Santa Monica on Superbowl Sunday, we were approached by a marketing girl from Tecate beers. Would we like branded keychains and other silly stuff? Silly stuff no, keychains yes. I never say no to a keychain. Not since I employed one to repair my bikini top (upon purchase said bikini had sported a nifty plastic ring that held it together in the front, but slamming the door on my swimsuit while it was drying on the roof of the car saw the plastic explode into a million pieces). Also, without some upcycled keyrings my suitcase would not open, and it most assuredly would not close (the zips both broke off in one of a lifelong series of events in which I sit and struggle upon the suitcase trying to will it to shut).

Has anyone else got a super excuse to upcycle a keyring?

Ready for take off

Without even trying, I seem to have acquired the cleverest friends.

Clare is one such person, who came over yesterday bearing Konditor & Cook cakes (bless her). We discussed her blog Pass the Pattern, which is poorly - for some reason it doesn't work on IE on PCs, and the Tumblr people are flummoxed as to why (I suggest jumping into Safari or Firefox and taking a peek).

Her other current activities have thankfully been less frustrating. She was recently commissioned to produce a craft project for Fairy Liquid. The folks at Fairy realise that your bottle of liquid will not last forever - at some point it will run out of dish-shining goo. Please don't let that be an excuse to throw it into your nearest landfill or ocean though please. Extend its life and let your kids make it into a rocket. Read Clare's how-to on i-Village here.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Snip stick send

My dad has a lot of old Life magazines, and I went through the ones from the 60s and 70s to find some old ads to frame and hang. Getting them home in my suitcase without damage might have posed a problem, had I not located my upcycling hat. The lids from two pizza boxes (Mellow Mushroom, mm), some tape and a heavy plastic bag became a sturdy portfolio... But not exactly a very aesthetic one. Rather than foist the sight of it upon you, here are the clips from the mags that I snagged.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Snow man

There's been a whole heap of snow in my life lately. No matter where I go it falls from the sky. It makes me cold and grumpy, but I know many people treat it like an icy divine gift from the gods. One of these people is the uncle of my brother-in-law. (Maybe he is my uncle-in-law or something, I don't know.) Anyway, this man grew up in Alaska. He now lives in Ohio and hopes daily for lots of snow. He bought some old skis at a garage sale and upcycled them into a mega sled that seats about 10 people, weighs 130 pounds and has the option to be pulled by a snowmobile. To see this bad ass vehicle in action, visit the blog of the uncle of my brother-in-law (are you following this?) and click on "Sledding with the Wilstermans". It cracks me up - which very rarely happens to me regarding the subject of snow.

(The picture above, by the way, is from their homemade ice rink. The recipe is simple: lay a tarpaulin; add water; chill.)

Friday, 19 February 2010

Splish. Splash.

My lack of blog posts has been due to being in the US visiting my parents and generally acting like a teenager: lying on my bed, watching TV, eating at Waffle House. Whilst there I also spent my fair share of time at the mall. In Atlanta we specialise in both kinds of malls: regular and strip malls. I read in ReadyMade magazine about a company called Macro Sea that is re-envisaging strip malls as living spaces. How do you upcycle a commercial space into somewhere a person might want to live? For starters, you can introduce swimming pools. Macro Sea is making 'em out of dumpsters. (If you speak British and not American, a dumpster is a gigantic skip.) Apparently the first dumpster pools touched down in Brooklyn. Next stop? A strip mall in ATL.

Second skin

Fashion may be fickle, but could quirky upcycling ideas be here to stay? Weleda are currently sponsoring The Green Shows Eco Fashion Week, the only event committed to environmentally friendly, ethically sound and fair trade fashion during New York Fashion Week. Over this four-day event, 10 eco-minded international designers are showcasing their fall/winter 2010 collections. Weleda teamed up with British design visionary Gary Harvey, who created a one-of-a-kind couture outfit made from recycled Weleda Skin Food packaging.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


Bright, bold and cocky, this chair by Ryan Frank is made entirely from plastic shopping bags. Called ‘Inkuku’ (the zulu word for chicken), it's based on a traditional African technique of using everyday discarded plastics to make objects for the home. A South African now based in London, Ryan was inspired by a chicken ornament made in this style. This influence can be seen in the colour, shape and texture of both the seat and the quirky legs it stands on. Ryan's other inventions include clothes hangers from reclaimed newspapers and a whole range of furniture made from salvaged office desks.


High street brand Fat Face is in on the upcycling act, and this can only be good news.

Here's the scoop from the Fat Face website:

"We believe our jeans should have more than one life, so this Spring we have launched the brand new Upcycle Denim Bag. Made entirely from recycled jeans, the Upcycle Bag is the ultimate accessory. Plus for every one sold, £5 will be donated to the Fat Face Foundation, which supports charities who protect the areas in which we most like to play. So, not only do you get a great bag, you'll also be doing your bit for charity! But be quick, there's only a limited supply so they won't hang around for long!"

Like it? They'll set ya back 20 quid.

Snow junkies

I've still got snow on the brain, and so I'm going to share some snowy thoughts.

Justin Woods is a man who loves snow, especially when he's sliding on it. He invented junkboarding, which allows you to ski when the snow is less than a quarter of an inch on the ground. You take a snowboard and slice it in half - which is the upcycling part of this story. According to, "This creates rougher, wider, and shorter equipment which allows the skier to plane over grass and ground that has light snow." It's all about making something out of practically nothing, which surely is sending shivers of excitement down your spine?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

High and dry

Here's an upcylcing experience so cool it pains me...

Generic Youth is a fashion label set up by a dad and his daughter. They started out making t-shirts using overstock fabrics that had been sitting unused and unloved in warehouses in LA. But that was not enough to satisfy their cravings to create a better world. They also sponsor Burger Wednesdays, where you can swing by their place and donate an old beach towel in exchange for a tasty burger (choose from ones made from bean or beast). The towel will be reborn as a sweatshirt and your belly will be full.

A win win win win situation, surely.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Ecstatic plastic

Too many coffees today, not enough blog posts this month. So sorry! I will try to make up with both at the same time...

Look what I came across at the coffee shop in my sister's neighbourhood today - wallets and pouches and pencil cases made from plastic shopping bags. How do they do it? I have no idea. But you can visit the Unlikely Creatures shop on Etsy and try to crack the code.

In the meantime, make mine a cappuccino. Thanks!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Refuse to call it refuse

My travel writer friend Amy was reading the Continental in-flight mag (as she is wont to do) and came across some upcycling on show in Bogotá. This is what Andrew Eitelbach wrote about it:

"Colombian-born artist Feliza Bursztyn used only found objects — primarily junked steel — to make her sculptures, turning an item's limitations into its most striking characteristic. Born in 1933, Bursztyn studied and trained as an artist in New York City. She helped pioneer the use of found objects to create art before her untimely death in Paris in 1982. Many of Bursztyn's sculptures are on display throughout February in the exhibit In Praise of Junk, part of a larger, longer exhibition highlighting Colombia's great native artists, at the National Museum of Colombia."

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Little cabin in the woods

There's an episode of Grand Designs that is doing the rounds on Channel 4 about a woodsman in West Sussex who spent 10 years living in tents and caravans before deciding to build a house on a budget of £25,000. In the end, he reports to Kavin McCloud that he went over budget by a little bit, but thanks to claiming and reclaiming materials he still kept costs - and environmental impact - low. Among the materials used in the project is lots of wood (obviously), straw bales, tumeric to colour the plaster, solar panels salvaged from the Big Brother house and enormous batteries that came from a submarine. Rainwater and wind are other inexpensive resources that keep the woodsman happy in his little house. Browse for more inspiration online by reading more about the episode here.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Thought for the day. Year. Century.

Kate Krebs of the Climate Group is credited with the following profundity:

“Waste is a design flaw.”

Why do we humans insist on continuing to make and build things from non-biodegradable substances that can’t be downcycled, upcycled or recycled when their lifespan comes to an end?