Monday, 18 April 2011

Like a dress to water

Redressing the balance between consumption and disposal, From Somewhere re-thinks the fashion industry’s leftovers, reclaiming and upcycling them as a design solution to environmental problems.

So far, so on trend you might be thinking. But get this – From Somewhere was way ahead of the curve. Ever since 1997, they’ve been making their collections with pre-consumer waste: brand-new, often previously unseen, latest trend designer off-cuts, proofs and remnants such as damaged and surplus fabrics reclaimed from the fashion and textile industry.

In other words, solving problems is what they’re all about. That’s exactly how their ground-breaking collab with Speedo came about. Following the decision of FINA, swimming’s governing body, to change the rules regarding swimsuit design and prohibit the use of full-body suits from January 2010, Speedo was left with a surplus of the record-breaking LZR Racer suit.

The LZR Racer suit was worn in 91 world records, so just incinerating this wonder-stuff was out of the question. A limited edition capsule collection developed by From Somewhere includes a statement dress constructed purely of Speedo LZRs, as well as a directional mini collection of swimmdresses, an entirely new concept of swimmer as daywear.

Launched exclusively at Selfridges in London and online through, From Somewhere with Speedo is upcycling in its highest form: a fashion-forward design concept exploring innovative environmental solutions.

Friday, 15 April 2011


Ok, I'm not going to go on about it but... how much fun is it to take some rubbishy old thing taking up space in your wardrobe and reinvent it so it actually does you proud? Call me old fashioned, but I find this nothing short of super fun.

However there is sadly a limit to my abilities. Which is why I'm unfeasibly excited to have discovered costumier Claire-Louise Hardy's sewing school The Thrifty Stitcher in Stoke Newington and her concept SOS Sewing Surgeries. The freestyle drop-in sessions last three hours and cost £35. Bring along your stack o' rags and Claire will share her expertise to help you transform them. You can even book online - but you will have to elbow me out of the way first.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ring the changes

Ah lovely jewellery! You are so sparkly, so delicate… so breakable.

What to do with your tattered trinkets to ensure they get the chance to swing again? The Papered Parlour is offering a class in Recycled Jewellery on Sunday 17 April from noon to 5pm where you can join expert silversmith Caren Hartley to discover how to repair, reshape and revive old baubles.

Transform pre-loved pendants, broken bracelets and neglected necklaces and get all the skills you need to upcycle jewellery at home. Using basic silversmithing techniques including sawing, soldering, texturing and annealing, you’ll learn how to reinvent your faded finery as polished showpieces.

Instructor Caren Hartley studied Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery at The Royal College of Art. She’s won commissions and awards from the Crafts Council and V&A and has exhibited at the Designers Guild, Mint and RCA.

To book your place email

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Cut some rug

My friend and fellow freelancer Flemmich Webb has been keeping an eye out for upcycling ideas for me. And how's this? Top ten uses for old carpet, supplied by Brintons in time for Earth Day on 22 April...

1) Insulate the loft
2) Insulate plumbing with carpets reborn as pipe lagging
3) Accelerate decomposition by covering your compost heap
4) Make carpet rests to go under the legs of heavy furniture
5) Fashion a kneeling pad to protect knees while working in the garden
6) Carpet your garden shed
7) Make a bespoke car mat
8) Make a hallway mat for mucky shoe storage
9) Make a carpeted scratching post for the cat
10) Insulate a rabbit hut to allow your bunny to live in luxury

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Watch out!

This week I wandered to a press day promoting Cornish makers organised by Minky Publicity. I met Aimee Craddock there, whose work I immediately liked. After talking to her I realised the reason - she's a bit of an upcycler! (As well as artist, jeweller and silversmith.) Here's how you can tell...

"These key pendants are from my degree show entitled The Secret Garden. They were all inspired by the famous children's novel of the same name by author Frances Hodgson Burnett. Constructed mainly of sterling silver, materials used include brass, tourmaline, aquamarines, peridot and antique watch glasses that I found on one of my many rummaging expeditions!"

Monday, 21 March 2011

Smalls talk

I've been thinking about it, and I don't think we're really covered pants enough on this blog. Pants are great. Pants are (kind of) essential. Pants can be fun.

Just ask the ladies of Flo-Jo, who offer for your buying and wearing pleasure smalls that have been upcycled from fine silk scarves. The fun does not stop there however. Also available for sale are make-your-own-knickers kits, for those who realise there's more to life than boring old briefs...

Friday, 18 March 2011

Jean ee us

I don't know how it happened, but I seem to have made a subconscious resolution to only ever wear denim on my bottom half. I am a jeans junkie.

So, checkit, here's a very good floor covering for addicts like me. Denim is super durable (just ask Mr Levi Strauss, who initially used it to make camping tents for cowboys). Even after it has served its purpose as clothing, it's still got plenty of life left to give.

Woven Ground offers two versions of upcycled denim rugs. "Shaggy" is made by artisans on a loom using 100% recycled denim; no dying or chemicals are used in production so it's a truly eco choice. "Flat" is also produced on a loom, and it's made out of 100% recycled denim and cotton. Thanks to the flat weave, it can be used on both sides.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Sew and sew

For every three items of clothing I buy, approximately two things go either to the bottom of my wardrobe or to the charity shop without being worn more than twice. It's not that I am wasteful by nature; it's that I'm not very good at shopping and stuff that looks good in a fitting room can look terrible in real life. Furthermore, everything I buy has to be shortened because the mannequin used in the ateliers of Topshop, Zara and Esprit is about eight inches taller than me.

The dress I'm wearing today is a case in point. I bought it knowing it would need to be shortened; I took it to a tailor and had it cut off and hemmed; then I decided it was too short and let the hem out; then I realised it just didn't look that great. AND THEN... I decided to wear it back-to-front. The result is depicted here. I'm glad I persevered because finally - after a delay of only about, um, 18 months - I have a brand-new dress.

This success story is a bit of a one-off however; mostly my shopping errors have no such happy ending. So I've been interested to learn about a service that revives clothes imprisoned in your wardrobe and mends old favourite pieces so they can accompany you out and about in the world again.

Designer Alterations has launched The DA Seamstress Squad, a handy new service that comes to your home and takes the hassle and time out of alterations and mending. The ‘Squad’ will come over armed with their sewing machines, tape measures and sewing kits to carry out on-the-spot alterations and repairs. They can even overhaul vintage, down to the last bead or sequin.

The Designer Alterations client base includes fashion editors, celebrities and designer retail boutiques like Gucci, Pucci and Burberry, so there's good reason to believe they really know what they're doing. The Squad’s service is £70 an hour; to avert wardrobe malfunctions ring 020 7498 4360 or visit

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Jeepers creepers

Louise Kamara's ReVision range of limited edition jewellery debuts at the Barbican Art Gallery shop soon. What's in store? Well, each piece is handmade in London from discarded sunglasses and prescription lenses intercepted en route to landfill. The collection was inspired by New York's downtown scene in the 1970s, reflecting the era's taste for bold design statements in the face of economic crisis.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Forward march

What kind of woman does not like shoes? A very rare and unusual one, that's who.

Most of us go through multiple pairs a year, but let's be frank: toe toppers in leather, suede, nylon and rubber are built to be sturdy. After we tire of old ones, where do they go? Pretty much the landfill. It's a dark, damp place, and I am not so sure that shoes even like it there.

Enter I Can Make Shoes. This N16 outfit is determined to facilitate the strutting of stuff. Learn to make shoes, learn to make sandals or... learn to upcycle your shoedrobe! It's a £50 workshop, but I feel it's probably a bargain at any price. Don't miss the opportunity to transform golden oldies into Cinderella slippers.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Someone kindly pointed me in the direction of a site called Bachelor's Degree Online; specifically I was encouraged to check out a post titled 80 Awesome Upcycling Ideas for Your Dormroom Decor. If you live in halls of residence - or even if you don't - then roll up roll up, read up read up. (I positively challenge you to resist the lure of the snow globe made from a baby food jar.)

Monday, 7 February 2011

Stamp collection

In case your calendar is broken, please be advised that Valentines Day is only a few days away. Mr Tiffany would like very much for you to buy a shiny shiny new thing for your special someone. And why not?

I'll tell ya why not - you might not have thousands to spend. This describes my personal situation too. So here's an idea. I have a super old set of stamps that came from my grandparents' house, containing all the letters and symbols a signmaker might have used before the advent of computers and printer cartridges, and prior to the easy dissemination of fonts like Verdana or Ariel. By simply borrowing a few of the stamps from the set, my home now now proclaims "S & V forever!" This is a handy reminder to the tenants of our home, and as an added benefit it did not require any of these said tenants to acquire a personal loan.

Chips and starts

Our van propelled itself all the way to Devon and some of the way back chomping on delicious biodiesel from a company in our neighbourhood called Uptown Oil. Uptown Oil delivers cooking oil to restaurants, then returns to pick the stuff up once it's served its purpose in sizzling up saveloys and the like. From an railway arch in SE1 the stuff is cleaned up for motor use. Uptown Oil is the only manufacturer of biodiesel in London, and their product is 10p cheaper per litre from what you'll get charged at BP and all its dirty brethren. What I like about all this is that it's an opportunity to use a resource for a second time, doubling its usefulness before it's deemed "waste". Recycling cooking oil in this way is much more efficient than raising crops specifically for use as biodiesel (a short-sighted tactic which means less food can be cultivated).

Drivers, start your engines.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Cut and run

Let's face it peeps; there's upcycling... and then there's upscale upcycling.

Some of us might have naff shopping tote bags to hand, and finding a new use for them is commendable. But how's this for an inspiring tale? Jeweller Sarah Stafford took two heirlooms belonging to a client. Altogether she had 88 diamonds at her disposal. From an old brooch and a pendant, two amazing rings were made. I've interviewed Sarah for a feature I'm working on - check out the tale of her uber-upcycling on her website, and while you're there you can also book a spot in her jewellery school to maybe render such sparkly miracles of your own.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Snap! It's a cushion

A very nice surf shop in Braunton just closed down this weekend. We went and made some purchases and got a bag for life. A little tag inside reports the bag was not made in a sweatshop. And yet even this will not convince me to use it, because I have a huge catalogue of similar bags I am struggling to find uses for.

But it's a nice design, commemorates a fine institution and would look good in our campervan...

I had a vision. A feather pillow insert was stuffed inside and a new future for the bag became a possibility. I unstitched the handles; sewed on five press studs; discovered I'd put them in wrong way round and took them off; tried again with the press studs; broke a needle; stabbed a finger; drew blood; finished the pillow; was very pleased.

Hang it all

Bags for life depress me. The cynic in me is convinced that a) they were all clearly made in sweatshops and b) anyone who dispenses such bags only does so to make me their branding packhorse.

I need no more bags for life. What I need are things to kit out our new campervan. Tea towels. Cushions. And suchlike.

After being outbid on Ebay for a tea towel in our van's livery colours of red and blue, I took matters into my own hands. One Paul Smith bag was unstitched along the sides; its front handle was removed; the resulting strip of fabric was cut down to tea towel size and pressed flat with an iron; the raw edges were artfully frayed; two seams were run along each side; a ribbon was sewn on the back corner.

The bag is reborn as a tea towel. After the procedure, the new towel is recovering well and the operation is deemed a success.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

In the balance

I have a thingie called an Indo Board that you balance on to get better core stability for board sports. I love it, but it was expensive and has the biggest, most annoying branding all over it. Next time round I will invest instead in a DIY Board. Here's one that Anthony made when he employed the skills of hacking and upcycling, and you can learn more about making one on his blog Dead Insect.