Upcycling Trash into Crafting Treasure

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Bob the zombie pincushion was made with old tshirt fabric, torn pjs, and salvaged stuffing from an old pillow.

Making art and homemade crafts is an exciting way to spend your time, but many people are put off by the mistaken impression they need special equipment and skills to participate. While it is true that some basic tools are required to create certain crafts, most are cheap and easy to find or–better yet–easy to make yourself! The main ingredients for completing any type of craft are creativity and the ability to learn something new (cough, cough, YouTube, cough cough). Crafting is making a resurgence, along with the DIY movement, and what better way is there to spend your free time than creating something original as well as beneficial? It’s a great outlet, relaxing, and it affords you the opportunity to actively use your skills for the common good.

For the uninitiated into the crafty arts, craftivism is exactly what it sounds like: a combination of crafting and activism. Craftivists actively use their DIY talents to try to make the world a better place: from making banners that bring attention to an important issue to leaving anonymous homemade gifts in public places as encouragement that may brighten a stranger’s day. And you don’t need to buy a bunch of supplies to enjoy your favorite hobbies while working toward a more benevolent world.

Most of us don’t have a lot of money to spend on new or fancy supplies, and even if we did landfills are already overflowing with the results of our consumer-driven society. However, if we upcycle our own craft supplies, we cut down on our contribution to those landfills as well as save money and use up things we already have in our own homes; upcycling means taking something and finding a way to reuse it rather than throwing it away. If you have some basic supplies, like scissors and glue (or a glue gun), there are tons of ways to upcycle your own craft supplies. I want to share some of my favorites with you!

TSHIRT YARN:
That’s right. You can take old tshirts, cut across them below the sleeves to make one large loop of fabric, and then by cutting a series of strips from one side to almost the other, strategically cut to make one long strip of fabric. If you pull on the fabric strip, the cut ends will curl up like the fancy chunky yarn sold in craft stores. The video is very precise, and she uses fancy cutting tools, but you don’t need to be precious about it. Cutting freehand with scissors works just fine. Tshirt yarn is great for chunky scarves.
Here is a link to a helpful video illustrating the process: LINK

PLASTIC YARN:
“Plarn” is made pretty much the same way tshirt yarn is made. Simply cut off the bags bottom, cut across below the handles to create a single large loop of plastic. With the same strategic cutting, make one long strip of plastic yarn. Don’t try to pull on the edges to make it curl like tshirt yarn though; you’ll tear the plastic. Plarn is good for knitting water resistant items such as mats and shopping bags. LINK

FREE FABRIC:
This one is a no brainer, but cut up old clothes and sheets and anything else that will give you fabric. If you like embroidery, linen towels make great evenweave fabric, but don’t disregard unconventional ones such denim in old jeans, print from old skirts, or patches cut from old purses and scarves: patterned and textured fabric make for interesting and unique projects. In a pinch, you can go to a thrift store and buy second-hand clothes to cut up. Who knows? They might even have donated thread, yarn, and other art supplies.

 
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EMBROIDERY HOOPS:
This one is a little outside the box (or hoop), but you can convert lots of moderately flat circular objects into embroidery hoops. You can use old bicycle rims as hoops by using glue or elastic to secure the fabric you are working on. You can also use an exacto knife to cut a hole in the lid of a tupperware container, cut off the top section of the container itself, and snap the two parts together to make a fabric hoop. And you don’t need to be limited by shape either; experiment!* Maybe try using an old frame!

 
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THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX:
I know I’ve referenced out-of-the-box thinking previously, but it bears repeating. Do some research by searching YouTube for crafting videos or checking out library books, especially upcycling ones. Add coloring to glue to make textured paint. Cut up old plastic bottles to make everything from pencil cups to Christmas trees. Disassemble that old keyboard before recycling to salvage the keys for beads and the circuit board for other art projects. Spruce up something ugly by decoupaging with cut up comics, wrapping paper, or magazine pictures. A new coat of paint can make something old look like something new–even if you are using up old paint or you scored a great deal on spray paint from the local GoodWill. Why buy new when you can reuse with just a little imagination?

 

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Star Wars themed Christmas tree made with cut plastic bottles scotch-taped to a candle. The lightsabers were made with unused juice straws left over from Halloween.

If you like to embroider, you can make patterns from old coloring books, or simply draw on the fabric yourself; I know you probably already know that, but I’m sharing my favorite methods so get over yourself. And you don’t need to limit your embroidery or other art to just fabric. You can sew on plastic packing sheets (instead of fabric) or use mesh from produce bags for art projects. You can poke holes in photos, postcards, tin salvaged from cans, or other paraphernalia for unconventional embroidery projects. Again, YouTube instructional videos are pretty amazing. Enough said.

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clothespins and plastic bread tabs can be used to store embroidery floss

Some other simple crafting hacks:
-plastic bread tabs for storing embroidery floss
-wooden spring-loaded clothespins for storing embroidery floss
-soda can tabs for jewelry beads or chain mail
-plastic lids for coasters
-pill bottles for storing needles or other small sharp objects

 

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jellyfish created over embroidery hoop with assorted materials: salvaged mesh produce bags, bubble wrap, packing material.

The key to upcycling is the same as the key to crafting: imagination. If you get used to looking at things in new ways, there’s no limit to what you can make! So don’t spend money on any supplies before you’ve looked around your home for things that would work just as well if not better. In a pinch, second hand is better than first as you are not creating a need to manufacture more of an item that already exists and would otherwise go to a landfill.

Until I post again in two weeks, have a lovely life and happy crafting!

 

*Cards on the table, I have not tried the tupperware container one yet, but it looks really cool to me. 🙂

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