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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Book Review: CHAPTER ELEVEN by E.F. Schraeder

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E.F. Schraeder‘s Chapter Eleven poetry collection links both the financial and political aspects of health care and other industries with the real people that are effected. Poems like “Stopwatch Medicine” illustrate how healthcare feels like a churning machine to the doctor forced to ration time treating each patient. “For These Reasons” continues the thought of people being treated as cogs in a machine, with brilliant lines like:

Every aisle a staggering surprise of

consumer options that tie my hands

with dish rags (10 for $1!)

to women 12,000 miles away.

The poems within this deceptively thin book detail personal loss, health scares, education, the decline and deaths of loved ones–as well as biting social commentary. She even uses the ready-made metaphor of Humpty Dumpty for her purposes on more than one occasion. For example, in “Almost OK — for Humpty” she turns the nursery rhyme’s disturbing imagery into insights on living as a damaged person:

A certain light still reveals

the shadows of the cracks.

My only regret about this poetry collection is that I can’t give you a direct link to buy it from any of the big bookstore sites.. You can, however, order it directly from Partisan Press, or if you are lucky enough to live near Cleveland, pick up a copy at Mac’s Backs  or Visible Voice  bookstores! Trust me. It’s worth the trip.

POEM: Haiking Haikus

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Emergent Tower at Holden Arboretum

“Haiking Haikus”

In the forest, the

illusion of loneliness

is overwhelming.

I lose the Spring in

my step somewhere along the

Emergent Tower.

Towering among

the forest canopy, its

wooden bones reach out.

White smoke rises from

above and beyond the tree-

tops: Nuclear steam.

The world sways beneath

my feet. I know it’s better

to bend than to break.

*image taken during the Haiku Hike on May 6th, 2018 at Holden Arboretum

CURRENT EVENTS: NE Ohio Writing Events and Groups

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Since I am lucky enough to live in the literary-friendly state of Ohio, I have access to an abundance of writing groups, open mic events, workshops, and free writing cons. For those of you who may be in the area, I’ve compiled a short list of things you may be interested in. Unless otherwise indicated, all of them are free. You’re welcome.

Saturday, June 9th is Literary Cleveland’s poetry workshop from 1030am-1230pm at the Cleveland Main Library. This event takes place the second Saturday of each month. Bring 10-15 copies of your work to share if you would like feedback (if you only have one copy, the library will print copies for you). You are also welcome to just observe. I always learn something when I attend, though unfortunately this month I won’t make it to Cleveland.

Wednesday, June 20th is Latitudes Open Mic (poetry) from 7pm-9pm at Compass Coffee in Akron. Latitudes meets once a month. Organized by Stephen and Theresa Brightman, the featured reading will be by Greg Milo, author of Rebooting Social Studies, followed by an open mic.

Thursday, June 21st is Ekphrastic Poetry from 5pm-8pm at Bluff Blue Door Gallery in Akron. I’m not sure what this event will be exactly, but the featured poet is Stephen Brightman. I recently attended an Ekphrastic poetry event featuring his poems as reactions to the Jun Kaneko exhibit at the Akron Art Museum; it was amazing. So I’m sure this event will be fantastic as well!

Thursday, June 28th is when The Write Stuff meets from 6pm-8pm at the North Canton Public Library. This writing group meets on the fourth Thursday of every month. Their expressed purpose is helping local writers grow in the craft by offering feedback on shared work as well as sharing experiences with each other. They frequently hang out at T.D. Tailgate Grill afterwards for general chitchat and snacking.

Friday, June 29th is Poetry Night from 6pm-9pm at the Akron Nervous Dog. This event takes place on the last Friday of each month. The poets are scheduled ahead of time; it’s not open mic, but it’s always a lot of fun. Plus they make great (vegan version) London Fogs.

In August

Saturday, August 4th is the free INKubator Con from Lit Cleveland from 830am-5pm at the Cleveland Main Library. They usually have an open mic event either during lunch or after the con. You should register for the con ahead of time by going to the website for Lit Cle and clicking on the event.

Also for most of June and July I’ll be at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival on Friday nights. Volunteering to help with something you love is always rewarding, even if you are just handing out flyers or ushering people to their seats, but as an extra added bonus you can stay after for the show! Ohio Shakespeare Festival performs at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens during the Summer and at Greystone Hall during the other parts of the year. They are an amazing local professional group of actors, and you should definitely go see them!

I also suggest you visit the page for the Writing Knights writing group and press. They have multiple events every month, so it always pays to check them out!

I will continue my weekly post for a couple more weeks, as I do penance for my abysmally late post about the Western Reserve Writers’ Con last month. What can I say? My transgression has brought out the lapsed Catholic in me. Until next Friday, have a lovely week!

 

ON WRITING: The 35th Annual Western Reserve Writers’ Conference

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Last month, I was lucky enough to attend yet another free writers’ con in the literary-friendly state of Ohio! The South-Euclid Lynhurst branch of Cuyahoga library hosted the event, organized by the talented and lovely author Deanna Adams. Although free, registration was required, and as part of that registration participants were entered into a drawing for a free critique. There were several winners…myself included! But I will get more into that later.

As someone who takes advantage of the literary bounty that is Ohio, I try to volunteer to help out when I can. So on Saturday, April 28th I showed up early to help set up. There really wasn’t much for me to do, as most of the preparation was done ahead of time. So I handed out pamphlets, along with a fellow volunteer, and directed participants to the free pencils, name tags, and complimentary breakfast goodies. One of the nice things about volunteering to help out with something you love, besides the joy of feeling like you are giving back, is that you get to hang out with other people who are passionate about the same things you are. So I was thrilled to discover several writers that I admired had decided to attend after all. It just made me happy.

Once people had settled into the big meeting room, there was a Welcome to the Conference overview, followed by the keynote speech given by literary agent Elizabeth Kaplan. Soon after, everyone went to different rooms depending on which sessions they were interested in. I stayed in the “big room” for The Seven Universal Plots talk by Claire McMillan. I had heard of similar theories about storytelling before, but I wasn’t familiar with the details. It was really interesting.

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Then it was time to go to my personal editing session! The only problem was that this year I had a poetry collection, not a prose manuscript. So a few weeks earlier, instead of submitting x-amount of pages from a current manuscript, I asked for help with my organization of the collection. The lovely Laura Walter agreed, and I must say her input was fantastic. I am a firm believer in the value of feedback and good beta readers. However, writers groups are good for general feedback, and beta readers are usually reserved for when a work is finished or mostly finished. I think the more feedback you get, the better, and while family and friends may want to help, you can’t always trust them to be honest since they may try to spare your feelings. A professional look at your work is invaluable.

Next I attended the presentation by Jacqueline Marino: Writing the Personal Essay. She gave a talk on how to use pictures and photographs to create something personal with tension. Photos of people in motion, doing something, were encouraged. Then we completed a short writing assignment, which some people chose to share. I was inspired by how so many created moving first drafts in such a short amount of time.

After lunch, which I brought from home and during which I met some interesting people, there was a first page critique in the main meeting room. Three panelists–literary agent Elizabeth Kaplan, author Claire McMillan, and Rene’e Rosen– listened as the first pages of various manuscripts were read. They would raise a hand to indicate where they would stop reading and then give feedback about why, what worked for them, and what didn’t.

After a short break, I attended the last breakout session. The last presentation I attended was 15 Tips for Writing a Play by Kelly Boyer Sagert. It was interesting, though not what I expected. I thought it would be about the technical aspects of writing a script, but it was more about ideas and examples of how the presenter came to create and sell her work.

Other than the actual presentations, the best part of the con was being around other writers. Not only did I reconnect with old friends, but I met new ones that I hope to see for years to come. Also, there’s so much inspiration simply from being with creative people, I can’t help but soak up all that energy and creativity. It’s invigorating!

While there were many more workshops and classes available than I could attend in the time allowed, I hope this short summary of events helps you and hopefully encourages you to attend the next conference.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there!

*My sincere apologies for the lateness of this post. Life intervened–along with technical difficulties, but I will endeavour to create additional content in the next few weeks to make up for my tardiness. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

My sincere apologies…

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There will be a new post by the end of the weekend.

If you are a subscriber who received a post about the Western Reserve Writers’ Con in your email box, I am sorry. While wrestling with WordPress, an earlier draft of my planned post was published. I immediately deleted it, but I realize that doesn’t mean it wasn’t emailed out.

The updated and fully edited post will be up by Sunday night.

 

*image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net