A Guide To Upcycling With Amelia Windsor
By Amelia Windsor
[up·cy·cle | \ uhp-sahy-kuhl \]. Verb. To reuse (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item.
Global annual waste generation is on the rise with the World Bank Group predicting an increase of 1.39 billion tonnes over the next 30 years. The majority of this is then either burnt or sent to landfill, with disastrous effects on the environment. Unfortunately, the UK lockdown has only exacerbated the situation with surveys reporting that household waste has significantly grown and services struggling to keep up as a result. Yet as waste grows, so too does a possible solution to it – creativity – with many turning to arts, crafts, and creative ‘upcycling’ to fill the long days and boost mental health. Even the likes of Balenciaga and Miu Miu have taken to it, with the former debuting a shaggy coat made from ‘shoelace fur’ in its SS21 collection, and the latter announcing the launch of 80 one-off dresses made from antique pieces sourced from vintage stores and markets worldwide.
What’s more, upcycling is a vast improvement on recycling as it requires far less energy and money to execute and is not limited in the number of times it can be repurposed. Recycled goods, however, are, and can only ever create a product of lesser value. To inspire you on your upcycling journey, here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing. Who knows, you might find you have a knack for it!
If an item of clothing can’t be sold, gifted or donated then the solution is to upcycle it. Patches of material can be used to fill holes in jumpers and trousers to extend their lifespan and simultaneously inject some personality, whilst the back of a denim jacket is the perfect blank canvas for adding fabric panels, colourful logos or textured add-ons.
Don’t shy away from repurposing clothing for an entirely new role such as home decor, with fabric from old shirts and T-shirts making an excellent patchwork quilt or bunting to hang across the wall. Damaged clothes can also be wrapped around clothes hangers to lessen the risk of stretching delicate garments, whilst truly unsalvageable items can be attacked with a pair of scissors to create cleaning cloths that can be washed and reused again and again.
Unwanted furniture is packed with upcycling potential and provides a good opportunity for honing those important DIY skills. A sand down followed by a lick of paint and a varnish is often all that’s needed to give an item a new lease of life, whilst the more experienced DIYers might opt to take it apart and turn it into something entirely different. For example, a chest of drawers can become a set of shelves and wooden crates can be repurposed to become a handy storage unit.
Pinterest and Instagram are excellent sources of inspiration and an eye-opener to exactly how lucrative furniture upcycling can be when done well! You can find a huge selection of secondhand furniture at antique markets, charity shops and on sites like Gumtree or Ebay, but it’s also worth having a look around your neighbourhood where many people leave unwanted furniture on the roadside.
Glass Jars & Bottles
Old jars are ideal for storing spices, herbs, pulses and pasta from your local zero waste store, and look a lot smarter in your kitchen than a muddle of plastic bags and boxes. They also make ingredients much easier to find and I enjoy getting creative when it comes to the labels.
Shorter jars also make the perfect planter for a succulent and look even better when paired with a woven jute string or hemp rope hanger. Substitute a plant for a candle and you’ve then got yourself an outdoor hanging lantern.
Tin cans are equally good for storage and come with the bonus of added sturdiness. Make sure to file down the lethally sharp edges first before repurposing them as a smart pencil or plant pot. You might be a fan of the silver appearance in which case you can leave them as is, or alternatively, you can add a rustic touch with burlap wrap or a pop of colour with paint or patterned paper. You can also use a hammer and nail to punch a design such as a letter into the side, allowing light to shine through when a candle is placed inside.
It can be hard to know what to do with jewellery when it breaks but often, the best solution is to take it apart completely. The beads, jewels and gems can then be used to decorate items such as the rim of a mirror or frame, or to bedazzle a belt buckle or jewellery box for your (still intact!) pieces.
Other ideas include a bookmark, made from a statement pendant attached to each end of a velvet ribbon, or a beaded camera strap, made from a heavy-duty strap and chunkier beads to avoid breakages. For particularly ‘wow’ beads or broaches, why not stick them to a greetings card or gift tag to add some extra sparkle, or try your hand at the increasingly popular bejewelled wedding bouquet, for the non-traditional bride?
When it comes to upcycling jewellery, your greatest friend will be a hot glue gun and I recommend opting for non-toxic and solvent-free glue.
Magazines are a huge source of joy and escapism for me and I am repeatedly blown away by the attention to detail and vision that goes into creating each one. Even though I read the majority of magazines online nowadays, I occasionally treat myself to a print edition as I love the excuse to look away from the screen and to feel it in my hands, and have accumulated a small collection that I can’t bring myself to throw away.
Instead, I recommend cutting out the parts that particularly catch your eye and making them into a collage, a process that is extremely therapeutic and results in something that can be framed and put on your wall or given to a friend. You could also use the pages for fun wrapping paper or for those tin cans that will become pretty pencil pots!
For the more enterprising of you, you can try your hand at a magazine stack stool which will require you to glue together a tower of magazines, top with a cushion, and finish off with a couple of belts to hold it all in place. You can also choose to top the stack with a sturdy sheet of glass to turn it into a unique side table.
Whatever direction you decide to go in, you will be surprised at the satisfaction and pride that comes from upcycling an obsolete object otherwise bound for landfill. You may feel inspired to share your success with your friends or a wider audience on social media and in turn, pass on the ‘bug’ that comes from turning something valueless into something valuable through your own craftsmanship. We are all craving company and connection at this time and this is a lovely way to nourish friendships and a sense of community. The planet will also thank you, as an interest in upcycling is one of the first steps to remedying the throwaway culture that our consumerist society has created.
Amelia is a British model and freelance writer based between London and Cambridge. When she isn’t searching for vintage fashion gems, she is exploring the latest eco-destinations around the world.