Saturday, May 12, 2012

Upcycle – Retro Style

We’ve all heard the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.  Another term that is popular right now is “upcycling”, which means you are taking something and making it better/nicer than it was.  You see a lot of “upcycled” items on Pinterest and Etsy.  What you may not know is that upcycling isn’t exactly a new concept.

I was born in Nebraska to a family that understood the importance of using items until there was no more use left in them.  I am told that my great grandmother (my mother’s father’s mother) had an interesting trick to get the most out of sheets.  When the material in the middle would wear thin on the bottom sheet, she would cut the sheet up the middle, rotate what were the edges to the middle and stich them together.  I recall the sheets that were on my grandfather’s bed when he passed were quite thin.  My mother ended up cutting them into cleaning rags.  There was still goodie to be had from those sheets!

My maternal grandfather was very handy.  If you needed something fixed, he could do it.  I recall a number of times where he would find an item discarded and would be able to fix it.  As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  One of my favorite “Grandpa fixed it” stories is when my grandmother’s washing machine kept breaking.  It would break, he’d fix it.  It would break again, he’d fix it again.  The story goes that Grandma finally said, “Riley! If you keep fixing the old one, how am I ever supposed to get a new one?” 

My mother’s side of the family is not the only one that knows how to reuse stuff.  Great Grandma Creamer was the original recycler.  She was the daughter of German immigrants.  In the late 1800’s, Nebraska was still being settled.  If you needed an item, you couldn’t just run to Walmart to obtain said item.  Great Grandma Creamer only knew how to use and reuse.  Waste was unheard of.  In fact, I believe she was one of the original upcyclers.  She would take plastic bread bags and crochet them into items.  I have a purse, a small area rug, and a hat all made out of bread bags.

Bread bag hat as modeled by my childhood friend Suzy

Crocheting bread bags is a little exteme, but they make for great conversation pieces.  I may not crochet bread bags, but I have not forgotten the lessons my ancestors taught me.  In fact, just tonight I have been repurposing items.  My youngest brother is a college student and eats a lot of frozen dinners.  I saw a jewelry article sometime back that talked about how awesome the strainer part of Café Steamers were for your pickle pot (a jewelry maker’s appliance).  I asked Chris to save me one or two when he thought about it.  One thing about Chris, he’s very dependable when you ask him to do stuff.  I’m the proud owner of a large collection of Café Steamer bowls.  It’s okay.  I use them all the time in my craft projects.  Just tonight I needed a container to pour some craft paint into.  Café Steamer bowls are perfect!

Do you have a repurposing and/or recycling tip?  Please share in the comments below.  I’d love to hear them and I’m sure your fellow readers would, too.

Until Tomorrow - Melissa


  1. That hat is amazing!

    I love to reuse old cream cheese and ricotta containers as bead containers. I label them with masking tape, and they stack nicely!

    I also made a bead funnel out of an old bath gel bottle. Or, I should say, Mr. Sequin made it for me. It makes pouring beads back into their containers much easier.

    But my favorite tip came from The Beading Yogini, who made a bracelet blank for bead embroidery... out of a cookie tin. I'm going to try it sometime!

  2. Those are great reuse suggestions! Thank you Sarah! My Grandma Mizell use to put a sheet of newspaper under her work when she worked with sparkles. Then when she was done she could the fold of the newspaper to pour stray sparkles back in their container. My mother says she use to be able to tell when Grandma Dear had worked with sparkles, cause I was just the right height that was just lower than the table and the occasional stray piece of glitter would land in my hair.