An Upcycling Tale of Creativity

I am working on a new upcycling project this week. There’s nothing especially notable about that in itself as upcycling is a concept I have been crazy about forever … so that’s a long time before the word ‘upcycling’ was even first coined! I love the positive notion of upcycling and its environmentally friendly connotations.

However, this particular upcycling project emerged from a curious mixture of inspirations that happened to me within a fairly short time-frame of just a few days. These ideas tumbled together in my head like a ripple effect – each individual source of inspiration built on and fed into the others.

The result felt like a huge wave that rolled on with the tide until eventually it crashed, sending a series of rivulets rushing up onto a calm sandy beach. As on a beach when each rivulet carries with it a new mixture of pebbles, shells and ocean detritus, so each of my rivulets of creativity carried with it its own collection of creative nuggets. Each rivulet is now a germ of a whole new idea.

What was in my wave of inspirations?


1. “Mat Making”

I’ve been reading a book recently about an historical form of upcycling in my local region. The book is called “Hook into the Past: The Story of Mat Making in North East England” edited by Ellen Phethean. The book describes the craft of making rugs, locally known as ‘mats’, from pieces of old clothing and textiles that had reached the end of their useful lives.

Hook into the Past: The Story of Mat Making in North East England
Hook into the Past: The Story of Mat Making in North East England

The ‘mats’ were made mostly by working-class people to put down on the floors of their homes as shop-bought carpets were largely unaffordable. Families and neighbours worked together to make the mats. These ‘hooky’ or ‘proggy’ mats were essential household items for North East working people right up to the middle of the twentieth century.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hook-into-Past-Making-England/dp/1857952073

2. “creativity” of WordPress bloggers
I follow certain tags on WordPress. One of them is “creativity”. I find it produces a serendipitous array of creative ideas that I can then filter through my personal ‘creativity fishing net’. Some ideas will become my ‘big fish’ whilst others might just prove to be useful ‘shrimps’. I find there’s always a good range of ideas on offer to satisfy my creative hunger.

On a recent trawl through the “creativity” of bloggers on WordPress a couple of posts particularly caught my eye. The first was entitled “Polyethylene macrame” and showed a colourful image of plastic shopping bags knotted together by their handles – which I learned is something of an art form in Beirut’s supermarkets.

Austin Kleon's new book, Show Your Work!
Austin Kleon’s new book, Show Your Work!

The second “creativity” blog post that grabbed me was a poster from Austin Kleon’s new book, “Show Your Work! 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered”. The blogger who had shared the poster likes the way Austin Kleon captures his ideas in simple but effective words. I do too. His ideas work for me in several areas of my life. Hello Lillian and thank you for posting this poster 🙂

3. Spring … and cleaning!
Some of my regular readers will know I am excited about the imminent arrival of Spring and have been avidly seeking signs that we are progressing towards it. One of the less exciting aspects of the changing season for me is the lovely Spring sun shining on those forgotten dusty household corners revealing the need for prompt clearing out and cleaning when I would much rather be outside checking on Nature’s progress!

Such a moment occurred on Saturday. However, in the process of cleaning I unearthed a rather large number of supermarket carrier bags that had amassed over time. Initially I intended simply returning them to the supermarket for recycling. But then my creative wave took over and I had an idea for an upcycling project …

Crocheting red carrier bags with a hand carved hook
Crocheting red carrier bags with a hand carved hook

… but that will be another story.

J Peggy Taylor

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15 thoughts on “An Upcycling Tale of Creativity

  1. Peggy, its a great post! Nice to know about the group working for mat making… It might had been fun! I didn’t know about the creativity tag, will surely use for my related posts 🙂 Eager to read the making of your upcycling project 🙂

    1. I found it quite fascinating learning about the history of mat making in the area where I live. I would certainly think the creativity tag would be useful to you … you are so creative 🙂 HA! I have been working hard to finish my upcycled rug project and I am hoping to post about it very soon!

  2. I had no idea that hooky mats are just a north east thing! I’ve got one on the go at the moment, but made with wool, not rags.

    This all sounds very exciting! I’m a big upcycling fan myself. 🙂

    1. I had always previously thought of hooky/proggy mats as ‘local’ to the north east but from the book I discovered that is really not the case. Unfortunately it seems there is very little known about the exact origins of this type of rag rug, as they were not considered important enough to appear on wills or inventories. They are thought to have come to Britain from Scandinavia around the late 1400s. Apparently there was a strong tradition of rag rug making in the Shetland Isles well into the 20th century. The writers of the book believe that as the Shetlands were owned by Norway until the 15th century, this may be how the craft spread to Britain. But generally it seems this type of rug-making craft was carried out in many parts of Britain – all with varying names.

      I have seen hooky mats made with wool strands too – I hope you will show us when yours is finished 🙂

      1. Gosh, what an interesting history! It seems believable that they have a scandinavian origin, I’ve seen some stunning scandinavian rugs. I guess they have even more need for them than we do!

        I’m not sure mine will be very impressive; it’s fairly small! Will post a picture when it’s EVENTUALLY finished though – it may be a while yet!

      2. I found it was a fascinating little book – made initially as a therapy project in a cancer treatment unit in Newcastle, collecting patients’ memories of mat-making. There are some lovely stories.

        Ah, don’t say that! I’m sure your little rug will be very beautiful when it is done 🙂

    1. Thanks Kathryn 🙂 I agree, upcycling really is sensible as well as stimulating to the creative juices. We can save money, save resources and I’m always more keen to create than to shop 🙂

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