The week from 22nd-28th June has been Recycling Week here in the UK.
I’m a great fan of recycling and upcycling and my latest project has been an upcycled sun hat for one of my sons. I have refashioned this hexagon sun hat from a pair of worn-out cargo trousers.
The crown of the hat has six segments with a flat hexagon-shaped top. I put together some scraps of heavy linen to stiffen the brim before attaching it to the crown.
I made a bias strip to catch up all of the seam edges and act as a hat band and I’m now just ready to stitch that in place.
To finish off the outer edge of the brim, I’m going to make a thin cord from thread and weave it in and out of the running stitches that are holding the linen brim stiffening in place. Then the sun hat will be complete – a free hexagon sun hat made from upcycling old clothing and scraps.
We have a preference for pre-loved furniture in our house. For example, this means we have dining chairs that don’t match. The dining chairs themselves are all of the long-lasting wooden variety, probably dating from somewhere around the middle of last century.
Our dining chairs see very regular use, so you can imagine the seats of these chairs from time to time begin to show distinct signs of wear and need to be re-covered. One of the chairs is currently in this very worn condition and in dire need of repair.
Normally to mend our chair covers, I simply cut out a suitably sized piece of upholstery material and replace the old chair seat cover, restoring the seat padding at the same time if necessary. However, this time I decided to combine replacing the chair seat cover with practicing a new textile skill. When I say ‘new’ textile skill, I really mean ‘very old’ textile skill – it is only new to me, though I have been studying it for a while. Now I have the perfect opportunity to try my hand at a traditional rug-making method that could have quite possibly been practised in the homes where our old chairs started out more than half a century ago.
Will it work, using a rug-making method to create a chair seat cover? Well, I can only say I have seen it used this way in the hands of an expert, so I am hopeful 😉
The rug-making method I am planning to use was known locally in our area as “hooky mat-making” where strips of recycled textiles (usually old clothing and household textiles) were hooked onto a base of strong woven jute sacking that had been stretched taut onto a frame. In North East England the word ‘mat’ was used rather than ‘rug’. Hooky mats are one of the two main mat-making styles that were widely used right up to the middle of the twentieth century in North East working class households to create floor rugs, as bought carpets were unaffordable for many people. When completed, a hooky mat has quite a flat pile with short loops. The other style of mat-making was called a “proggy mat” and that results in a mat with a longer, softer pile finish.
For my hooky mat chair seat cover, I have chosen to use some heavy linen canvas as the base and I’ve stretched this onto a large heavy-duty painting frame that I had conveniently available.
The tool I will be using to craft my hooky mat design is this wooden hook that I asked my son (the woodworker) to make for me to a particular size and shape. He began by turning a short length of sycamore wood on the pole lathe and then between us we carved the hook end to the required shape. The hook may need some more refining yet – I shall have to see when I put it to use.
Currently in my new craft project I am preparing the design that I will be working onto the linen base. While I was browsing for potential design ideas I was inspired by some of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s flowers and Art Nouveau mosaics, so I decided to develop my design in this early 20th century style.
My colour scheme will be deliberately chosen from a limited palette of colours and I also want to keep the colours subtle rather than bright. Partly my range of colours will be dictated by the availability of suitably coloured textiles. I have begun preparing some textile strips in greys and purples so I will choose other colours to work with them.
Hopefully I will complete the design this week and perhaps manage to make a start on working the textile strips into the linen base. I’ll let you know how my latest upcycling craft project goes 🙂
In the process of making my milk carton plant pots I’d cut off a scoop shape from the top of each carton. I discovered one of these mini plastic scoops made an ideal assistant for filling the plant pots with compost. I filled the pots quite close to the top with compost but left enough space to accommodate sufficient watering.
I generally plant seeds into ready-watered compost, so the next job was to carefully water the compost in the fabric grow-bag. As I was adding the water, I was also watching to see how the water soaked through the compost and out into the fabric grow-bag. When I’d prepared the air-pruning plant pots I hadn’t made drainage holes in the base of the pots as I felt there was plenty of opportunity for evaporation through the sides of these smaller-sized air-pruning pots. I’d left about 2.5cm /1 inch intact around the bottom of the plant pots too, to catch the water if I did happen to water them too enthusiastically!
Now it was time to sow the Sweet Pea seeds. Sweet Pea seeds are quite large, as seeds go, so for this task I used my ‘old pen’ dibber to make the holes in the compost about 1.5cm / half inch deep. I decided to sow two Sweet Peas in each pot. Then after sowing the seeds I used the dibber to cover them over with compost before adding a final drop of water to help the seeds on their way.
And that was the seed-sowing done. The only remaining task I had was finding a suitable indoor home for my plant pots … time to build a new shelf …
I’m pleased to say that all of the Sweet Peas have now germinated and the seedlings are looking healthy.
The next stage was to create some breathable fabric grow-bags to fit into the air-pruning plant pots … the whole idea is to allow air to reach the plant’s roots. In the video where I originally saw the air-pruning idea, they had made use of recycled woven polypropylene shopping bags. As with the containers, I needed something much smaller. And, as before too, I really wanted to use upcycled materials.
My solution for this part of the project was to use some of my sons’ old and worn jogging pants from my upcycling ragbag. The legs of these old cotton pants were just the thing to fit in my air-pruning plant pots.
I measured and cut off the required length, using one of the prepared milk cartons as a guide. This gave me a fabric tube which I closed at one end by simply tying a piece of cotton string around it. And that was it done! I had one simple and upcycled grow-bag ready to insert into its air-pruning plant pot.
In order to maximise the use of the jogging pant material I had available, I did resort to a little bit of sewing to create some of the tubes, but they all ended up roughly the same shape and size. The fabric grow-bags were then carefully inserted into each of the air-pruning plant pots.
I had made the tubes long enough so that they would amply overlap the top of the plant pots. My thinking here was that this would prevent the grow-bag from sinking down inside of the pot. To assist further with securing the grow-bags in position I made two small holes in the overlapping part of the grow-bag at either side of the milk carton’s handle using my stitch ripper.
I took another piece of string and threaded this as a doubled length through one hole, behind the carton handle and back out through the second hole. I removed the yarn needle and tied the ends of the string together firmly in a knot. I then created a string loop by threading the knot back through the loop at the other side of the handle to finish it off. As well as helping to secure the grow-bag in place, I thought the string loop might be useful when it comes to fixing the plant pot in place in my back yard.
My upcycled air-pruning plant pots are now fitted with their upcycled grow-bags and ready to be filled with compost. I’ll show you more on my air-pruning plant pots project very soon.
I was so inspired by the air-pruning video I shared with you a few days ago that I immediately decided to try out this seemingly magic method of improving plant growth. I already had imminent plans for sowing some Sweet Pea seeds as I am planning on training several Sweet Pea plants to grow up and through the crochet jute and willow garden screen that I have also been working on recently. The willow garden screen project is my experimental version of location-specific vertical gardening.
As my back yard is only very small I needed to develop some air-pruning pots that would be more size-appropriate than the 5 gallon buckets they used in the video. But I also wanted some containers that would reasonably accommodate the Sweet Pea plants. I have grown Sweet Peas in my yard in the past using moderately-sized containers and with a bit of care they successfully reached their full six-foot height.
A further consideration was that I need to be able to attach some of the plant pots to the back of my yard gate, so lightweight containers with ‘attach-ability’ were additional factors to bear in mind. And, as I frequently do, my preference was to use upcycled materials for this project too.
The solution to my air-pruning plant container conundrum is … four-pint milk cartons! These milk cartons satisfy all of my requirements – lightweight, with built-in handles for ‘attach-ability’, moderately-sized and easily re-designed for their new purpose … and upcycled.
Fortunately, I had a number of these milk cartons readily available as I had saved them ‘just-in-case-I-need-some’ – I’ve made milk cartons into standard-type plant pots on previous occasions. But this time my design plan was rather different.
I began by making a large planting hole at the top of each carton by cutting around the original milk carton’s opening. You can see I have cut high above the carton handle to leave the whole handle intact. Around the sides and front of the carton I dipped down a little lower with the scissors to make a reasonably-sized opening to give accessibility.
Next I pondered on the best way to ventilate the sides of the cartons to provide the air-pruning effect. The air-pruning video showed circles cut out of the sides of the 5 gallon drums. I emulated this on the first carton, cutting out relatively large holes all around it.
However, I then wondered if different shaped holes would be more or less effective at air-pruning. To test out my curiosity, I have decided to make different shaped holes in some of the cartons. Two cartons have circles, two have wide vertically-oriented ovals and the remaining two have a series of narrower vertical vents. It will be interesting to see if the different-shaped vents in the containers make any difference to the plant growth.
Watch out soon for Part 2 of my upcycled air-pruning plant pots project in which I will show you how I made the fabric grow-bags to fit inside the pots.
We met Philippe, the Flip-Flop Elephant, on a recent town trip. There he was waiting patiently for us to visit him at his new home in Newcastle’s Great North Museum. He’d travelled a very long way – all the way from Kenya, in fact.
Philippe isn’t called “the Flip-Flop Elephant” because he’s a floppy kind of animal. He’s called “the Flip-Flop Elephant” because he is actually made from old flip-flops – those plastic sandals often worn on sunny beaches.
The company who created Philippe is called Ocean Sole. They are a Kenyan company who specialise in recycling old flip-flops that are washed up on Kenya’s Indian Ocean beaches and waterways. The flip-flops are cleaned, cut up and stuck together into blocks and are then carved into animals, jewellery and other useful objects.
I think this is a fabulous example of upcycling. Through their handcrafted creations Ocean Sole are seeking to teach the world about marine pollution. Ocean Sole are recycling man-made rubbish that is being retrieved from one of the world’s most precious ecosystems, the sea. From time to time we see news stories about plastic being one of the major ocean pollutants, but I never envisaged flip-flops being such a big polluter.
Ocean Sole describe thousands of flip-flops being washed up every year. This huge amount of flip-flops has a serious impact on the wildlife along the Kenyan coast. The company aims to recycle 400,000 flip-flops every year! That is a lot of flip-flops!
Not only are Ocean Sole playing their part in cleaning Kenya’s beaches, the business also provides much-needed jobs for the local community. It is wonderful to learn about a company so passionate about one of our most important ecosystems and community-orientated too.
The arrival of Springtime sunshine started something of a creative cascade for me. I described this creative wave in an earlier post and this has combined with the additional seasonal inspiration of Nature waking from her winter slumber and showering us with new shoots and blooms from the warming earth.
One of the projects that has so far evolved from my kinetic Springtime spree of creativity has been my upcycled supermarket carrier bag rug. In my last rug update post I was interpreting my design as a mirror of how we make use of the world’s finite resources – a message in my mat.
As I crocheted further on my mat I began working on the white section. It is not pure white, as you can see, but is laced with red and blue. Sometimes these colours are clearly seen, sometimes masked. The mat’s message here is the influence our one small country, Britain, has had on industrialisation both here in the UK and throughout the world, particularly since the period of time we call The Industrial Revolution (during the 18th and 19th centuries). This influence has left its legacies everywhere. Like the red and blue colours, sometimes these legacies are very evident and sometimes they are masked by more recent developments.
North East England, where I live, was renowned for the coal production that powered the Industrial Revolution. Our local environment is full of remnants of this industrial past. The very house and village in which I live was built for mine-workers. In creating my mat here I feel this represents a link between the past and the future. Just as mining families would have created their old rag mats that I talked about in my first post on this project, I too am now crafting my mat from upcycled materials.
It is important to me to try harder to use less of the earth’s resources – though I do not claim to be perfect by any means! Most of us accept that fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, are not good news for our planet’s future. I think we can all try and play our part by reducing our own consumption and carbon footprint and by encouraging each other in our environmentally-aware endeavours. There is so much we can do ourselves but also by spreading our ‘encouragement’ in the direction of our governments we can try and use our collective powers of persuasion to convince them that our one and only planet is certainly worth caring about.
To reflect in my mat these feelings of hopefulness and of actively encouraging environmental awareness, I chose to finish it with a strong green border. You may notice the border is deeper on two sides. These deeper sides will eventually lie east to west in my porch. This final part of my message mat is to say that from east to west, around the world, we can all play our part in protecting our planet.
I’ve enjoyed creating my upcycled message mat – both the crochet part and thinking about the story that belongs to this mat. On a practical level, I’m happy with the way my mat has worked out. It is nice and thick and is quite soft too.
The construction method I chose involved simply knotting each strip of carrier bag to the next. I realised this was obviously going to leave a lot of loose ends but rather than try and hide them all, I thought they resembled carpet pile so I decided to leave them showing. I think they add to the texture of the finished mat too. I am also glad to say the mat fits just nicely in its intended destination, my front porch.
In my last upcycling post I left you wondering what on earth I was making with a pile of old supermarket carrier bags. Perhaps my inclusion of a book on rug-making in that post too might have inclined you to wonder if that craft would feature in my creative plan. Indeed it does. And now I am pleased to say my upcycled rug project has made good progress despite this week’s multitude of irksome delaying digressions.
One of the things I love about upcycling is the way it makes you really look hard at your intended resource and stretches your brain in devising a creative design that will fit with the available material – both the type of material and quantity. I began by taking a good look at my mound of carrier bags. It was fairly obvious that they could be sorted by colour – red, yellow, blue, white, green. Then I had to consider quantities and the possible construction methods I might use. What pattern would be suitable? What other aspects might I incorporate into my rug project?
I liked the idea of creating a rug in the style of the the old rag mats I had been reading about. However, I didn’t have a suitable canvas backing available and also I decided the slippery nature of plastic would not lend itself well to that method of rug-making. So that experiment will keep for another time.
Eventually for the construction I decided to go with my favourite yarn craft, crochet. I settled on crochet for two main reasons. Firstly, the rug is destined for a practical purpose – my front porch – so will receive a moderate amount of wear and I generally find crochet is quite robust and holds together well.
My second reason relates to the nature of the material I was looking to upcycle. The plastic of the carrier bags I am using is biodegradable so only has a life of around 18 months to 2 years. (I know this from experience as sometimes I find I have stored something in a biodegradable bag and then discover it has … biodegraded!!) For this reason I didn’t want to choose a construction method that would take too long as I didn’t want the material biodegrading before I’d finished the rug! For me, crochet would be fast. So although I know the rug won’t last forever, it also won’t have taken me a long time to make.
The range of colours and the quantity of each helped suggest the design to me. Based on a simple plain crochet square motif, with a circle at its centre, I am using up each colour until it is all gone. My intention with this method of working is to mirror how we make use of the world’s finite resources – a message in my mat, as it were.
Each colour does not make an identifiable pattern or part of the rug. A red row runs on into a blue row, a blue into a yellow and so on. My mat’s message here is how we, the human species, stumble on using the earth’s finite resources, generation after generation. The centre circle represents time, ticking away. It is as if we still cannot come to terms with the inevitable result – our resource will run out … suddenly and soon, just like each of my colours!
I imagine you will be pleased to hear I am aiming for my mat’s story to provide a hopeful end, so look forward to the next part of this upcycling tale.
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.
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.
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 …