Discover Online Classes in Upcycling
Upcycled fashion, applique, fabric scrap projects, and more.
You separate your trash, you turn off the lights when you’re not using them, and you cycle or walk to work (well, on nice days…). What else can you do to lead a more environmentally sustainable and conscious life? Become an upcycler! Learn more about upcycled clothing and sustainability, right here.
What Is Upcycling?
The Merriam-Webster definition of upcycling, or upcycle, is: “to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item.”
You can see from this definition of upcycling what the “up” refers to: a higher monetary value. However, that focuses solely on the financial aspects of upcycling, and that isn’t always what upcycling is about! Sure, if you want to make some money by restoring old pieces of furniture or mending and tailoring vintage clothing, you absolutely can. But on a simpler level, upcycling can be about taking something old and giving it a new coat of paint or set of buttons to make it more attractive, modern, or useful.
Upcycling combines environmental sustainability with craftiness and your own personal style. Instead of throwing something old away or buying a totally new item, upcycling keeps items in use for longer. Plus, if you want to inject your own creativity into items you use in your daily life, upcycling can do that! Choose your own color palette, fabric trimmings, or other details for a totally unique, one-of-a-kind upcycled treasure.
Making Art With Nature: Frames, Boxes, and Floral Sculptures
Why Is Upcycling Important?
Every object you use in your daily life—from your clothes to your kitchen table—took resources and labor to create. When an old or unwanted item is thrown away, it’s added to a landfill (although some parts can be recycled) and you’re likely to need a replacement for that sweater or chair. That means even more resources and labor are used to meet the demand for ever newer goods. Upcycling puts a stop to this endless cycle, or at least slows it down and reduces waste.
Who doesn’t love to save a few dollars? When you need to replace an item, buying new will usually cost more than upcycling it yourself. Even if you can buy something new for less than the cost of upcycling, you might not be saving yourself money in the long run.
Think of an old coffee table you’ve had for years: You could sand it down and buy varnish or paint to upcycle it, or you could replace it with something cheap (that may not last very long anyway because it’s not well-made). Upcycling for the win!
If you dislike having the same mass-produced clothing or homewares as everyone else, upcycling is definitely for you! No two upcycled items are the same.
A Creative Outlet
Whether your tool of choice is a sewing machine or a hammer and saw, upcycling is a fun way to put your creative talents to use or to learn a new skill.
Examples of Upcycled Items
Looking for a decorative holder for your houseplants? You probably have something suitable on a back shelf in your kitchen! Paint it, decorate it—just don’t forget to place the plant within a smaller plastic container with drainage holes first, to keep your plants healthy.
Get creative with a needle and embroidery floss and stitch a pretty and unique design onto an old, plain t-shirt.
Weave Cloth from Old Fabric
Turn old strips of fabric into a totally new piece of cloth by weaving it on a handmade loom. You can then use that woven piece in various ways, including to decorate other clothing, like the denim jacket above, or as rugs or placemats.
You can also stitch fabric scraps together to make fun pieces of patchwork fabric. Then, sew them onto other items of clothing (a bit like applique), or use them to make whole pieces, like bags or pouches.
Sweater to Slippers
There’s no need to throw away an old wool sweater that has a stain down the front or holes in the elbow. Use pieces that are still in good condition to make cozy slippers.
Scrap Silk Flowers
If you work with luxury fabrics, you won’t want to waste the offcuts. Make them into pretty flowers that can be sewn onto clothing, headbands, or accessories.
Resin Side Table
If you’re seeking an ambitious upcycling project, why not try this multi-layered resin side table?
Use scrap paper to make greetings cards, postcards, or art that you can hang on your wall. You don’t need to buy any fancy papers—old magazines, gift wrap, and other scraps work perfectly!
Crochet Rag Rug
If you work with leather, you likely have scraps you can turn into a fashionable bracelet or other piece of jewelry.
Here’s an upcycling project you might not have considered: Skillshare instructor Kate Chystykova teaches how to turn an old hardback notebook into a stylish jewelry box.
Get Started Upcycling
Ready to get started upcycling? Take a look in your closet or your garage and find something that’s seen better days. Alternatively, make a trip to your local thrift store and find something with a good underlying structure that could do with some TLC. If you’re really crafty, you can upcycle pretty much anything, but an easier way to get started is to choose something that is still structurally sound but would benefit from modernizing or refreshing. Have fun!
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