Annual Christmas Crap Competition, Starting…Now!

It’s that time of year again!  We’ve finished feasting and opening presents, and most of us will have a few days before bin collections–plenty of time to contemplate the massive amount of packaging waste the holiday season creates.  So, what are you going to do about yours?  If you need a little inspiration or incentive to cut it down a bit, we’ve got ideas for you here.

If your kids are anything like mine, you may find the boxes are more fun than the stuff that came in them.  So we celebrate Boxing day by making something fun out of some of the leftover cardboard boxes.  Last year it was a cardboard robot.  This year… well, I’m going to have to see when the kids tear themselves away from watching School of Rock on the sofa.  If you’d like to try out some cardboard construction of your own, check out Red Ted Art’s Blog for 40 different ideas to create with your own cardboard boxes.

When you’ve finished playing with your cardboard, you can cut this year’s Christmas Cards into next year’s gift tags and maybe cut some of your prettier packaging into garlands for parties later in the year:

january 007

If you still have any energy after all that, don’t forget you can send some of your extra packaging our way!  Check out our donations page for items we can upcycle into cool jewellery and accessories.  As an added bonus (and because we really need the materials) we’re running a “Christmas Crap Competition” from now until 30th January!

The competition is in two parts:

Christmas Crap Conversion:
All readers are encouraged to try their hand at upcycling by converting some of their own packaging and Christmas Crap into something useful, beautiful, or just generally kick-ass.  Email your amazing creations or post links in the comments.  The best creation (chosen by most likes on our facebook page) wins:

etsy 020

A ring-pull bracelet in the colour of your choice.

Christmas Crap Donations:

Once again, we’re in need of materials to work with. (We can’t eat all the Quality Street ourselves, you know!) So check out our Donate Materials page, rifle through your recycling bins, and get that stuff in the post!  (Or better yet, if you live in Cambridge, pop in!)  It doesn’t matter if it’s ring pulls, Quality Street Wrappers, or even bike chains…  Send us what you can, and we’ll keep it out of landfill and turn it to something cool.  The reader who sends us the most materials by 30th January will win:

sweet wrapper bracelets

A Quality Street Wrapper Bracelet in your colour choice.

You’ve got your mission–now see if you can’t cut down that mess of packaging before the bin men get here!


Upcycling Parties & Workshops

Seeing as we’re in party mode (in the UK at least) we’ve added to our Custom Workshops and Parties Page to include even more fun and games for all ages and abilities!  If you’re located in the East of England and fancy a more eco-friendly birthday for your kids or a crafty get-together with mates, check us out! Here’s a printable flyer you can pass on to your mates.  Ok, now you can get back to watching The Apprentice final and celebrating the Jubilee!



Upcycling materials we need!

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that we’re working our way through a mountain of plastic bottle tops.  But in the background, we still need to collect materials for our upcoming projects, and we could use your help!

Items we always need:

  • metal bottle caps
  • ring pulls from fizzy drink cans
  • Quality Street Wrappers
  • Broken/mis-matched costume jewellery

Special project collections:

We have a few special projects coming up, and we need to collect:

  • incomplete jigsaw puzzles / spare pieces
  • spare tiny toys/board game pieces (like you might find in a Kinder egg)
  • plastic Kinder eggs
  • small fabric scraps

We can use all of these things to make cool stuff like this:

upcycled bracelet, inner tube bracelet, recycled bracelet Sweet Wrapper earrings

If you have any of this stuff hanging around, don’t let it go to a landfill!  Why not save it for us?  We can accept items by post or through collections at centres in Cambridge.  Get in touch and we’ll explain how to collect your items.

Upcycling antics, and more fun with bottle tops!

Green magnet is shocked, yes shocked, by your behaviour.

Well, we still haven’t found a charity that wants any of our bottle tops yet, but we managed some fun upcycling with them yesterday.  Check out these bottle top magnets:

I especially like that the green magnet on the top left can be opened up to express shock if the need arises.  These cracked us up, so we’re looking forward to perfecting our technique next week.  If you fancy a tutorial, let us know–we have some avid photographers in the group, so we’re happy to photo the whole process.  Yesterday we also took advantage of the first non-rainy day this week to do some more work on our plastic bottle flowers.  (Which is great, because life just doesn’t offer enough opportunities to don such sweet-looking safety gear!)  Gratuitous action shot:Upcycled plastic bottle flowersStill a work in progress, but so far I think they look amazing!  Now we need to decide how to display them, i.e. garland, wreath, fascinators, magnets,  or just arranged beautifully in a big, fat vase.  Hmm.  Any suggestions?

“Upcycling” features on the Apprentice… But does it really?

At the end of a long Wednesday, settling in on the sofa with the kids tucked up in bed, BBC1 on the telly and #theapprentice twitterfeed scrolling next to me has become the pinnacle of “Mummy time” at our house.  And when I heard the word “upcycle” bandied about during last Wednesday’s task, I was almost giddy with excitement.  Here was a chance to see dedicated entrepreneurs turning their hand to something in my field!  And with well over 6 million viewers, perhaps upcycling would receive enough exposure that I wouldn’t have to explain it every time I hand someone a leaflet…  or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.  Episode 4, “Junk Shops” delivered its usual hour of team frictions, unfortunate soundbites, and pursed lips from Nick Hewer.  But in terms of shedding any real light on upcycling, I’m doubtful.

On the one hand, we have Team Phoenix, with a well-controlled budget, searching auctions, boot sales, and indeed tips for quality items at a bargain price.  The items were then transported to a shop on Brick Lane… and sold for a great deal of profit.  That’s it.  It’s that easy.  But as Make it and Mend It (a lobby organization for sustainability and recycling) tweeted:

There is a reason we aren’t all trolling car boot sales and litter picking for items to sell on.  By the time a shop on Brick Lane pays its overheads, and divides the profit amongst at least 6 people, £1,000 wont leave them with enough to survive for long.  People can and do make a living through finding and re-selling vintage items– when they have knowledge of the products and fashion trends of previous decades and the ability to fuse those styles with modern culture.  When done with skill, finding and trading in second-hand goods is admirable and keeps great items in circulation.  But it’s re-selling, and not upcycling.  The items being traded have started and finished as the same items in the same condition. No value has been added, it’s just that their true value is now appreciable because of their presentation in a new setting.

The Apprentice 2012 Azhar and Jade, Photo BBC

Next up, we have Team Sterling, with a more creative approach. Their strategy was to buy masses of cheap stuff from house clearances and second-hand shops, before “enhancing” the items with paint, wheels, legs, fabric and other embellishments.  A tricky strategy, which they found out to their cost. Laura Taylor from Decor Angels tweeted:

While Union Jacks and vintage suitcases are indeed, bang-on trend, a quick stab with a paint-brush and a staple-gun won’t necessarily do the job.  That’s why the style is called “shabby chic” and not just “shabby”.  Not only does the process require costly materials which cut the profit margin (the reason Team Sterling lost this week), it requires time, effort, and a certain amount of know-how.  And, while restoring second-hand items can add a great deal of value, it is not (necessarily) upcycling.  If you take a used chair and restore, repaint, re-upholster, refurbish and otherwise make it pretty–it is (hopefully) a more valuable chair, but still a chair.  If you take a suitcase, stick some legs on it and paint a Union Jack on the top, it’s a… less practical suitcase?  Perhaps a table?  I’m not sure what it was, really. But it started out as a useable item and it ended up as a… differently used item.   But when you take a useable item and change it’s purpose, that’s called:  re-purposing. (Surprise!)

According to Wikipedia,  “Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.”

The problem with the use of the term on The Apprentice this week, is that none of the items for sale were waste in the first place!  They were used goods, certainly, and maybe old as well.  Perhaps they didn’t match the items available on the high street this week.  But the idea that their age or second-hand status should render perfectly useable items worthless or class them as rubbish illustrates just how little our society values it’s possessions.

Upcycling is working with real, actual rubbish.  Not stuff that’s for sale in a charity shop, auction, or boot sale–stuff that’s probably already in your bin.  To upcycle, is to work with the things that the charity shops don’t want.  When you give me a rag, and I turn it into a nice scarf:  that’s upcycling.  When you give me a crisp packet and I hand you back a bracelet:  also upcycling.  When you give me a broken inner-tube and I make you a wine-holder for your bike:  Well, that’s just flippin’ awesome!

So while I’m pleased that upcycling has entered popular consciousness enough to be talked about on The Apprentice, I’m not sure that the process is any more clear.  But at least (maybe) people will catch on that it isn’t about bikes.

DIY Craft fair display – some links, photos and tutorials

Phew!  Now that Wednesday’s event is complete, I can link back and give some credit to tutorials, ideas, and blogs that helped us get there.  As I mentioned in earlier posts, our goal was to create a craft fair display from mainly upcycled materials–with a rock bottom budget.  Luckily, lots of astute crafters have been there before us and have been willing to share their wisdom and ideas, which we’ll link to here.

This was our original display.  The group decided they wanted to add some shelf-type height, a mirror, proper necklace displays, leaflets, and make everything a uniform colour (blue). It was a pretty tall order on no budget!

Using the materials we had on hand, I started out by making shelves with a small set of drawers from an unused nightstand.  A quick coat of spray paint and some mirrored contact paper was all these needed.  The thing I love most about these is that you can tuck most of your display items away in the drawers and store them neatly for next time.

Next up, we needed something to hold leaflets and promotional  materials, and I found what we needed on a blog by Katydid and Kid.  She posted excellent instructions for making a stationary organizer from a cereal box!  (Although hers was much nicer than ours, which was covered in scraps of fabric from a ruined shirt)  It looks nice for a box of Fruit & Fibre!

For our jewellery displays, I searched far and wide for DIY tutorials on the net.  Two of the main ideas I built on were a Necklace display tutorial by Stella and Hodge and a bracelet display instructable by CH3.  I also wanted some peg boards with ribbon, like the hundreds you can find on Pinterest.  The main materials I had to work with was packaging from Amazon–cardboard and stiff-rolled paper.  To give everything a uniform finish, I picked up a super-value roll of textured wallpaper that would cover all the display materials.  Last Wednesday, the group set to work cutting out the cardboard and covering it with wallpaper.  Since they wanted it blue, I tried a couple of methods before settling on one that would work well with the vinyl wallpaper:  Crayon.  Just like leaf rubbings we used to do in school, the crayon picked up all the texture in the wallpaper for a really cool finish.

We attached ribbon to the boards with staples and reinforced with hot glue.  In total, we made 3 boards, 5 necklace stands, and two bracelet rolls for less than £7, and managed to upcycle lots of  waste materials in the process!  I mentioned that we wanted a mirror for the display and although I’ve already posted photos, I’m going to do it again–I’m just that pleased with how it turned out!

Since the event was an All-Ability Cycling Day, I wanted to stick with a bike theme.  Luckily, I had a waste tire from the lovely people at OWL.   In order to make the tire fit the mirror, a certain amount of surgery was needed.  The rim of most bike tires is supported by several steel wires to maintain rigidity.  These need to be exposed and cut through individually before the rest of the tire can be seperated.  Then I hammered steel eyelets along each side of the join, and wove a thick cord through them corset-style to hold the mirror in place. The white and gold paint was an attempt at bike-meets-shabby-chic, which may have been a little too effective since most people didn’t actually notice there was a tire there at all.  Ah, well.

The last thing we needed was some kind of upcycled packaging, in case people actually wanted to buy our stuff*. We found just what we needed for that here, at the I Do Have A Talent blog. Her tutorial for gift bags from calendars was perfect, since we’ve had several calendars donated to us over the past several months. The fact that it’s Easter, and we had a bunny calendar was an added bonus!  The tutorial is so great and they came out so sweet that I see no reason a gift bag from a shop again!

So in a very large nutshell, that’s how we created an upcycled craft fair display on a minimal budget. Thanks to all of you crafters out there who provided inspiration!  If you like any of the ideas we’ve posted, please do follow the links and check out the full tutorials–they’re great!

*Hooray–people really did want to buy our stuff and use our bunny bags!–Thanks to everybody who made purchases!