the ReFab Diaries: upcycle
Showing posts with label upcycle

I think that burlap is something you either love or loathe. Either way, it's a much more interesting fiber than you'd think. And it can contemporary... not just country! It's "green" because it's made from jute, a very low-impact plant to grow. So it's renewable. Even compostable! Also, it’s pretty easy to get second-hand/used burlap, if you know where to look. Local coffee shops, especially ones that roast their own beans, tend to be rich with big, empty burlap sacks.  For other ideas on how to find the stuff (and to read more about why burlap is awesome) visit Crafting a Green World.  Once you get your hands on some, make these pretty things (25+ projects for you):

Saw the  top left version on Apt Therapy (via BHG) and went in search of others .... I know one corner of my kitchen is a mess of cords so this project will happen as soon as I can find an old breadbox 


The Martha Stewart Weddings blog (Brides Guide) recently mentioned Stringcycle's guitar-string flowers ... they said "we see them fitting into a quirky vintage wedding theme as totally unique table decor". I think fresh-flower alternatives are big for bouquets too ... and this enamel-brooch repurposed wonder deserves a look.  It's bold and out there.





This post was, of course, inspired by the light fixture above (seen on Etsy- one ugly cord, a bulb and a few old books.  Not so hard to do if you're interested in trying a little bookfolding.  Anyway, it got me looking for other cool ways to hide ugly cords ... and otherwise upcycle ugly old lamps. Five more for you: 


Two awesome tutorials to step you through upcycling those ratty old cargo pants.  The version above is from Noodlehead.  The version below is from Bludor


The term Steampunk is a play on cyberpunk and, according to various Wiki's, was coined in the '80s to refer to a specific genre of literature - think H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Philip Pullman ... think Victorian-era tech meet cyberpunk vision. I love these fictional worlds (completely captivated by His Dark Materials).  More recently, I fell in love with The Night Circus - magical steampunk-ism (?)... read it if you haven't.  Anyways, I'm a fan of the genre.  And, for the most part, I love the art, fashion and design informed by the steampunk aesthetic. It brings the small, hidden, "inner workings" of things out.  It often gives hard metal, gears and mechanics a softer, magical twist.


Faux bois / woodgrain is everywhere ... adding a little mid-century flair? A little "natural mod" texture? It's cheap, trendy, versatile and easy to use!  So it's a GREAT upcycling material. Here's a round-up of projects I think are graintastic!

Chicago is so warm and sunny right now ... it's summer in March!  I want to string a hammock under a tree and drift through the days.  It will probably snow in April, but for now I'm staring at all the dull, grey/black/teal things in my closet.  Blagh!  So ... the hunt for (re) fresh, floral ideas begins.



I recently featured Mielie, a South African company creating amazing woven art, objects and acessories using old t-shirts and knit-fabric overruns.  The post got a huge response, so here are a few more fun ways to repurpose old t-shirts!  First, the hip chevron mat from The House that Lars Built.


Board games ... they have their charms.  But if your last Monopoly hotel has filed for Chapter 11... or Ms Scarlet has eloped with Ms Peacock (for her money, of course!) and abandoned the game, don't despair ... no need to be Sorry!  And no need to toss the whole box in trash! The page above is from the "Premiere" issue of Budget Living (10 years ago?) ... I thought the "board game shelf" was a great idea.  I still do. Here are the oh-so tricky instructions given by BL:  "To make each shelf, just screw two 4-inch L-brackets into a wall and attach the board to the brackets using multipurpose cement."  Then display!   (more ideas after the jump)



My guitar was my great love from around age 10 until a few years ago, when a bum wrist forced me to hang it up. I know I've thrown out miles of old strings along the way - what did I know?!  Anyways, when I stumbled upon Stringcycle about 4 years ago, I was smitten for obvious reasons... and my "musical bouquet" has been in a vase on my dining-room table ever since (these babies don't wilt!). On a whim, I asked Julia if she'd be interested in doing some kind of stringcycle demo for me.  When she agreed I believe I did a little dance.

So, I'm beyond excited that today, I get to introduce Julia Friend as my first-ever guest blogger.... and, along with you lovely folk, finally learn how to make her tuneful blooms!




Julia gives a second life to used strings rescued from musical friends and instrument repair shops.  Why instrument strings?  "Because they're beautiful and infinitely useful!" Julia's a fan of homemade music and most things DIY, especially when it involves reclaiming used materials. She's been crafting with instrument strings for a decade, on and off, and sells her work at music festivals, craft fairs and on Etsy.  She stays on her toes by "refining designs to accent the properties of the strings and display good craftsmanship".  Be sure to check out all the beautiful pieces in her store or through Facebook ...  {Tutorial after the jump!}




Winter in the midwest is long ... when you have a kid, it's interminable. I had no idea!!  So we asked relatives to get us a membership to the Chicago Children's Museum (good way to minimize how much stuff we got for her first birthday).  We figured it would help us get out of the house and give the wee person a place to run around and be crazy.  We thought we were being pretty smart at the time.  With hindsight, it was a genius decision!  I love the place.  It's welcoming, stimulating and, above all, constantly surprising.  Since the focus is on tactile experience, we spend a lot of time *doing* stuff.  But the last time we were there, I spent some time just looking ... and guess what I saw?  Repurposing, recycling and ingenius refashioning everywhere!  So here's a taste.




He's inspired by a book and he's made of old t-shirts and scrap fabric.  And the tutorial/pattern is offered free by MeSewCrazy.  I'd say he deserves center-stage on this blog.

Perhaps re-purposing etc appeals so much to me because it exposes the hidden potential in ordinary things. You take something mundane and make it a centerpiece. You bring something rough and utilitarian indoors ... smooth the rough edges just a little and give it a second chance.  I guess I'm an optimist - I definitely believe in second chances!

I think this pendant lamp from Poppytalk sums it up.  An old wire wastebasket has its shining moment!  It provides a soft glow, thanks to a little scrap-fabric weaving.  Read on for a few more ideas on the theme...


A year (and a day) ago, Terri and Adam got married (Happy Anniversary!).  

Terri Falvey is a crazy-talented copywriter/graphic designer ... who kinda likes books - we once taught reading classes together.  She married someone who apparently shares her interests  :)

Anyways, their wedding was a masterpiece of text/book-inspired craft, art, DIY, repurposing ... you name it. I've been meaning to ask permission to blog about it for ... er ... about a year now. So, on with the post.

(Photos by Edyta Szyszlo - please do not download without permission)


"Mielie" is, officially, the Afrikaans word for corn/maize.  But it's also the word all South Africans use for corn (and its by-products), no matter what language they happen to speak. Now, "Mielie" is a small business after my own heart. Employing over 50 artists the mission is "to design and produce innovative, export-quality hand-crafted products using reclaimed materials - with the aim of creating employment and restoring dignity and financial independence to South Africans".  The Mielie Peeps work out of their homes, sell across the planet, share a community garden and create the most amazing things using strips of t-shirt fabric!!







The items pictured here are the tip of the Mielie-berg.  I cannot begin to capture the variety and creativity of these folks.  Wanna learn to weave like a Mielie Peep?  Follow the links to the two free tutorials... after the jump.




I think the smell of fresh sawdust is wonderful! ... (she ducks to avoid the virtual thwack).  But really ...  isn't it?  On the other hand, working with wood is intimidating, and N-O-T, not manicure-friendly.  I understand now that I was lucky to grow up surrounded by "woodshops" and wood "benches" - even at school!  My pre-school had a wood table - we used actual hammers and nails (can you imagine?!).  And I got to spend my 6th grade year working with wood as part of my actual curriculum.  We made clocks, tables ... even music stands.  (Also saw my very old, wiry-haired teacher/school principle electrocute himself one day in the workshop - not a sight you forget!)

For all that, I've done little more than sand and refinish in recent years.  Even though I know there are Park District woodshops across Chicago.  My excuses: well ... I live in an apartment ... I don't have a circular saw handy ... I have very little work space ... etc!  But there are things you can make indoors on a rainy/snowy day.  And if you smile nicely in the hardware store, those lovely people will happily cut pieces to exact size for you.  And the wonderful sawdust fragrance is free. 

Here's some inspiration to get you going:


You've seen the $1400 Anthro bookcase right?  OK ... so the price includes 6 vintage books.  But what if you just want the bookcase?  What if you want a version customized for books you've selected yourself? And, er ...what if you don't have $1400 to drop on a cute bookcase?

Head over to whollyKao (loving the name!) for what might be my favorite tutorial of the 2012 ... it's a cheap, easy make!!  The only thing that would make it better: using "found" wood or something other than particle/chip board (click "Read More" for six more doable projects)






I saw these "candy" lights and thought Quality Street!!  Not that I've seen/tasted one of these "choc-ies" in many years.  They used to come out especially for the holidays ... the way I see Fannie Mae bought around here ... or See's Candies in CA.  So I think it's entirely appropriate to create party decor with this kind of "candy".

Get the how-to at OhHappyDay.  If you planned it, you could start saving plastic clamshell berry containers now, rather than buying corsage boxes.  








Beyond cute, right?  Check out Michele's whole post for more plastic-cap re-use ideas.  




A woven basket ....  (many more after the jump!)

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