the ReFab Diaries: upcycling DIY
Showing posts with label upcycling DIY


This idea for the kitchen was inspired partly by Pinterest and partly by need! First, I have a whole Pinboard dedicated to new uses for fallen branches. I love the many ways you can repurpose them indoors and used branches as a Christmas tree last year. Then I hung on to some of the sturdier ones when I moved in January (I got odd looks from the movers!) 

The need arose when I found myself staring at my new "back splash" every time I washed dishes. It's ugly. It's in serious need of fresh paint, or a real makeover! But I'm renting ... so whatever I do has to be temporary. I also had no way to organize the paper towel, sponge etc. And that's how the idea arose. I spent $2 on leather belts at a thrift store and everything else I needed, I already had. 



This weekend I made myself tackle the dull things I've been avoiding since I moved. Like hemming curtains. And moving stuff to the basement storage. My reward? Making this ... thing. 

I'm not quite sure what to call it. A book vase? (I already made something I called that) Organic art? Maybe a book bud vase? I'm really not sure, so I'm calling it a mixed-media upcycle. And, whatever the name, I love, love, love how it turned out! And it was easy to make so read on for instructions!




I have the time and energy to execute about a quarter of the projects swirling in my head (or on my Pinboards for that matter). And because I'm pressed for time, I usually sit on ideas until I think I've landed on the fastest route to execution. This often backfires (of course!). But not this time. This time, once I'd gathered what I needed, the actual making and hanging took an hour. 




Last year, I ate a lot of nuts. And since I wasn't buying them in bulk, I made myself keep the packaging. As evidence of my nut habit. But also as a reminder to myself to stop buying pre-packaged nuts! 

I knew I'd find a way to use the containers (did you see my nutty lamp?) but I had no idea what I'd do with the lids... until Ms Ro asked for a mobile. And then the wheels started turning!





I see treasure in trash. I thinks there's joy in junk, wonder in waste. I've been showing you my upcycles, alley grabs, refabs, roadkill rescues and refashions for 6 years. As I contemplate the next step in trimming my waste (so to speak), here's a round up of some of my favorites tutorials.

1 and 2. Aluminum Cans 
Specifically, local (Chicago) craft beer cans. I love good beer and supporting local brewers. And I'm often distracted by the beautiful design featured on the cans. So much so, I thought they were worthy of jewelry. Save a few cans from your recycling and make your own geometric necklace or flower pin

3. Book Folding (if you're a book lover, please know that I am too. Here's my argument for why I think crafting with books is acceptable)
By far the most popular post on the blog, folded books make beautiful wall decor. It's a great way to repurpose a book that no one (and I mean no one) will ever read again. For example, old reference books, recipe books and city guides.

4. Negatives 
If you're keeping old negatives, ask yourself why? If you've lost the pictures, go get them printed! Then turn the negatives into something beautiful. Earrings, a necklace or create something decorative for your home

5. Pages of old books
There are so many ways to use book pages! Make your own paper beads then use them to make a bookmark. Or...
6. Big reference books 
Huge old encyclopedias are too big for bookfolds. So I made a book vase and won a Womens' Day Challenge for my trouble. I've also turned books into clocks and purses

7. Guitar strings
I played guitar regularly for 12+ years. I threw out so many broken strings in that time. What a waste! I could have made bunches of these beautiful flowers. And if you have an old, broken guitar lying around, here's a round of ways you could repurpose it.

8. Postage stamps (or any other pretty paper)
Betsy Siber makes beautiful jewelry out of stamps from around the world. This earring tutorial she created for me a few years ago is still a favorite. And here are other ideas for things you can do with old stamps.

Looking for more ideas? There's a long list of repurposing ideas in the sidebar. Lots of tutorials here and big roundups here








You may have seen the recent post dedicated to my scrappy tree and handmade ornaments (copper himmeli and twig-and-wire trees). This copper candle holder was made at the same time. I was inspired by the metal taper holders I've seen here and here. I liked being able to find a new use for a mason jar. And upcycle a little plastic sample bottle at the same time! Read on for the instructions...

A couple of weeks ago, an early morning run resulted in found treasure ... this little table. If the sun hadn't been hitting the stainless steel in a blindingly bright way, I might not have noticed it. But I did. And it took about 30 seconds to establish the important things about it: the top is solid wood, the frame is in perfect condition and it's balanced. So I grabbed it. The makeover was fun and easy!


If you enjoy making your own jewelry, especially if it involves a little upcycling, this is for you. A completely FREE eBook from the folk at All Free Jewelry Making featuring 14 projects that upcycle everything from eggshells to sunglasses to CD's.

Oh, and aluminum cans. Remember my tin-can daisy jewelry? That project is in there too  :)









If anyone tried to profile my "style" it would be, at best, eclectic. At worst, disjointed and fickle. Case in point: I saw a $98 clock on Fab.com that made me look twice. That little "I can make that" voice went off in my head like a siren... after all, how cool would it be to turn an expensive "Fab" into a "ReFab"? On the other hand, it's not quite "me". There's an aesthetic out there epitomized, for me, by Ariele Alasko. It resonates for me.




Victoria (Confessions of a New-Old homeowner) is my hero for this refab. It pretty much nails everything I hope to capture in an upcycle, repurpose or makeover. Something ugly is made beautiful. All parts are used - zero waste. Both "afters" make sense and work in her home. The whole thing was done on a dime.

The two sets of instructions are housed in different places. Start here and check out the whole blog while you're at it. Instructions for the cage light are housed at Brooklyn Limestone.






Like most of us in the northern hemisphere, Melanie (of Bliss Bloom Blog) is craving flowers and dreaming of spring. In honor of Earth Day, she created these amazing egg carton roses. They're simple to make (great tutorial) and I love that the end product somehow manages to look both rustic and refined.

Thanks to Melanie for permission to feature this great upcycle. Get the complete tutorial here.




It's been a while since I published a full guest tutorial, so without further ado, meet Elaine Luther! Elaine is a local (Forest Park) artistjeweler, blogger and busy mom. She is currently exhibiting for Women's History month at the Chicago Public Library's West Englewood branch. 

The exhibit, titled Our Ladies of Perpetual Housework, is a collection of assemblage sculptures honoring the neverending work of, well, all of us trying to keep a home (and a life) ticking over every day. The collection is on show through March 31, 2014. Read more about the exhibit here. Then take a look at the prints on sale at Redbubble.

photo credit:  David Pierini
Elaine works a lot with metal, not just in her jewelry making but also her art. So it's fitting that this tutorial involves silver. Silver leaf, to be exact. This is a great technique for giving new life to old wood pieces. In this case, picture frames. Enjoy!


One of the most popular ReFabs on this blog is an amazing lamp makeover using duct tape and 2L soda bottles. Classy upcycling of plastic bottles never gets old for me.

This lovely tutorial (care of Instructables) is my new favorite. Because it's thrifty and simple. And the instructions are great. They're calling it a Designer Paper Lamp. I think the more important thing to call out is that it's upcycled soda bottle lighting!



My friend Ruth recently tried her hand at a plarn project. Lucky for me she recorded her steps so I get to share her experience with you! For a roundup of 11 other plarn DIYs, click here.


Here's a familiar story: I just happened to be around when my neighbor was throwing out a lamp. Solid wood base. Old electrical cord but in perfect working order. How could I resist? Small issue... no shade. I took my time deciding what would work in the room - I wanted warm light. And I wanted to create something that would work in a vintage / boho-inspired space. Something a bit like this: 

I recently moved into a new place and have had a lot of opportunity to upcycle, makeover and refab old furniture. Mostly stuff abandoned in the alley behind my building! Somehow, Chicago provided what I needed when I needed it. And this is the first makeover in a series ... very excited to show you!


Ugh... those nasty light fixtures that developers use when they literally refuse to spend more than 25c on lighting. I'm not a fan. Nor do I love the ugly wire planters that come out in the spring ... but at least they get covered up with whatever is planted in them!

But somehow these two things are combined into something I love. It's clever, simple and the color choice is perfect. Complete Cage Light tutorial at Rook No 17.



Really simple idea from the Ambitious Procrastinator ... but effective!  Check out the tutorial and all her other lighting DIYs.




And this?  Click through to see more images and get the full effect. This is such a high-impact refab and I can imagine that the actual light it gives off is really warm. Rock on Cleverly Inspired.







It's been a bit quiet around here lately ... my apologies. I got a new (full-time) job and writing new posts (or making anything myself) has had to take a back seat. But check this out! Remember my book vase/planter? I entered it into a Woman's Day DIY challenge and it won!

They've tweaked my idea pretty significantly and ultimately gutted more books than I'd like... but hey, I'm happy for the nod. Click here to see my original, much simpler Book Vase.






From cradle to cradle? :)  I've seen lots of fun ways to repurpose old cribs but I'm featuring this one because ... I just like it - a lot! And the tutorial is great. Head to The Red Kitchen for the details.








As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame
Gerard Manley Hopkins

This wonderful little dragonfly brooch was created using old book leather and a plastic soda bottle for wings. For instructions and more pics, see The Upcycler.





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