upcycled flower brooch

How upcycling helps the mind and the environment

Upcycling is seeing a resurgence in popularity at the moment - it’s actually a form of recycling where, rather than turning the unwanted items into new materials, they are updated and given a new lease of life, usually creatively, therefore avoiding the use of a recycling bin altogether!
Recycled sari and wire knit neck piece
  neckpiece made from knitted scrap wire with sari silk strips

It’s funny, whilst writing this blog, I’ve realised that upcycling is something that’s always been a constant in my life. Looking at my back catalogue(!) I can see that the simple pleasure of recycling creatively is something that I’ve always done but never considered that the process actually has a name.

flower brooch recycled materials
brooch made with wire, buttons and textile scraps

There are all sorts of things that I’ve made from recycled pieces, in fact the make do and mend approach has definitely been instilled in me from a young age by my Mum. Despite being a foot too short for it, my Mum still insists on wearing my old school coat (you know, the square one on the uniform list which you refuse to wear despite it costing your parents a small fortune) – mind you, over thirty years on, she has absolutely nailed the cost per wear principle with it!


Flower made from stitched recycled magazine pages
Scrunched up machine stitched floral print magazine pages 

Maybe it's because I used to teach teenagers, but I think that the tools for being creative should be accessible to everyone - and generally are with a little creative thinking which is why upcycling is so brilliant. From old buttons and magazines to teaspoons, it's all fair game!

The down side to all this upcycling malarkey is that I find it hard to throw things away and as a creative I can see the potential in everything – my husband would call it junk but I think it’s treasure!  All this talk about upcycling has given me a new determination to have a studio sort out and get creative with the things I already have.


Figure made from recycled materials
leaving present for Food Technoloy teacher, teaspoon and j-cloth!

When I used to teach at secondary school we had a Year 8 project called Soft Sculptures which involved designing and making a cushion or a bag inspired by food or drink products out of recycled materials and there were some fabulous outcomes. I did sometimes worry that various items of clothing and bedding had been removed from homes without parental permission but fortunately I didn’t get any negative comeback on that one! I hope that the project instilled the idea in the students that it’s the creative solution that’s the key, not the materials it’s made from.


Burger yr 8 soft sculpture recycled materials  Pizza slice yr 8 soft sculpture recycled materials
Year 8 cushions from recycled materials

For many years research has shown how calming being creative can be for the brain and this is so important in these turbulent times. As I mentioned in a previous blog I wrote about art therapy, result based activities help to trigger the flow state and when you succeed at creating that result your brain is flooded with dopamine, the feel-good chemical. So basically upcycling is good for you and good for the environment too - what's not to love?!

You can read more about the power of art therapy here

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