How upcycling transforms used objects into ones of greater value
Upcycling – the process of turning unwanted items into products of greater value – might sound like a dubious idea (another eco-concept that’s all trouser fluff and no trousers perhaps?) but it does raise the point that with most recycling the final product is of the same or less value than the original item. Upcycling doesn’t just stave off landfill, it actually gets close to the eco-ideal of turning waste into lasting beauty.
Working with this simple idea in an imaginative way, knitter and upcycler Jakki Stewart has set up Ecozee, an online shop based out of Earlston in the Borders, selling upcycled wool and felt items. Stewart’s finished products – gloves, hot water bottle covers, tea cosies etc – are beautiful, however she started Ecozee to achieve practical, rather than aesthetic, results. ‘I had a bet with my friend last summer,’ Stewart explains. ‘She said, “let's knit some socks” and I said, "you must be joking! Life's too short to knit a pair of socks"’. Skipping the knitting part, she went straight to the sewing machine with a second-hand Pringle jumper. Now Ecozee uses only material bought second-hand. ‘For me it's a win win situation because the product to start with is desirable and beautiful. Scottish people love it (as does everybody else in the world) so it's easy to sell.’
Many of Stewart’s jumpers end up in a hot wash to shrink the fibres and turn the wool into felt. ‘It's pretty simple, you put a handwash only, pure wool sweater in the washing machine, and that's it! I've learned from experience which sweaters are better. Some mysteriously get larger so it's a hit and miss process.’ Which jumpers work best? ‘The best ones are the Pringles and Lyle & Scotts of this world; the jumpers which are the nicest to start with. It really needs to be the traditional Scottish stuff.’
The process is easy enough to try yourself, with, according to Stewart, only one downside. ‘It's rather fluffy. You end up in knee deep in fluff. You forget and then you can't wear black.’
Ecozee is just one of very, very many Etsy upcycling shops. Etsy also offer some fantstic upcycling tips through their ‘handmade blog’, www.etsy.com/storque.
For DIY upcycling trends try www.threadbanger.com, a cool Brooklyn-based blog, or the UK fashion student-run upcycle-fashion.blogspot.com.
www.wornagain.co.uk has a slick online shop for clothes and accessories made from old Eurostar seat fabrics and Virgin hot air balloon materials.
For local upcycling fashion have a peek at Raw Vintage (www.re-cycleandwear.co.uk) and the Craft Mafia (www.glasgowcraftmafia.com) in Glasgow, or Joey-D (www.joey-d.co.uk) and Godiva (www.godivaboutique.co.uk) in Edinburgh.