Archive for the ‘Reusing and upcycling’ Category

Jumper_BEFOREMy husband has had this jumper for eons. No, he is not a former ski instructor, ex raindeer-herder or one-time arctic fisherman. I like to think it is his keen sense of irony and appreciation for Nordic design that led him to this particular winter warmer. Or perhaps just the recklessness of youth…..Anyhoo, it was recently re-discovered at the bottom of a wardrobe whiffing faintly of moth balls but looking as good as new. It no longer fitted Z ‘s waistline or fashion sensibility and needed to find a new home. Because of it’s fine pedigree- pure Scandinavian wool if you don’t mind- I decided to give it to my sister who has a penchant for all things woolly. I thought she might unravel it it and re-knit it into something useful for my nieces. She’s good like that. Turns out she had an altogether craftier scheme up her sleeve.


A delightfully squishy birthday parcel arrived for me last week. Imagine my delight to find Z’s swanky sweater reincarnated as an amazing felted bag. I love it- thanks sis. Such clever and creative re-purposing- but that’s my sis. Did I mention that she’s good like that?


The jumper was felted in a warm machine wash followed by a stint in the dryer. It can be a bit of a trial and error technique but usually reliable with 100% pure wool. After felting it was cut up and sewn together. Have you got a felting project you’d like to share?

*For non-Irish readers this is a nod to brilliant song by 90’s Cork Band The Sultans of Ping




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Well, what a year that’s been! We have been thrown plenty of challenges to keep us on our toes. As a result the last 12 months have just flown by with my blogging falling a bit by the wayside (I plan to remedy that). We tackled a leaky heating system which saw our wooden floors come up and, following a bit of plumbing, go back down. We then sold the Mutter-in-law’s home and built her a self-contained flat adjoining our house. All in all it’s been a roller coaster ride that we are quite happy to step off – a bit shaken but immensely proud of our staying power.

Z and his mother had a lot of letting-go to contend with; a beloved house on a unique site and the whittling down cherished possessions to a chosen few. The general building bugbears of manhandling large pieces of furniture, juggling finances and never being able to leave the house because of the slim possibility of a passing tradesman pale in comparison to the emotional aftermath. While the construction work and the logistics of moving are behind us we still have many, many cardboard boxes filled with “stuff” to deal with. It pains me to consign unwanted (uncompostable) objects to the dump where it will be dug into the ground for eternity. So what’s the alternative? To find a new use or owner for each item…..I will definitely try my best. Suggestions are welcome…..c’mon folk help me out!

The whole process has me thinking about how we operate as consumers. Usually without a thought for where the product we are buying will end it’s useful life. I’m not suggesting that that we stop consuming but can our purses encourage manufacturers to produce items and packaging that are biodegradable and/or compostable? Even if items were produced from recycled materials and were suitable to be re-recycled at the end of their life it would greatly reduce landfill. It is up to us to make choices that will push industries to consider these options.  Last year I took the “Love What you Wear Challenge” and I didn’t buy any new clothes for the whole year- only second hand garments, handmade clothes and upcycling allowed. While I didn’t actually manage to create any pieces I did keep to the challenge and plan to keep to it for another year. This time I’m cranking it up a notch and dusting off the sewing machine.  Note to friends: please organise an intervention if I end up looking like Worzel Gummidge‘s first cousin……

So yeah, Happy New Year to y’all!

Best wishes for all that you do in 2014

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I’ve seen this project so many times on Pinterest that I couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon. I use Sharpie markers for work so there are always have a few to hand and plain ceramics are easy to come by from second hand shops and market stalls. So what was I waiting for- time to get to doodle making!Sharpie_mug_projectSharpie_Markers

After the fun part of decorating my mug I left it for 24 hrs to “set”. Then I placed it in my oven for an hour at 200˚C. I have read some online projects that use a higher temperature – I guess it depends on the ceramic piece you are using. I have also read that the cheaper quality the mug the more permanent the design but couldn’t verify that. It’s important to place your ceramic piece in the cold oven and then switch up the heat so that it doesn’t crack with the sudden change in temperature. Just use a black Sharpie as other colours fade a lot and don’t appear to be as permanent. You can see from my before pic (above) and after picture (below) that the red has faded to a very light pinky brown after baking. I switched the oven off and let the piece cool down completely before removing. The mug is definitely wash proof but I would be nervous to put in a dishwasher and would avoid all abrasive pads on the design.

It’s a great project for personalising presents for friends and family or even for updating some of your own pieces to give them a new lease of life. Did I mention how much fun it is?

Illustrated mug

The mug is a present for my mum to thank her for all the lovely Beauty of Bath apples and Conference pears that have come from her garden into my kitchen. A token of my appreciation for all the crumbles, stewed and poached fruit that have been consumed in our household over the last few weeks. Thanks mum!


UPDATE: 3 months later the lovely design looked very raggy despite careful washing. So, I’m disappointed to report that the Sharpie method is not as permanent as I hoped. I also decorated the outside of a teapot and now almost 5 months later it doesn’t look so bad. This method is only really suitable for decorative ceramic pieces or those that only need occasional wipe.

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Anyone who reads this blog knows I am an avid fan of reusing and upcycling. For fellow fans here is an Irish website you absolutely must check out. Scroll through the case studies to read about inspirational uses for waste products that help both the economy and the environment. What’s not to love?

SMILE Resource Exchange is a free service for businesses that encourages the exchanging of resources between its members in order to save money, reduce waste going to landfill and to develop new business opportunities. Potential exchanges are identified through networking events, an online exchange facility and a support team to assist throughout.

SMILE has entered the World you Like Challenge and needs your support to get the award it so deserves. The Challenge is an EU funded competition that awards low-carbon initiatives in Europe and showcases innovation in green business and sustainability. Visit here and cast your vote to help SMILE become one of the 8 winners. You can vote once daily. So go on- show a little love and highlight a worthy project today and every day up until Monday 6th of September.

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I’ve been very quiet on the blogging front of late. Don’t be too hard on me – I have good reason. Our world has been topsy turvey for several weeks not with not much let up in sight. The builders are in. Yes, following a month of having our wooden floor dismantled to fix a leak we are now extending to add a granny flat. A year of changes all round as “granny” prepares to join us here. So yeah, there’s been a lot of disruption and heavy lifting of furniture. Not to mention the noise and dust, blah, blah, blah…….

Anyhow….. as we have been forced to move our shared studio to a more compact space I’d been going through years of accumulated items reserved for that extra special project that never quite manages to manifest itself. I hate to chuck stuff away. The more obscure and downright useless the object the more potentially interesting that special project is going to be. So with steely resolve to free up some space I set to the difficult task of decluttering. I struggled with an ancient bag of musty Letraset* fonts (mine) and architectural symbols (Z’s) and just as it landed on the for-God-sake-just-BIN-it heap Cathy Dineen’s email pinged in my inbox. Cathy is an extraordinarily talented illustrator who just happened to send out an unusual request for any Letraset that may be gathering dust in design studios around the country. She had plans to transform it into a beautifully crafted piece of art. I emailed straight back- I just love it when junk is rendered useful! I got to meet Cathy over a cuppa and hand over what could have been wheelie bin bumph to be creatively upcycled into something incredible. AND I got a beautiful hand crafted gift in return. A more than fair barter methinks.


I came home to my builder infested house oblivious to the Kango hammering and plaster blobs on my floor. With my original Cathy Dineen pottery pieces I was well pleased with myself. Not only had I done the sustainably responsible thing I’d made a lovely new friend in the process.

*Letraset was used by dinosaur designers such as myself before the invention of computers for rendering text on visuals. The letters/images were rubbed onto the surface. They are essentially obsolete and I imagine kinda hard to come by. I don’t miss them.

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A little project to get you in the festive spirit. This is a perfect use for any leftover little pieces of felt you may have stashed away. And if you’re anything like me you will. I have boxes of scrappy bits of material hoarded over the years because you just never know what crafty antics might take my fancy. For this cute little heart shaped Christmas ornament you’ll need :

  • a scrap of paper about 120mm square,
  • a mineral bottle top or round object of similar size (about 30mm in diameter)
  • pencil, scissors and sewing needles
  • 2 pieces of felt roughly 100mm square
  • A length of ribbon, about 160mm
  • embroidery thread, 2 colours
  • sewing thread, same colour as your felt
  • small sequins, shiny beads or buttons
  • some stuffing or padding

And here are the instructions. Best made with carols blasting on the radio and egg nog to hand. Enjoy!


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I’ve done it. I’ve made the commitment and there’s no turning back. While surfing through a great blog, choc-o-block with creative posts, I stumbled on the love what you wear project. Immediately taken with the whole idea, in a gush of upcycling fevour I threw my hat (formerly a jumper sleeve) into the ring. The project explained in the words of initiator Morwhenna:

From the 01 November 2012 – 01 November 2013 I won’t buy any new clothes (with the exception of shoes and undergarments!) When I need something – I’ll either make it, re-purpose what I have or buy secondhand. Why not come and join me and take part too?

I was relieved to find that blog has loads of useful links for the nervous amateur like myself. There is help at hand if I need it. The idea of being able to transform items of clothing that would normally be thrown or given away is very appealing although I did consider rushing out to my favourite clothes store for a last stock up on lovely frocks….afterall there is the local economy to think of…… But no. For better or for worse I’m in it for the long haul..*gulp!*

Ellen Cullen sewing

This illustration doesn’t feature in the book- I’m saving it for the graphic novel…

When I wrote a book about my family history I discovered that great great granny Mary Ellen Cullen was a dab hand at making clothes.

The Cullens were forced to downsize, moving first to Gorey in Co. Wexford and then to Kenilworth Square in Dublin. Mary Ellen became an adept seamstress and frugal housekeeper managing to uphold the illusion of financial security. 

Who knows. Maybe a little of that adept seamstress-ness is lurking somewhere in my DNA.. Time will tell.

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