Upcycling is defined by the ever knowledgeable Wikipedia as ” the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.” Originally this referred to a way of recycling materials in a way, which retained or improved their original quality, thus avoiding the danger of downcycling, i.e. creating a material which is not as good as the original.
However, since the term was coined in 1997 by Gunter Pauli, it has grown wings and become influential in the spheres of arts, crafts and even fashion. Why buy new materials when you can recycle existing ones – perhaps even adding a touch of vintage flavour? Upcycling also chimes with the recent trend to ‘make do and mend‘, something which I instinctively applaud, having gone to the sort of school where I was taught mending techniques, various ways to sew on a button, knitting socks and making simple (!) clothes, even as I shudder at the way the (political) elites have succeeded in brainwashing us that ‘we’re all in this together’, happily making do and mending following the recent recession. (No, we’re not Mr Cameron. Well, you’re not. You’re not even cycling any longer. Let alone up-)
Upcycling has spawned at least one new(ish) craft magazine, Reloved, which is full of great, mainly recycled (or should that be upcycled?) ideas from other craft publications. While one might not want to actually make all of the projects, the magazine provides a good insight into the variety of upcycling projects one can do.
I myself am increasingly drawn to trying to make something new out of something old and unwanted. A good example are my bags made from ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn) and a new quilting project: I’m currently making a dog blanket from men’s shirts and an old duvet cover. The materials came from various charity shops & probably cost me about £15 in total. The quilting yarn that I’m going to have to buy new suddenly seems massively expensive at £4 a reel. And in a way, I’m only going back to how quilts were made originally – from old clothes and other fabrics (see these Victorian/Edwardian American quilts).
Upcycling is a great way to consider our ecological footprint without the boring preachiness associated with such topics. What goes around comes around. And you can create something beautiful into the bargain.