The world is full of stuff. There are too many things and yet I really like making things. It’s an issue that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. One of the ways I deal with this is to reuse existing materials when possible. Taking unloved things and turning them into something new is very rewarding.

Here are some tips based on my experiences in reducing, reusing and recycling.

Use every last scrap

A staggering 100,000 million tonnes of clothing is thrown away in the UK each year!

Every scrap is precious. Think before you throw things away. Could the material be re-purposed? Buttons, poppers and zips can be removed and reused.

Cotton scraps can be used to make notebooks. It is also a good way to use cardboard from old sketchbooks.

Cotton scraps can be used to make notebooks. It is also a good way to use cardboard from old sketchbooks.

phone-case

Leather from old boots can be reused. This phone case was made using leather from an old pair of boots.

leatheripadcase

This case was made using leather from an unwanted bag. The leather was too thick to sew so I have riveted it instead.

Make a pattern – If you have a t-shirt or pair of leggings that fit well but are now worn out then unpick the seams and use them to make a sewing pattern for new leggings or t-shirts.

Design to reduce waste

On average, 15% of materials are wasted during the manufacturing of clothing. Using rectangles and triangles in your designs can reduce waste.

Use leftover materials to add pockets and other details.

Harris tweed herringbone Skirt front

This skirt is made out of overlapping angled rectangles of Harris tweed. The only waste was 4 little triangles from hemming the skirt.

Applique can be used to use leftover material as well as decorate. This leather skirt was made from a pair of second hand leather trousers. The leftover material was used as decoration and to reduce waste.

Applique can be used to use leftover material as well as to decorate. This leather skirt was made from a pair of second hand leather trousers. The leftover material was used as decoration and to reduce waste.

Sourcing material

Etsy and Ebay can be used to buy cheap offcuts of expensive materials like silk or leather.

Coat lined using sari offcuts from Etsy and second hand scarves.

Coat lined using sari off-cuts from Etsy and second hand scarves.

Notebook made from leather offcuts from Ebay. The leather was too thick to sew so I have glued and riveted it instead.

Notebook made from leather offcuts from Ebay. The leather was too thick to sew so I have glued and riveted it instead.

Community wood recycling projects are a good source of interesting materials.

Small pieces of valuable timber can be used to make jewellery.

I have also used wood from timber samples and off-cuts from a musical instrument maker.

Work bench made using wood from Bristol Wood Recycling Project and wood I was given.

Work bench made using wood from Bristol Wood Recycling Project and wood I was given.

Jewellery box made using reclaimed parquet flooring also from Bristol Wood Recycling Project

Jewellery box made using reclaimed parquet flooring also from Bristol Wood Recycling Project

Mpingo wood pendant necklace made from off cuts from a musical instrument maker

Mpingo wood pendant necklace made from off cuts from a musical instrument maker

Charity shops.  Look for quality materials. Don’t look at the item itself but the materials it’s made from and how they are constructed. Could they become something new and interesting.

Army surplus. Old military kit bags are a great source of sturdy hard wearing materials, great for bag making.

Bag made using military kit bag.

Bag made using fabric and fittings from military kit bags.

An old Singer sewing machine can be used to sew heavy materials that other sewing machines cannot cope with.

An old Singer sewing machine can be used to sew heavy materials that other sewing machines cannot cope with.

Take inspiration from limitations

Working with pre-owned and waste materials can be more challenging but also more interesting. Pre-owned materials have history. For example, old army kit bags have the names of previous owners written on them. Old fabrics have interesting patinas. New materials are like a blank page. Old materials have lines and shapes you can take inspiration from; fixed points from which to work from.

Good luck and happy making!

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Garnet leaf

Silver with garnet beads

Gimble earrings

Oxidised silver with quartz beads

Leaf Earrings

Silver earrings made for my mum

Moroccan earrings

Moroccan style earrings with glass beads

Spine necklace

From drawing to carving. The wood is reclaimed African Teak (probably) from the Bristol Wood Recycling Project. In a previous life it was parquet flooring. Work in progress. It will be a necklace.

 

I like instruction manuals. There is something about their clean lines in sharp black and white that appeals to me. Instruction manuals have a rich history. One example is the Ripley Scroll. A wonderful and strange alchemical diagram from the 15th century.

I have been working on art with instruction manuals and diagrams as inspiration for years. It hasn’t really gone anywhere, but I continue.

Instruction 1

Instructp2SMALLInstruction 3Instruction 4

For the last few months I have been experimenting with woodworking. I started off with some old timber samples from work.

One of the first things I tried making was buttons. Nice buttons are hard to find so I thought I would make some myself. It proved to be quite time consuming but I will definitely try it again.

Buttons

One of the first pieces of jewellery I made was a wooden pendant. I roughly shaped it with a saw and then filed away for hours. I got the finish with fine grade wet and dry paper and then a coat of wax. The wood is river red gum (eucalyptus camaldulensis).

Eucalyptus wooden pendant
I have been experimenting with different pendant shapes. I also got a Dremel multi-tool thing which the rough shaping much quicker. The example below is made with acacia wood.

Acacia wood pendant

I  have been experimenting with more complex designs with interlocking overlapping segments. The example below is made with beech wood.

Beech wood interlocking segments Another experiment with interlocking segments. I am still working on ways to join the segments. The example below is made from oak.Experimenting with oak interlocking teeth

I’m not sure what this is going to be yet. I am making another one for a symmetrical necklace perhaps. The wood is probably African rosewood.

Rosewood scroll work
This is an unfinished pendant design with spiral design. The wood is upcycled parquet flooring from the Bristol Wood Recycling Project.
Spiral-loop-SMALL
Next, I hope to find ways to combine wood and silver.