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Wednesday, July 7, 2010


We all know about recycling and how good it is for the environment. Well I have just discovered Up-Cycling and environmentally it is a much better option. It is also fantastic on your pockets.

If you haven’t heard of it before up-cycling is a glamorous word for op-shopping and reusing stuff. Second hand all the way! When you up-cycle you basically save the environment from the ‘hit’ it takes every time something new is made AND you stop our landfills from getting overloaded unnecessarily. The idea behind it is instead of throwing something that is worn out or broken away find a way to repair or use it in a different way. Buys second hand wherever possible and make use of vintage items, heirlooms and hand me downs. In my opinion the world we live in is far too disposable and nothing is made to last any more. For up-cycling to really work I feel people should be buying quality, earth conscious and New Zealand made items right from the get go but in the mean time lets make use of what we have right now to be kind to our environment as cheaply as possible!

At the moment I am all about up-cycling clothes. Little babies grow so fast and get dirty so quickly that clothes can be a huge expense. I like my boy to wear nice clothes and to look ‘cool’ (whatever that means) but I don’t have the dollars to fund a 24 hr fashion parade for him. Instead I work with what I have, I am no sewer, not by a long shot but I am handy with a machine for basic things and having a machine at home means I can do a fair bit with some hand me down clothes and whatever spare time I have (precious little)

Here are some of my ideas:

If you have some worn or frayed pants you can cut them shorter into ¾ pants and put bright patches on the knees. Very cute and practical as they don’t drag on the ground or get caught around little crawling legs. I did this with a bunch of cruddy trackies I got given. They were too daggy to wear but once I cut the cuffs off of them and hemmed them with a rough edge they looked like funky little samurai pants. He loves wearing them because they don’t interfere with his play and the cuffs don’t drag.

If you have some old woollen blankets, the ones that you use on picnics or as a scout blanket they work really wonderfully as extra blankie layers on the bed. Simply cut it into four equal pieces and use blanket stitch to hem them. If you dye them before hand they look really lovely.

Instead of buying baby sheets and wraps, I went and got some cheap sheets and cut them in four before hemming them.  Even better you can use old sheets or second hand ones from a thrift store. Some really funky patterns turn up there!

If you have any tired looking little woollies tucked into draws or in storage and you want to jazz them up a good quick fix is to get some felt and sew some nice colourful patches onto them or make up a dye batch and give them a nice new colour. Make sure they are very clean before dyeing to prevent uneven colour. Another trick is to intentionally felt them using hot water and dishwashing liquid. Once they have been felted you can sew more felt patches on or even alter them by shortening the sleeves or anything really and using blanket stitch to seam the edge. If you aren’t sure about blanket stitch there is a great demo on you tube, easy as cake! Felted woollies are very sturdy and warm, just be aware that they do shrink so you can only use this technique on larger items and they must be woollen not man made.

Baby’s tights tend to wear out at the heel, once they have gone, cut the foot off and hem for a nice pair of leg warmers. Leg warmers are great because they can be left on for chilly changes and don’t get pulled off like socks do. They also protect little knees while they crawl

Old towels make fabulous bibs. Trace around your favourite bib and cut as many as you can get out of the towel. Find a cheap funky cotton fabric from your local fabric store and cut the same shape out. Either hem the cotton and then sew it onto the towel pieces or sew them together and then zig zag around the edge. A great source of interesting fabric is hunting out good quality vintage shirts and dresses from your local thrift store. To fasten the bib either add some velcro or a tie fastening. Old towels also make great face cloths and baby washers as they are usually soft and absorbent.

If you get given some ugly hand me downs think about altering them, a shirt with raggedy cuffs can become a neat short sleeved top, a t-shirt can become a singlet, a dress can become a skirt or a jersey can become a vest, socks can become leg warmers and a raincoat can become a painting pinny. If you have some fabric odds and ends you can add knee patches or cuffs to extend the life of nice but well worn items. Some attractive bias binding or trim can work wonders on dull or ordinary clothes and kids love having extra pockets to store things in.

If you have been given some boring wooden blocks or toys boil them with a natural vegetable dye (like onion skins) or paint them. You may need to sand and polish them afterwards but it will give them a new lease on life.

If you have some worn out towels you can sew them together to make a larger towel and then add a triangle to one corner to make a hooded towel. You can ‘cute’ it up by adding a couple of towel ears. Avoid dyeing towels to up-cycle them as they are so well used the dye fades quickly and can leave marks on wet little bodies.

These are just a few ideas, there is a whole world of ways to re-use items out there so get creative! Don’t be afraid to troll through second hand stores or school fairs for nice things or ugly things that are made of good quality fabric. I try to avoid dyeing things as it is a pain in the butt and can be unpredictable but it does give things a nice new look. Always follow the instructions and make sure your clothes are squeaky clean. Stains will always show so remove the stains or patch over them. You can make a lovely natural saffron dye out of onion skins and tea makes a nice oatmeal colour. Natural dyes have the benefit of being cheap and safe but they can be unreliable. Then again that can be the charm!

Good luck turning trash into treasure!

For some natural dye recipes this link has some simple advice and information.

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