Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Upcycling on Etsy

The word Upcycling was coined by William McDonaugh and Michael Braugart in their book on ecologically intelligent design, Cradle to Cradle in which they define upcycling as the practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value. In the world of Etsy, this term has been intermingled with other “green-centric” terms like “adapted re-use,” “reclaimed,” and “eco-friendly” causing the word to grow into a broader more colorful definition. "Upcycled" items are not limited to the many "trash to treasure" products for sale on Etsy like Urbanwoodswalker's recycled newspaper bowl.

The expression or "tag" upcycled is also used to describe pre-owned items that have been given a second life through a metamorphosis into a new product with a new value. Recycling and invention have converged into a kind of crafters schizophrenia where function, beauty and eco-conscientiousness have come together. Hand-me-downs of yesterday are dressed up and sold as responsibly repurposed. Old items carefully stored for generations are rediscovered as wonderfully vintage.

offers all kinds on opportunities to participate in this movement as both a consumer and a crafter. There are hundreds, nay thousands, of shops dedicated to the genre of upcycled goods. Here are just a few…
Joy's Jewels - transforms antique typewriter keys into beautiful one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces

Buffalo Nerd Project - "science geek by day, sewing chick by night" - turns men’s suit jackets into fabulous purses.

and Rouge Empire who takes silk ties and reinvents them into five pocket wallets.

For those of you who would like to join in on this movement by refurbishing the old into something new either for your own use, unique gifts or for resale, Etsy has many vendors to supply you with everything you will need. In fact, there is an entire department dedicated to vintage where you can find all sorts of items to convert, reinvent or embellish with. Take these adorable vintage Grasshopper Keds from Adalaide's Homesewn for example...

...they are cute but could use a little cosmetic surgery to make them fabulous. Replace the laces with this gorgeous Vintage French Red Velvet Ribbon from Finiribbon.

Use craft glue to tuck the ends of the ribbon neatly and instead of a big floppy bow, pick up these darling vintage earrings and brooch from Merrelle Accents and attach one to each shoe.

Pin the Brooch to your purse and viola... a darling new look and one-of-a-kind design made by you!

Many people think they are not creative enough to upcycle vintage items into something new, or they get overwhelmed with the very thought and decide it is more trouble than it is worth. In an effort to dispel those beliefs, I have included a list of 20 ways to upcycle vintage jewelry in 10 minutes or less. Coincidentally, this list ties into the many wonderful jewelry pieces I have on sale in my Etsy shop

1. embellish a pillow

2. decorate a purse

3. spice up a curtain tie back

4. attach to a hair clip or head band

5. make unique napkin rings

6. dress up a candle holder

7. use an orphan earring as a gift topper instead of a bow

8. transform a pair of shoes with vintage earrings

9. arrange pieces with other trinkets to create a shadow box for display

10. adhere to the top of old jelly jars to create darling spice jars or desktop storage

11 embellish
a book or photo album

12. connect to a zipper to make a fancy pull

13. glue to paperclips or push pins

14. attach to your phone or keys as a decorative charm

15. convert into a Christmas ornament

16. refurbish an old cabinet with vintage jewelry drawer pull

17. liven up an old hat

18. string on ribbons and use as wine glass charm so no one looses their beverage

19. decorate a mirror

20. upcycle into new jewelry pieces!


  1. How about one on sea glass jewelry - sea glass is definitly upcycled and was at one time discarded as trash. Nature has turned it into a thing of beauty.

  2. I've been seeing amazing necklaces made out of fragments of blue and white patterned porcelain - gorgeous!