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Upcycling, recycling, freecycling, makeovers, restorations….

Chair with Shweshwe fabric

There are so many terms being bandied about, and there isn’t consensus as to where the boundaries lie between them. I don’t think it matters that much, as long as we’re making an effort to chuck less stuff away and to reuse things as much as possible.

But last night, I participated in a tweetchat in which someone was definitely spoiling for a fight on the subject.  So this is my take on what all the various words mean. You might have a different view. That’s okay. We can still be friends.

The tweetchat was about upcycled items and the theme was colour. A few of us posted pictures of things we had worked on recently. One person wasn’t convinced that they all qualified as upcycled. Some of them had just been restored. She was probably right. For example, this chair, with which I am insufferably pleased, is hardly upcycled. It started as a chair and ended up as a chair, albeit with a new seat pad, new coat of paint and new fabric on the back and the seat. But neither did I restore it. If I had done that, I would have made it look as it did when it left the factory (kind of like ‘restore factory settings’). So I would say I gave it a makeover.

On the other hand, this hanging rail I made out of a vintage potato crate, in my mind, qualifies as upcycled. It started out as one thing, and ended up as a another.

Hanging rail

 When I take my scrap metal to the recycling plant, and it is melted down to make school chairs or fighter planes. That’s what I would think of as recycling.

And when someone gives an item away to someone else. That’s freecycling.

I will tell you something for nothing, though – freecycling can be a bit hit and miss. People have widely differing views on what constitutes a quality item. Just yesterday, I went to collect a small unit that the man told me was ‘solid’. What he meant was, it was heavy. It was made of chipboard and metal and was in pretty rough shape. It went for recycling.

On the flip side, today, I picked up a small chest of drawers for the princely sum of £5. It was a vintage Stag piece. Possibly 1930s, I have to do a bit more research. It has been painted at some point, and the paint is chipped. But I will restore it…mostly, and maybe throw in a bit of a makeover, just for good measure. More of that anon.

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Turning heads

When I was younger, if I may say myself, I turned my fair share of heads. I had good bone structure, big eyes, healthy hair, and a pretty damned decent figure. I even had a brief foray into photographic modelling.

A brief modelling ‘career’

Now that I’m on the far side of 50, I don’t turn heads with natural assets any more.

I do, however, turn heads when I visit the local supermarket in my work clothes. It never occurred to me before to notice the gender divide on the expectations of dress and appearance when nipping in to the local Sainsbury/Tesco/whatever to pick up the ingredients for tonight’s supper. But I’m here to tell you that it’s real.

I face a choice: I can either pop in to the shop in my workclothes, or I can shower and change, only to get totally scruffy again when I get back home. To me, it’s a non-brainer. And I often see local workmen in the supermarket, dressed in whatever they were wearing when they realised they needed a sandwich for lunch or some chicken to make a Thai stir fry for the family later. Dirty jeans, safety boots, paint-spattered dungarees… No-one turns a hair.

Dungarees and a dust mask

But I turn lots of hairs in my paint-spattered dungarees. There are double takes, nudges, and even – on one occasion – sotto voce grumbles of horror from an impeccably turned out elderly lady.

I recently had the opportunity to turn one encounter into a pleasant conversation.  I was in CostCo at the meat counter, standing near a little girl and her Daddy. The little girl looked at my attire and turned to say something to her Dad, pointing at me as she did so (she was only little). She realised that I was watching her and was utterly mortified. I said “It’s not usual to see ladies dressed like this, is it?”

Her Dad was clearly relieved that I didn’t take offence and explained that she was asking if that was paint on my clothes.

I looked straight at the little girl and confirmed that it was, indeed. I said, “These are my work clothes. I’ve come straight from work and I’m buying something for supper. I suppose that’s what you’re doing, too?” She nodded.

I explained, “I’ve been painting somebody’s kitchen today. I know it’s not usual for ladies to do work like that, but it’s what I do. And I love it. Because girls can do anything!”

Her Dad added and emphatic “Absolutely!” before the little girl, completely without prompting, said, “Thank you.”

I told her she was most welcome and took my leave.

So let them look. Let them nudge each other. Let them make their sotto voce grumbles of horror. I’m a girl who wears dungarees to work. And if I have to make a quick detour to the shops, I will do so in my dungarees. And maybe, just maybe a little girl will see me and think that she might also enjoy a job that just happened to involve getting dirty or wearing dungarees, and maybe those jobs aren’t just for boys after all.

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“They don’t make ’em like they used to”

Hands up who gets sick of hearing that expression. I know I do. Problem is, it’s kinda true.

It’s a bit of a vicious circle really: things aren’t made to last, so we find ourselves having to replace them. But then technology advances so quickly and tastes change so regularly, that there is sometimes little point in investing in an item built to last.

But there are times when I find myself wondering how we got to this level of throwaway-ness in both attitude and product quality.

Here’s a ‘for example’. A while ago, I bought an ottoman cube thingy to use as a dressing table stool. It was covered in a less-than-gorgeous burgundy dralon, but I knew I could do something about that: there was bound to be something useful in my large fabric stash. I’m no Sarah Moore, but I have a large stash of fabric, just the same.

Before I even got around to doing that, one side of the ottoman gave way under my weight. Even that, I thought, should be a simple fix. So I took it apart. In doing so, I discovered a label that identified the piece as a footstool. Clearly never intended to bear the full body weight of a buxom wench like myself. My bad.

That wasn’t all I discovered, though.

I discovered that what I had was not so much an ottoman, as a slightly reinforced cardboard box, covered in fabric.

This is the ottoman, showing where it has given way

I removed the fabric, to find this. Polythene sheeting, over foam.

Under the fabric

I removed the polythene sheeting and flipped the piece it over to reveal its secrets. Two sides made of cardboard. Two sides of chipboard. The top was cardboard with chipboard struts, one of which had broken, as you can clearly see. You can also see that the cardboard of the top has torn. I suspect even a pair of feet might have achieved that.

Reinforced cardboard box

The sides were covered in 1cm foam. The top had a thicker layer: 2-3cm.

Foam padding

I salvaged the foam, and have already used some of it in another project. The fabric may find a purpose at some point. The chipboard and cardboard will fuel a fire chez Romeis.

The polythene sheeting will have to go to the tip, because it isn’t recyclable. And that gives me the mutters, it really does. Because that’s the stuff that nightmares are made of for animals. It gets wrapped around necks, feet and wings. It gets stuck in throats, permanently located in digestive tracts and incorporated into nests where it can smother the next generation before they even have a chance to venture out. It can frequently be seen festooning the trees jammed in trees, hedges and fences along the motorway and in the countryside (on which point, is it just me, or is England particularly littered this year?). It’s the very divvel, so it is.

I’m not going to name and shame the company from which I bought the piece, because I suspect they’re not the only ones. My suggestion? If you can’t see what its skeleton is made of, assume it’s crap.

In order to end on something of a positive note, here’s what I replaced the ottoman with. I bought a stool from a local charity shop and gave it a makeover using fabric I had to hand. There wasn’t quite enough, so I had to get a little inventive. I’m very pleased with it.

Remembering how to do blanket stitch

Making a feature of the shortage of fabric
The finished article. Cute, huh?
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By way of introduction to this new chapter

I take a lot of flak for the fact that I haven’t written in such a long time. So okay, okay already. I’m writing.

One of Karyn’s Kreations

If you followed my erratic learning journey during my previous chapter, you will know that I am no stranger to depression. A few years ago, the black dog paid a visit. He had visited before, but this time, he looked set to stay. It. Was. Dire!

Gradually, after a few years of mist and fog, I began to feel that I might finally be coming out from under. I was headhunted and took a ‘proper job’ in a company and everything.

But after a series of setbacks in my personal life, and some disappointments in my professional one, I decided to call it a day. My manager was very understanding and we parted on good terms.

Initially, I looked for part time or contract work in the field of L&D (Learning and Development), which had been my consuming passion for lo these 25 years and change. But I just wasn’t feeling it any more. I was tired. I was tired of having the same conversations that I had been having for 10 years and more, about technology in learning and the future of the field. I was tired of dealing with the same objections. I was tired of starting every project with the client enthusiastically calling for innovation, only to observe the client’s feet growing progressively colder, until we ended the project with more of the same. I was tired of farting against thunder. I was tired of not making a difference.

I have always been a keen crafter and pretty good with my hands. Gradually I found myself doing it on a full time basis.

So now I dress in dungarees and Crocs. I wield a paintbrush, or a sander, or a beading needle or any of a vast array of other tools large and small. I am usually covered in sawdust. Or paint. Or both. I might even be bleeding (remember the beading needle?). And I love it.

I upcycle old and tired pieces of furniture or clothing. I make stuff out of reclaimed… well, stuff. Like wood. Or beads. Or mirrors. Or whatever else I find. And I advertise it in various spaces (like this one, for example), hoping to move it on to a new home. I undertake commission work for clients: restoring beautiful oak kitchen counters, or garden furniture that is showing signs of age. I have even been known to do a spot of painting (walls, not canvasses!).

The name ‘upsycho’ as you might have deduced, is a conflation of ‘upcycle’ (which is what I do) and ‘psycho’ (which is a nod to my struggles with mental health issues).

I am currently on the hunt for a physical space from which to sell my ‘kreations’ so that my long-suffering husband can stop falling over things en route to the dog food bin, the tumbledrier, or his scooter. Watch this space.

And that is enough context setting. Posts from this point on will be about this stage of my journey. This chapter. Are you up for coming along?