Friday, 17 January 2014

Recycle Xmas Cards - YES!

Seen in my local doctor's clinic in Sixways, Cheltenham. Love this. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Unloved vintage metal reinvented

This Christmas was an interesting one for us as it was our first in Cheltenham where we have finally settled after 20 years in Berlin. Needless to say, I tried to fit in a few festive markets. My first stop was the Cheltenham Christmas market which was disappointing. Well, it would have been wouldn't it? What did I expect after 20 years crunching through the snowy landscapes of fairy-tale German Weihnachtsmärkte, gluhwein in hand, assailed by wafts of cinnamon, toffee apples and waffles? Cheltenham's was literally a damp squib by comparison, not that that could be helped.   

The Cheltenham Connect Christmas Craft Fair on Bath Road was rather more successful.  All those small stallholders wearing silly elves hats and deer antlers selling lovely handmade items chimed better with the Christmas spirit. There was a complete absence of tasteless tinsel and I even found a couple of stalls selling goods made using recycled materials! I have already written about the Christmas hedgehogs. Another stall to catch my eye was being manned by Jim Blenkinsop - above.  

Jim is a self-employed engineer who creates extraordinary works of art with his wife Helen (an artist and bridge teacher). They call their enterprise "Or(e)" and they use unloved vintage metal ware to create contemporary objects with a twist. 

The binoculars below have been converted into candle holders


In this picture the candlesticks have been tweaked and improved with the addition of the coloured balls. 


These "birds' claws" were once sugar tongs desperately in need of a new purpose, as no one ever seems to use tongs these days. 


Jim and Helen seek out pre-World War 2 quality metal on ebay and at car boot sales - they describe this metal as their single common denominator. In the picture at the start of this blog article, Jim is standing in his garden next to a bird table that he made from a 19th century scroll saw originally used in New York for cutting veneers to make marketry.   

Below, 1930 vintage secateurs ("really beautiful metal" says Jim) have been reworked by him with Helen's creative input into these birds. The bird legs were once forged steel woodworking bits. 


and well, you decide what has gone into the next creation!


Jim and Helen welcome commissions and can be contacted on or 07980447673.  If you have any unloved metal items you would love to be turned into something entirely new and decorative, Jim and Helen are the people to contact. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Upcycling Christmas Hedgehogs!


I popped into the offices of the charity +Carers Gloucestershire the other day to find out how they are literally cannibalising landfill fodder to turn into items for sale in their shop. In the picture above they are creating hedgehogs from books. Below, this string of Christmas bunting was created using old socks and jumper sleeves and is now adorning the mirror in my dining room. 

The activity of upcycling unloved items kills two, if not three, birds with one stone. It is perfect for bringing together the people the charity assists to do something fun together. Attractive items are created that can be sold and otherwise useless stuff can be re-invented into something desirable. A Win win situation!

+Carers Gloucestershire exists to enhance the lives of unpaid carers - people looking after sick family members or neighbours. They can find themselves leading isolated, often impecunious lives and the charity advises them on how to maximise their income as well as organising fun events and social interaction. Esther, left in the top picture, is not only a full time carer, she also runs subgroup Hucclecote Carers which is one of 60 of the charity's subgroups.    

The day I called in at their offices, these ladies were busy folding abandoned books into very weird shapes... 


....called "hedgehogs"!

The hedgehogs sell for £3.00 and are snapped up at Christmas fairs.  The charity organisers and their helpers are often assisted by office workers from local companies such as insurance company + Ecclesiastical across the road. While I was there Louise from Finance dropped in during her lunch break to help out at the crafting table. The idea is catching on with her colleagues who give up lunch hours to donate time to the cause.

Some have a few skills to offer as is clear from the jewellery they helped make from a broken necklace in a recent session.

The tea and egg cosies below were made with donated wool and the Xmas baubles by imaginative minds using upcycled materials.

Schools have also been involved such as Cheltenham's grammar school +Pates making items in their art lessons.

Do you know of any charity that is being helped out by local companies in this way? Especially in a way that uses existing resources imaginatively - just like +Carers Gloucestershire?

Monday, 16 December 2013

Great tip - where to find cheap recycled materials this Xmas!

The Scrapstore in Gloucester is part of a 30 year old network of 90 such scrap depositories across the UK. It is a brilliantly clever charity that collects unwanted but suitable scrap from industry and puts it up for sale to families,students and groups for creative upcycling.

My trip to the Gloucester  Scrapstore above felt like stumbling in a sugar-deprived state on a candy-bejewelled gingerbread house! For a mere £6-12 you can load a shopping trolley with leftover industrial stuff, unloved discarded fabric and all manner of excess-to-requirements plastic thingies gifted by the county's businesses. For a short taste of what I mean see the video below.

The pity of it - to my entrepreneurial mind - is that it is not open to small craftspeople busy trying to scratch a living from making and selling beautiful objects from recycled materials. Well, yes, you can take out

Monday, 9 December 2013

A Hand-Made Christmas Sales Success Story

This is a story about a Scottish craftswoman, +Eunice Wilson, who is having a runaway success with her hand-made Christmas gifts made from upcycled leather. Think product, timing and luck….because the idea of hanging books around your neck, off your ears or on your wrists doesn’t immediately seem such a clever one. Unless that is, the books are miniscule and exquisite. Product, tick. 

Handmade Books Pendant £18-23
Handmade Books Pendant £18-23
Eunice Wilson, a book freak if ever there was one, hit on the notion of making tiny books out of recycled material into jewellery and cufflinks and they are proving hugely popular in the run up to Christmas. Timing, tick.

Eunice’s big break came when

Thursday, 5 December 2013

A handmade gift for a royal baby?

Handmade shoes using recycled materials "Emily" £89
Handmade shoes using recycled materials "Emily" £89

I think I cooed like a wood pigeon when I first picked up these handmade baby and toddler shoes. The quality is superb, they are unbelievably soft and there's an underlying feel of permanency to them.
These shoes would last for generations. Neatly packed away in their luxury handmade cushioned boxes, they are the stuff of family heirlooms. Vevian is the place to go, I reckon, if you want a present for the next royal baby. Listening Pippa?

They are designed and handmade by Vivienne Lopez (see below, at her work bench).

When I discovered from Barbara Pani, who runs anecdotes design in Folkestone's cultural quarter (yes, it does have one) that the shoes are partly made using discarded materials, I was hot in persuit of the story. 

Vivienne later explained to me how she uses recycled materials in her handmade baby shoes.  She is fortunate in being allowed to take away the so-called spaghetti pieces left over after the soles for women's shoes have been cut out of leather sole boards by Gina Shoes. Full marks to them. Vivienne then spends hours grouping the pieces by colour because leather being a natural product, no two pieces are ever exactly the same. That done, she works her magic cutting, hand sanding, polishing and buffing.

"Emily" in the presentation shoe box made with recycled cardboard
"Emily" in the presentation shoe box made with recycled cardboard
The recycling of materials does not end there. And this is what I find so utterly charming about Vevian. Yes, owner Vivienne could buy in the cardboard needed to create the cushions inside the beautiful handmade shoeboxes. But instead she corrals her nearest and dearest to collect cereal boxes, packaging etc which she then cuts on a press machine to the correct size. The shoeboxes are gorgeous in their own right and are the perfect presentation packaging. 

It is no surprise that these heavenly shoes have featured in Vogue and at the relaunch of the children's shoe department at John Lewis' Oxford Street flagship store.
Vivienne is a mother of two small children; she launched the brand in 2008 and runs it with the support of her husband and extended family. The shoes are not cheap costing between £89-£95 pounds a pair, but, honestly, what price heaven for baby feet? And especially when recycled materials have been so inventively used in the process.

From top left clockwise, Matthew £95, Emily £89, assorted shoe boxes and Jessica £95
From top left clockwise, Matthew £95, Emily £89, assorted shoe boxes and Jessica £95

A Great British Wrap-up

Artist Karen Green's "The Painter's Pantry" produces a smorgasbord of deliciously innovative items out of recycled materials for artists.  She paints too and I couldn't resist reproducing her portrait of the swaddled Peruvian baby above. The theme of swaddling, or wrapping, is key to much of what Karen otherwise makes - flawlessly sewn material wraps for storing artists' tools using upcycled fabric.

"I just find great satisfaction in being able to make someone’s ‘rubbish’ into beautiful items to be loved again." Karen Green  

It is with other peoples' "rubbish" that Karen creates a larder of goodies for artists which includes wraps for brushes, pencils or pins and needles collections. She also packs away buttons into spice bottles, creates sewing boxes out of spice racks and hand stitches sketch books.

Pencil Wrap using recycled material
Pencil Wrap £10-12
Paint Brushes Wrap using material found in charity shops
Paintbrushes Wrap £12-15

Pins and Needles Wrap made from upcycled material
Pins and Needles Wrap £5-6
Karen is a trained primary school teacher, artist and screen and stage costume designer with a very thrifty streak! She literally haunts charity shops for swatches of lovely cloth that she can use to create the wraps and is a big supporter of buying local. Upcycling just comes naturally because she has always reached for the nearest leftovers to make her creations.