This fairly new take on a familiar idea means taking items which are no longer needed and giving them a new life as something either creative, useful or both. Having sparked a little revolution in the 1990s, upcycling is on the rise now, inspiring more and more individuals and groups to get creative with unwanted everyday items.

We’ve asked people who have mastered upcycling for their tips and stories to share with upcycling novices.

Reuseful UK
Reuseful UK

Reuseful UK is a charity supporting a chain of scrapstores which take corporate or manufacturing waste and then give it to community groups who are in need of high quality art and craft materials for their members.

Nikki DiGiovanni says: “I have the best job in the world, I am Chief Resource Rescue Ranger for Reuseful UK, the charity that supports a network of nearly a hundred scrapstores and creative reuse centres around the UK.

Together we divert interesting, fun and useful stuff that businesses have left over when they’re finished making their thingamajigs or selling their doolywhoppers.

Here at HQ we help link up businesses who have unwanted items with our member scrapstores. They collect all those things up and make them available to nearly 80,000 community groups and 7 million people.”

Scrapstores are a brilliant source of upcycling materials and never-ending inspiration: “If you’re a group leader, teacher, play worker, parent or an enthusiast who wants amazing resources for a great price, our scrapstores are bound to have some treasures to bring a little magic to your art, craft, play or education experience.”

Reuseful UK
Reuseful UK

Suffolk-based Xavier and Jo Robinson are the makers and creators behind Boodle and Bear, taking everyday items to the next level.

Xavier shares his tips: “Firstly, it is important to say that EVERYONE can upcycle. Why? Because if you recycle (which everyone already does), you can upcycle. You don’t necessarily need any specialist equipment for upcycling unless you are doing something specific like us at Boodle and Bear.

The only thing we would say you need is oodles of imagination. You don’t need expensive equipment to upcycle your Christmas cards into present tags, or a rim of a plate into a necklace or an old shirt into a tote bag. If you think about it, we see examples of upcycling every day. People make art out of drink cans. It’s about using what you have and just having a go and if it fails - never mind! - try it again.

Boodle and Bear
Boodle and Bear recycling glass bottles

My biggest advice would be to plan every step of what you want to make. It’s very easy to get an idea and think ‘let’s do it!’. Then before you know it, you’ve drilled a hole in the kitchen counter top and set fire to the curtains. Upcycling tutorials on YouTube or Google will walk you through the process step by step and the mistakes not to make!”

Jo remembers: “I think without knowing it I have always upcycled. I was always taking things my mum had thrown in the bin and making something else with it. Like my dad’s old shirts and making them into Teddy Bear dresses with my grandmother!

We started up the business when I bought some recycled tumblers on my honeymoon and broke one. I couldn’t find them online and said: shall we have a go at making them ourselves?”

Once you get going, there is a variety of websites with guides and ideas to inspire you. Eco-Create suggests ways to improve your garden or simple tutorials to follow with children, from daisy chain to cardboard tube flower garland. Kids’ Craft Room, a website run by a mum of three, is an endless source of kids-friendly crafts, from paper plate bats to avocado boats to colour mixing lanterns.

Upcycled World
Upcycled World, furniture painting, copyright Jon Davey

For older upcycling newbies, Upcycled World offers a great variety of upcycling videos and workshops. Its founder Caroline Malcolm says: “Upcycling is a form of recycling and it’s rapidly gaining in popularity, as more and more people are turning away from new, mass-produced items. It's a great hobby to take up during 2016: it’s fun, saves you money and conserves our valuable natural resources.”

A piece of old wooden furniture is a great way of starting your upcycling adventure! Caroline gets hands-on: “You could do this with a wood paint. Your furniture will need to be sanded and primed, with primer paint before applying the top coat. Wood paint provides a very durable finish and can come in any colour.

Alternatively, chalk paint is a very versatile paint with great coverage. Your furniture won’t require sanding or priming unless you’re making minor repairs or applying shellac to knots/stains to prevent bleeding through the paint. Chalk paint must be given a protective coat(s) of either furniture wax or varnish.

Great quality and well-designed wooden furniture can be picked up very cheaply in charity shops and auctions. Or get free items, from friends, family or on websites like, and”

Cassandra Barron - Upcycled printer
Cassandra Barron - printer’s tray upcycled using paper offcuts, bits of map and paint from old tester paint pots

Cassandra Barron is a Development Officer at Voluntary Arts Scotland and a keen upcycler. She remembers: “Some of my earliest memories are of sitting at the kitchen table with my Gran, turning jam jars, bottle tops, buttons and boxes into imaginary worlds, puppets and musical instruments.

Getting creative with everyday materials is something that continues to inspire me - from teaching children’s craft workshops using upcycled materials to running workshops with Remade in Edinburgh – a reduce, reuse and recycle social enterprise, and more recently repurposing old maps, envelopes and fabric to make bespoke travel journals and wedding books.

My favourite place to get inspiration and gather materials in my local Scrapstore, which is an Aladdin’s cave of pre-loved materials. It sells everything from leather offcuts and patterned paper, to rolls of fabric and different thicknesses of cardboard. The scrap materials that are available to me often leads what I am going to make and how I am going to construct it, challenging me to come up with creative solutions and keeping me on my toes, as I am never quite sure what the end result will be.

I am always on the lookout for crafty upcycle projects and use Pinterest to search for inspiration and gather ideas as well as flicking through Reloved magazine when I get chance. There are some great tutorials out there using materials that more often than not end up in landfill, so when you next get a creative itch, take some time to look at what materials you already have to hand and take some inspiration from the everyday.” Cassandra’s current ‘to do list’ includes a CD mirror and a map chair.

We’d love to see your upcycling beginnings! Tweet us @LoveToHQ using #lovetoUPCYCLE or share on Facebook using @LoveTo / #lovetoUPCYCLE and inspire others!

Remember that January is the month when we #lovetoUPCYCLE! |