Upcycled Art Dos and Don'ts

23 Nov 2012

After literally tripping over my stash of fabrics, papers, and found objects recently, I am on a mission to downsize. And so I'm looking for ways to use and re-use items I already have, upcycling them into art or useful objects.

'Domestic Bee' by Cas Holmes. Upcycled fabric,
newsprint, and found papers, with stitch.
I've already upcycled a stack of fabric strips into a table runner, turned four not-so-special fabric napkins into hand-dyed beauties, and upcycled clothing (t-shirts and barely-used socks) into pillows and  fingerless mitts.

I'm also making a concerted effort not to bring in new items that "might come in handy" at some point. The fact is, I work with a bunch of mixed-media and fabric art people; if I need something, one of them is sure to have extra that I can use.

And, to be frank, I'm just getting rid of some stuff. Itsy, bitsy scraps for one thing. Egg cartons for another. Yes, they might be useful at some point, but as long as we buy eggs and I cut fabric, I'll always have an abundance of those things. So, off they go.

In fact, I've come up with a list of dos and don'ts for upcycling projects. This list works for me, but since there are no hard-and-fast rules in art, feel free to create your own!

Do consider everything as a potential art supply before recycling it or throwing it away.

Do save items that can make a unique stamp, such as plastic cups with unusual bottoms.

Do use what you already have. Get creative by upcycling projects that didn't work, turning colorful t-shirts that are too small into upcycled clothing, or making upcycled art out of found objects you've collected.

upcycled book art
Cas Holmes upcycles old books and
ephemera into handmade art books.
start collecting things you might need for something in the future...unless you have a specific plan for them. You want to upcycle, no hoard.

Don't save so many recyclables that your creative space is overrun.

Do consider swapping upcyling materials with other artists.

Do look for ways to use found papers in your art.

Don't overlook copyright laws. Make sure you discard or obscure images and text that are protected by copyright, or as the copyright owner for permission to use the image or text.

Do look at magazines and books on collage, art journaling, and mixed-media art for ideas on how to upcycle the items you have.

Speaking to the last point, one of my favorite books on upcycling for mixed media is The Found Object in Textile Art by Cas Holmes. Cas truly cares about her environment and she has a gift for seeing the beauty in found objects of all kinds.

You can find The Found Object in Textile Art and many other books and videos that show you how to upcycle paper, fabric, and found objects in the Cloth Paper Scissors Shop. Plus,get an extra 15% off in the Cloth Paper Scissors Shop Black Friday through Sunday, November 25, 2012. Just enter coupon code EXTRA15 at checkout.*

P.S. *15% COUPON Offer ends Nov. 25, 2012 at 11:59PM CT. Exclusions and other restrictions may apply.

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on 23 Nov 2012 12:20 PM

I upcycle, too, and am also wary of collecting so much recycled raw material that there's no space to actually work in. To prevent myself from buying the wrong things at thrift stores, I came up with some rules for myself. I wrote about these rules on my blog, here:


They not only help me reduce the clutter, but also make my work more focused. Claudia

Kathy Olson wrote
on 23 Nov 2012 1:27 PM

As an art teacher in the public schools, I love to receive art and craft items that someone no longer wants.  So don't forget to call your local school and ask if they would like the items.  Yes, even egg cartons!  I use them for passing out paints.  Kathy

Kathy Olson wrote
on 23 Nov 2012 1:27 PM

As an art teacher in the public schools, I love to receive art and craft items that someone no longer wants.  So don't forget to call your local school and ask if they would like the items.  Yes, even egg cartons!  I use them for passing out paints.  Kathy

mjabellBeads wrote
on 23 Nov 2012 3:35 PM

I'm curious how you upcycled your fabric strips into a table runner?  Do you have a picture or directions, or are they in a book?  I am new at upcycling and very curious what you created!  Many thanks, MJ

akwilliams11 wrote
on 11 Dec 2012 12:31 AM


My name is Abbey Williams and I am an upcycled art enthusiast and graduate student at Hunter College. I am writing to you today to ask if you would please participate in my study about art, culture, and inspiration. If you are willing and able to participate, please answer the following questions and send them back to me at abagail_kay@yahoo.com. This whole questionnaire should take less than 15 minutes to complete.

The responses to these questions will remain confidential and will never be linked to your name or company in any way. Your answers to this questionnaire will not be used in any publications it is just for a class assignment for my Media and Culture class.  

If you have any questions, please contact me at any time via email.

Please respond by Saturday, December 15th.

1) Can you briefly describe the product you design/sell?

2) In the process of making this product, do you use products/images designed for a different original purpose?

3) How do you get these items/images for your products?

4) Are these items/images crucial to the products you produce, if yes how so?

5) In your own words, what makes/inspires art?

6) In your own words, what makes/inspires user generated content?

7) In your own words, what are the similarities or differences between art and user generated content?

Thank you for your help and time it is greatly appreciated. If you would like to have my paper when it is done, please let me know I’ll be happy to share.

All the best,