27th May 2015

Student blog; Abbie on Upcycling


I can still hear my Nan sitting with 5-year-old me in frustration as she attempted to teach me how to knit. She would let me make weird shapes, and later squares, out of her vast collection of yarn that she had accumulated over the years that never quite made it to becoming a jumper. “In, round, through, off. In, round, through, off”, she would tell me as I haphazardly knitted my way through yet more scraps of yarn. Despite the fact that I’m positive it was an irritating experience for her, she would always be proud of my “creations” – none of which resembled the object I was adamant they supposed to be.

Today, I’m the one who is able to use my skills to bring joy to her.

My Nan has difficulty using her hands now, and so I validate her efforts with me as a child by sending her (still weird) creations which I’ve made with her in mind. Now the proud owners of a crocheted octopus and mug cosy, and a knitted penguin, amongst other things, my grandparents have replaced my dodgy attempts at art which once adorned their mantelpiece with a host of colourful yarn creations and they now have the makings of a fluffy zoo.

Wait ‘til they find out their getting a crocheted triceratops next…

Since I had always loved knitting, I decided to take up crochet a couple of years ago. I followed YouTube tutorials as well as buying myself several books, and slowly but surely set about creating a patchwork crochet bedspread which sits in my room and is used almost every day. When that was complete, I moved on to more complex items, including hats, scarves and cushion covers, and soon discovered that I wasn’t content with the everyday aspects of the craft. So clearly my next decision was to make an octopus.

As well as taking up crochet, I began to get interested in upcycling. This is where old items are made into something new, with the intention of making them better than they were originally, usually for aesthetic purposes. I made a series of t-shirt shopper bags which are brilliant for shopping as they are sturdy, expandable and reusable (good for the environment – no plastic here!). I also turned many pairs of old jeans into yarn, with the aim of creating a denim rug which I hope to use in my home one day.

After the bags and denim yarn, I ran off with my boyfriend’s shirt (which I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need…) and made some alterations so that it properly fit me. Then came the attack of the mug cosies, and now none of my mugs are bare! There are so many options for upcycling, knitting, crocheting and sewing that really anyone can do it following simple tutorials.

I brought my octopuses and other creations along to the University of Chester’s Fix-It Fair in March, with the goal of showing people that it wasn’t just old ladies that knit, and that it was so easy to get involved. I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of interest students and lecturers alike had in my octopuses and mug cosies, with people asking how to make them, or if they could buy them from me. It made me happy to see that unique and quirky items are of interest to people who aren’t closely involved with craft themselves.

Events such as the Fix-It Fair serve as a reminder of how important skills such as knitting, sewing and crochet are in the modern world. With sustainability at the forefront of many people’s minds, it is vital to teach the skills which played a crucial role in the “make do and mend” movement of the Second World War. Repairing an item of clothing means that a new one does not need to be purchased, saving money and fabric waste, and it could lead to less clothing being mass-produced in a time where energy consumption is at an all-time high. If a repair is particularly challenging, or if you don’t fancy taking on the task, then clothing alteration and repair shops are the place to go. Since the recession onset, business has been booming for this market as the consumer has become aware of just how much money can be saved by repairing items rather than replacing them, and the environmental benefits that sit alongside this.

With the future in mind, it is important to look to the past, and make do, and mend.