The 24th of June is National Upcycling Day here in the UK. To celebrate we’ve compiled a list of items you can upcycle and ideas of what you could do with them. We hope this list will get you started if you are a newbie or expand your repertoire if you are an old hat at reuse and reviving unwanted objects.
This is not an exhaustive dictionary, it’s a jumping off point. We hope that as you scroll through and see what we’ve picked for each letter your brain will also jump to all the other items starting with that letter that we didn’t choose and you’ll find yourself jotting down reminder notes to yourself to try all sorts of upcycling projects! Hint, hint, this is a great one to share with anyone who needs a nudge into the upcycling way of life!
A is for Armchair
This isn’t necessarily the easiest upcycle to start with, but its one that a lot of people are drawn to as most of us have an old battered chair of some description kicking around and when an armchair is transformed well it can make a real impact. And who doesn’t love a great before and after story? If you are looking to take on an armchair upcycle project we have two guides for you. The first is about using paint to upcycle a velour armchair and the second is about ‘having a go’ at reupholstering an armchair even if you’ve never attempted anything like it before.
B is for Boots
When we get asked ‘what is an easy upcycle project to start off with?’, our go to answer is almost always a boot planter. There are lots of other things you can do with your old boots, from creating handbags out of them to using them as family mail cubbies, to creating decorative door hangings and more. But the easiest, simplest thing to do with your old worn out boot, is to upcycle it as a planter. We have an easy peasy guide here that you can try.
C is for Chest of Drawers
For a lot of people upcycling equals furniture painting. There are easier places to start than a chest of drawers (a mirror frame or a blanket box might be easier starter projects), but there definitely is something very restorative about seeing an unloved and dated chest of drawers painted pretty. We have a brilliant How to Guide for a small chest of drawers upcycle project here. The finished piece is even called ‘The Pink Lady’ – painted pretty indeed.
D is for Dishes
If you have some old mismatched dishes lying around from different sets that only get pulled out when you have a serious amount of unexpected guests, we’ve got an easy beginner’s upcycle project for you. Turn them into wall art. We have an easy How to Guide here.
E is for Electric Cable
Let’s face it who doesn’t have a stash of cables lying around for devices long forgotten about, recycled or discarded? What to do with all that cable? Make colourful trendy jewellery of course! We found a lovely tutorial on Etsy Journal by Sarah Goldschadt that lays out how to make the lovely bracelets above and we reckon you could adapt the techniques in it to other pieces of jewellery as well with the right findings.
F is for Fabric
If you are planning on holding a celebration of any kind, you can use your scrap fabric to create some festive bunting. Amanda of Bewley’s Bunting Emporium shows us how in this How to Guide. There are of course many ways you can upcycle scrap fabric from sewing coin pouches, to headbands and using them in quilting projects. We love the idea of using it for this bunting for two reasons, 1) because it is an easy beginner’s project and 2) because it isn’t an upcycle that is disguising what the base material is. So you can have fun decorative bunting and also be very clearly ‘flying the flag’ for upcycling!
G is for Games
Do you have some old games that the kids don’t play with anymore or you can’t find half the pieces for? Why not get creative with them? We found a fabulous shop making handbags out of old board games.
And we love this reuse of scrabble pieces as pendants covered in a bit of decoupaged scrap paper too. A bit different to some of the other reuse ideas for scrabble pieces and we reckon you could do the same with other types of game pieces too. This would be an especially sentimental upcycle if you had a scrap of paper with meaning to you from when you and your family used to play that game as part of family time . Then you’d be carrying around a double memory around your neck.
H is for Hammer
There are lots of variations of repurposed items as coat racks and we love most of them. This hammer coat rack upcycle idea takes a bit more skill to pull off than some but we found a tutorial here you can have a look at. If you want more repurposed hook ideas check out our DIY Kitchen Makeovers article.
I is for Ice Cream Tubs
Here is an upcycle that stops some plastic going to landfill, the best kind! We found lots of examples of people recovering old formula tubs as storage containers by covering them with decorative paper, either using spray on adhesive or decoupaging it on with mod podge. But the shape of these tubs looks an awful lot like the shape of ice cream tubs in the UK to us, so we’ve filled it under I for future use! The chalk paint version on the left is another great way to go with this
J is for Junk Mail
We love the idea of saving your junk mail from the recycling bin and turning it into unique journals or notepads. Some people turn this into a real art form, using both the paper itself and the envelopes to craft stunning notebooks. We’ve found some binding tape usually used to repair books you can try for this or you can let yourself fall in love with this as a hobby and try the book below on handmade book binding techniques. The photo above is from an Etsy shop as well, so if you get very good at it you might be able to turn it into a business. Imagine making money from the junk mail you get sent every day and saving the planet at the same time! Brilliant!
K is for Kitchen Trolley
There are any number of items beginning with ‘kitchen’ we could have chosen for this one. The kitchen is a great place to include upcycled projects as well as a great source of unused clutter that can be used for a more valuable purpose. We happen to have a How to Guide about upcycling an IKEA Bekhvam Kitchen Trolley, and for this reason Kitchen Trolley has nabbed the slot at K, but if you want to explore more Kitchen Upcycle Ideas head here.
L is for License Plates
There are a ton of great upcycling ideas out there for license plates, from cutting them up to make jewellery to plastering on the ceiling of your garage to putting them on the drawer fronts of your dresser. The ones we were drawn to when compiling this list were the ones that left you with somewhere to dump your junk when you come in the front door. We might also be drawn to these ones as they don’t involve having to use any tools to actually cut the license plates into new shapes. These are more about manoeuvring the fixings and thankfully license plates already have wholes for that!
M is for Mirror
There are lots of ways to upcycle your mirrors into more attractive mirrors, but we thought this time we’d show you a couple ideas about how to upcycle your old mirrors as something with another purpose. We couldn’t decide between turning your mirror into a chalkboard and using it as wedding signage. Obviously the later involves more skill (calligraphy) and less materials, whereas turning it int a chalkboard involves less skill and more materials (chalkboard paint) and time. Either way we think the outcome could be a site to behold.
N is for Nails
We thought this was a great idea for Father’s Day, but it can be for anything, from your house number to your child’s name in their room. It is as simple as nailing some nails into your backing of choice (another place to get creative) and connect the nails with coloured twine, yarn or long strips of fabric.
O is for Ottoman
Ottomans are our upcycle suggestion for O because 1) they are an easy first reupholstery project; and 2) you can not only upcycle an existing ottoman any number of ways you can also make an ottoman out of any number of things, from a drawer, to a suitcase, a pallet or a coffee table. Even if you just want to make a prettier ottoman out of an old ottoman it’s still upcycling if it makes the ottoman more valuable to you. We think the Burlap example in the bottom right photo above from Liz Marie is a great example of just having a go and seeing what works.
P is for Picture Frame
Somehow we all end up with a plethora of picture frames, some gorgeous, some plain and some down right dated. A little spray paint makeover can work wonders to harmonise the look of your picture frames. But what about when it isn’t just the frame that needs updating? We have a short and sweet how to guide from our resident contributor Charlie Miller all about how to update a modern picture frame and mount to match your decor. You can find it here.
Q is for Quarters
Ok, so we were struggling with Q a bit. We could have gone with quilt, but we are looking for things to upcycle not what they become, and generally you would make a quilt out of scrap fabric so that would be S or F, not Q. Fat Quarter we hear you say, but a fat quarter of fabric is less something you upcycle and more a craft supply…..so when we found these quarters turned into guitar plectrums they seemed to be exactly what we’d been searching for. You could of course also do all sorts of decorative projects in the same way many people do with pennies (think flooring, backsplashes and coffee table tops), but if you are using quarters for those projects it is all getting a little bit more expensive. But some funky guitar plectrums for $0.50. That’s not bad going!
R is for Rocking Chair
Who doesn’t like a nice rock every now and again? But Rocking Chairs can look a bit dated and out of place if they don’t fit the rest of your decor. We like the idea of these boldly coloured examples but of course you can go any number of ways with a rocking chair update – from shabby chic to eccentrically patterned. Given the spindles our top tip for painting your rocking chair is to try a paint sprayer. They can spray chalk or mineral paint as well as standard furniture paint and you have more control over the amount of drippage. For something like this, once you get the hang of it you’ll probably find you achieve a better finish.
S is for Serving Tray
S is for Serving Tray because frankly no one uses these as serving trays anymore. We like the look of a whole bunch of vintage serving trays displayed on a wall, similar to the suggestion about your mismatched dish plates earlier in the alphabet, but we also have a How to Guide from Bramble & Berries about how to use paint and decoupage to create a unique piece of wall art out of just one serving tray. You can check it out here.
T is for Table
We both know we’d be here all day if we tried to list all the things you can possibly do to breath new life into an old table. Something about these stencilled looks was calling to us though so we thought we’d share this as a suggestion, especially if you have a lovely farmhouse style dining table with great legs but a bit of a beat up top. We also found this great How to Guide for the job over at Pretty Handy Girl. She found her table in a dumpster before bringing it back to life with this stencil job.
U is for Umbrella
These ones are brilliant. We wish we’d thought of them. In a nutshell, when your umbrella breaks, save the handle for a hook and the material to refashion a waterproof bag. Can you think of any fun uses (or practical if you must be) for the rest? Let us know in the comments. The How to Guide for the Tote Bag is over on DIY Projects.
V is for Veil
These are some gorgeous ideas of how to upcycle your wedding veil. We particularly love the necklaces made out of small bits of lace. This would be a great idea for a Grandmother’s veil with lots of granddaughter’s to divide it between, especially if it isn’t the sort of style brides are wearing but still has some lovely elements to it that could be preserved. Some people would feel a bit squeamish about cutting up a veil but lets be honest how often do you open up that carefully sealed storage box to enjoy that veil after the big day is over? Any of these upcycles will ensure your veil, and by association your memories of your wedding day, are close at hand when you want them.
W is for Window
They may not do much for keeping your heating bills down but old panelled window frames sure do look sweet. You can use quilt batting and fabric to turn them into a patterned notice board, paint them with chalkboard paint or fill the panels that have missing glass with chicken wire and hang up old momentos, photos or notes to yourself. Let your old window be a window to your soul!.
X is for Xylophone
Admit it, you thought we were going to go X-Ray here. It was a toss up as there are slim pickings this end of the alphabet, but the colourful rainbow quality of the xylophone won out. Plus we reckon its more likely you’ll have your child’s old toy xylophone kicking about than an x-ray of your femur…but we could be wrong there. We do love the idea of turning an old xylophone into a wind chime. There is something sweet about the fact it will still be making music in the wind even after little Billy or Sally has grown up and left their toy behind.
Y is for Yard Stick
Ok, yes, we are based in the UK and a Yard Stick is definitely an American term. We do know we have American readers, so maybe this one is for them. These ideas could also be adapted for a metric length ruler as well of course…they just wouldn’t begin with a Y in that case. The picture frame idea above is probably our favourite as you actually might have one or two yard sticks lying around that you can upcycle but we think its unlikely that you would have enough to cover the whole front of a dresser, unless you raided all your friend’s junk cupboards as well as your own.
Z is for Zipper
What can you do with old zippers whose teeth have bent, split or fallen right off? You can turn them into one of a kind jewellery. Bracelets, fancy knotted necklaces like above, or floral shaped broaches. Don’t let being at the end of the alphabet fool you. Zippers still have plenty upcycling potential. And clearly so do you as you got all the way to Z! We feel like we should reward you for reading all the way to the end. We don’t have a prize but we would like to extend an invite to you to join our closed Facebook Group of upcyclers sharing their projects. It’s called Upcycle My Stuff – Share My Stuff and you can find it here. We’d love to see you in there and see whether anything on this list has inspired you!
Looking for even more upcycling ideas? Try here.