I hate waste. I also grew up in a family of ‘makers’. From dressmaking to decoupage, stripping furniture to upholstery, and jewellery-making to embroidery, between them my various family members are pretty skilled at turning trash into treasure.
I’ve yet to hone my furniture-making skills (though a sawdust-scented shed with nails and assorted ‘useful things’ in tobacco tins has long been on my wishlist). However, if I need something, I’ll generally think about whether I can make it rather than automatically buying it. Conversely, I’ll often raid the recycling box and try to think of uses for things that would otherwise be thrown away. While recycling is great, reusing is even better (and can save you a fortune in crafting supplies).
If you’re looking to save money this Christmas – or can’t face the shops – these are a few ways to use your recycling.
When tights get ladders, don’t just bin them. They can be used to make loads of things.
Need a draught excluder to cut heating costs? Stuff one leg of a pair of (thick) tights with rice, sew up the end and decorate as you wish. Putting an animal face on one end is quick and easy – just add felt ears, nose and mouth plus googly eyes; or keep it even simpler with the classic snake, which requires nothing more than a forked tongue and eyes. Should that be too twee for you, ribbon or sequins can also be used for decoration.
If you’re more craft-inclined, tights can also be turned into a doll. Use the foot end of one legs of the tights to form the head and torso – I often use the stuffing from (washed) old pillows that are going flat. Add arms and legs made from stitched tubes of tights material reinforced with plastic-coated garden wire (to allow you to pose the joints). Use wool for hair (I knot several strands together then sew the knots to the doll’s head, for ease). Finish with an outfit made from craft box scraps. Your doll can be designed to resemble the person you are making it for, to make it extra personal.
Old tights can also be used to make a travel pillow, rag rugs, and even fingerless evening gloves (cut two tubes from fishnet or black nylon tights, and trim the ends with elasticated sequins or maribou, to keep your arms warm when you’re wearing a strappy dress.)
If you’re not into sewing, tights are also great for straining jams and jellies and clarifying home made drink. Just make sure they’re washed in boiling, soap free water first!
Got a glove that’s lost its partner? Turn it into a cuddly toy. There are various patterns online depending on the toy you want to make. I use the fingers for arms and legs, and the rest of the glove to form the body and head (though if the material is stretchy enough, the thumb can be used to make the head).
Making lost glove toys is an easy and a fun way to teach kids about waste and crafting while keeping them entertained (sadly, I don’t have pictures but once spent a great evening running lost glove teddy making for a festival and found kids as young as six could easily grasp the concept.)
While I try to avoid plastic packaging as far as possible, it can often be used to make miniature gardens. The above garden was made from plant plug packaging. Ready meal packaging can be great too, particularly if it has multiple sections which can be turned into ‘raised beds’.
Packaging can also be reused to pack up home made gifts and make them look more glamorous. Just add ribbon and flowers or pine cones from nature walks.
Old Jars and Bottles
As a keen jam and booze maker, I’ve long been shocked by the price of jars and bottles. The biggest expense when making home made booze is often the bottles. Similarly, it’s often cheaper to buy budget jam and reuse the jar than buy the jar alone.
Raiding the recycling year-round means you won’t have to face this rather purpose-defeating choice. If you have a dishwasher, soak the labels off the jars or bottles then put them in a hot wash (you don’t want the labels clogging your filter). If you don’t, pour boiling water into them before using.
Smaller bottles from condiments can also be reused. They’re ideal for ‘tasters’ of elderberry port or flavoured spirits, which can be used in hampers; and can also be used for home-made sweet chilli sauce, ketchup or any other sauce that uses up a garden glut.
And cosmetics containers can also be refilled with home made toiletries. Massage oil blends, moisturiser and bath salts are all far cheaper to make than to buy – and aromatherapy oils soon cover their own cost with the saving you make on buying toiletries.
I’ll tend to swap old clothes with friends, meaning we can all keep our wardrobes fresh without spending a fortune. Anything remaining goes to the charity shop.
However, if clothes are damaged beyond repair, they can still be useful. A T-shirt can be turned into a reusable tote bag with very little sewing skill (or even no sewing at all). Old lightweight cotton can be cut into squares and filled with oats and herbs to add luxury to baths. Decorative fabric can be added to your sewing box – and even tiny fabric scraps can be used in doll making.
Any absorbent fabric can be used for cleaning cloths. Why spend a fortune on disposable land-filling wipes when you can use old fabric and reuse it by washing the cloths after use? Soak in vinegar to clean glass, or turpentine and linseed oil for cleaning wooden furniture. I love the smell of turps and linseed but if you don’t like it, olive oil can also work – though buff it off thoroughly to avoid stickiness. And if you’re dusting, a few drops of lavender or rosemary oil on the cloth will make your home smell great.
You may be surprised by how much of your recycling is reusable. Boxes can be reused for posting out parcels, or turned into wendy houses or cars, if you have kids to entertain. Newspaper can be used for paper mâché, or simply protecting the table/floor when crafting. Magazines can be used for decoupage. Plastic bottles can be refilled with filtered water and stored in the fridge to avoid wasting money on bottled water. Disposable coffee cups can be used to take home made coffee to work, saving yourself a fortune. And gift wrap can be reused if you unwrap your presents carefully and flatten or roll the paper after use.
Use your imagination and you can reduce your waste, save money and make the most of the work that went into producing the things you usually throw away. Why treat everything as disposable when so much can be used again?