Repurposing means raising my standards -- 5 habits of a perfect upcycler

Repurposed jeans
I'm not, by nature, a detail-oriented person. I like big ideas, overarching connections, unifying themes. That's great for an English major but not so good for a craftsperson. And it's even worse for someone who makes things out of previously used stuff. 

People like the idea of keeping that pair of jeans out of a landfill. But they don't want reminders of the last person who wore them. So if you upcycle, you need to become a perfectionist. Here are habits I need to acquire in order to be a "more perfect" upcycler.

1. Measure precisely and often

I prefer cooking over baking. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of paprika or a tablespoon of oil, I don't bother rummaging around my utensil drawer for the right spoon. I just estimate. 

Measure precisely and oftenBut approximation doesn't work in baking and, as it turns out, in making -- at least making things that need to be certain size (to fit a specific type of tablet, for example).  My first Kindle bag taught me this lesson. When I'm trying out a new pattern, I need to measure it several times, not just eyeball it.

2. Straighten up and sew right

When I sketch, my lines come out a bit askew. And that's ok in a drawing. But not when I need to cut a rectangle out of cardboard, position a zipper, or topstich a fancy border. I've learned that if you start a line just a little less or more than 90 degrees, soon the horizontal line becomes a diagonal. My husband loaned me his T-square ruler just so I can make really straight lines. All I need to do is use it.

3. Slow down and stay present

Slow down and stay present
The faster I go, the more I get done. That's what I tell myself. But in reality, if I go too fast, I forget the coat of Mod Podge or the elastic ends up twisted. I lose my focus and start making mistakes. Usually, I'm hurrying because I want to get to the end result as fast as I can. I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid the process itself. So not only do I make mistakes, but I have a miserable time doing it.

If I catch myself, I try to re-focus on the stitches or globs of glue right in front of me. I slow my movements. (I can dial down the stitching speed on my sewing machine.)  If I can't stay mindful, then I put the project aside for a few hours. 

4. Be a discriminating shopper

I admit it -- one reason I like to repurpose is that it gives me an excuse to shop. Or, more precisely, to be on the hunt. I'm thrilled when I track down an old Trixie Belden book or a kitschy textbook. So thrilled that I sometimes overlook the stains on the back and the tears in the spine. When I get home, I realize that the amazing finds are just too damaged to use.

So before I buy a book or a piece of clothing, I double-check for stains, tears and other imperfections that I can't work around. And to limit my purchases to materials that will express my brand, I gave myself shopping guidelines.  

5. Wrap it right

When I first started selling my work online in my Etsy shop, I didn't fuss over packaging. I bought a stack of padded envelopes from an office supply store and slapped each order inside.

But when I ordered items from other Etsy sellers, I noticed how much care they took with their packaging. Their items -- no matter how humble -- arrived carefully wrapped in vintage print tissue paper, tied with hemp string or ribbon, with a handmade tag on top. Clearly these artists didn't stop paying attention once their piece was done.

Wrap it rightSo I tried paying attention to my wrapping too. Instead of pre-bought envelopes, I started making my own out of heavy paper from old books I already had on hand (atlases work well). Now I send off my Scrabble bracelets in small cloth bags made out of fabric remnants. I wrap my tablet book cases in pages from old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. 

And some customers notice. They tell me so!

I continue to look for ways to be careful, precise and still have fun and be creative. How about you? Is this balance important to you?