Tight Budget ? No worries, we can make presents for any occasion out of recycled materials by Amelia Modrak

Did you have a nice Christmas? I really wish you did. And did Santa bring you lots of presents, or is he facing a little financial crisis just now? If your Santa could not bring you all the things that you wanted, I have great news for you: No problem! Because we can retire Santa and make our own presents.

You don´t believe me? Well, let me tell you that we can, too, make the magic happen. How? Well, just go to your kitchen and look in the recycling bin. Do not sub-estimate those empty containers, as there are lots of things that we can make with the plastic, paper, glass, and metal that we, daily, throw away: from jewellery boxes, dolls, notebooks, and puzzles, to marmalade jars, coasters, photo frames, and organisers.
Moreover, whether we are on a low income, or simply want to save money, upcycling can give us the opportunity to make useful things for our home and, at the same time, help protect our Precious Planet’s Life by avoiding unnecessary contamination.
Sceptical? Then let’s see examples of gifts that we can make, with our own hands, at zero cost, just by using recycled materials:

  1. Decorated/jewellery boxes
  2. Bracelets
  3. Candle holders
  4. Coasters
  5. Documents’ storing tubes
  6. Dolls
  7. Marmalade jars
  8. Notebooks
  9. Kitchen/Home/Pencil Organisers
  10. Photo frames
  11. Puzzles
  12. Ladies’ bags
  13. Flower Vessels
  14. Hand-painted cards

How to make them? Well, what I am going to explain here are the ideas I had on how to make them. Thus, this does not mean that these items cannot be made in a different way. They certainly can, and, probably, much better than the way I made them. So, I will just explain what I did to make these crafts. If the steps are too many, then please accept my apologies. I am not an expert, but a learner, in upcycling. Alternatively, if you know of an easier or quicker way to make these objects, please let us know and we will post your ideas in the Ragged University website. Upcycling knowledge is very important and we can all benefit from it.


How to Create Gifts by using Recycled Materials

Well, to start, my humble suggestion is that, before anything else, that is, before commencing any upcycling project, we should make sure that our recycling materials are in an unbroken and clean state. This means that, after having examined the integrity of the materials (plastic, cans, glass jars, fabric scraps) that we intend to use, and after having decided that they have no fissures, cuts or weak points, we need to, first, wash them thoroughly.
Not only this will prevent bacterial growth and bad odours, but will provide the best presentation to the gifts we want to make. Once the plastic, glass, metals, and fabrics are dry, we can start organising our working place. Having things at hand will save us time and will allow us to complete the fabrication of each of these gifts in less than one hour.
Additional materials that we will also use are: – Glue – Scissors – Pencil – Ruler – Stapler – Paint – Brushes – Scraps of Fabric – Washy tape – Cello Tape – Old magazines/newspaper – Presents’ paper – Enamel or transparent nail polish.

Examples of Gifts

1) Jewellery or decorated boxes OUT OF CREAM CONTAINERS AND CHOCOLATE BOXES: To make a jewellery box, we can use empty cream containers such as those for hands cream. To start, we draw the contour of the lid on a piece of fabric, cut it, and glue it onto the lid. Then, we decorate the sides of the lid with washy tape and ribbons, and the base of the cream container as well. If we wished to attach a bow on top of the lid, we would just cut little pieces of ribbon and sew them onto the fabric before gluing it to the lid.
If the lid is nice, then we only decorate the sides of the jewellery box. Making decorated boxes is easy too. We just need to glue pieces of fabric to both the lid and the sides of a chocolate box (PHOTOS 1-7).

Alternatively, we can make decorated boxes from small cardboard boxes, such as those for mobile phones. To make them, we just wrap the boxes with paper/cardboard of our choice. In my case, I used the cardboard from a Tacos/Fajitas package and the wrapping paper of an old and broken agenda (PHOTO 8).

2) BRACELETS OUT OF RIBBONS/STRINGS AND BUTTONS: We can make a bracelet with a ribbon and buttons/pendants. To this aim, we insert the buttons/pendants through the ribbon/string, place them in the middle, and make a knot at each side to keep the buttons/pendants in place (PHOTOS 9-11).

3) CANDLE HOLDERS OUT OF TINS AND GLASS CONTAINERS: We can make a candle holder out of a tin by decorating it with washy tape, aluminium foil, magazine images or paint. We can even use chocolate wrappings (PHOTOS 12-19).

To make a candle holder out of a glass container, we just need to paint it on the sides and at the top (PHOTOS 20-22).

4) COASTERS OUT OF CAN LIDS, CARDBOARD, AND CHOCOLATE WRAPPINGS: Coasters can be made from can lids (PHOTOS 23-32).

To make one, simply cover both sides of the lid with pieces of cardboard (PHOTO 26), staple them (PHOTO 27), apply glue, and then wrap them with crisps and chocolate/sweets wrappings (you can also use tin foil if you do not have chocolate wrappings) (PHOTOS 28-32).
I recommend using these as they are water-proof and thermo-resistant, and because they can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth. In fact, if your chocolate wrappings are too wrinkled to be glued on top of the cardboard, you can always iron them at a very low temperature, after switching off the machine (PHOTO 32). Alternatively, you can make a coaster out of a metallic sheet. I found this one in a bin and thought it could be used as a coaster just by attaching a ribbon to it (PHOTOS 33-34).

5) DOCUMENTS´ STORING TUBES OUT OF TIN FOIL’S CARDBOARD: We can make a documents’ storing place from the cardboard tubes of the aluminium foil/cling film/grease paper/toilet paper rolls simply by wrapping them up in a nice gift paper (in the case of the toilet paper, however, we would have to cello-tape 3-4 units to make a long tube) (PHOTOS 35-38). After wrapping up the tube, we close one of its ends with two glued pieces of cardboard:

A bigger one, that we put from the inside of the tube to secure its contents, and a smaller one, with a radius equal to that of the tube, that we place on the outside for decorative purposes (PHOTOS 39-40).

The other end will be kept open, as here is where we will put the lid. We can make the lid just by wrapping a milk bottle lid with a nice paper (I used the golden wrapping paper of butter) and inserting it upside down into the cardboard tube (PHOTOS 41-44).

6) DOLLS OUT OF OLD SOCKS, PLASTIC WRAPPINGS, BUTTONS, AND FABRIC SCRAPS: To make a doll, we can simply use broken clothes and plastic bags/wrappings. In my case, I made one out of a broken sock (PHOTOS 45-46). As we can see, the procedure is very easy and intuitive: simply fill up the fabric with the wrappings (vegetable and fruit wrapping bags, for instance), and sew the buttons to the face for creating the eyes and the mouth. Then, you can make the doll’s clothes with fabric scraps, and the doll’s hair with wool.

7) MARMALADE JARS OUT OF GLASS JARS AND FABRIC SCRAPS: Decorated marmalade jars are very easy to make. Simply paint the jar as you like and then cover the drawings with a layer of enamel or transparent nail varnish (PHOTOS 47-50).

For the lid, cut a circular piece of white paper and glue it on top the lid (I cut it slightly wider than the lid so that I can tuck it in over the sides of the lid). Then cut a circular piece of fabric, about 4-5 cm wider than the diameter of the lid (I use an old compact disc for drawing the circles), glue the top and sides of the lid (now covered in paper) and attach the circular piece of fabric onto it (PHOTOS 51-52).

Because the diameter of the piece of fabric is bigger than the diameter of the lid, we will be able to create the lovely “skirt” that is typical of the marmalade jars (PHOTOS 53-56). We should only be aware that, if we intended to make marmalade at home, we will not be able to sterilize the lid once it is decorated with fabric, so we must sterilize the lid first or use this decoration method just for jam jars that have already been opened.

8) NOTEBOOKS OUT OF CARDBOARD PACKAGING AND COLOURED PAPER: Making notebooks is very enjoyable, and it takes less than 30 minutes to complete one. To start, we must gather all the pages of the notebook and have pieces of cardboard (I recommend that they have the same length as the paper but 1 cm extra width) and a stapler at hand (PHOTO 57). I usually collect the remnant pages of several notebooks and, when I have about 20-30, then I start making a new notebook. You can also use white paper or any other type of paper if you wish.

What matters is that the number of pages does not exceed from 30 because then the stapler (and I am talking about a conventional, medium size, stapler) would not be able to work, unless you use a wire instead of staples to catch all the pages together (in that case, all we will need to do is make holes in the pages and pass the curled wire through them). Next, we put all the pages together, between the two cardboard pieces, and staple the block throughout the left edge (PHOTO 58). I advise to put the drawings of the cardboard facing the front and rear of the notebook.

This way, the inner sides of the notebook covers will be blank and, thus, they will not need much coverage. Once the “core” of the notebook is completed (i.e., cardboard and pages, stapled altogether), we can start decorating the front and back of the notebook. In my case, I used pieces of coloured paper (PHOTO 59).

First, I glued a sheet of green paper onto the cardboard – long enough so that it could also cover part of the inner sides of the front and back covers of the notebook – and then I glued a smaller piece of yellow paper onto the back cover (PHOTO 60-65).

Finally, I glued a magazine image and a thin piece of yellow paper onto the front for decoration purposes (PHOTO 66).

As I said, this is only a suggestion. You can make notebooks covered in fabric scraps, washy tape, ribbons, etc… if you wish, too. But magazine images (you can put some enamel on top of them, to give them shine and resistance) are very handy and quick for decorating notebooks, especially if the person wants a theme, such as football. This was exactly the wish of a flatmate of mine, so I made him a football-themed notebook out of a pizza cardboard, and he seemed to be delighted! (PHOTOS 67-70).

9) ORGANISERS OUT OF PLASTIC CONTAINERS, CANS, AND GLASS JARS: Plastic containers, such as those for cacao powder or yogurt, can make great home organisers. For instance, Nesquick bottles can be used to keep children´s Lego pieces or any other little things that we do not want them to get lost in the house (PHOTOS 71-73).

Yogurt containers can also work as good office, kitchen, or home utensils’ organisers. Costless and handy, they can store from cooking spoons and cutlery to painting brushes, pegs, sewing sets, pencils, etc… To make them, we just need to cover the original labels/drawings with a glued wrapping paper (and this can even be another item’s packaging). For instance, I decorated this yogurt container with scraps of “Scottish Bread” wrapping paper (PHOTO 74).

As this type of paper (Scottish bread) is water-proof, it might even make the organisers wrapped in it perfect for the kitchen. Another way of making excellent organisers is by using Tetra-Brik containers and milk plastic bottles. To this end, we just need to cut the top of the Tetra Brik/milk bottle and wrap it up with scraps of a nice paper (PHOTOS 75-77).

Cans and glass jars also make great home organisers. Making them is also straightforward and intuitive: simply cut the paper/images of your choice (I use from old newspapers and magazines, to cellophane and paper/cardboard food packaging) and glue them onto the cans and glass jars (PHOTOS 78-88).

Finally, we can make lovely pencil organisers (both for children and adults) out of cans just by using washy tape, wrapping paper or fabric scraps (PHOTOS 89-99).

Again, to make them, we need scissors, glue, paper, fabric, a ruler, a pencil, and a bit of imagination. Moreover, the easiest and cheapest way I thought I could make one pencil organiser was by using the written paper of an old notebook and a bow as the decoration motive (PHOTOS 93 and 95).

10) PHOTO FRAMES OUT OF YOGHURT LIDS: Yoghurt lids can have not only one, but many lives. One of the ideas that came to my mind was to convert them into romantic, round-shaped, photo frames (PHOTOS 100-102).

To this aim, what I did was to cover the drawings on top of the lid with glued white paper. This way, and quickly, we can have a circular photo frame onto which we can attach photos of the family or artistic compositions of the little ones of the house.
To put them on the wall, just place a double-sided adhesive at their back. In the case that we wanted to put the photos on the table, I thought that maybe we could also use the cassettes for compact discs as frames. CDs’ cassettes are made of methacrylate, a plastic which is very contaminating to Nature. So why not giving your CDs’ cassettes a second life? I think they do the job as photo-frames quite well! (PHOTO 103).

11) PUZZLES OUT OF CARDBOARD AND CHOCOLATE BOXES: Making puzzles from cardboard is very easy, or, at least, as simple as the way I thought they could be made. All we need to do is find the final image of the puzzle that we want to have (this can be an advert page in a magazine, for example) and attach it to the cardboard with glue (PHOTO 104).

Then, at the back of the cardboard, we can start drawing the shapes of each one of the puzzle pieces. Once we have them all drawn, we can start cutting the pieces (PHOTOS 105-108).

After this, we can paint the back of the pieces to make them more attractive. We can also apply a layer of enamel to give shine and resistance, and find a chocolate box to store them (PHOTOS 109-112).

12) LADY CLUTCHES OUT OF BUBBLED ENVELOPES AND FABRIC SCRAPS: We can make a clutch out of a bubbled envelope, provided it looks nice on the outside. I found one in black colour that, due to its shiny surface, gave me the idea of making a clutch out of it. To make the clutch, I just sew a decorative detail at the front of the envelope (made of the golden strings that hold gift tags), covered the inner side with fabric, added a handle – made of a shoe string – and attached a piece of Velcro for closing-opening the clutch. I am currently working on a red one, so I will show you the photos when it is finished (PHOTOS 113-118).

13) FLOWER VESSELS OUT OF PRINGLES’ CONTAINERS AND VINEGAR BOTTLES: We can easily make a vessel for dry flowers out of a “Pringles” container. To this end, we only need to cover the outside of the container with a nice wrapping paper and apply some enamel to give it shine and resistance (PHOTO 119).

Alternatively, we can make a flower vessel out of a vinegar bottle, for example. I decorated this one with some lace and a ribbon (PHOTO 120-121).

14) HAND-PAINTED CARDS OUT OF CARDBOARD OR COLOURED PAPER: To make a hand-painted card, we only need to cut a piece of cardboard or coloured paper, fold it in the middle, and use paint (tempera, acrylic or water colours) to decorate it (PHOTOS 122-123).

Moreover, I thought that the combination of a hand-painted card along with a notebook, a flower vessel, a marmalade jar, and a pencil organiser (if it is a girl), or a hand-painted card plus a documents’ storing tube, a coaster, a puzzle, and a notebook (if it is a boy), might be a nice set of birthday/Christmas presents for a close friend or family member (PHOTOS 122-131).


So, what do you think about these examples? I am sure you have brilliant ideas on how to make gifts and household items out of recycled materials (and much better than these ones!). Then, what are you waiting for to share them? Just send an email to the Ragged University with your upcycling ideas. We will be delighted to post your articles about recycling & upcycling.


Do it for You! Do it for Us! Do it for our Beautiful Planet!
Recycle, Reuse & Upcycle!

Happy 2017, dear upcycling engineers, and see you soon!

Amelia Modrak