Friday, December 31, 2010

Why You Should Buy Organic Cotton

I’ve always liked the idea of organic food. But until recently, I rarely bought it. While I don’t want to ingest one more chemical than I absolutely necessary, the extra cost was always a tough sell. And I thought my body was the only issue to consider.

As a food consumer, I had a hard time convincing myself that the health benefits to my little body were worth the commitment to more expensive lettuce, tomatoes, apples, beef, chicken, or whatever-it-was I was buying that day.

I always thought I’d make the switch when I got older, when disposable income could easily accommodate it. And so there I’d stand at the supermarket, rationalizing my purchase of the cheaper stuff. After all, it's just me at stake, right?

When I started Beyond Junk, my thoughts on organic food seemed unrelated to recycling. I wanted Beyond Junk to be a supplier of recycled crafting material. But after challenges in securing a reliable supplier of recycled metal chain, I did a little research to find out what makes organic cotton different. If I couldn’t offer a recycled supply item, I wanted to know what the options were in responsible supplies.

"Cotton cultivation uses approximately 11% of the world’s pesticides, though it is grown on just 2.4% of the world’s arable land. Some of these chemicals are classified as toxic or carcinogenic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In developing countries, where regulations are less stringent, the negative impacts are more severe."

- Sustainable Cotton Project
Hmmm, well then, organic cotton isn't such a tough sell. Looking at it from that angle, I'm much more willing to make the switch.

Bottom line: buying organic is about more than just you. I still can’t afford to stock my fridge and pantry with only organic food, but as a crafter I'll be using organic, sustainable supplies whenever recycling isn’t an option. I hope you will too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Brief History of Shopping Malls

I've watched the handmade movement grow over the last half dozen years, online and at markets and festivals. I've been a customer and a seller. While I realize that this avenue of business has been around for millennia, something feels different now.

I've started to wonder if traditional malls full of mass-produced goods will continue to grow as strongly as they have been. Has handmade come far enough to really challenge the way we shop?

Then I started to wonder exactly where the concept of shopping malls came from. How did they become the standard? Malls have been around as long as I can remember, but I was sure they had to be relatively new in terms of the way shops interact with the public. I figured, maybe post WWII, or maybe even turn of the century origins.

So when I read that the first mall dates back to Damascus in the 7th century, I realized the idea is much, much older than I'd considered. Beyond early bazaar-style markets in the Middle East, more contemporary mall-type complexes developed in Russia and England in the late 1700s.

The suburban mall concept as we know it first appeared in Seattle in 1950. Northgate Center was an open-air complex of 80 shops. The development of malls in the latter half of the century was highly influenced by both the growth of suburbs and widespread use of automobiles.

Contemporary malls (like West Edmonton and Metrotown here in Western Canada) have been further influenced by teenage and young adult culture, serving as social hubs, slowly reshaping the way several generations shopped and consumed. Large retail and fast-food franchises grew to dominate this model through demographics trained to access goods at these locations. Popular culture frequently utilizes mall settings in film and television.

So the new development isn't malls, per se, it's mass production and the big box retail concept that so many of us have become disillusioned with. Products that sit like identical dominos stacked on fluorescent-lit shelving.

Bazaars full of unique boutiques, an eclectic place where goods come to the public - that's cool. A cookie-cutter arrangement of the same franchise over and over. Hmmm. Is that what we're rejecting when we steer clear of malls?

I can't wait to see what the post-recession landscape looks like. Will handmade businesses come out stronger than ever, having had a chance to thrive?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crafty Profiles: Twice Round

New to Beyond the Junkpile, I'm adding another section to profile some of the many amazing crafters and artisans working with recycled material. So I'm doubly excited to share the first profile of Tammy Bowles from Twice'Round in Ohio.

Shop: Twice'Round
Goods: recycled paper beads

Beyond Junk:
How did you get started as a crafter? With paper beads specifically?

I came from a pretty crafty family. I have pictures of me learning to knit when I was 2 or 3, and as far back as I can remember I was helping Mom knit and crochet. I also spent a lot of time drawing as a child, and learned to do cake decorating, baking and chocolate molding as a youngster as well, since my mom ran a small bakery out of our home.

Growing up, I spent as much time with my Dad's mom as I could, and she taught me a lot of other skills. Her favorite crafts involved turning every day items (like egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, old gloves, plastic forks, and junk mail) into things that people could actually appreciate. She taught me one year to make paper beads, and I've been hooked on it ever since.

Beyond Junk:
What inspired you to open an online store?

Because of a progressive disability I've had to re-arrange my life several times. This last time I was left unable to hold a regular full-time job in any capacity, so I ended up starting an online toy company ( I opened an Etsy store for that business first, and then opened the Twice-'Round store as a place to sell supplies and other things that didn't fit with the toy business.

Beyond Junk:
Do you see your work as being environmentally friendly? If so, how?

I would say my work is environmentally friendly. All of my beads are made from recycled materials: junk mail, catalog pages, magazines, old calendars, old gift bags, soda bottles, etc. I use shellac as the finish, which is a natural product.

I do stock wood parts that I get from from a wholesale supplier, but any screw-ups or parts that do not meet my quality standards are sanded and reused, or passed on to someone who will reuse them.

Beyond Junk:
Tell us a bit about your plans for Twice 'Round.
As of now, my Twice-'Round shop is mostly a stress-relief for me. I'm a very odd sort of person... even though my nerves are damaged and the fine motor control in my hands is not what it used to be, even though it's actually painful to use my hands, the monotony of rolling beads is a very cathartic experience for me. I can't do it most days, but I do it when I can, and more often when I'm stressed out about other things.

I love combing through magazines and catalogs to find pages that will make pretty or interesting beads. I get excited when I receive a particularly bright or colorful piece of junk mail. When I sit down to make a set of beads I take the time contemplate which size bead will most complement the colors and thickness of a particular piece of paper.

I let the control-freak in me take over as I make precise measurements to cut each paper into strips, and I'm careful to line up each bead just-so, with every turn, as I'm rolling it. For some inexplicable reason, I feel like a little kid every time I hear that *plink* as I remove a finished bead from my toothpick and let it fall into the bowl with all the others.

Selling the beads just gives me an excuse to keep making them, as I discovered long ago that many people are much better at designing jewelery around the beads than I am.

Here are just a few items from Tammy's shop:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reasons to Share Your Secrets

I've always thought it best to be an open book (yes, pun intended) with everyone in my life. Personally and professionally, as a writer and designer, I try to be frank (when appropriate) and transparent (when possible).

For my own businesses, Beyond Junk and SleeplessStoryteller's Bits & Baubles, it's a committee of one. So it didn't take me long to decide that I would start to share instructions on how to make some of my jewellery designs that other crafters would be able to easily replicate.

These "Take a Page from Beyond Junk" articles will appear in the sidebar here at Beyond the Junkpile. The first one, "How to Make Quartz Earrings" is live over on the left.

I hesitated only because I've been conditioned by (some) other artists to protect proprietary knowledge. Don't tell anyone the secret ingredient, source, material, fill-in-the-blank-here bit of precious information. I've written about this on my other blog.

I also know that a lot of web-based businesses, many from Etsy, are posting endless articles with little substance, strictly for SEO benefits.

So while, yes, I do want to promote my shops, I also genuinely want to share what I make with anyone who might want to try it at home. I think that's what the handmade movement is all about. I don't think I would suffer creatively from competition or gain a huge advantage by artificially inflating my site.

Don't believe me? Read about the Nash Equilibrium theory.

To other artists, I say that not sharing what you love most about your art or craft isn't going to stop someone from copying your work. Sharing isn't going to give you a sharp advantage either. Do it because you want to be part of a creative conversation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Beyond Junk is open for business!

I've finally started listing my first few bits of junk over on Etsy and I'm very excited. It's a soft launch; I won't be flooding the 'shelves' or doing a grand opening of any kind. I'll just keep adding treasures, slowly but surely. Keep checking back for more recycled crafting supplies as the store continues to grow.

Here are some of my first few listings:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thoughts On "Greenwashing"

I've been hearing a lot about the term "greenwashing" lately. There is a growing wave of backlash against products marketed as being environmentally friendly or recycled when a closer examination reveals that their claims are thin at best.

Articles like these:

I'm sure no one is surprised by this. Big business wants to latch on to the trend of green, independent, handmade - small.

In my own life, my work as a designer and crafter sometimes overlaps with being a writer and marketer. So while I understand the frustration of consumers that feel they've been deceived, I also understand the need companies have to convey every possible benefit their products offer.

Bottom line, I agree with full transparency. And I strive for that in every way with my own work, disclosing everything I can think of. I'm completely open about the fact that not all of my supplies are recycled.

I would never claim that recycling bits of computer parts, electronics, gears, and general junk is going to move landfill mountains.

I do, however, hope that when someone wears one of my motor winding necklaces, a computer part ring, or a pocket watch pendant, that these accessories serve as a symbol. My vision is that each person who wears a little bit of junk is making a statement that we don't want disposable possessions and constant manufacturing of goods we don't really need.

It's probably naive, but I'd like to think that trashion can start conversations that get bigger than fashion.

When those conversations take place, I hope the average person won't dwell on the new thread used in making a dress from two old sweaters. It's the bigger idea that counts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Get Good Junk & Supplies

Supply sources in Vancouver & beyond

Over the past few years, I've had lots of people ask me where I find the funky parts I use in my jewellery. Since my answers have always been complicated and convoluted, I'm putting all the links together here.

I source all my supplies with reusing and recycling as my first priority. Browsing junk and taking apart watches, electronics, and computer hardware is a great way to unleash creativity.

When it's the concept that comes first, I try to think about what I already have and what parts are already out in the world in circulation. It's a great strategy for life in general.

However, when a really great idea strikes and no amount of searching can produce the supplies I need second-hand, I look to several handy online or brick-and-mortar resources. So my list covers sources of used and new material.

Here in Vancouver, I like:

The Vancouver Flea Market
This funky weekend market is a great place to find the junk drawers of hundreds of people, all emptied under one roof. It reminds me of a cross between the Floating Market from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and the space port from Firefly and Serenity.

Urban Source
An art supply store that specializes in reclaiming leftovers from manufacturing and generally unusual items. I find a new delight each time I get the chance to visit.

Value Village
Sure, it's a chain, but you can't fault them for that when reusing and recycling is their business. I'm always dissapointed to see a flood of disposable plastic every Halloween, but other than that, they're a great place to find bags of watches, obselete gadgets, and small appliances that have seen better days.

There's no getting around it; this is an international chain and everything they carry is mass produced. But they do carry a few items I like to work with. Due to to price and ethics, I seriously limit the supplies purchased here.

Online, based in Canada and the US:

The Northern Bead Company
Based in Ontario, they have a great selection of Swarovski crystals, specifically in shapes and colours I found nowhere else. Other standard beading goodies as well.

The Beady Eye
Another Ontario-based store, they started on Etsy and I've been a fan from my first purchase. I love their chain and findings.

Dime Store Emporium
Another store that started on Etsy, this boutique is a great source for charms and stampings, mostly copper and brass. Selected charms are available with a patina already applied.

When you're looking for authentic vintage enamel or lucite flowers and beads BlueBird has you covered. She also writes a blog called Blue Bird Lucy's.

Etsy Shops
Browsing with keywords that relate to your project idea will sometimes turn up smaller sellers that have a few things you'll fall in love with. You might only buy from a smaller seller once, but I still recommend general browsing.

eBay Sellers
Like Etsy, you'll find that eBay sellers range from large stores to sellers with only a few items. The key difference is the auction element for many listings. Sometimes bidding on an auction is the best way to make supplies affordable, but this can be a frustrating process if you have a really great idea and you just want your gear already. Depending on what you're looking for, you could be outbid a dozen times before you get a good deal. Great for patient bargain hunters.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Clickable, Flickable, Twistable Parts

A friend was browsing through my store a few weeks ago, and the pieces she picked out immediately were the spinner rings. She loved that the parts still moved. That was my favourite part of each piece too.

I delight in being able to preserve a working button, switch, dial or other moving part from an old hard drive, DVD ROM, computer component or other piece of electronic equipment.

So I thought I'd collect up some of my designs with moving parts, and dedicate a blog post just to them. Although none of these fixtures still perform their intended tasks, they're pretty fun to play with.

Cyborg Cameo Necklace
(button clicks)

Sound of Trashion Dial*
(dial twists 360°)

Switchback Pendant*
(spring-loaded switch moves)

Switch Set
(all switches move)

Steampunk Set
(arm turns and gears move)

Motor West
(wheels turn)

Spinner Ring
(top piece moves indefinitely in either direction)

Wonder Winding Spinner Ring
(winding and accents move indefinitely in either direction)

Directionless Ring
(compass moves, but isn't accurate)

Screwy Idea Pendant
(watch case opens like a locket)

Originally published at: SleeplessStoryteller

Saturday, October 23, 2010

DIY Enamel

I've been getting ridiculously frustrated with sourcing vintage enamel recently.

For most of my jewellery, I start with junk, then see what I can make. But for some pieces, I want a few special touches and I need outside supplies.

And sometimes once I've got those supplies, I get inspired to make something from scratch. Most of my flowers and butterflies fall under the 'supply' category.

Last week, while browsing online for some economical enameled flowers (in vintage jewellery or as loose charms) - and finding the selection slim and overpriced - it occurred to me, "Why can't I just do this myself?" And it turns out I could.

Butterflies previously silver-toned, flowers previously brass

So for all the other crafters out there finding enamel charms getting rarer and more expensive, hit the nearest hobby shop and pick up a jar of paint for $2.50. You'll never catch yourself trolling eBay again. (Well, not for enamel flowers.)

Now for the rosary upcycle. I wouldn't classify the rosary as junk. But as it wasn't going to serve either of its original purposes - of garnering a donation or as a prayer guide. So it became two new things.

Butterfly statement necklace with watch parts and Lucite flowers

Locket necklace, brass and red aluminum

Originally published at: SleeplessStoryteller


I found a new word today! I love finding new words, but this one was particularly spectacular as it applies to my Bits & Baubles.

Wikipedia says:

"Trashion is a term for art, jewelry, fashion and objects for the home from used, thrown-out, found & repurposed elements. Trashion is a philosophy and an ethic. It encompasses environmentalism and innovation, and respects the human creative and healing potential."

Read the rest here.

Originally published at: SleeplessStoryteller

Art & Retail Therapies

I can't speak for everyone, but I know resorting to retail therapy is pretty common these days.

Bad day at work? Go shopping. Big disappointment? Hit the mall and buy something pretty. And although that sounds gender-based, I'm sure men get sucked into retail therapy too.

But my recent surge into my jewellery-making hobby has revealed something wholly unexpected; my personal cure for the retail-rut blues.

Sitting down to turn junk into jewellery seems to stop the gap I used to fill with random, mass-produced trinkets, clothes, etc.

It made even more sense having recently read one of the SideStreets novels in the series I'll be adding to this fall.

"Making things helps." - Scarred, Monique Polak

I think Wikipedia should add jewellery to it's definition of Art Therapy.

Originally published at: SleeplessStoryteller

Weclome to Beyond the Junkpile

This is a brand new blog about recycling, trashion, and steampunk. Design and trends in making junk into new treasures.

These first few blog posts will be content originally published on my SleeplessStoryteller blog at:

Stay tuned for links, resources, and supplies for funky crafting.