Selling Recycled Crafts

Looking back, I can’t really remember using the term recycled for much of anything before everyone wanted to go green.

Most of what we talk about recycling is what we once called garbage, trash, refuse and junk – old newspapers, building construction scraps, tin cans, glass bottles and even diapers are now commonly being recycled. The recycled materials are typically crushed, shredded, melted and/or chemically treated to be used to create something sanitized and new. Through the process we somehow see past the garbage aspect and see the new recycled item as clean and perhaps even better than the original. I still don’t see how taking a used diaper and recycling it into stuffing used for stuffed animals could ever be anything other than yucky but the end result was a pristine-looking stuffing used by toy manufacturers around the world, including one I used to work for.

While children’s crafts have long centered around the fairly clean and odor-free cardboard tubes from used toilet paper and paper towels, today’s crafters are finding many more recycled items from which to make their pieces. In the long run, it’s all good – less trash in the landfills and useful, creative items are being produced.

The problem, as I see it, is that crafters and artists focusing on green or recycled crafting must be careful on how they market themselves and might need to spend more time and effort explaining their craft and focus a little less on their green-ness.

Think about the concept of reused and recycled. You are taking something someone considered worthless and trying to sell it. The trick for the green artisan is to explain what they did to transform the recycled/free materials into art. The sculptors who scrounge broken car parts and other debris from the side of the road may be the best example of an artist being able to convey the value of their artistry over the value of their raw materials.

Sure, pictures of that recycled stuffing we used could show how clean, white and fluffy it looked. Being realistic, when we think of recycling something that came into contact with that uniquely colored and highly aromatic stuff all baby’s gift us with after we feed them, our memory features something that pictures can rarely convey – smell. And when I was shown the stuffing room and the bins of that recycled fluffiness, I remember the first thing I did was sniff the air assuming that particular aroma had to be nearby. My tour guide giggled and explained how the “solid wastes” had been removed and the material had been treated using some whoop-de-du-super-duper bleach stuff that made it perfectly clean and safe.

What’s got me thinking about this today? Crafting with seeds. Sure, we all probably remember our own masterpieces that we made as children by gluing seeds on paper to create a picture. As a rule, our pictures were hung on the wall, looked at and not touched – well, at least until the glue failed and the seeds fell off.

Pumpkin seeds and jewelry made from dyed, painted or otherwise crafted upon pumpkin seeds appear to be something of a hot item this year. In the past week, I’ve visited two different crafting sites where pumpkin seeds featured prominently in jewelry. Generally, I like the idea and see them as the perfect tear-drop shape for beaded items.

But, pumpkin seeds can be fairly easily crushed or split. So, how do jewelry makers and other crafters treat the seeds so that items made with their seeds will withstand normal use.

Neither of the two websites where the pumpkin seed jewelry was being sold provided any explanation of what they do to the seeds to make them strong enough to be worn. Both used dyed or painted pumpkin seeds and neither discussed how to care for the finished items. After all, seeds generally can’t get wet or damp and wearing seeds against the skin would seem to certainly run the risk of making them damp.

One crafter, cleverly used red pistachio shells in several of her pieces. I love pistachios but hate the red dye that stains the fingers of anyone who touches them. No where does the crafter mention varnishing, shellacking or otherwise treating the shells so the dye does not come off their jewelry and onto clothing or skin.

Using recycled materials is a great selling feature for hand-crafted items. Just make sure that you go beyond the “green” aspects and remember the true value of your work and what makes it something people would want to own. Many of the raw materials used in recycled, re-purposed and re-used crafts could be perceived as having a lower value than their more traditional counterparts. After all, most of them are free aren’t they?

Yes, this is a bit of long harangue to simply remind crafters that they are selling a product first and saving the environment second. Unfortunately, the two crafters I visited this week seem to have missed that some how and perhaps they and others need a bit of a reminder.

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