Upcycling is all the rage these days. Upcycled this and that are so omnipresent on Pinterest, Etsy, and various blogs that for a long time I wasn't even aware that the term "upcycling" was coined along with, and in opposition to, "downcycling."
Briefly, downcycling describes most recycling processes, in which discarded items are transformed into new products of lesser quality, while upcycling involves transforming trash into something better than it was to begin with.
It's hard to argue that upcycling is a good thing to strive for when it comes to industrial recycling, but in everyday life I think the idea of downcycling deserves a second look.
That's because even though it makes me sound like a crank, I have to say that quite a few "upcycled" craft projects strike me as a little bit, well, lipstick on a pig*. (It would be unkind of me to actually point out examples...but I bet you can think of some.)
Instead I think: Why not just accept that with time and use things will get downgraded to lesser purposes, without having to hide the fact that they have become stained or worn?
That is, "creative reuse" doesn't necessarily require fancying things up: Not everything needs to be a silk purse. A sow's ear is good for its purpose. A dishrag doesn't need a doily embellishment.
This is what I had in mind recently when I made some dish towels from an old tablecloth that belonged to my grandparents. It was given to them as a wedding present, so it must be almost 75 years old, can you imagine?
It's pretty threadbare -- even worn through in spots -- and not really in good enough shape to use as a tablecloth, even for a picnic.
But it's super soft and the color scheme is pretty, and I thought the fabric might have some life in it yet.
I might not have dared to do this on my own, but fortunately my mother views her mother-in-law's possessions less reverently than I view my grandmother's. >:-)> (<--Devil smiley)
This was a very simple project: I just cut the cloth into six roughly equal sections, using the grid pattern of the fabric as a guide, and hemmed the raw edges. I thought about using this project as an opportunity to learn how to make mitered corners...but in the end I didn't bother.
I have to admit that some parts of the fabric are in worse shape than I had realized. I should probably patch some of those holes (NOT with a doily!). So this project might end up being more a meditation on wear and reuse than an actual source of new dish towels.
On the other hand, while the fabric itself may not be in much better condition than our existing kitchen linens, these towels are a lot more absorbent. I prefer them from an aesthetic perspective too, for their soft colors and uniform pattern. Perhaps most of all, I like the way these towels give me the chance to ponder the history of objects as I go about my everyday life.
*Not to be confused with "lipstick on Pig," which is what my daughter heard when she heard me say the phrase recently. Pig, of course, being the name of Ron Weasley's owl. Actually, I think "lipstick on Pig" should be a saying, too. It would mean something along the lines of "gilding the lily," but rather than indicating an attempt to improve on perfection, it would signify an attempt to prettify something for which prettification is irrelevant. So, a cross between "gilding the lily" and "like a fish needs a bicycle." So now you'll know what I mean when I use the phrase in everyday conversation, which I absolutely plan to do.