Sunday, December 21, 2014

Clever ideas sought for invention/upcycling contest

By Sally Parker

Five stores, the Davis Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club Yolano Group and Cool Davis are joining the Square Tomatoes Crafts Fair in sponsoring an Invention and Upcycling Contest. It will be held Sunday, June 1, in Central Park for a $50 prize.

All of the sponsoring stores — Aggie Reuse, Hibbert Lumber, Common Grounds, SPCA Thrift Store and Boheme Hip Used Clothing — have rule sheets available and a notebook with upcycling ideas.

Why have so many stores and nonprofits sponsored the contest? Because an invention and upcycling contest is an idea whose time has come.

The invention part of the contest honors Davis creators. The right invention, like professor Andy Frank’s hybrid-electric car, can change the world. So far, Steven Inness, Peter Wagner and Citrus Circuits, Davis’ world-class robotics team, have entered the contest as inventors. Innovators in 3D printing are welcome to display their designs.

Upcycling is a form of invention available to anyone. Upcycling saves resources, reduces the waste stream and, best yet, it’s downright fun! Other means of saving resources involve a certain amount hard choices and self-sacrifice, but upcycling is more like a treasure hunt.

Upcycling means finding a new use for a product headed to the landfill. It means installing a shelf in a beautiful dresser that is missing a drawer. It means saving computer circuit boards from e-trash and cutting these surprisingly attractive pieces into jewelry. It means finding a new way to restyle a T-shirt.

The June 1 fair will have a display of contest entries and an idea board with images of common items that can be reused. Examples of upcycling can be found online at on the boards “Upcycled,” “Refashioned” and “Invention & Upcycling Contest.” People who want to enter the fair can find instructions at any of the sponsoring stores or online at

Along with a display of contest entries, the fair will have an Inventors’ Café with comfy chairs next to the food and coffee booth. Fair managers are organizing a “A Rhapsody in Redo” where fearless furniture wizards take second-hand to the outer limits. The Scissors Wizards Clothing Clinic will be at the fair with sewing tools, second-hand clothes and advice. The wizards will restyle clothing and show visitors how to refashion what’s too small, too big, partly ripped or downright boring.

People new to upcycling can find an “Upcycling Idea Book” at Hibbert Lumber with images of what can be done to transform old items into furniture. Few people know that a suitcase with four legs attached can become a tea table with storage space, or it can be stuffed with pillows and made into a dog bed.

Filing cabinets, the curse of the waste stream, can be restyled into anything from boudoir to sports-and-den. With spray paint, Modge Podge and comic book covers applied to the drawer fronts, a filing cabinet can be the pride of the den. A dresser can be converted into rabbit hutch, book shelves or a bench with storage space.

Drawers from dressers damaged beyond repair are still usable. Old drawers can be used as bins for raised-bed gardening.

Upcycling includes restyling clothes. With the right restyling, men’s shirts can have more lives than a wily tomcat. Boheme Hip Used Clothing has a photo called “Add Africa.” A large man’s shirt can be transformed into an African tunic by removing the collar and adding a contrasting yoke and cuffs. A suit coat or cardigan can be transformed into a folk jacket by cutting out the collar and adding a strip of fabric around the neck, front and cuffs.

Boheme, SPCA Thrift and Aggie Reuse have ideas books showing 12 ways to restyle a T-shirt. The Idea Book at Common Grounds shows ways of upcycling both furniture and clothing.

Acres of landfill space are sacrificed to clothes dumped for being boring, badly styled or unflattering. Trim, lace, contrasting fabric and new buttons can save the lives of many of fashion failures. Clothing with styling that is too terminal to be saved by major surgery, prayer or even a queer eye can be transformed into stuffed animals, purses or a braided rug. The Scissors Wizards at the June 1 fair will help visitors with ideas.

Beyond clothes and furniture, almost anything can be upcycled, repurposed, refashioned or redone. Upcyclers have cut the tops and bottoms from aluminum soda cans, pressed a design into the metal, and refolded the sheet metal into functional decorative boxes. Jewelers take broken china dishes and cut these into pieces used for jewelry.

Styrofoam fast-food containers, the nightmare of the landfill, can be reused as block printing sheets. Press a pattern into the foam with a ball-point pen, roll ink across the foam, and press this into a piece of paper.

What is the ultimate coup in upcycling? Upcycle vegetable scraps. The base of a celery stalk or romaine lettuce can be regrown into more food. The ultimate in upcycling is diverting a dresser drawer from the landfill for use as a planter to grow new vegetables from old kitchen scraps.

Reuse is always there waiting to be discovered. Check out the website or, better yet, bring an entirely new idea to the Invention and Upcycling Contest.

— Sally Parker is a Davis resident and founder of the monthly Square Tomatoes Crafts Fair.



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