From Junk to Jewelry by Beth, Leah, and and Mary Johnson, 1991.

I bought this book at a school book fair when I was a kid, and we used some of the projects in the book for Brownies and birthday parties. They are pretty easy craft activities that use basic materials that people have around their houses. As the title indicates, the focus is on reusing things that might otherwise be thrown away to make something new. It uses the term “recycling” rather than “upcycling” (which I don’t remember hearing in the 1990s – “recycle” or “reuse” were more common terms), but that’s the basic idea. Some projects require some additional materials beyond the “junk”, like earring, pin, or barrette backings, but the main decorative part of the jewelry pieces are made from recycled materials. The projects in the book are divided into different levels of difficulty: beginning, intermediate, and advanced.

The two beginning projects are a beaded necklace with beads made from rolled paper (mine is shown in the picture) and pins or barrettes made from papier-mache colored with paint or marker.

The intermediate section has instructions for basic friendship bracelets and sgraffito earrings. “Sgraffito” is an artistic technique that involves scratching the top layer of a project to show the colors of a lower layer. Now, you can buy ready-made kits with special scratchable paper or cards that shows rainbow colors underneath, but I don’t recall ever seeing these kits when I was a kid in the 1990s. This project produces a similar look, but you have to apply the colors yourself using crayons. You start with a piece of heavy paper, tagboard, or an old file folder, you color rainbow stripes with crayon, pressing hard as you color. Then, you color over the rainbow colors with black crayon until the rainbow underneath doesn’t show. Then, you cut out the shapes of the earrings and scratch a design on the surface, scratching away the black surface so that the colors show underneath. Then, you glue the colored paper shapes to pieces cut from a plastic milk carton for stability and attach earring wires.

The advanced section has instructions for two more types of friendship bracelets (the v-design, which I’ve made many times myself with yarn, and the bridge design) and making origami earrings using either origami paper or colorful wrapping paper and earring backings.

The end of the book has a collection of tips for making junk jewelry of various kinds for kids of all ages. It describes various types of “junk” you can collect around the house, like old buttons, pieces of broken toys or broken jewelry, pictures cut from magazines, and bits of cloth, lace, cord, or bows. When you’ve assembled your “junk”, you consider how you can arrange it decoratively, and then glue the pieces to a piece of plastic cut from a milk jug. Then, you can attach pin backings or earring backings so you can wear it.

Environmentalism and the concept of recycling were gaining increasing importance through the 1990s and were heavily promoted in schools when I was a kid. Although not every project in this book uses entirely recycled materials, these were common sorts of projects we would do in scouts and craft classes, and they can be a lot of fun even for kids today. When I was a Brownie, we spent a weekend at a Girl Scout camp with girls from other troops, and one of our activities was creating and trading “swaps” – decorative pins we made ourselves from bits and pieces of things like this. Each troop had its own swap design, and we would trade our swaps with each other and wear them around as signs of our new friendships. I can’t remember what my troop’s swaps looked like anymore because I traded away all of the ones I’d made myself, but I still have the swaps that I got in return. No two look alike. There were pins made from old puzzle pieces, popsicle sticks with stuff glued to them, macrame rope made to look like little faces, plain safety pins with colorful beads added, etc. These are good projects to encourage creativity. If the kids are bored this summer, try some of these projects or come up with some creative twists of your own!

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