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Over the years I had unknowingly perfected the art of felting jumpers in the wash, thereby making my daughters happy by accidentally shrinking a wonderful selection of my cardigans to the perfect size for small people.  When I started Doodlebags I thought I’d use this enviable skill (!) to upcycle some cream woollen blankets I got from Freegle (seriously, you have got to check out Freegle).  I felted them by hot washing them in the machine and dyed them a variety of colours using machine dyes and then used them to make one of the first Doodlebags products: lavender hearts.

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Original Doodlebags hearts, back in January 2011

I continue to use woollen blankets, leaving some their original colour and dying others, most recently using a selection of hand dyes that I bought at a jumble sale plus experimenting with natural dyes.  The design of the hearts has evolved over time, though the basic size and style remain the same.  I continue to use vintage and reclaimed buttons as well as upcycled trimmings to decorate them, and they are still stuffed full of lavender grown locally in a friend’s garden and dried in my loft.
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A selection of dyed blankets

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Doodlebags’ latest lavender hearts, including some designed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

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Lavender drying in the loft

Looking to expand my product range to include my trademark Doodlebag as well as other bags and accessories, and wanting to continue with the theme of upcycling, I turned to charity shops, bootfairs and jumble sales for fabrics as well as clothing castoffs from family and friends.  My favourite finds are curtains, sheets (particularly vintage ones in garish floral designs), duvet covers (children’s characters such as Rupert and Winnie the Pooh are perfect), shower curtains and of course the infamous tent from Freegle!

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A pair of curtains and a gorgeous green blanket were used to make this bag

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A swim bag made from a Paddington Bear duvet cover, lined in waterproof shower curtain

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Most people see an old tent destroyed and only fit for the bin, but I see a pile of fabrics and heaps of potential……..

My favourite source of fabric however, is sample books.  Fabric houses charge for their books and as the cost of each one can be quite high, it’s perfectly understandable that many want to recoup a percentage of their investment by selling them: prices seem to range from 50p to £10, which is still excellent value considering the quality.

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I have been very lucky though to find a few interior designers who give me their sample books once the fabrics have been discontinued.  I am usually able to collect immediately and so the advantage to them is that the books are not cluttering up valuable space in their workshop, nor do they need to arrange and pay for disposal. It’s dreadful to think that many sample books are still simply thrown away; I’ve contacted several shops in the past only to be told that they had taken a large number of books to the tip a few days previously……..nooooo!

Once I have the books they are stripped down entirely and virtually nothing is wasted.  First all the fabric pieces are removed and sorted into a pile of those I can use and, sadly, a much larger pile of those I can’t.  This is always the hard part as I’m reluctant to consign anything to the “no” pile and I have regular clear outs to weed out all the pieces that I kept because I liked them rather than because I could use them.

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There is considerable amount of fabric to be gained from a few sample books, if you’re prepared to put in the work to remove it.

I disassemble each and every book, whether I will be using the fabrics or not, as I know someone else is more likely to use the swatches if they have been removed, rather than handing them a complete sample book.  Though I’m tempted to keep everything, the majority of fabric pieces unfortunately aren’t suitable for my work and so I pass these on to places where they will be used rather than being thrown away.  So far I’ve been able to redistribute the fabrics to various groups including: senior schools (Hillview and Skinners Academy), junior schools (LeighStocks Green and Hildenborough), Home Educators (SEHE), playgroups (Silverdale Nursery), charities (YMCA and Alzheimers Society) and other crafters via Freegle.

Whilst I recognise the cost in obtaining the books is minimal, the manpower and time involved in dismantling them is considerable.  I should perhaps take this opportunity to clarify something: when I say “I” disassemble the books, I really should change that to “Richard”.  I do a few, but he is the king of deconstruction and has it down to a fine art….all he needs is a screwdriver and a pair of pliers plus a certain amount of brute force, and no fabric sample book is safe!

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Devastation!

Once the fabrics have been dealt with the next stage is the books themselves, which is where I reclaim the screwdriver and pliers (plus a claw hammer to make up for the shortfall in brute force) and I give in to my basic urge to destroy! 

The cord carry handles are removed for use on my wallpaper carrier bags.

Next are the clear plastic covers which are taken off and set aside to be given to schools and playgroups: the flexible plastic is perfect for a variety of crafts. 

Then the boards.  Some have a complicated construction involving blocks of wood which are prised off (hence the claw hammer) and put into the designated skip at our local tip.  Any nails, screws, and staples are removed and put into a jar because I’m absolutely convinced that (say it with me…) “they will come in handy one day”.

Some are tougher than others to take apart and it can be so tempting to give up and just throw them away, but upcycling is worth the effort

It all has a use……….eventually

The boards themselves have a fabric covering which I strip off; as much of it has been treated with some form of plastic coating, I’ve yet to find use for this and so regrettably it currently goes into the bin.   

The paper scraps are put into the recycling box.

All I’m left with then is a pile of thick boards, a few of which are used here at home, but the majority of which go to schools and playgroups for art projects.

STOP PRESS: Having been at an outdoor event in a field earlier this week, I can report that standing on boards that still have their fabric covers on is a great way to keep your feet warm(ish) from the damp ground……yet another unexpected use!

So, if you have the patience to attack a pile of out of date fabric sample books with a few basic DIY tools, you end up with: several bags of craft fabric and piles of art supplies destined for schools and charities, a pot of “useful” bits and bobs destined for my shed, plus some delightful fabrics for me to use.

Best of all, there’s only a small bag of rubbish destined for the bin.

Worth all the effort!

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