The initial idea for my up cycling project started with the currently trendy bucket hat. Although the bucket has long been the functional choice of fisherman and children while outdoors, it has recently caught on as a street wear fashion accessory. The current trend is a really unique aesthetic that is created by the fabric that is used, rather than by the hat style itself. These fabrics are usually bold, have contrasting colors, and often repeat a pattern of a small image. This can include are range of things like floral patterns, space/galaxy imagery, tie-dye, and word graphics. I thought that it would be fun to try and replicate this look by creating my own fabric pattern. While thinking about what recycled materials had bizarre colorful imagery, I was reminded of those once-popular purses made from recycled candy wrappers (an aesthetic in itself). The candy wrappers naturally provide the repeating imagery and are made in attractive colors that kids can’t resist. Now that I had a material and an idea, I just hat to figure out how to actually make a bucket hat.
My plan for execution on this project was to begin by figuring out how much fabric I needed. After doing some browsing on the internet, I combined a couple of different approaches [1, 2] to make my pattern. Using a ruler, I measured out rough dimensions onto some recycled Amazon cardboard boxes, and cut out each of the pieces to use as a stencil.
I next needed to create the individual fabric sheets to cut the pattern out of. I took a trip to Target and settled on using Starburst wrappers, Super Bubble gum wrappers, and Capri Sun juice pouches due to their bright and contrasting colors. After carefully unwrapping the candy pieces, I ironed each wrapper piece flat underneath a cloth. The heat had to be high enough to remove the wrinkles, but low enough to not remelt the wax.
I then experimented to find the best way to connect each of the wrappers. I found the it worked well to use a binder clip to hold two wrappers aligned back to back, and then stitch along the seam. I made sure to reverse stitch at the beginning and end of each wrapper in order to lock the stitch in place. This took a while to figure out the tricks, but I was eventually able to get the hang of it.
After creating a bunch a sections of two, I sewed multiple sections together to create a column. Using the same binder clip technique, I was then able to sew multiple columns together to create a full sheet. Between each of these steps I had to repeatedly iron the sheets in order to accurately align them to each other. After many hours, I ended up with the really unique sheets below.
While talking about my thoughts and progress of my project with my team, I explained how the wrapper sheets turned out to be a far cooler material than I was expecting. I told my team that I was concerned that the material might not be strong enough to be made into and worn as a hat, but that I still wanted to incorporate them into my project somehow. My team member Jason suggested that I could instead use the paper material to create a lantern by stitching together wedges to make a sphere. It was a great suggestion, and I decided to rethink my ideal of creating a bucket hat.
New Vision – The Actual Process
Although it is always tempting to think that design is an idealized linear process compromised of a little planning, defining, perfect execution, and celebratory drinks, this rarely happens. Despite knowing this, I still naively thought that this would be the case for my relatively small project of making an up cycled bucket hat. The process actually turned out to be far closer to the design process that our group discussed in class. Our group chose to graphically represent the process as a cycle that resides inside of a continually converging and diverging path. As the process develops, the path ultimately converges on the final product. This portrayal does a good job representing that the design process starts out very broadly. After some consideration and exploring, you can begin to specifically define the problem or product of interest. The next step is to expand on possible solutions to the identified issue, which in turn re-opens up possibilities. This second brainstorm hopefully results in more concrete ideas and provides what will be executed in the process. After the execution, there will be troubleshooting and revisions, which will eventually lead to a polished design.
Talking about my progress and challenges with my team expanded possible ideas about my project, which helped me to redefine the idea to make a lantern out of the material I had already created. Some additional exploring on the internet gave me a ton of new ideas that presented the new aesthetic of Chinese paper lanterns. This aesthetic still heavily uses bold colors, and the materials have a similar wrinkly look to the candy wrapper fabrics that I had made. The particular design that grabbed my attention was the folded slit lanterns. I was hoping that this would be a nice way to show off the interesting candy wrapper fabric that I had created.
With my new realized idea, I took a trip to Home Depot to find a lamp base. For a $1.57, a found a no-frill ceramic bulb base. The base did not come with a cord, so I sacrificed an extension cord that I had lying around at home. I cut off the reciprocal of the extension cord, stripped the wire, and attached the ends to the screw terminals on the base. Before putting in a bulb, I used a multi meter to verify that I had the correct polarity from the outlet.
After I was confident, I screwed in an LED bulb that I had salvaged from the bathroom before moving out of my apartment last year (I replaced it with an incandescent bulb). I was initially concerned that the bulb may generate enough heat to catch the paper on fire, so I left the bulb on to see how hot it got. After a couple of hours it was still cool to the touch, so I knew that it wouldn’t be an issue. The bulb base is supposed to be mounted to a flat surface, so I now needed to figure out a way to close off the exposed electrical wires below. I chose to laser cut a few pieces of acrylic, and mount them to existing holes on the base using a couple of screws that I borrowed (stole) from work. I also found some rubber hose gaskets in the ITLL project depot that I epoxied to the base to act as non-slip feet.
I now got started on converting the sheets into the lantern shade. I began by cutting the pieces to the desired size (17″ x 13 and 17 x 11″). I then sewed channels on the top and bottom long edge of the bigger piece. This allowed me to feed wire through so I could eventually give the lantern a stiff shape.
After finishing the edges on the smaller piece, I laser cut strips along the short length that will create the paper arcs when folded into a cylinder. I then sewed both of the sheets together along the long edges. After shaping it into a cylinder and pining it in place, I hand stitched the short edges together to create the final shape. I finished but adding some securing forward and reverse stitches along the top and bottom.
For a shade holder, I used a cordless drill to tightly spin some electrical wire together. I then bend the twisted pair into a 4 prong holder. It doesn’t do a very good job of supporting the shade, so I plan to revisit this in near future. However, I do like that the colors perfectly match the Chinese lantern aesthetic that I am aiming for.
I am somewhat happy with the final result of this project. The material that was created from connecting a bunch of small colored pieces of waxy paper together was definitely more interesting than I was anticipating. Given the absurd amount of laborious hours it took to sew together all of the pieces (the entire time I was regretting trying to learn to sew together paper before fabric), I feel like the final product fails to show off the beautiful stitching and mesmerizing repetition of each of the individual created sheets. I also don’t particularly like the busy and non-uniform outer paper arcs that hide the sheet below. The paper arcs aren’t structural enough to hold themselves and tend to sag over time. If I were to revisit this project, I would make a set of three lanterns that were each just a simple cylinder. Each of the three lanterns could be made from a different type of wrapper, which would better provide the contrast that I was going for. Overall this was an interesting experiment in up cycling, and I am glad that I went through the process. Although my final product leaves something to be desired, I now have some great ideas for future projects. With the 20 Capri Sun pouches that I never ended up using, I plan to create a nostalgic lunch pouch. If I finish it before the end of the semester, I will be sure to post some images on the blog.