Awesome Examples of Vintage Upcycling

The term Upcycling came to prominence in 2002, but the idea of Upcycling has been around for as long as humanity has been making waste that could be Upcycled. At Rust and Fray, we love Upcycling in all its forms, so today we’ve got a collection of Upcycling ideas that your Grandparents and Great Grandparents might’ve done.

Great Depression Upcycling

Before the 20th Century, disposability culture wasn’t really a thing and so everything got reused. It took until Industrialization was fully established and settled in before people started making things meant to be thrown out. So the Great Depression became this meeting point for America. Industrialization was in full swing and strongly shaping how Americans consume products, but the economic crises meant that many Americans had to reuse everything they could just to get by. This led to some very unique ideas:

  • Flour Sack Clothing. Nothing was thrown out, so given that chicken seeds and flower sacks came in bags it meant that people were figuring out how to reuse their bags. Clothing was especially problematic for families with young growing kids, so any scrap of cloth people could get their hands on became something. Interestingly, the flour makers realized this and started making patterns on the sacks so that they’d make better clothes.
  • Reusing old shirts and socks as dishrags. This one might not be the most glamourous example on the list, but nothing got wasted. When money is tight and cloth is on short supply, there's no reason to buy a new square of cloth to wash dishes with when they had some old socks that are no longer good to wear. Just cut them into a square, give them a good wash (or three) and they’re good to go.
  • Usable Leftovers. Now of course a motto of the Great Depression was to eat every single scrap of food they could, but they took it to the next level. They took everything they couldn’t eat, such as bones and vegetable peels and boiled them to make a soup stock. Alternatively they’d feed their leftovers to rabbits they were raising, as rabbits are a good, fast breeding, and easy to raise. While eating Bugs may not be very vegan friendly, it is kosher, halal, Hindu acceptable, and even Catholics on friday friendly.

World War II Upcycling

World War II became another major moment for waste reduction, as the garbage can turned into another front for the war. Recycling, scrap drives, and victory gardens became extremely common place in America, and the phrase “Make Do and Mend” became an iconic British slogan. It’s not at all surprising that Upcycling became a part of the war effort as well. Here are some creative ways the allies Upcycled for the troops.

  • Boy Clothes for Women. With the men off fighting the war (and sometimes not returning), and textile shortages skyrocketing the price of clothing, many women took to reshaping men’s clothing. Unsurprisingly, more minimal looking fashion was the order for the day, and so many women found that a tailored old suit jacket made for a fantastic top.
  • Food Scraps for the War. Absolutely everything was getting reused for the war. We all can get that scrap metal and rubbers were used for military equipment, but apparently bacon grease can be made into Glycerin, which is a key ingredient for WWII munitions. The UK also was collecting scrap food to serve as pig feed which then of course fed the soldiers.
  • Potato Peel Pie. Made famous by the book and upcoming movie, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a real recipe that found its way into many kitchens. With the popularity of home vegetable gardens and the many inventive potato recipes concocted to help deal with the meat rations, it was only a matter of time before people found uses for the peels as well. Fair warning, if you want to try the recipe yourself, I’d recommend following the version with butter and salt instead of the pure WWII version.

When the war finally ended, unfortunately this attitude ended as well. The American post war boom and a generation of soldiers raising families while celebrating the end of hard times meant that consumer culture came back with a vengeance. But in times of need, we have proven that we as a society can make do with less and can find incredibly imaginative ways to reuse what we have. With the looming crisis of global warming, our horrific plastic overproduction, and our general waste driven culture, we need to take up the waste reduction cause again, and Rust and Fray is proud to be a part of that.

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