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How to create beautiful treasures with upcycling!

Let us introduce you to our first Alumni Expert from Austria who is an expert for “upcycling” and an ambassador for SDG 12 “Sustainable Consumption and Production”.
Dear Bernadette, we are very pleased to welcome you as one of our sustainability experts. Let’s start with our interview.

What is Bernandl about?
Under the label “Bernanderl” I devote myself to upcycling on a very high quality level. Turning old, dusty books into unique bags is my specialty. My goal is to make old things shine again and give them a second chance by adding a totally different function to the original materials. Besides creating very special bags out of books. I also make jewelry and skirts out of ties. And I design boxes out of books, which in the inside I decorate with diverse writings and pictures I find in the old books. However, since time is limited and I totally love the bags out of books, this has become my focus.


What exactly is upcycling?
Upcycling – in contrary to recycling – means to take old materials and turning them into new products, which will have a different function and new purpose. For instance, an old wooden window blind from an old house functions as my shoe rack and I hang my jewelry on the strings of an old, damaged instrument (zither), which I fixed on the wall. I find these things at the flea market or at places where people bring things they don’t need any longer and where you can take stuff you need for free (Schenk-Ecke = gifting corner). We do have such places around here in Steyr.

Why are you passionate about it?
There are many reasons, but let me list my five major motives:
1. Old things have a charm. My father used to collect antiques and I guess I inherited his passion for old things. Whenever I look and touch old things, I dream about how these things were once used, who used it and what story is behind this particular piece. Therefore, I started to research about the former owners of books that I turn into bags and I already have a long list of touching stories that I discovered. I love to let this spirit and story live on. Thus, I write a little note for the future owners of the bags, so they can know, which journey their book/bag has gone so far.
Besides upcycling, I also love to use old things simply the way they are meant for. I ride a bike, built in 1936, which still contains all original parts and I am sewing my bags on an old shoemaker sewing machine, built in 1916, all parts original, and indestructible iron machine!

2. My love for old things, but also the fact that you can save a lot of money by re-using old things, taught me too keep an eye on useful things to decorate my home with. I remember that I started to take old bed linen and turned them into new curtains for my new apartment. It looked so classy and cost me almost nothing.

3. Craftsmanship: I have always loved to do something with my own hands. In my case, it was the sewing machine, but I also have tried other things. Such as building a flower étagère out of old cooking pots. Therefore, I needed to drill holes into the iron pots. That was a new experience and absolutely worth the sweat I lost there. The flowers in the pots look gorgeous and attract many customers to my bag shop.

4. I never liked to throw things away too quickly. Thinking of sustainability and saving our nature has done its part here. I started my upcycling projects way before, the “Fridays for Future” movement started. But now I see that my projects, which were sometimes smiled at before are now taken very seriously by the society. They see my work as a very important part when it comes to saving our nature.

5. And finally, I have simply always loved the unique (sometimes funny) look of my projects. You can simply call it “design”!

You use very unique materials like old books and ties. What is the story behind it? Where do you find your inspiration?
Like all my other upcycling projects at home, it all starts with just an idea. Actually, in the meantime, I look at old things always with the eye and question in my mind: what other function can this thing have for me? But I also love to see other people’s ideas. One day I came across “invisible bookshelves”. You take an old book, and screw it on the wall. Then you can pile your own books on to that fixed book. This looks as if the books would be floating on the wall. After moving to a new apartment, I was too lazy to screw these books on the wall again and I – big surprise 🙂 – started reading these old books I once bought at a flea market, just because of their nice looking cover. After being totally immersed with the books and finished reading, I still could not throw these books away. I knew that at the flea market they could not sell such books very well because of its old lettering. Not many people can read this any longer. But the book cover was still so nice and I was looking for another way to use this book.

Then there was the idea to take all pages out and continue working with just the cover. After a few days of thinking process, my first bag was ready to be taken out. Many friends commented on my unique accessory. Since there were so many nice books to find at flea markets I soon had a second and third bag until I found a book cover, which reminded me of the pattern of an old tie, which I thought I have put to the attic after a failed (yes this happens too!!!) project of making a skirt of ties. And BINGO: the tie I had in mind was just the perfect combination with the book and the amount of fabric was just enough for the outer parts of the bag. This was the start of the very special way I am designing my Bernanderl bags till this day. Every day, I am amazed how wonderful the many diverse book covers and ties match. Just a few examples: I combined a book about birds with a beautiful tie showing feathers. Once, I combined a book cover decorated with a nice paisley pattern with a tie featuring exactly the same pattern and colors. I think I have more than 2000 ties in my studio. Thus, I am able to combine books with ties in about 90 % of the cases.
Other upcycling materials are for instance used cardboard and fabrics such as curtains, bed linen, tablecloth, scarves, etc.

Bernanderl bag

What does sustainability mean to you, and what is your favourite SDG?
Sustainability for me means using things as long as possible and if they break, turn the left overs into something new. Simply reduce waste and don’t buy so much new stuff, especially when you know that the way of production was environmentally damaging and not sustainable. Thus, my favourite SDG is “Responsible Consumption and Production”. Sustainability also means the effort to produce something with high quality. If quality is missing, the “new” thing will soon be damaged and it will land in the garbage. Finally, sustainability also means good working conditions and fair pay.

If someone wants to start with small upcycle projects: is there a special material to start with?
For upcycling projects you need to be a crafty person and when it comes to materials, I think there is no special material to start with. However, it should be a material you are familiar with. The success level will be higher then. It will motivate you for further projects and leave your comfort zone, just like I did with the iron cooking pots.

Do you have a recommendation what could be a good project for beginners?
Hm, there would be many. Maybe have a look at Pinterest. You’ll find millions of ideas.

Thank you so very much for your precious time and your inspiration. We hope that our readers feel excited to try upcycling themselves.
If you need further inspiration, please have a look at your shop Bernanderl and feel free to reach out to Bernadette!