Upcycled Jewelry: Sustainable Beading for the Eco-Minded

Design Idea 8A2S Earrings

by Jamie Smedley, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

The revolutionary movement of embracing a greener lifestyle is quickly gaining momentum in the beading world as more people are becoming aware of environmental issues. Change is necessary to maintain our quality of life, such as growing food, developing and using energy and decreasing trash in our landfills. Sometimes, the idea of change can be intimidating. The key is to start small: consider upcycling. Here are some upcycle ideas to get you started.

Upcycled Jewelry

The Lowdown on Upcycling

Upcycling is taking something that is destined for the trash bin and transforming it into something of value and beauty. You may be asking, what is the difference between upcycling and recycling? Recycling is taking something that already has value, such as an aluminum can, and remaking it into the same or similar item. In contrast, upcycling--or repurposing--increases the value of the original item by giving it new and useful beauty.

This can be as simple as taking a piece of waste paper and transforming it into beads or other useful jewelry-making components. Almost anything that is destined for the landfill has limitless upcycling potential.

Design Idea CABP Purse


Upcycle paper from your favorite magazines, flyers, newspapers or game books. Keep in mind that different colors and varying patterns will add unique elements to your overall design. Have fun and experiment with everything to find your favorite combinations.

A few techniques you can use with paper include folding, gluing, wrapping around tube beads, papier-mâché, sewing, riveting and using a decoupage technique to apply paper onto flat surfaces.

Design Idea E638 Mask

Once you have a combination that you love and the vision of your design, it's time to collect coordinating beads and components for creating upcycled jewelry. Look at the paper and tune into the prevalent color or colors. For example, black and white paper (newsprint or puzzle books) has shades of grey that complement clear and sheer grey crystals well. If your taste runs more toward a colorful comic strip or glossy magazine page, use colorful gemstones and glass beads such as rainbow stone or Czech fire-polished glass with an AB (aurora borealis) finish.


Old leather aged by weather and wear can be made into wonderfully expressive upcycled jewelry. Upcycle leather from old work boots, jackets, handbags and old upholstery. Even zippers, snaps and other hardware on the leather can be upcycled. Cut flower-like petals from leather scraps then fold and connect them into fantastic leather roses. Strips can be cut and folded over gemstone, porcelain or glass donuts or braided to use as stringing materials and part of your design. Wide bands can be embellished with large gemstones and finished with a braided loop and a sterling silver button. Thick leather rings can be used as rugged link connectors to create a chunky length of chain for use in bracelets and necklaces.

Upcycled Jewelry


Some natural fabrics, such as cotton, silk and bamboo, are very eco-friendly due to the production process and short biodegradable life. Other fabrics, such as polyesters and nylons, use more energy to produce and take many years to decompose. Use fabric from old linens, home décor, outdated clothing, damaged furniture upholstery and vintage yardage, often found at salvage stores and yard sales.

Silk fabric is ideal for braided and woven necklaces, earrings and bracelets. It has an amazing sheen that looks beautiful when paired with sterling silver and crystal beads.

Design Idea F73U Necklace

A Call to Action

The goal of upcycling is to reduce the quantity of trash sent to overflowing landfills. Under the upcycling philosophy, everything has a potential use or value.

Upcycling isn't just limited to jewelry. Use this technique to make unique clothing, home décor, yard ornamentation or practically anything else that you can dream of. Instead of throwing something away, creatively incorporate it into an upcycled design that showcases your ecological awareness and style. Happy upcycling!

Design with ...

Additional Resources