Upcycled Jewelry: Sustainable Beading for the Eco-Minded

Design Idea NC3E Earrings

by Amy, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Sometimes a lot of little changes add up to make a big difference. Upcycling is one easy way to make a difference. It not only reduces waste; it also helps you to create unique pieces of jewelry that look great and save money.

Upcycling is repurposing something destined for the trash bin and transforming it into something of value. It can be as simple as making beads out of wastepaper or fashioning flowers out of bits of fabric.

Start with your home (do you need to purge a closet?), then explore yard sales and secondhand shops for pieces of clothing, fabric, books and tech that can be repurposed into something fresh.

Upcycling can open up a whole world of creative possibilities for your jewelry designs, and you will also be helping so-called disposable items find a new lease on life. Happy upcycling!


The pages of magazines, flyers, newspapers, sheet music and books are full of different colors and fonts, making them perfect for upcycling. Use paper with image transfers, paper bead rolling, origami and decoupage. Intentionally select a meaningful page or passage from a favorite book or use an old photo to create a custom piece of jewelry that is special to the wearer.

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Leather, aged by weather and wear, can be made into wonderfully expressive jewelry. Old work boots, jackets, handbags and upholstery can all be upcycled. Create layered looks by cutting shapes from old leather and fastening them together with rivets or pairing them with metal pendants.

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Strips of leather can be folded or braided to use as stringing materials for things like donuts or large-hole beads. Use leather scraps as backing for seed bead projects. Even a worn-out leather belt can be renewed with an eye-catching beaded pattern.

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Keep an eye out for zippers, vintage-looking buttons and snaps on leather pieces; they can be incorporated into seed beading projects, used as charms, or even as clasps.


The quest to find truly eco-friendly fabrics is challenging, and opinions and information are ever-changing as to what materials are best. Happily, the most environmentally friendly fabrics are the ones that already exist.

Use old linens and other vintage patterns to create brooches and vintage-style earring studs. Intricate lace remnants can be mounted and used as drops or pendants, showing off the beauty of the lace. Weave and braid silk fabric to create necklaces and bracelets with a rich sheen.

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Bits and Pieces

Mint tins are one item that many of us have at one time or another, often in multiples. They have hinged lids and are compact, an ideal little box. By throwing in some crucial beading supplies--needles, thread, small scissors, jump rings, ear wires, etc.--the empty tin transforms into a convenient beading kit that can go anywhere. Or create a jewelry-making kit to share with friends, including the jewelry components and the instructions for your design. Embellish the tin for that extra-special touch.

Bottle caps are a classic upcycle material. Look for ones that have appealing colors, graphics or typography. Fashion them into playful earrings, bracelets or pendants, perfect for summer.

What about the musicians? Inherently cool guitar strings and picks create unique bracelets and necklaces.

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Watch and computer parts imbue earrings, necklaces and bracelets with charm and quirk. Suspend cogs and other tiny elements in resin or use watch faces for charms and drops to create a dreamy Alice in Wonderlandesque design. Take computer parts, like keyboard keys and circuit boards, and make futuristic pendants and earrings.

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Outdated Jewelry

Deconstructing worn-out jewelry designs can yield a bonanza of components, like beads, jump rings, clasps, spacers and pendants, all ready for a new lease on life. Create earrings from the dangles found on necklaces, refashion leather cord into bracelets and chokers or suspend a showstopping pendant on a sleek new chain. You can watch as Rose makes a necklace, a choker and a pair of earrings , all from one old necklace and a handful of new findings.

Upcycled Jewelry

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