How to make a bean bag cushion chair from recycled umbrellas

             IMGP2363 Recycled umbrella bean bag cushions

From this

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Two umbrellas dumped on the ground

To this!

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using a cardboard stencil

Ever wondered what to do with broken umbrellas?  In Fiji, after any downpour of rain, along the roadside, you will see literally hundreds of broken umbrellas – ahh, they don’t make them like they used to.  By the way, one thing I discovered when I was doing this project was why my grandma always told me to buy a good quality umbrella regardless of the cost.  I have often wondered why umbrellas these days seem so flimsy and turn inside out the the slightest gust of wind.  Is it because they are so cheap, and poorly made?  Not really.  When you have to take one apart, you see the enormous amount of effort that has gone into making one.  The IMGP2359umbrella skin is hand stitched very well to the spokes at several places on each spoke, and then hammered into the top of the handle using a metal clamp.  However, when looking at the fabric of two umbrellas that seem an equal size, and then sewing them together, I noticed that not all the triangular panels are exactly the same size, even though they look it when the umbrella is up.  Actually with the cheap umbrellas, the fabric

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triangles are all quite different sizes.  This must create a tension issue when the umbrella skin is stitched to the spokes, and therefore create instability when the wind catches the umbrella.  If I were a scientist, I would do an experiment to see if the part that flies up in the wind, is the section with the biggest piece of triangle fabric compared to the others, and therefore with the lowest tension.  Sadly, or maybe a good thing for the world, I am not a scientist.

Now to the real business of this post.  Seeing so very many broken umbrellas (actually only the frames break usually, and the fabric is intact) by the side of the road after a bit of rainy weather, and needing some more furniture, I decided to see what I could do.

I took a small stitch unpicker (or scissors would do) with me and walked to the bus stop.  On the way I found two or three umbrellas in the gutter, and unpicked the fabric from the frame which took about 20 seconds each time.  I stuffed the fabric in my bag and felt bad that I left the frames where I found them.  I then got the bus 5 minutes down the road to my local market place, and got off.  I collected another 10 umbrellas there, and did the same thing, and went home.

I have since felt so guilty about leaving the frames on the road side that I take them home and use them for trellises for the long beans and cucumber plants.

People thought I was very strange and asked me what I was doing, but now, taxi drivers who have taken me home and seen the cushions I made bring me umbrellas each week when they find them on the road side!

IMGP2365I soaked the umbrella skins in a bit of bleach for a while, washed them and hung them out to dry.  The rest was easy!

Check the umbrella skins for any small breaks in the stitching, sew up the top part where it joined the top of the handle (there will be a small hole in the middle of each umbrella circle).

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Dom spray painting

IMGP2356You can spray paint a stencil pattern if you like.

Sew two umbrellas of the same size together inside out and leave a small opening to insert the filling.

Fill with foam chips or polystyrene balls, or even used and clean plastic bags and old clothes.

Sew up the hole.

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Jone and Samu

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Ellena and Kim

Sit down!

Read the paper,

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Renee having a hard earned rest

watch TV,

relax!

How to make the best ever footstool or chair from recycled paint cans

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Finished chair – dining height

This is the first of four stools that I made more than 2 months ago.  They are in daily use as dining chairs and general chairs, rather than footstools, as we don’t have a couch on which to sit on so that we can use them as footstools – never mind!  They really get used heavily with three teenagers in the house, plus their cousins and friends, not to mention the adults, and they are very durable and comfortable.  They are made from all recycled materials except for the foam and the sticky tape.  I could have replaced the foam with recycled clean plastic bags, or even newspaper, and next time I will try and do that.  I did this because

1. we really needed some furniture, and

2. I want to challenge perceptions of what is actually “rubbish”.

There are so many things that we discard and the moment they are discarded they are then perceived as “rubbish” or “trash” and no longer of use, however, I have found that many of these things actually have a long lasting second use.  I know that this is not news to readers, but I am not sure whether anyone else has tried this with paint cans.  As it would take maybe hundreds of years for these things to break down fully if in landfill, perhaps I have invented the longest lasting chair EVER!  Who knows! I got the idea from a similar thing I saw with plastic bottles which I have linked here. Perhaps the same thing could be done with used large food cans such as tomato sauce cans here in Fiji, or the large pineapple juice or coffee cans.

Anyway, now for the instructions…

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First, bang the lids onto the cans securely.  Then arrange four cans into a square.

Tape the four cans together securely with packing tape.  Make another set of four cans so that you are using eight in total.

Cut four pieces of used cardboard or coreflute (your could also use plywood) to the size of the cans.  Put one piece on the top and bottom of each set of four cans.  Tape securely with packing tape.  Tape the two sets together securely.

Make a cushion for the top out of a used plastic bag filled with foam chips.  You could also try replacing the foam chips with clean IMGP2366used plastic bags.  Tape the opening of the plastic bag, and poke some small holes into it so that air escapes easily when you sit on it.  Otherwise it might burst.

Cut a piece of thin foam (or used recycled materials) to cover the cushion, making sure that the cushion IMGP2367is centred nicely.  Secure the foam with rafia or string, and gently pull the foam down working around so that you do not have any folds and it is nice and tight.  Once you have that right, then use packing tape over the rafia and secure it in place.

Cut another piece of foam that is going to go around the outside, including overlap under the bottom slightly.  Wrap it around, pull tight, and secure with rafia and tape. No need to stitch anything at this stage.

To cover the chair, I used an old sulu or sarong.

IMGP3460Cut a piece of material to cover the cushion area.  Secure with rafia, pull down and smooth any folds.  Secure with tape.IMGP3461

Cut a piece of material to cover the outside.  Then turn this outside piece inside out over the top so that you are going to have the rafia and string on the inside.  Effectively it is inside out.  Secure with rafia and tape.

Note: Make sure that you have folded the overlap so that when you turn the fabric “right side out” the fold will be hidden underneath your final chair.

Once it is secure, then use a curved needle with very strong thread (I used the thread that is IMGP3468IMGP3472readily available here in Fiji which the shoe makers use, but you could use upholstery thread) to stitch around where the cushion joins the base of the chair.  Stitch actually over the rafia that

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IMGP3488you have tied on the inside out base fabric so that the whole structure is secure.  Once you have stitched all the way around, turn the base fabric back down to cover the base, and fold underneath the base of the chair.

Fold the fabric underneath neatly, as if wrapping a present.  Make sure you get out all the folds around the base of the chair.  Pin securely and stitch the “present wrapping” together underneath the chair.  To make the little chair legs to keep the fabric off the ground, I simply used four recycled plastic drink bottle lids and screwed them into the base with a screwdriver.  I was not sure whether the screws would hold into the pain tins, but they really do.

Stay tuned for the next post – how to make a bean bag out of old umbrellas!

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Dom and Finn playing cards with another version of the chair in the background.