Upcycling With What Else?

I have a thing about gift wrapping. I like making them special and unique. When I’m not pressed for time, I do take pains to make the wrapping just as interesting or pretty (depends on the giftee) as the actual present. Since I committed to giving handmade gifts this Christmas (scratch that and add “mostly”), I decided to do the same with some of the containers.

When I was a child, my grandmother used to say I was a basurera. In Filipino, that’s the female equivalent of a garbage collector (basurero if I were male). The better term for it would be pack rat. Any member of the family would tell you that I took after the very same grandmother. Her room was a treasure trove of stuff. No creepy dolls (thank goodness–can you tell I just saw The Conjuring?) but she did have the same habit I did which was keeping odds and ends “just in case.”

I mention that now because a week ago, my husband was questioning a suspicious-looking stash in a corner of our tiny apartment. You’d think with all the other stuff I had it would just about blend in. I obviously chose the wrong corner. When the idea of crafting up gift containers sprouted, I took to keeping empty cardboard canisters. Of course the canisters had to be of a useful size so think Quaker Oats. I explained the intention. Enlightened and assured that I was not merely hoarding empties on a whim, he left me to my devices.

So here’s a nice project for you to do. If you have children, have them join in. Children have the best design ideas!

oats canister

Start with an empty cardboard canister. You can choose to keep the lid or discard it and have decorative tissue coming out at the top.

canisters covered with paper

Cover the canister with paper, the way you would when doing paper mache. The oats canister is covered with packing paper that comes when you get a package from Amazon. The shorter canister (coffee from Whole Foods) is covered with junk mail and receipts. I use regular white glue. If you’re using a brush, make sure to use an old, cheap one. I make sure to wash my brushes well but there were times when I did forget and ended up with a ruined brush.

Make sure your layer or layers of paper dry before moving on. You don’t need too many layers since the canister is pretty stable on its own. If you get impatient, you can always use a hair dryer. Just watch out for the plastic or metal areas if there are any on the canister you’re using. I usually just leave them to dry and work on another project or do some writing.

If you plan to do some collage work, here’s something you can do to make use of paper scraps, junk mail, etc. You can use pages from old books or catalogs as well. Take the sheets you want to use and give them a coat of gesso. I use Pro Art Economy Gesso but you can use whatever works for you.

paper covered with gesso

When the gesso is dry (doesn’t take too long), you can decorate the sheets. This is where you can ask the kids to help. Have them add designs or images using paint, markers, or stamps.

stamped designpainted design

I painted the first sheet with acrylic paint for the background. Then I pulled out a foam sheet I had and cut out a random design using a craft knife. I inked the foam sheet with a circular ink pad (on sale at Michael’s for a dollar) then carefully pressed it onto the paper. I went over the paper a few times without re-inking to get the lighter images. The second sheet was just painted with acrylic paint.

At this point, I had no idea what I was actually going to do but it’s the way I work when I do these things. Then I remembered some artwork done by friends in the Hero’s Art Journey course so I tore both sheets into strips and wove them.

ImageI glued the woven piece onto the canister along with other sheets I had painted and stamped, as well as the extra strips that weren’t woven in. I then decided that I would paint the other canister a different way.


The canister on the right is the same one you saw in the previous picture. I added some light molding paste (Golden Gel Mediums) to soften the edges of the paper pieces that I glued onto the canister. I did the same to the canister on the left and painted in a background color when the medium was dry. I didn’t put on too many coats for the background so some of the text on the junk mail sheets show through a bit.

The canister on the right, in the meantime, was dry brushed here and there with white acrylic paint. You can opt not to do that specially if you want your kids’ artwork to show. When everything was dry, I took a black Sharpie and started doodling (I sometimes do that while watching a sitcom–I did the same thing to a floor cloth that now welcomes visitors).

decorated canister

To give the top and bottom edges a neater look, I added a paper ribbon on the top rim and a grosgrain ribbon in my favorite black and white polka dot print at the bottom. As an aside, see that Plants vs. Zombies sunflower? The hubby made a flower press for me and decorated it with a wood burning tool!

The Quaker Oats canister lid is made up of a cardboard circle with a plastic rim. I painted the cardboard part on both sides. I also painted the inside of the canister but again, you don’t have to do that. Just make sure to wipe it clean and line it with holiday paper napkins, tissue, or even doilies before putting the present inside.

I’ll be showing the process I’m going to be doing with the other canister in my next post. Meanwhile, see what you can come up with. You can put paper dolls, all sorts of cut-outs, fringe or pompom borders. You can even make it a kind of canvas to put a painting on or add paper clay figures (there’s an idea I think I’ll go back to).

Just have fun and don’t forget to send me your pictures so I can post them here!


9 thoughts on “Upcycling With What Else?

      1. I think we’ll try it when they’re a little older. Right now, they’re still at the stage where they want to do their own thing with boxes and containers, and they always end up getting trashed. But they do get reused in the process for entertaining purposes!


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