Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

UPcycleMN: From jeans jackets to Boomerang Bags April 27, 2022

The label that tags UPcycleMN products. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

REDUCE. RECYCLE. REUSE. Those three verbs theme an environmentally-conscious business established by a retired Northfield children’s programming librarian. Kathryn Ness, “CEO & Head Scrounger,” who holds degrees in Fiber Arts and Art History, champions those 3 Rs in UPcycleMN.

The UPcycleMN tent at Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration showcases jackets crafted from blue jeans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

I met Ness at Northfield’s recent Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. A bold SAY NO! PLASTIC BAGS sign initially drew me to her vendor tent. There I admired blue jean jackets stitched together from used jeans. And I saw a basket filled with Take-n-Sew kits for Boomerang Bags. Ness was also giving away those cloth bags.

Kits to create Boomerang Bags. ((Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

A brief conversation with this artist revealed that she introduced the Boomerang Bags project (which originated in Australia) to the area while working at the library. At one time libraries in the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating system bagged patrons’ books in plastic bags. Today the libraries use locally-made cloth bags. In Northfield, volunteers have sewn 4,000 Boomerang Bags from donated fabric, according to the UPcycleMN website.

A jacket crafted from upcycled wool. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Ness wants to eliminate single use plastic bags and also bring awareness to plastic and fabric waste in Northfield. But she’s not just making a statement. She’s doing something. Thus her UPcycleMN business focusing on taking a new or used item and creating something else from it to keep it out of the landfill. She collects fabric, upholstery remnants, curtains, old blue jeans and more to craft jackets, Fab-baskets, table runners, bags, totes…

Artsy fabric incorporated into a jacket crafted from blue jeans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

She brings her artistic background and talents to her work, assisted by her daughter, Krista Ness Mullen. Her interest in the arts stretches back to junior high school art classes, where she learned batik, macrame’ and weaving.

A Boomerang Bag at my library in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

Today, with a focus on upcycling and the environment, Ness is stitching a message of reduce, recycle, reuse into the fabric of the Northfield community. And beyond.

FYI: You’ll find Ness marketing her UpcycleMN products and her environmental-friendly message at places like Northfield’s Riverwalk Market Fair, the Rustic Mamas’ Market in Owatonna and the Northfield Garden Club Tour. Visit her website for more information.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


15 Responses to “UPcycleMN: From jeans jackets to Boomerang Bags”

  1. beth Says:

    how very cool in so many ways

  2. Well this is just great and fun. I try to do what I can and have used cloth or reusable bags since our time in Australia. I always have some in the car — it’s those small actions that help.love the boomerang bags.

  3. Love the idea of using recycled materials for cloth bags. It’s giving me ideas.

  4. Valerie Says:

    Kathryn Ness also managed the masks and gown sewers at the beginning of the pandemic. And she was the artist for the Northfield’s library steps…the titles of children’s book. I like knowing about her business in recycling fabric!

    • Thank you for that additional info, Valerie. I need to remember those library steps the next time I’m in Northfield. What a blessing Kathryn is to the community.

      • Liz Says:

        Thank you to Valerie for adding the info about Kathy’s huge contribution to the community at the beginning of the pandemic. I don’t think she received enough credit for all the organization, cutting and sewing she did! Very talented lady!

      • Liz, thank you for publicly expressing your appreciation for all Kathy has done for the Northfield community.

  5. Love these ideas!!! Even more since they are reducing plastic bags from the environment!!!

  6. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    Love everything about this. I have already contacted Kathryn about getting her a whole bunch of denim jeans that are now too big for my dad. I hope to attend one to the Market fairs in May. I really want one of those jackets…so cool!

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