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

 

At a rural Minnesota flea market, a photo essay June 3, 2019

Flea markets often theme to location. At the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Swap Meet & Flea Market, you’ll find a lot of agricultural merchandise.

 

LONG BEFORE RECYCLING, upcycling and repurposing emerged in popularity, hand-me-downs existed. Clothing, furniture and more passed down from person to person. Especially among farm families. Ask my sister and she will tell you about my horrible fashion sense and how she had to wear the bad choices I made in clothing. She followed me in birth order.

 

 

Fast forward to today and I still appreciate previously-used items. I don’t need the latest fashion off the rack because I still don’t much care about fashion. Give me jeans and a t-shirt.

 

 

 

 

I prefer sturdy, well-crafted furniture to new. I like vintage drinking glasses, bowls, tablecloths, art… I prefer vintage stuff to new. I appreciate the craftsmanship, the novelty, the memories, the uniqueness.

 

 

For those reasons, I delight in flea markets, garage and yard sales, and thrift stores. I don’t shop them as often as I once did because I really don’t need more stuff. Even so, it’s fun to poke around.

 

 

 

 

To filter through the odd and practical merchandise. The memories.

 

Crafted by J & J Glass Art (Jeff & Jane Peterson) of Austin.

 

 

 

To appreciate the work of artisans.

 

 

 

 

 

To chat with the vendors.

 

 

Here in Minnesota, pop-up second-hand shops—the term seems fitting for all those garage and yard sales and flea markets—have launched for the season.

 

 

If you’ve never embraced second-hand, I’d suggest you reconsider. Maybe you’ll develop an affinity for this alternative shopping option. Or maybe you’ll decide you want nothing to do with the current trend.

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever your perspective, enjoy my photo essay of the spring Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Flea Market held in rural Dundas on Memorial Day weekend. Let this inspire you to think beyond new, to consider the value in previously-owned.

 

 

TELL ME: Do you shop second-hand? If yes, why and what treasures have you discovered?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling