Locals breathe new life into old items

February 7, 2014
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Barbara Miller / Observer-Reporter
Wintry sunshine illuminates Tamara Barker, owner and artist of Barker’s Herbs and Heirlooms in Monongahela, where teacups find new life as candle holders. Order a Print
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Barbara Miller / Observer-Reporter
Bottle caps find new life as fridge magnets at Herbs and Heirlooms. Order a Print
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Barbara Miller / Observer-Reporter
Lynn Patton shows sweaters transformed into a stuffed pig and a case full of mittens. Order a Print
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Barbara Miller / Observer-Reporter
Peeking out from behind a screen holding what she calls “handmade lamps and jewelry with a sense of humor” is Lynne Kropinak of Cecil Township. Order a Print

Whether it’s an old sweater or an unwanted teacup, local crafters are breathing new life into old and unwanted items, and making them available throughout the region.

In November, Washington County residents Lynne Kropinak, Lynn Patton and Tamara Barker participated in the I Made It! Market at the Waterfront. I Made It! Market was started in 2007 as a means for area crafters to have regular and diverse locations to showcase and sell their work.

The trio, who are all familiar with one another’s work, repurpose unwanted items into unusual pieces for several years. The women get satisfaction knowing they’ve saved an item, whatever it may be, from rotting away in a landfill.

“You are taking something and saving it from the landfill,” Kropinak said. “You are turning it into something beautiful. It’s ‘upcycling.’”

“It’s a nice way to get things back into the circulation,” Barker said. “It gives the items a new life.”

In an effort to be more environmentally friendly and offer something new to customers, the woman began to experiment. Patton, of Bentleyville, saw an article in a magazine about creating repurposed items out of wool.

“It looked like fun, so I started to doing it,” Patton said of her wool creations. “It snowballed from there into a business, Lazypeas.”

Patton creates mittens and small stuffed animals from wool sweaters she finds at area thrift stores. Once she finds several sweaters, she washes them, shrinks them and cuts them into pieces.

“I upcycle things,” she said. “They become new and improved, and one of a kind.”

Kropinak, of Canonsburg, uses old toys and a variety of trinkets to create her jewelry pieces. A crafter for more than 20 years, Kropinak started Charmed By Nature three years ago. Her pieces tend to feature of touch of Pittsburgh or region-based flare.

“It’s uplifting,” Kropinak said of “saving” an item from a landfill

Barker, of Monongahela, has spent the last 10 years or so repurposing old teacups and wind-up watches. She takes the discarded items, which she finds at thrift shops and flea markets, and turns them into candles and jewelry, among other things.

“My pieces are functional and practical,” said Barker, who owns and operates Barker’s Herbs and Heirlooms, said. “I give things a new life.”

Barker said repurposing items gives consumers a new way to appreciate something they would otherwise overlook.

“We create unique pieces with a higher quality,” she said.

All three women agreed that their customers enjoy buying a piece from someone who could possibly be a neighbor.

“A lot of people, they like to have a connection with the artist,” Barker said. “But you could ask 10 different consumers why they shop with us and you would get 10 different answers. But I think quality and uniqueness are the reasons people come.”

Although they participate in numerous shows throughout the region and even some outside of the state, all three women said they enjoy showcasing their work at the I Made It! Markets. Carrie Nardini, the director of I Made It! Market, said Patton, Kropinak and Barker have participated in her markets from the start.

“They been with us almost since the beginning,” Nardini said. “They understand the impact consumerism has on the environment.”

Nardini said Patton and Kropinak are scheduled to participate in the next I Made It! Market at the Waterfront from noon to 5 p.m. today. She said repurposed items are always a favorite.

“It’s very fulfilling to take and create something new,” Nardini said. “People see value in repurposing something.”

She’s one of them.

“I have several of Lynn Patton’s pieces,” she said. “They are so cute and adorable!”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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