I’m excited to have recently added handmade pendant lamps created from upcycled materials to my portfolio. (Most materials are “downcycled”, degrading in quality and value, as they are recycled into new products – an oft-cited example of downcycling is the recycling of paper fibres from cardboard into office paper into toilet paper. “Upcycling” is the opposite of this, creating an object of beauty and increased value from a material that would otherwise be discarded.)
While my creations are available in my Etsy shop, I’m only one person, and there’s a lot of discarded plastic and glass out there waiting for a new life. So, to celebrate Earth Day, I’m posting photos and instructions for creating your own lamps created from reclaimed materials readily available in your local thrift shops and reuse centres.
Credit where it’s due: my lamps are inspired in part by the upcycled objects themselves, and in part by works created by Propellor Design (see their Dram Chandelier at IDS’09), Stuart Hayworth, Paprika, and Kathleen Hills.
Materials and Tools
- a large number of transparent or translucent objects to act as the diffuser (The larger the number, the better – too few and your cluster lamp will look sad and unfinished.)
- Dremel tool or electric drill with appropriate bit for your material
- fishing line, invisible thread, jeweller’s tiger-tail beading wire, or craft wire, depending on how heavy the items are that you’re hanging and your personal preferences
- scissors or wire cutters (depending on which stringing material you’re using)
- jeweller’s crimp beads, and needle-nose pliers (for flattening the crimps)
- a pendant lamp kit (I used Ikea’s plug-in HEMMA pendant lamp cord set, cost Can. $6 (Note: it’s also possible to create your own kit using salvaged lighting parts and old computer power cables for the wiring, if you have a qualified electrician inspect it to ensure its safety.)
- small thrift-store lamp shade that fits your lamp kit (check this before you proceed!) (I found a couple of Ikea’s SKIMRA shades and some clip-on shades in hard, hard shape at Goodwill for $1 apiece, but as long as it’s an open-top-open-bottom shade, and your cluster will allow a decent amount of air circulation through, it will work with HEMMA)
For a tassel-style cluster lamp, like my VESSEL series created from thrift-shop vases:
(adapted from these directions for making a Chandelini-inspired wine-glass chandelier)
1. Use a doorknob or work on a large flat surface, to keep your project from getting tangled.
2. Use a Dremel tool to drill any holes required for step 5.
3. Cut the fishing line (or wire) into N/2 various (long!) lengths with the scissors (or wire cutters) (where N is the number of objects you have to form the cluster).
4. Group your lines (or wires) together so that the ends are even (or staggered, depending on the effect you want). Make a loop at the centre of the grouping, and either tie an overhand knot (for line or tigertail) or twist the loop together and wrap another wire around it (for craft wire). This loop will be used to hang the cluster in step 9.
5. At the ends of the line (or wire), attach the item you’re hanging (around the neck or foot of a vase, or through a hole you’ve drilled). Fishing line will be knotted then crimped; wire will be crimped, or twisted, depending on the type of wire you’re using.
6. Repeat step 5 until you have all your objects attached to the looped wires or strings.
7. Install the pendant lamp according to the directions that are in the pendant lamp kit.
8. Remove the paper/fabric cover from the small lampshade, and attach the exposed frame to the hanging lamp, then screw in a compact fluorescent bulb (low voltage = safer and more energy efficient, CFL = decent task light, LEDs are a great alternative if all you want is mood lighting). Or, if it’s a clip-on frame, screw in the bulb then clip the frame to the underside of the bulb. This optional step will keep the bulb in the centre of your cluster, and increase air circulation around the bulb if needed.
9. Hang the loop on the ceiling hook that you installed as part of the hanging lamp kit and arrange the objects around the hanging light fixture.
10. Et voila! One tassel-cluster pendant lamp.
My VESSEL pendant light series is constructed from pressed-glass vases collected from charity thrift shops for about Can. $2 apiece. These photos show FLARE, a VESSEL variant made using trumpet-shaped clear glass bud vases; the tassel form of the cluster was chosen for its similarity in form to a bouquet. In other VESSEL pendants, large glass vases become diffusers after being drilled or wet-sawn, then fire-polished, and milk-glass vases are individually lit so that the patterns glow from within.
For a cylinder-style lamp, like my SCOOPED series created from discarded laundry-soap scoops:
1. Wash and hand-dry the scoops (or whatever the items are) (to make sure there are no water spots on them). Sort and stack according to size, shape, and colour. This photo shows 89 scoops collected from the Edmonton ReUse Centre after sorting, to give you an idea of the variability in shade and shape.
Keep in mind that the colour of the scoops will alter the colour of light provided by the finished fixture, so if you need the lamp to provide task light, you’ll need to use clear scoops for at least the lower portion of the shade.
2. Strip the lampshade frame. In the piece shown in these photos, I used the top part of the SKIMRA lampshade mentioned and shown above.
3. Drill holes for hanging. I used a 1 mm diameter drill bit in an electric drill. After drilling, use scissors to clear away excess plastic extruded during the drilling process.
4. String onto your thread of choice. For the chandelier in these photos, I used discarded craft wire found at a local thrift shop, and standard wire-wrapping techniques to attach 3 or 4 scoops per thread. Fishing line, invisible thread, or nylon-coated jewellers’ wire could be used instead, in combination with crimp beads to keep any knots in place or secure any loops. Attach the strings of drilled scoops to the stripped lampshade frame. Stringing pattern will vary with the size of the lampshade frame used (and shape). For the small shade in these photos, I used 47 scoops in total (doubling up small scoops in some spots to fill the space where a large scoop would have been used if available).
5. Install pendant lamp kit and attach shade according to directions. This photo shows the completed shade attached to an Ikea HEMMA cord set. Put in a CFL (remember, warm white) and enjoy.
My SCOOPED pendant light series is constructed from recycled-PET (#1 plastic) laundry detergent scoops, which are no longer used as frequently since soap manufacturers have begun the switch to liquid formulations more suitable for front-loading washers. SCOOPED was first created as a light sculpture for an organic clothing vendor (Lucid Lifestyle) on Edmonton’s trendy Whyte Avenue; the client loved the connection between their prior use and reuse. The name for this series comes from the use by both spies and research scientists of the term “scooped” for having strategic information used or published by a rival. Since the series reuses objects for a rival purpose, it seemed fitting. “Scooped” also refers to my reaction when I found the large cache of scoops at the Edmonton ReUse Centre, which became the first and second light sculptures in the series.