Upcycling Treasure Trove
By Kayli Hertel and Sara Wailgum
When it comes to looking for rare items of clothing and accessories, the fashion world turns to thrift stores, flea markets, and online boutiques. But what if that piece was a fork or spoon carefully crafted into a ring or bracelet? Interested? Then accept an invitation from Not So Flatware, an Etsy boutique that is redefining everyday utensils by upcycling them into decorative, wearable treasures.
Cassandra Mae Harris of Ipswich, creator of Not So Flatware, acquires the items used in her designs on her own. After wearing her grandmother’s original 1964 Towle Sterling ring for several years, Harris became interested in the company and began collecting jewelry made from its flatware. Towle Silversmiths, an American silver manufacturer, was founded in 1690 in what is now the town of Newburyport. Although the factory itself has been closed for many years, its flatware pieces are still used by area residents and can be found at local flea markets and yard sales.
After visiting a flea market and finding a fork with an alluring design, Harris’s sister asked her to create a ring from it. Using hand-me-down tools and a workbench in her basement, Harris began creating her own flatware jewelry. Although some of her first attempts were not successful, she stuck with it and eventually began selling her repurposed designs to others.
The upcycling movement has become popular during the last decade, but the concept of reusing materials for something other than their originally intended use is not new. The objective of the movement is to take useless or unwanted pieces, by-products, or waste materials and turn them into something unique and desirable while benefiting the environment. This is an eco-friendly step for fashion; every piece in Harris’s shop is a product of upcycling.
Harris uses sterling silver to make all of her pieces and gets her discarded flatware from a variety of places. The majority of her materials are finds from flea markets, yard sales, or auctions. Typically, flatware is melted down at the scrapyard for the silver value, but Harris purchases and collects these forks and spoons to repurpose them later on.
“There’s so much history behind every spoon that I collect. I like the fact that there is a history; there are beautiful patterns, and you can’t replicate or get those now. It pulls out a whole different world that I just never knew about,” said Harris of the searching and collection process.
Harris also takes pride in the fact that the flatware pieces she uses are all made in the United States. Each piece of flatware has a unique marking, which acts as a physical branding by the company it came from. She researches these markings in order to get the history of the product for her customer.
“It’s neat to have a completely American-made product and be able to recycle too,” said Harris.
Harris draws inspiration from her workshop, which is located at her father’s Christmas tree farm, and she works in batches based on the type of jewelry that she is creating that day. Some days are spent hammering rings, while others are spent cutting the flatware down. Harris posts new creations online three to four times a week.
“I’m obsessed with them being perfectly round,” she said of the ring creating process in particular. “I can’t sell a ring unless it’s perfectly round, because I feel like it’s not up to par.”
In May 2013, Harris started the Not So Flatware Etsy shop. Although she sold her first spoon ring within a few days of posting it, she never imagined her business would become the success it is today. Once the business took off, she began collecting and creating more jewelry. Today, Not So Flatware’s Etsy page offers a variety of sterling silver spoon rings, mermaid and fishtail pendants, earrings, and bracelets. Her items range in price from $60 for a pair of earrings to $80 for rings and $200 for bracelets and pendants.
When prospective customers click on the Not So Flatware page, they cannot help but fall in love with the jewelry. While many of the pieces look similar, buyers notice subtle differences in the patterns. Once the customers choose a piece, they receive a detailed history of the sterling silver flatware they are purchasing. On the back of Harris’s business card, which also acts as an introduction to the piece’s history, are the original manufacturer, pattern design, and year of the flatware.
“Someone will always connect to the pieces that they choose from me,” said Harris