Upcycling: to recycle an item so that it is better than the original.

Amanda Beswick and Suzy McPherson are Queens of Upcycling. They’ve been doing it for years, and they love nothing more than to share that love with others. Their classes sell out on their Revival Facebook page almost as soon as they are posted. I’m no great shakes when it comes to creativity, but I decided to sit in on a class, and see what it’s all about.

It’s 9am as students arrive at the Revival workshop in Leeston, eager to learn the tips and tricks of successful upcycling and chalk painting.

Today’s class includes two from North Canterbury, a couple of locals, one from West Melton and a couple of Christchurch-ites. “We try to limit ourselves to six in a class so that everyone gets real one-on-one help and advice,” Amanda says.

After a quick round of introductions, it’s time for the tutors to cast their eyes over the array of ‘solid but a-bit-sad-looking’ items that the owners are hoping to turn into something truly eye-catching. Most have bought two or three items, a few sourced from garage sales, second-hand stores and TradeMe, while others have been sitting about the owner’s homes, waiting to have new life breathed (or, in this case, painted) into them again.

Not every piece makes the grade. “Older pieces of furniture are often better – they’re usually made from rimu or oak, rather than pine like a lot of modern furniture, and the end result will be something unique and really special.” The ideal starting point, they say, is to make sure that the item is of good enough quality to warrant your time and effort. “If it has good shape, feels solid, and you love it, you’re off to a good start.”

An hour in, assessments have been made, paint colours chosen, and everyone is busy carrying out minor repairs, sanding, cleaning, and applying first coats of paint. Time for a quick cuppa, although no-one is keen to stop for long. Soon, first (and even second) coats of paint are drying, and work has begun on second projects.

A shared lunch at midday gives everyone a chance to take a break and compare work. There is real excitement they assess their progress.

“Upcycling with chalk paint lets us reinvent our treasures to fit our lifestyle,” Amanda says.  “There’s a huge amount of satisfaction in taking something that was old and drab and turning it into something beautiful and practical. Adding style is all about colours and patterns, so be imaginative.”

“Chalk paint is very forgiving,” adds Suzy. “If you don’t like it, or you mess it up, you can just re-do it, so don’t be afraid to try something new. You soon learn what works.”

Class over, everyone has completed one or more items, and they’re almost unrecognisable from this morning’s line-up. They all line up to register for another class, buy more chalk paint and finishing wax and to thank their tutors. “It’s been the most fun I’ve had in ages,” is the chorus.  “We’ll be back, for sure!”


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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.