I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas (in Ecuador): NEW Ornaments from Recycled Maps and “Trash”

My partner Sara STILL says I’m a hoarder.  She admits it might be a sickness, but she’s been known to call it a curse—

(—even after I abandoned most of my collections when we moved to Ecuador.)

Sara, also, claims that “collection” is a euphemism for the buttons and beads, bottle caps and maps I gather, then store in my studio.

(I, on the other hand, prefer to call my collections “collagables”—potential art.)

In all seriousness, I have a passion for transforming trash into treasure– for repurposing something you might throw away into something that might just blow away your friends and family this holiday season.

Sure, I may have a chronic case of pack-rat-it is.  I may have crossed a line—stepped off the edge separating the safe side of sanity from the abyss that is crazy-ass-recycling.

Still, morphing junk into joy can be tons of fun—and a whole lot less crazy than some might imagine.

Today, I’ll share photos of my newest trash-to-treasure ornaments and a few images of ones I made last year, as well.

(Note: If you’d like a tutorial on how to make these ornaments, click here.)

The ornament below is made from tea bag wrappers (from Cuenca), recycled fabric, and ribbon.  Two inch squares of paper and fabric are “quilted” onto a Styrofoam ball, using more than 200 straight pins.



Notice the polka dot motif.

Notice the polka dot motif.




The next ornament I’ve created since arriving in Ecuador is made from a recycled Cuenca map.






Some of you may recall that last year I also made ornaments from up-cycled cat food cans.





Below are other ornaments that I created last Christmas.

Ornament from mixed fabric and canned tomato labels

Another ornament from recycled fabric and labels–

Ornament from fabric and recycled, 1949 edition of “The Seven Dwarfs”

Ornament from fabric scraps

Another ornament from canned tomato labels

A variation on the label ornament above (notice ingredient list)

Ornament from recycled New York Times–

Christmas ornament from recycled fabric–

Pride ornament from recycled fabric–

Ornament from recycled street map of Lexington, Kentucky

Detail of ornament above–

Ornament from fabric scraps and map of Africa

(Remember, I did a tutorial last year on how to make these ornaments.  Click here to read.)

So, whether I’m a hoarder or not, I’m dreaming of a green Christmas this year (our first in Cuenca).  How about you?

Do you practice any kind of holiday ecology?   Do you have an ethic for gift-giving?  What kinds of gifts will you give friends and family during the holiday?

NOTE:  If you live in Cuenca and you’d like to purchase an ornament, please email me at kownroom@yahoo.com .  Quilted ornaments are $25 and cat food can ornaments are $10.

112 thoughts on “I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas (in Ecuador): NEW Ornaments from Recycled Maps and “Trash”

  1. For Christmas, I am giving you and Sara a card; however, I’m still marooned on The Mountain; mailman cannot get up icy incline; dont expect your card to arrive until Valentine Day. Its good to know that you are staying busy, Kathy…..keeps you out of trouble!


    • You’ve had a bad winter so far, haven’t you?! As long as it’s here by Easter, I’ll be happy. LOL Unfortunately, I’m not sending anything to anyone. Too expensive to send from here. I’d have to pay DHL or UPS to be sure my gifts got to the US safely. Alas.

      Great to hear from you, JK. Stay safe and warm!


  2. Wow ~ you are really talented! I love the ornaments for their beauty, their originality and best of all their recycledness! I don’t see you as a hoarder, I see you as a creative being who thinks/sees outside the box! Keep creating ~ you are making the world more beautiful and giving many items a second chance at a life of beauty! How wonderful is that? 🙂 ♥


    • You’re dear, Monica. Thank you. I thought about doing a class here in Cuenca, but I just couldn’t find the time. I may try to do that next year.

      Hope your week is going well! Glad you like this year’s ornaments!


  3. These are really Cute! I will watch the video a bit later.

    I think you are doing your best to upcycle “trash” to create beautiful, decorative items.

    I just recalled a young Haitian I met last year who makes jewelry out of cereal boxes… and there was a site I use to come across that made lampshades out of plastic soda bottles.

    Keep up the good work. Yes we recycle, the same Christmas Items every year. Our basement is like a museum…

    Hugs, Jeff


    • Oh, wow, Jeff, I would LOVE to see what the Haitian artist is doing! Do you have photos of his or her work? When we lived in Haiti we were able to buy some incredible art made from recycled oil bins. Stunning stuff. And the lampshades sound fun, as well.

      So glad you enjoyed the ornaments and that you, too, recycle.

      Great to hear from you today, my friend. Stay warm. Hope you didn’t get too much snow and ice.


  4. Beautiful!!! Merry Christmas. Lots of love, M.

    Mindy Shannon Phelps Communications, LLC 238 McDowell Road Lexington, KY 40502 859-619-1642



  5. I love seeing your ornaments. At least once you make something out of your collections Sara can no longer say it’s junk – right? Next year we’ll hear about your adventures in the Ecuadorian market place trying to sell your wares. 🙂


    • Ha, I love it, Lisa! I really have put NO effort into selling anything since arriving in Ecuador. This is my first mention of it. Maybe next year I’ll know the lay of the land well enough to do more.

      So glad you like the ornaments. Yes, Sara is happy with the end result. Bless her heart.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. Happy Holidays, my friend.


  6. How pretty! I’d say you turn your bits and pieces into some thing unique and fun. I am not a saver but I like the title “treasured memorable” to describe the stuff savers squirrel away.
    I am not crafty at all. Stapling is a challenge for me. But I have big ideas and fortunately my son can transform my ideas into reality–not always with joy, however, and often with a bribe. I did recently learn to emboss and have embraced that skill to its fullest.
    I shop and love the feeling of finding the perfect gift for someone I love. Dearly departed Joe and I always used to make a pack to curb our spending around the holidays and then as soon as the words were out of our mouths we went forth to swipe our debt cards with gay abandonment. I’ve carried on the tradition.


    • Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed the ornaments.

      It’s fun to hear you learned to emboss, as that’s something I’ve never tried. It’s always seemed like something I’d enjoy. I’ve just never gotten around to it.

      And I’m afraid I’m a bit like you and your dear Joe. I find it hard to cut back around the holidays. So much love to share!

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. It’s wonderful to hear from you!


    • Yes, actually it’s more like 210 pins. I don’t know that I’m patient, but I do tedium well–for whatever that’s worth! LOL So glad you like the term “collagable.” I thought it was pretty fun. Great to hear from you this morning, Laurie!


  7. Happy Christmas, Kathryn!! Your projects always amaze me because they look so professional and perfect — you seriously MUST have incredible patience! The only recycling I do is using the comics to wrap presents — but when the kids were young, we used to let them color all over plain white paper and then used that — it wasn’t precise or perfect by any means, but it was adorable. My only real crafty project was painting t-shirts with Lulu when she was 6 — that was super fun. And I made calendars for everybody this year with my Heifer photos — and am donating a few animals on my family’s behalf. Maybe some mangrove projects for your beloved Ecuador!! Off to see Lulu in Thailand on Friday … hope you have splendid holidays!!!!
    xoxoox b


    • Oh, you are always so kind, Betty. Thank you. I think your idea of having your kids color all over white paper sounds totally fun. I bet they loved it–made them feel important. I once tried to paint a t-shirt, but I’m afraid it didn’t turn out that well. Have a great time in Thailand. What part? Sara worked out of Bangkok for several years after the 2004 tsunami.

      Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and your family!


    • Oh, I had almost forgotten about the old flash cubes. I bet they made for fun ornaments. They’d bounce lots of light about your tree. I think that’s actually brilliant. Great to hear from you, Cindy. Thanks so much


      • Christmas as in trees are not part of the culture. People buy poinsettia and there is the typical dinners etc. We don’t do much decorating. And what do you do? What about what do people do in your town?


      • I would have guessed as much about trees not being big there in your part of the Caribbean. Folks put up artificial trees here, but I have not seen any live ones like you would in the US. I’m still learning about Christmas here. Next year I’ll feel more equipped to write about it. Do you all have poinsettia trees there?


      • Very few house are decorated. There are no real stores other than grocery stores so there is no mad rush although I am certain that people go to Saint Martin to go shopping. Everything will be closed on the 25th and 26th. So everyone will have a long weekend. Schools close this Wednesday until the Monday after New Year’s.


      • Interesting details. Fascinating to know that you all only have grocery stores. Makes me wonder what kind of options there are for social life. Are there a number of expats? So many things to be curious about.


      • I am going to try to take some pictures of those houses that do decorate and post them.

        There are a fair amount of expats from US or Holland. We social with a few people by having dinner but the truth is there isn’t much else. We chose to live here for a lot of reason but primarily it canot be over built like some many of islands.


      • Oh, I hope you will take photos and post them. I’d love to see how folks decorate there. And to be honest, that’s the perfect kind of social life for me–low key, quiet dinners—-love it! And the fact that things can’t be over-built is awesome!


  8. I was just thinking you should put together a “Teacher’s Handbook of Ecology Projects for School Children”…it would be a valuable lesson for children…oh just a random thought…always enjoyed making more work for others. 🙂


    • THAT’S too weird! But then I always did think you had good taste–especially in friends. LOL Sorry, couldn’t help myself. You really DO have good taste in a LOT of things! I miss you, sweetie. Hope you’re doing okay! I now this isn’t your favorite time of year.


    • Thank you so much, Barbara. Glad you enjoyed them. It’s amazing what unexpected things can be made beautiful, isn’t it? Even trash can be put to good use. I appreciate your stopping by. It’s wonderful to hear from you.


    • Thanks so much. SO glad you appreciate the term. It’s amazing what alternative uses one can find for things, if one really tries. It’s fun to discover new materials. Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s great to hear from you today.


  9. Oh, it officially is that time of year again, Kathy, with your annual ornament-making tutorial, or what I call over here: Reason to Drink Excessively. Your arts and crafts projects always look great, but were I to attempt to make one of these myself, it would truly look like a hunk of junk. Speaking of junk, soon, I am going to ditch my 86 pound obsolete behemoth of a TV. It will head straight for the sidewalk outside my building and then, in all likelihood a landfill where I anticipate it will take an eternity to decompose. Someone as clever as you would probably find a way to turn my daily eyesore into an amazing ottoman or at least an inspired doorstop.


  10. Pretty, pretty, pretty, just like last year. It is hard to walk that thin line between gathering the supplies one needs and hoarding. I resolved a long time ago to not bring home any more until I use what I have.


    • YES, you are so right. And as a collage artist you can really appreciate that struggle. Your policy is a wise one. I can’t say I always do as well.

      Great to hear from you today, Sandy. Hope you are beginning to feel better!!!!!!


  11. Kathy, these are absolutely wonderful. So lovely. Did you say there are 200 straight pins in each ornament!?!?! I would have bandages on every finger by now. 🙂

    PS – Have you started an Etsy shop?


    • Thanks, Jackie. Yes, over 200 pins in each one–closer to 210. I’m afraid I have stabbed myself a few times too many. OUCH. Hurts like hell. We had an Etsy shop when we lived in the US, and still have it. We just can’t really use it here, as it’s too expensive to mail things to the US. Sad, isn’t it?

      I think I asked you this, but are you and Reggie going to TN for the holidays? When do you leave?


      • Reggie and I are heading down to TN this year. We’re looking forward to it. He really enjoys the backyard. 🙂 We’re planning on staying about a week, depending on the weather.
        Are you and Sara going to celebrate Cuenca-style?


      • So glad Reggie will enjoy some backyard time. After living in NYC that must be a real treat for him.

        We are looking forward to our first Christmas in Cuenca–having a good-sized party on Christmas day and having friends coming from the US for a week. It will be lots of fun!

        Have a wonderful weekend!


    • Thank you, Claudia. So glad you enjoy the photos–and the tea bag wrappers. It always amazes me how much can be done with something one would otherwise throw away. Great to hear from you today. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!


  12. Oh these are wonderful. At least you do things with the stuff you keep. I don’t. It just sits in boxes. As for the holidays, we don’t buy a lot of gifts, except for the little ones. We’d rather spend time together. We don’t even buy gifts for each other anymore. We might be scrooges 😉


    • Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed them. I bet you have some cool tea bag wrappers in London–or maybe you all use loose tea. I’ve not seen any of the latter here.

      We don’t do much gift-giving either. Most of my gifts are things that I make. It IS MUCH more meaningful to focus on time spent with the ones we love! You are SOOOOOOOOO right about that. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend. Hope Miles got/gets a good walk today. Unfortunately, neither of our dogs have–YET! LOL


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    • Thanks so much, Jean. Glad you like the ornaments. Yes, some of the ones pictured here were gifts, some sold, some I will give as gifts this year. Hope you have a beautiful holiday, as well. Wonderful to hear from you!


  14. I always feel so good after reading your recycling posts. There’s hope for the world. You GO, Kathy! (And we shall follow…) Hope you have a Merry Christmas down there in the green land of the Mayans.


    • You’re so sweet, Kathy. I’m glad my green posts make you feel better about the world. It’s fun to come up with new designs based on what I’ve found in my new home. Merry Christmas, my friend! Great to hear from you!


  15. Hi Kathy,
    I’m most impressed to see what beautiful creations you’ve made with paper! You obviously have an incredible amount of patience and really clever little fingers to do such amazing decorations with pieces of paper

    btw Loved your HuffPo post on your Dad at Xmas but wasn’t able to leave a comment


    • Thanks so much, Rosie. So glad you enjoyed the ornaments! They are fun to make. You should try it yourself.

      And thanks for reading the piece at the Huffington Post. Sorry that it was difficult to leave a comment. Hope you have a wonderful holiday!


  16. You are so, so creative, Kathy, and patient. Beautiful, imaginative ornaments. I LOVE the ribbons. Your photos reminded me of how much I loved ribbons when I was a kid. I had nearly forgotten about that.

    A blog decorated with Christmas ornaments. What a treat!

    I also am fascinated that your header changes with each new post. I am as fascinated with uploading new headers with heading text color to match, on my blog, as I am with writing my blog posts. Fun.


    • Yippee! You like the ornaments. I think they’re fun, too. And it’s especially fun to come up with new designs each year.

      And I’m with you about the header images. I love playing–though I can’t change the color of my text. Gotta work on that. Thanks so much for leaving all of these delightful comments this evening, Samantha. You’re a sweetheart.


      • As much as we all love comments on our blogs, Kathy, all I could think was that in my finally catching up I was dumping all these comments on you at once. I love to read your posts, though, and I love commenting, the dialog of that.

        As for the colored heading text, on my WordPress theme, there’s a block in which to do that at the bottom of the page.

        The big thing is that I went behind the scenes recently into the code editing and found where I could enlarge my header photo instead of having that slim image across the top. I just changed the pixel height from 130 to 260, luckily found the right place to rewrite that bit of code, and was thrilled! I feel genius-like.


      • You are GENIUS! To think that you are almost my mother’s age and you figured that out. I’m impressed. I will explore further.

        And I LOVE your comments–all of them! You responses are so thoughtful. They’re a gift to me.


  17. So pretty! Little individual packages of happy and joy. Love the colors, and even though I would never have the patience myself, I can imagine that for you, it’s a little bit like meditation, with an infusion of creative energy thrown in for good measure. So adorable!


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  19. Fabulous!!! I’ve made a lot of presents this year, mostly crocheted slippers (we have a lot of wool round the house, my Mum’s collected it for years and we can never knit or crochet enough to dent the wool mountain!) – I love making presents, when I have the time, and am lucky to be in a family where we’re all pretty creative, in different ways. Here’s a post about dome of the gifts hanging around in my room, from family and friends…http://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/gratitude-gallery/


  20. What a creative and eco friendly idea! Thanks for sharing this. It would be kind of fun to share local newspapers or items that are specific to a particular region with another person in a different country so I could wrap gifts with literature or special items from another area in the world & they could wrap with items from Michigan, USA. Fair trading 🙂 Shipping costs would probably not be in favor though!


  21. These are so gorgeous, Kathy. I’m still blown away by the amount of time and care that goes into making these ornaments– and I completely treasure the one we have hanging up in our home from you. 🙂 Hope you and Sara had a beautiful Christmas!


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  23. I know I’m late to the party, but I saw the photo and had to look. I love the quilted ball ornaments. Stunning. And the photography is excellent. Yours or Saras? You amaze me with your multi-talents. I need to give myself a good kick in the rumpus and get moving on doing something, anything.


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