Project Upcycle 2018 Recap


Project Upcycle exceeded all my expectations. It was hands down the most challenging and rewarding experience of my professional life. What follows is a recap – also known as the longest blog post I have ever written.

Before I start, I need to express my gratitude for the partnership that made this event possible. As it turns out, Goodwill of Northern New England, 3S Artspace, and Recovergirl are a dream team. Our skills and resources complimented each other perfectly and helped us to turn this unique event into a huge success.

After months of meetings, spreadsheets, emails and phone calls, we were finally ready to welcome the cast of characters that made up Project Upcycle 2018.

Photo by Dan Freund

The long weekend began with the designers and models arriving on Thursday evening. The designers set up their workstations and were immediately introduced to their models.

Project Upcycle (1)
Project Upcycle 2018 Designers (left to right) Jackiellen Bonney, Chloe Larochelle, Tamsin Whitehead, Jared DeSimio, Adara Bankhead, Maya Critchfield, Justin Desper and Kirsten Elfe. Photo by Dan Freund

The community role models were selected and coordinated by Beth Falconer, Executive Director of 3S Artspace. The models included:

Nancy Pearson – Portsmouth City Councilor / Art-Speak
Steven Achilles – Fire Chief of Portsmouth Fire Department
Penny Brewster – Benevolent Dictator of CERES Bakery
Tabitha McElroy – Fund-Friend-Fan-raiser for Human Rights Organizations
Julia McCarthy – Portsmouth High School Student
Shema Rubdi – Box Office Attendant at 3S Artspace / Filmmaker
Elias Matso – Traip Academy Student
Olivia Pelehach – UNH Student

It was heartwarming to see people from different parts of our community come together for this event.

The designers were allowed a half hour to meet with their models, take measurements, and discuss fit and style.

Designer Model Consultation – Jared Desimio and Penelope Brewster. Photo by Sara O’Reilly.

After the designer/model consultation was over, we said goodnight to the models and let the designers get their first look at the material they would be working with over the coming days.

Goodwill Pick – Chloe Larochelle, Justin Desper, Maya Critchfield, Jackiellen Bonney

We asked the designers to dump the bags full of Goodwill clothing onto a large table. Each designer was then allowed 30 seconds to pull three items from the large pile.

We wanted the designers to have something tangible that would help them get a jump start on the design process even if it was only in their head.

The designers were given unfettered access to rest of the pile of clothes on Friday and Saturday.

As if the challenge of upcycling secondhand clothing into a gala-worthy outfit wasn’t hard enough — we added an additional curveball. Each designer needed to incorporate used sail parts into their design. The sail parts (provided by Hoist Away Bags) included colorful fabric strips, white rope of different weights, and hard plastic strips (not shown).

Used Sail parts provided by Hoist Away Bags

We included these elements to reflect our Seacoast community but also to provide the judges with an element that they could more easily compare across all the designs.

Thursday night ended ahead of schedule. The designers were allowed to go home and get a good night’s sleep.

FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2018
On Friday morning I picked up the designers at The Lilac House (lodging provided by Working Stiff Properties! 🙂 and drove them to 3S Artspace. The designers were allowed 12 hours (from 9am-9pm) to work on their designs.

Project Upcycle Designers at The Lilac House

Now seems like a good time to introduce My Friend Dan. Dan Freund created an INCREDIBLE video that previewed at the beginning of the live event on Saturday night. The video provides an awesome recap of what happened from Thursday to Saturday. Click on the image below to be taken to the video.

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From my perspective, Friday was relatively quiet. The pressure was on the designers. We wanted them to have long stretches of uninterrupted time to work on their designs. They had midday fittings with their models, they were interviewed by a crew from NH Chronicle (more on that later) and got a quick visit from Bunny Wonderland, the emcee for the live event.

Justin Desper working on his first design.

I am jumping ahead here but I need to say for the record that I will never be able to thank Bunny enough for what she brought to Project Upcycle. The tone she set during the event was more than I could ever have hoped for. The designers faced an enormous challenge. With style and wit, Bunny created an atmosphere of love and support. It was an honor to witness her talent and leadership.

Bunny Wonderland

I purposely avoided looking at the designer’s creations on Friday. I didn’t want to stress them out. For that reason, I don’t have any close-up photos of their design process. Below are photos that Maya Critchfield posted on her Instagram account.

Details of Maya Critchfield Design

After a 12+ hour day of work, the designers called it a night.


Saturday felt like a whirl. One minute it was 10am. Next, it was 1pm.  At 1pm the models arrived for their final fitting before being sent to get their hair done at Jessica Todd. Salon. The makeup artistry was provided by Empire Beauty School. The designers used that time to make last-minute adjustments.

Once the models returned and the judges arrived we were all walked through a stage rehearsal by the incomparable Rebecca Henning Taylor. The 3S Artspace staff did all the heavy lifting on this event. It would not have been the success that it was without all their hard work.

The evening started at 6:00 pm with a cocktail hour and heavy hors d’oeuvres provided by Tuscan Kitchen.

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Models remained backstage but designers were able to connect with their family and friends in the audience before the runway show started.

Project Upcycle Models – Julia McCarthy (in Kirsten Elfe Design) + Elias Matso

The runway show started at 7pm. It’s impossible to capture the feeling in that room. It was a love fest. It started with the screening of the Dan Freund video and then Bunny took the helm. Each pairing of designer/model was invited up one at a time, in alphabetical order to showcase the designs.

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Bunny Wonderland, Adara Bankhead, and Shema Rubdi

The designers did an amazing job explaining their design process. The models did an excellent job presenting the outfits. The judges asked great questions, and Bunny helped the whole process run smoothly. It was such a great live show and so fun to watch.

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Elias Matso on Runway
Elias Matso modeling Jackiellen Bonney’s design.

After all the designers and models presented their designs Bunny announced there would be a 15-minute intermission for the judges to deliberate and the audience to cast their votes. The audience vote was equal to one judge vote.

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Photo by Dan Freund

The judges were directed to take three elements into consideration during their deliberation; (1) Creative Reuse of Material, (2) Execution, and (3) Styling. They were also told to take into consideration how the sail parts were incorporated into the final design.

Project Upcycle 2018 Judges – Pete Lankford, Ben Chmura, Jenn Varekamp, and Molly Shaheen.

One of my favorite parts of this whole event was something we didn’t even plan in advance. The judges felt that all the designers deserved final feedback on their designs. When the deliberation was over and the judges were seated back on stage Ben Chmura, former Project Runway contestant, took it upon himself to deliver critiques to each designer in front of the live audience. He delivered the critiques with so much respect and grace. I am so grateful to him for stepping up in that way.

Finally, the time came to announce the winners of Project Upcycle 2018.

CONGRATULATIONS TAMSIN WHITEHEAD FOR WINNING THIRD PRIZE! Your gender-bending ensemble looked regal on our Portsmouth Fire Chief. Well done!

Steve Achilles modeling Tamsin Whitehead’s Project Upcycle Design. Photo by Sara O’Reilly

CONGRATULATIONS CHLOE LAROCHELLE FOR WINNING SECOND PRIZE! Your instincts told you to scrap your first design and start over. This ethereal design is the result of your hard work and determination. Bravo!

Nancy Pearson modeling Chloe Larochelle’s Project Upcycle Design. Photo by Sara O’Reilly

You chose the most difficult sail part to work with (hard plastic) and used it to create a unique architectural showstopper of a dress. Congrats to you!!!

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Tabitha McElroy + Project Upcycle Winner Justin Desper. Photo by Sara O’Reilly

Congratulations and THANK YOU to all the designers for their courage, strength, and talent. You really set the bar high for future competitions! xo jam

Beth Falconer and the 3S Artspace staff (Martin Holbrook, Nick Rocci, + Sara O’Reilly).
Kimberly Curry and Goodwill Industries of Northern New England.

Saltwater Creative • Hoist Away Bags • Malloy Events  • Tuscan Kitchen  • Working Stiff Properties • Humble Bee Flowers • Jessica Todd Salon • Empire Beauty School • Michael Winters Photography • Rebecca Taylor Henning • My Friend Dan
Beach Pea Baking CompanyFlatbread Pizza • Dental Lace • Backyard Garlic Flowfold • Gutsey Bars • Gus and Ruby Letterpress •

I saved my most grateful thanks for last. Thank you to my lovely, hardworking, and crazy generous best friend/big sister Diane Coon. She has encouraged and supported me from the very beginning and became the first sponsor to support the event. heart

Lilac Guest House, Portsmouth, NH

If you follow me on Instagram then you know that for months I’ve been working on decorating an Airbnb in Portsmouth, NH. This is literally a dream job for me. Now — before you get too excited, remember that this is a decorating job in the real world, not in Hollywood. We had very real budget constraints. And that is why (I think) I was contacted. The owner wanted to reuse, upcycle, and restore as much as possible. Partly to save money and partly for the charm of vintage and upcycled things.

Below are the before photos. The house was built in 1910-ish. The previous owners were Betty and Joe. Back in the day, Joe worked at the Shipyard and Betty was the Little Harbour School librarian. Betty loved pinks and purple. The history of the house influenced our design plan. We wanted it to feel comfortable — like you are visiting family.


The design plan I pitched for the house was Olde New England meets Midcentury Modern with pops of color and upcycled pieces.

Below is a view of the foyer from the living room. I wanted it to be colorful and welcoming. The room is a good size so I’d like it to double as a play room. Parents can be in the living room and easily watch kids playing in the foyer. We plan to put baskets of toys under the daybed. The daybed is made of two church benches that I got on Craigslist for $25 a piece. I locked the benches together with hook-and-eye latches. I sewed the cushion myself using toile fabric. The striped pillows are one of the many items the owner already had. I got the octagon table on Craigslist for like $20 and painted it green. I’m obsessed with green lately. The round rug is one of the many high points of this project that resulted from the owner and I putting our heads together. I wanted a round rug but couldn’t find one that I liked or could afford. She wanted something easy to clean. She ended up ordering a 6-foot round industrial felt rug from Route One Carpet & Decorating — for $64!  It’s soft, easy to clean, and more fun than a traditional rug.

Lilac House Foyer, Portsmouth, NH

Throughout the house, it was our goal to work with neutrals like gray, white, black, and natural wood and then use pop colors and patterns to make everything feel more fun.

Lilac House Living Room, Portsmouth, NH

The owner wanted a pull-out couch so we went with the most comfortable gray couch option at Crate & Barrel in Kittery, Maine. The mustard chairs are from Etsy. We thought it was a good idea to have vinyl chairs because they would be easy to clean. Flor had a big sale at the time that we started this project. We took advantage of that and bought these checkerboard carpet squares. The art shelves feature collected art by the owner. The coffee table is from Weekender House.


Lilac House Living Room, Portsmouth, NH


The owner wanted a big dining room table with room for everyone. I think the table can easily seat 8 people, or 10 if you squished in a couple more chairs.

Lilac House Dining Room, Portsmouth, NH


The breakfast nook in the kitchen is the perfect spot to drink coffee and plan your day. The table is one of my favorite scores of this project. It was $7 on Craigslist. It is a restaurant quality table, very study. The four bentwood Thonet chairs were also from Craigslist. They cost $95 for all four. The stainless steel prep table, purchased on Amazon, offers a nice clean work surface.

Lilac House Airbnb Breakfast Nook, Portsmouth, NH


I sewed the majority of the curtains throughout the house. For the stairway landing, I made curtains using vintage linens. For the bedrooms, I used mattress ticking fabric, and for the dining room, we decided on 3/4 curtains in a crisp white gauzy fabric.

Vintage Linen Curtains, Lilac House, Portsmouth, NH


This tiny bedroom might be my favorite. The hanging drawers and octagon mirror were things the owner already had on hand but was not using. The side table is one of two small tables I purchased from Portland Flea-for-All . The portrait is of the owner’s Aunt Rita. I think this room should be called the Rita Room. Don’t you?

Lilac House, Portsmouth, NH


We selected more soothing accent colors for the second floor. We wanted it to feel like a place to relax. We opted to paint a soothing sage green headboard for the master bedroom. We incorporated handmade quilts from the owner’s mom’s collection. The green lamp is from Etsy. The matching nightstands were made locally from salvaged wood by Back Burner Designs in Somersworth, NH.MASTER-BEDROOM-CORNER

The lamp below is a lamp I bought at Savers for $14.99. I think it is a real George Nelson lamp. I’ve had it in a container for years waiting for the right opportunity to use it. The chair below was given to me by a friend. I couldn’t afford to have it reupholstered so instead I worked with Back Burner Designs to build the seat and back using pallet wood. You can see the before picture on my Instagram account. The seat cushion is made from a goose feather pillow the owner already had. I recovered it with new (on sale) fabric. I got the Danish stool on Craigslist for $15. LAMP-CHAIR-STOOL-MASTER-BEDROOM
There is a console table set up in the master bedroom. You can check your email on the computer or watch a movie from bed. The table was made from a metal frame the owner already had. Wood was cut to fit the top. The white bench is something the owner already owned. I recovered the top in the same toile fabric I used on the foyer daybed.


I imagined the room below was for that Aunt who needs time to get away from family for a little bit to just read a book. Once again we opted to paint the headboard. The owner did this herself. Isn’t it adorable? I think of this as the “Aunt Room”.


Lilac House Queen Bedroom, Portsmouth, NH

There is a whole other bedroom with two twin beds that I didn’t feature and many details I haven’t included but that is certainly enough info for one blog post.

The detail I do need to include is that the owners did all the hard work and for some reason picked (lucky) me to work with them on decorating this gem of a house. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity.

The other detail that I must share is that the BEST thing about this Airbnb rental is the LOCATION. It is literally steps from the Portsmouth Farmer’s Market (hence the cloth shopping bags hanging in the foyer). It is in the loveliest neighborhood on the planet. Is it a nice short walk to downtown Portsmouth. If your family or your gaggle of bridesmaids are looking for a getaway — check out the Lilac Guest House in Portsmouth, NH and tell them JAM sent ya!

UPDATE — the listing is now on VRBO.

xo jam

Enhabiten + Dyeing

I’ve known about Liane of Enhabiten since I saw an Etsy video about her back in 2009.  I really love her work and, for whatever reason, I like knowing that she lives in NH (my home state). I especially admire the work she is doing lately. She is dying secondhand and vintage items, giving them new life.  Look at these gorgeous t-shirts.  I love the blues and grays, the marks and lines.


I would live in this gray t-shirt all summer long over a pair of black pants with a pair of Birks.

upcycled shirt on wall

Below is a close up of a chair pad she made.  Just lovely.  You can see more pictures of her chair pads on her blog.  You can also find them for sale in her Etsy shop.


I also love how she is dyeing vintage doilies and table runners.  I have so many of these types of things tucked away.  I would like them so much more if I dyed them mustard.


mustard table runner

The project that she is working on that most delighted me is what she is doing with chenille.  I’ve seen chenille for sale in secondhand stores but never gave it a second thought.

When I saw these half moon pouches Liane was making I didn’t even recognize that they were made from secondhand chenille.  It looked to me like a material that she had embroidered.  Aren’t they lovely? She has a couple still available in her shop.

half moon pouch grey

half moon pouch indigoAll these images are from Liane’s blog – Enhabiten.  They are posted here with her permission.

Of course the other reason I have dyeing on the brain is because Shabd is coming to Kittery, Maine to teach a weekend workshop on dyeing.  It is scheduled for Mother’s Day weekend (May 10 + 11, 2014).  The registration page just when live yesterday.  Join the fun.  Email me at if you have any questions.