In my series “Lovely Things”, I look at the beautiful objects I own and explore the stories behind them. Today: upcycled earrings from Finland.
“Those are the spoons they use in Russian trains”, says Agnieszka* confidently, staring at my earlobes. I’m wearing my new upcycled earrings.
It is 2019 and we are sitting on the couch at my Slovakian friend S.’s flat in the 2nd district of Vienna. It is her annual birthday bash for her closest girlfriends and we’re all there: Austrians, Hungarians, Poles…and me, leading the British delegation of one.
Agnieszka is about 55 years old and grew up in Poland during Communism. She married an Austrian man, has been living in Vienna for about 25 years, and now runs her own department at an Austrian federal ministry. Agnieszka is not to be messed with. If she says my earrings are made from Russian railway teaspoons, then my earrings are made from Russian railway teaspoons.
A tough broad
I liked Agnieszka. She had oodles of style and zero qualms about telling me to stop being a pathetic Western European snowflake. “Is five hours waiting too high a price to be able to live in Austria?” she asked me once when I complained about the inefficiency of the Austrian immigration authorities, razor-sharp eyebrows shooting skywards. “I guess not…” I mumbled, chastened. I wasn’t about to debate hardship with someone who lived in dilapidated student dorms in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, my contact to Agnieszka ceased shortly thereafter when she and S. had a monumental bust-up and stopped speaking. Not wanting to wade into the landmine-strewn wasteland of that particular saga, I prioritised my friendship with S. But it’s a shame. Agnieszka was one tough broad – and I like a tough broad.
I bet she was right about those upcycled earrings aswell.
A trip to Porvoo
They came from Porvoo in Finland, not far from the Russian border. My partner and I were spending a few days in Helsinki before heading on up to Vaasa to do an IML march. Porvoo – one of Finland’s oldest towns – makes a great daytrip and can be reached easily by bus from the capital.
After we’d walked up and down the pretty cobbled streets and admired the view from the castle hill behind the town, I decided I’d like to do a spot of shopping. With The Other Half off somewhere else with his heavy-duty photography equipment doing terribly creative things, I was free to browse the various handcrafts on display. Minding her stall in the corner of one of the gift shops was a lady selling jewellery made from upcycled goods.
And not the weird, irony-free “trouser-braces-made-from-car-seatbelts” kind of upcycling either. This woman had well and truly got the style memo. Drop earrings made from artfully knotted earbud cables. Otherworldly pendants formed from sculpted fork heads. And these earrings made from antique teaspoons.
New from old
I’ve always loved the idea of old being used to create new. From the industrial revolution-era brick-built factories in my native Northern England turned into upmarket flats to running shoes made from recycled plastic bottles. If it’s about new and fresh being created from the old and discarded, I’m here for it!
That fascination doesn’t stop at utility items either. Watching old houses being renovated totally floats my boat. Even before the pandemic hit and normalised this kind of behaviour, I dropped off the social radar for several weeks to binge-watch all the episodes of Fixer Upper and Good Bones I could find. Then I headed right on over to their British counterparts, “Restoration Home”, “Restoration Man” and “Amazing Spaces”. My commitment to this TV project was absolute.
Renovating my own home has been a dream ever since I can remember. But, because a decade of ultra-low interest rates has blown up asset prices far beyond my modest financial grasp, I am not currently in the market to buy a run-down shed – let alone an actual dwelling. So, I satisfy my “new-from-old” urges by wearing these upcycled earrings instead.
One day, I will wear them while floating stylishly around my beautiful, renovated town house, pretending I am Joanna Gaines. Maybe I will invite Agnieszka over to join me. For Viennese coffee and cake, of course.
Photos: author’s own