Upcycle Creative Reuse Center

I love embracing my daughter’s love of art.  She’s pretty good at making masterpieces using various parameters, but there’s one thing she’s not good at doing — cleaning up afterwards.  I’m always on the lookout for places that allow my little Monet to get artsy with different mediums and happily clean up the “mess” left behind.

A little spot in Del Ray has been the answer for not only kids, but parents, to not just create any kind of art, but art with a purpose.  The Upcycle Creative Reuse Center is exactly what it states, a place where you can drop off unwanted supplies that can be reused and created into something unique.


Co-founders and former teachers Kelly Organek and Susan Miranda saw a need to reduce, recycle, and reuse items that would normally be dumped in landfills.  The duo’s commitment to being green earned them this year’s Ellen Pickering Environmental Excellence Award from the City of Alexandria.

My child and I stopped into the Drop-in Studio which is held every Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm.  The theme changes weekly and I was able to know the project in advance by visiting their website.  Good for all ages, the cost is $5 per person or $15 per family, no reservations are needed.  It was very quiet when we were there, but got busy around 11:30 am.

As Kelly told me, Upcycle will help facilitate the activity, but it’s really a family experience.  She was great at explaining the projects and the items for sale, even telling my daughter that she needed to check with me when picking a bag in the shop.

The small space has the current art activity at one of three tables.  There’s also a table with other items that can be used to accentuate your project.  If that isn’t enough, past projects line the walls and shelves of the studio for inspiration.  Past projects included painting watercolors from dried up markers, making lanterns, beaded jewelry, paper cloth, and creating paper mache masks.

We were lucky to be the only ones when the studio opened for Demo-Vation.  There were safety goggles and scissors to cut CDs to create a giant dog mosaic, pliers to cut Christmas light garlands, and a table with discarded electronics like computer parts, VHS tapes, jewelry boxes, and cardboard shoes inserts.  By far, the coolest item was an old Tone Loc and Def Leppard cassette single.  Since Alexandria is such a dog-friendly city, the dog mosaic is part of a larger project.  Of the four painted dogs, one is already done in bottle caps, one will be covered in denim, one in cork, and the last in shimmery CD pieces.

Within 30 minutes, my child decorated the dog mosaic and completed her project:  a dragon made from a heart shaped box, with pipe cleaner poms, googly eyes, multi-colored fuzzy yarn, ribbon, and colored tape.


In addition to Drop in Studio, there are a variety of classes for toddlers all the way to eighth grade.  Sessions include Materials Playgroup, Preschool Explorers, Kids Workshop, Fairy Tale Illustration, and STEP Up Club.  Each session is $150 and last six weeks.

Upcycle is popular with scouts, children, and adults including children’s summer camp, birthday parties, evening crafty hours, and teacher workshops.  They are active in city events such as the Youth Arts Festival, Art on the Avenue, and The Torpedo Factory’s Art Safari.  On November 15, Upcycle partners with Arts on the Horizon for an art and movement event perfect for babies to age 6.

You walk through the retail store to get to the studio.  I guarantee that it will be impossible to not fill a recycled bag which you can fill from $5 to $25 depending on the size.  We’re talking yarn, fabric pieces, bottle caps, crayons, paint, stencils, poster board, photo albums, cookie tins, jam jars, office supplies, and more.  The inventory is always changing, making this a great place for your next DIY project.

They have a current wish list of items if you are looking to donate unwanted goods.  Recently, they received a generous donation of frame board and used children’s books.  Two teachers drove all the way from Southern Maryland in search of ideas for art projects for their students.  “They really have everything here,” said one woman.

My daughter stuffed a $10 bag with a pencil, a roll of stickers, scrapbook paper, wrapping paper, plastic Easter eggs, gift box bows, trinkets which may have come from a leftover birthday party piñata, and a Valentine’s Day canister while I selected birthday cards and a stack of pale pink-toned business sized envelopes.  I was tempted to take some of a ream of neon pink, yellow, and green paper.  I saw a jacket made completely from Capri Sun juice pouches and a cigar box guitar.

My daughter spied a binder filled with Lisa Frank sticker sheets.  Kelly informed us that there were 5 binders full of these stickers and that they were priced 5 sheets for $1.  Even though they weren’t part of the fill-a-bag deal, I didn’t mind splurging an extra dollar.

We spent a total of $16 here, which covered the drop in studio fee, fill-a-bag in the retail shop, and an extra buck for some swanky stickers.  A great deal that supports a local business credited with re-purposing items that would otherwise end up in the trash.


Upcycle has limited days and hours of operation.  It’s a good idea to sign up for email updates or like their Facebook page in case of changes.  Currently they are open from 12 PM to 6PM. For donations, you can only go by appointment but for shopping, no appointment is needed.

Upcycle is located in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.  Located next to R&B Inc., there is 2 hour street parking.  Walk through the driveway, follow the crochet and colorful tires, and up a long flight of stairs to the second level.  Due to the stairs and the narrow space, leave the stroller at home.

Photos by Kathleen Molloy.

Photo of author

OK Editorial Team

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