Etsy: Upcycling and Re-imagining handspun yarn with Jes Mattingly

Posted on by MK Carroll


left to right: handspun newspaper yarn, Tokyo-plarn,
grocery bag plastic with cassette tape and paper beads, and grocery bag plastic

Jessica Mattingly ("Jes") is a 30 year old full-time clinical psychology doctoral student who uses her Etsy shop, Unique Expressions by Jessica Mattingly (An Eclectic Collection of Innovative Expressions), as her outlet. Jes lives in Chicago, where she spins upcycled yarns out of wool scraps, plastic bags ("plarn"), cassette tape, and paper.

When did you get started on Etsy?

I started back in November of 2005.

What got you started on upcycling/recycling yarn materials?

After I started spinning yarn, I became addicted to figuring out what other materials aside from wool could be spun. I started with plastic bags mixed with cassette tape, then moved on to tissue paper, and then on to newspaper. I've also worked with a fiber made out of recycled plastic bottles, but the fibers are really short and hard to work with.

Who/what inspires your work?

I'm the oldest of eight, and my siblings are a huge inspiration in my life. Also, the need for a creative outlet inspires my work.


handspun "scrappy happy"

What are your favorite parts of recycling/upcycling?

I love the challenge of working with something different. It's like a puzzle that needs solving. I also love the unique appearance of upcycled products. Each one is completely one-of-a-kind. I really enjoy watching the plastic or paper change and evolve as I spin it.

What are the most challenging things about recycling/upcycling?

Well, the materials aren't always the easiest to work with. Paper and plastic are not as flexible as wool. It can be really frustrating when something doesn't initially work, but once I've figured it out it becomes the biggest reward! Also, it takes a lot more time and energy to create something that is upcycled, because it usually involves a lot more prep.


handspun tissue paper

Do you have a preference for using a drop spindle or a wheel for your handspuns?

I started spinning with a drop spindle and used that for about a year before I moved on to a wheel. I now use a wheel for my regular handspuns, but when it comes to paper and plastic, I use a drop spindle. Those materials don't gather very easily around the bobbin of my wheel and they just don't spin up as tightly when I use my wheel.


handspun plarn

Jes also offers a plarn-making service and does custom orders. She blogs at Unique Expressions, where you can also vote in a mini-poll about what she's got in her Etsy shop and check out her Etsy favorites.

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all photos in this post are copyright Jessica Mattingly and used here with her permission