Make/Do puts reuse on view with 180 objects at the Washington State History Museum through December 6

Separated by 76 years, what do a 1935 crazy quilt made from Women’s Relief Corps ribbons and a 2011 dress crafted from yellow plastic “caution” tape have in common? Creative reuse of manufactured goods whose intended purposes have already been fulfilled. Make/Do: A History of Creative Reuse focuses on the constantly evolving, cyclical nature of our relationship with objects, and takes a look at historical transitions of reuse and single use. It reminds us that before upcycling was a thing, it was “the” thing.

Washington State History Museum visitors can explore 180 objects generated through upcycling, downcycling and recycling, and learn how the Northwest has responded to the cycle of use and reuse. Cultural, geographic and industrial influences, among others, have given regional makers and their objects a distinct character.

Make/Do opened July 14 and will be on view through December 6, 2018. “Upcycling’s taken on new life in recent years with a renewed focus on reuse. However, there was once a time when upcycling wasn’t just a hobby, it was a way of life. The Historical Society’s collections are full of examples of creative ‘making do’—flour sack clothes, stacking toys made from tin cans, that sort of thing,” said Lead Curator Gwen Whiting. “We wanted to embrace the regional nature of this topic, so we connected with historical societies, museums, and organizations across the state in our search for the historic and the contemporary. Objects from all over Washington and parts of Oregon are represented in the show. It is our hope that people will be able to make connections between the exhibition, what’s happening today in their community, and memories from their own family history.”

In addition to delving into our relationship with objects over time, the exhibition explores the idea of how reuse can build community. In the past, women gathered for quilting circles or knit-ins. During hard times and war, Washingtonians united to remake old items into new, whether it be to support troops overseas or to use in everyday life. This community-building trend continues today in creative reuse centers, makerspaces and living rooms across the state.

Portland based eco-artist and educator Nancy Judd, whose work has been added to the Smithsonian’s collections, builds community through fashion. Judd looks at trash not as garbage but as raw materials. An active public speaker, Judd often provides her audiences with such materials on which to write a pledge, later sewing those messages into her fashions. In her TEDxABQ talk, she asked her audience to imagine standing among the waste they’ve generated during their lifetime: “If you’re an average American who lives an average lifespan, that’s 61 tons of trash. But it’s worse than that, because for every one bag you put on the curb, 70 were created to mine, manufacture, transport, and sell you those goods. So really, you’re sitting in the middle of 4,270 tons of trash. Is that the legacy that you want to leave behind? I hope that you’ll look differently at garbage now, and that instead of seeing waste, you’ll see wasted resources.” Judd’s Caution Dress is featured in Make/Do.

Recycling is what we do when we’re out of options to avoid, repair, or reuse the product first. Firstly: Reduce. Don’t buy what we don’t need. Repair: Fix stuff that still has life in it. Reuse: Share. Then, only when you’ve exhausted those options, recycle. - Annie Leonard

An exhibition about reuse would not be complete without a makerspace, and Earthwise Architectural Salvage has partnered with the History Museum to provide a station for the run of the exhibition. Visitors will have a chance to make a project of their own.

On August 16, Third Thursday, the next generation of creative innovators are invited to practice entrepreneurial skills at the Kids’ Maker Market. Vendors ages 4-18 can rent tables for $10 to sell their handmade wares. Local maker Allison Stewart Bishins of Handmade PNW is organizing this event. Interested youth can apply through the History Museum’s event page or email Allison at Visitors can shop and enjoy snacks at the Kids’ Maker Market, make crafts at the Tinkertopia booth, and tour the galleries. The museum offers free admission from 3:00-8:00 PM on August 16, generously supported by Columbia Bank.

Make/Do’s material and historical survey of second-life objects includes architectural reuse and salvage, cultural examples of creative reuse, and contemporary objects. Works from multiple artists, makers and institutions show that some trends are timeless.

For more information, see


               -Washington State History Museum


Why do we send valuable items like aluminium and food waste to landfill when we can turn them into new cans and renewable energy? Why use more resources than we need to in manufacturing? We must now work together to build a zero waste nation – where we reduce the resources we use, reuse and recycle all that we can and only landfill things that have absolutely no other use.

- Hilary Benn