Friday, March 11, 2016

Trash chique! Shrinking plastic trash into jewelry.

I pride myself for making things out of trash. Thing is, usually the materials I use are not exactly trash. Tacky, old and unloved maybe... but if you can still find it in a thrift shop, it's not trash, is it?

Well, today that is going to change: I'm going to make jewelry from plastic that I actually saved form my garbage bin. Yucky, you say?
Behold the magic of shrinking plastic!!

I vaguely remember playing with shrinking plastic (or shrinky-dink as it was named) as a child. I more vividly remember shrinky dink because my mother had a saying that went something like this: "And then X completely ignored what I had said, and I really felt like a shrinky dinky"  meaning that a situation or a person made you feel as if suddenly shrunk to an insignificantly small size. Quite a creative analogy, isn't it? I have certainly felt like shrinky dinky quite a few times in my life.

For those of you who are still raising your eyebrow over the previous paragraph, wondering what the heck I am talking about: Shrink plastic, or shrinky dinky is plastic that you buy in sheets. You can cut different shapes, color them, and when you heat it in the oven, it shrinks about ten times its original size, and grows ten times in thickness. This way you can make cool little gadgets for all sorts of use.

Shrinking plastic is quite expensive, but did you know you can actually find it in your garbage? No? Well now is a good time to find out!

What you need is type 6 plastic (polystyrene). That means that is has this logo on the bottom:

A quick search in my own stock learned that type 6 plastic is mainly used for fruits and salads. I used the packaging of a salad.

it had a lot of ridges..
I began by simply cutting a test piece. I sanded it on one side and colored that side with sharpies.

A happy cactus it is!
When you're done, heat them in the oven as follows:

  • set the oven to somewhere around 145-170 degrees celsius/ 325 degrees Fahrenheit
  • place your objects on a clean sheet of wax paper in the oven. In my experience it works best if you place them with the colored side on top. 
  • heat for a couple of minutes. Watch your objects as they are heating. Initially you will freak out as they will curl up, and you'll consider your whole project as failed. But in the end of the heating process, they will flatten again. Or at least, most of them will.
  • take them out of the oven as soon as they have flattened, and if necessary, press them flat as quickly as possible. They will only stay flexible for a few seconds, so you'll have to be a bit quick here. 
And.. does it work? 
It does!
I found out that all the ridges of the package simply flattened out while heating, so it didn't really matter that my initial plastic wasn't completely flat ( Although the flat pieces are the easiest to draw on)

Here's some of my designs!

two happy earrings
I found that earrings were the nicest to make, since it doesn't require a lot of material. 

a nifty, thrifty little brooch
The plastic shrinks approximately 3 times in both directions, I didn't really bother with measuring, but you could of course make a sort of ruler to measure the shrinking. 

This little girl was one of the bigger pieces that I made. Although the picture doesn't really show it, she's not completely flat, since I was not quick enough to press her flat. I wouldn't put too many pieces in the oven at once; you won't be able to flatten them all in time. 

So tiny!!
I really liked the idea of putting a small boat in a bottle, since I wear my bottle-necklace a lot. The bottle was once filled with beads, and A while ago I attached it with a little hook to a long necklace. I put varying things into the bottle: dandelion-seeds, dried flowers, small toys or a little note... It's like a really small, wearable museum :) And I thought an origami-boat would look lovely in it :)

Unfortunately, since I didn't bother with measuring, it actually took me three attempts before I made one that actually fitted in the bottle. So, if anyone wants to have some some plastic origami-boats, you may have them ;)

sail away little boat!
I have to be honest: I did have a few less successful attempts during the process: pieces that completely rolled up during the heating, and where I wasn't quick enough to press them down. But as I was experimenting with trash anyway, I wasn't really bothered.

ice cream!
So, if you're looking for a little project to cut down your waste and be able to get some cool jewelry at the same time, you should really give this one a try!

Did you like this project? Ever tried shrinking plastic yourself, and if so: what were your own results? 
I'm curious to hear from you!



  1. Long before Shrinky Dinks were available crafters were recycling their liver lids to make shrink art. Now many products come in polystyrene. There's no need to eat liver just to get craft supplies.
    I made lots of Christmas tree ornaments back in the 70s.
    you might want to mention that 325 degrees F is equivalent to 140-170 C

    1. whoah, that's so nifty, I didn't know that! Thanks! :)

      I also think christmas ornaments are a great use for this.. I'll keep that in mind for winter-time to give it a little try!
      I've added the temperature conversion!

  2. this is such an awesome idea!

  3. I don't have an oven (they don't come standard in Asia). Do you think these would work with an iron or a hairdryer?

    1. Hey Hannah! I'm not entirely sure... but I guess so? I know people sometimes shrink them with a heat gun, which is practically a hot hairdryer...

      I would maybe try it by turning your iron upside down, putting a layer of wax paper on top, and lay your plastic on top of it, while holding keeping it in place with some kitchen utensils.. The main difference is the fact the the heat only comes from one side, so I'm not sure what happens once it starts curling.

      If I have the time, I can try it this evening for you to see if it works?


    2. Hi Hannah! I've tried the iron upside-down technique and it worked for me! :)
      I did need something to push the plastic a bit against the wax paper, but apart from that it went quite well!

      It might be helpful to look up the temperatures of your iron to make sure the temperature is about right! :) And just begin with something not too big, since smal objects shrink a bit better.
      I hope you'll succeed!