By Thúy Hằng
In a small house in the port city of Hải Phòng, a middle-aged woman is meticulously creating petals from a plastic bag to gradually create a flower painting made entirely from recycled materials.
Four years ago, Nguyễn Thị Xuân Hoa worked in a design unit of an art porcelain company, never imagining that one day she would run a boutique shop, selling her own DIY arts and crafts made from reclaimed materials.
|Nguyễn Thị Xuân Hoa creates a flower lamp from recycled materials in her shop in Hải Phòng. —Photos courtesy of Handmade Hoa Cỏ May
For the 53-year-old woman, art is a gift despite her lack of professional training. For decades, Hoa created thousands of decorative designs for porcelain and crystal home décor, but in her spare time tinkered with recycled DIY items using glass bottles to make flower vases or pen holders.
Though she wasn’t expecting it, her work gained many compliments from people visiting her home, who asked her to make them various things.
“How could I say ‘no’ to them, as they were either my friends or my son’s classmates? I was flattered when my creations received such admiration,” she said.
From then on, Hoa became busier with sawing and cutting glass bottles. However, the process seemed unfit for a woman’s hands as it required so much strength, so she switched to using plastic instead.
Plastic bottles are much easier to cut, and using them hugely reduces the problem of plastic waste.
|Lamps created from plastic bottles.
The more Hoa makes the items, the more awareness she gains for the need to recycle. Aiming to spread that awareness to young people, she sends her items to bookstores where the main customers are school students and young people. That decision has seen the number of new orders increase steadily.
In 2017, Hoa decided to quit her job at the porcelain company to focus on making DIY. Now it is her main and only business.
In the beginning of 2020, Hoa opened a boutique shop at her house, selling her handmade art and craft creations.
Scrap dealer customer
Hoa became a frequent customer of several local scrap dealers. They now call her if they have found something that she might be able to use. The dealers offer an endless source of materials in all types, sizes, shapes, and colours.
|Lanterns are among the items made by Hoa.
Part of her front yard has been transformed into a “treasure trove” where she has accumulated various essential materials including plastic bottles, beer cans, tin boxes, cardboard, and more.
“Luckily, my husband and my son didn’t have any objection to the transformation. They understand that it is my passion and it makes me happy,” she said.
Her friends and neighbours also make a weekly contribution to her ever-growing treasure trove of discarded items.
Hoa often becomes so engrossed in crafting that she often forgets the time. With a pair of scissors, small pliers, a hot melt glue gun, and an iron, she has crafted hundreds of items including wall lights, lamps, lanterns, photo frames and dolls.
Although DIY is not something new, she still needs to learn more and often watches YouTube videos “to find out my own tips and experience”.
|A flower frame for interior decor.
Something as small as a dried plant sprig on the street can trigger her creativity.
“My brain automatically visualizes how that sprig can be used, how it might look when I combine it with other materials,” she said.
Hoa never gets bored of making lamps and lights because “they are shimmering, cozy, and practical”. To lighten these items, she uses only small LED bulbs which produce the least amount of heat to avoid harming the vulnerable plastic lampshades.
|A peony made from plastic bag.
Recently, she has found fresh inspiration from a “new” material: plastic bags and single-use plastic raincoats. However, in her first experiments she struggled with this ultra-thin material.
“After failing dozens of times, I finally found a suitable temperature to work with the material,” she said.
First she cuts the material into book-sized sheets, and then use a hot iron to stick three to four sheets together, resulting in a thicker page that she can craft easily. “The colour is also more vibrant,” she added.
|A clip showing how to make DIY flower-shaped lamp from plastic bottles.
Hoa also hasn’t stopped instructing people on the importance of looking after the environment, and holds craft classes every weekend with participants of all ages from young students to the retired.
With the technical support of her son, a student at the Hà Nội University of Science and Technology, Hoa has also made many videos showing people how to make DIY from simple things, which she posts on her own YouTube channel, Handmade Hoa Cỏ May.
If more people continue to embrace her methods, there will be much less waste in the world and the planet will be in better all-round health. — VNS