5 Easy Upcycled and Recycled Crafts for Fall

Rummage through your recycle bin or take a walk for what you need to complete these craft projects

By Sara Yaniga, Macaroni KID Chicago October 13, 2021

I love autumn season for so many reasons.  The warm red, orange and yellow colors start to appear all over the city, from the trees in the parks to the mums by your neighbor's front door.  We start and end our days to cooler temps and crisper air, but still get afternoons that are warm enough for playing on the playground without a jacket.  And the smells! Cinnamon and nutmeg, pumpkin and apple - they are in baked goods, our coffees, teas and candles - even in our homemade play dough!

I love seasonal decorations, but let's be honest, with so many holidays in the last few months of the year, it can get expensive!  Also, I am a sucker for a little crafting, especially when the kids want to help out and simply sticking to store bought items eliminates the family time factor. Over the years I have discovered that there are many of great craft items sitting around our home, but you may not realize it.  It takes a little creative thinking, but your recycle bin can actually be your craft bin!

Here we have rounded up a few of our favorite, inexpensive, crafts that are perfect for October!  

1) HALLOWEEN LUMINARIES - This craft is very simple and there is a chance you have everything you need already!  They are also a great way to help trick-or-treaters see their way from door to door at night. 

  • Start by washing out a plastic milk container.  Ours are gallon size, but this can definitely work with the half gallon sizes too!  
  • Grown ups should use scissors or an Xacto knife to cut an opening in the side of the jug - I usually just cut the area with the label.  They are incredibly sticky and there is no need in wasting time trying to remove it.  This will be your access point to light up your creation.
  • Using a black sharpie or black acrylic or tempra paint create a face.  Our default is to make ghost faces, but your only limitation is your imagination on this one. Ghosts, pumpkins, witches, zombies, cats, bats are all great ideas.
  • At night you can use a battery-powered votive, or glow stick, to light up your luminaries.  

Tip: If you want an orange pumpkin, green witch, etc - then a glow stick is an easy way to make that happen.  If you want to light your luminaries up on multiple evenings with a votive, then you can paint the inside of your milk jug.  To do this, after washing it out, add a little paint and water, replace the lid and gently shake the container.  Shake and move the jug around to spread the paint, then remove the lid and set it upside down on a plate or paper towels to dry and drain.

2) FALL LEAF VASE - Our daughter is a collector.  In fact, we call her The Squirrel because she has a special little drawer and box where we discover all sorts of stashed "treasures" of hers.  One thing she likes to collect are leaves, rocks, pinecones, once I found no fewer than 50 acorns in her treasure drawer, which is what confirmed that The Squirrel was a fitting nickname.  I try to encourage her to use her nature collection for art as often as possible.  This was a fun project that is actually evolving as the season progresses!

  • Get your shoes on and go for a walk!  Bring along a bag or bucket for your own collection of leaves, rocks, pinecones, etc.  You can even print off this fun Scavenger Hunt to bring along (but please, don't bring home any squirrels or rabbits   )
  • At home, find an empty jar or can and wash it out with soapy water to remove any food residue.  We found an empty peanut butter jar that was heading to our recycle bin for our project.
  • Take all of the leaves and foliage you collected from your walk and spread them out.  You will also want some mod podge and a paint brush.  If you don't have mod podge you can create your own with white glue by adding a little water to thin it out.
  • Glue your leaves to the side of your container.  I painted the inside of my jar with the glue mixture and then little hands helped me press the leaves into place, but if you are using an opaque can or jar, you can definitely attach them to the exterior!  It may look like a white glue disaster for a while, but with time you will see it will dry clear.

We currently use our jar to contain "treasures" found on our walk and a small battery-powered votive, but in November it will transition into something special for our Thanksgiving table!  What will you use your creation for this season?

3) PAINTED NATURE - This one is pretty self explanatory!  Dip into that bucket you filled while on your scavenger hunt and pull out rocks, acorns, pinecones and knock off any dirt and grime.  Usually a damp cloth will do the job just fine.  Next, use acrylic paints to decorate them with whatever comes to mind.  We have been making jack-o-lantern rocks and hiding them around our neighborhood.  You could get really creative and see what you can create when you combine elements - maybe pieces for your own fairy garden? or a "Pinecone Person"?

  • Another fun thing to do is to use the found objects as stamps or paintbrushes to create some great textured art! 
  • Use a shoebox to create a shadow box to display your collection.  This project always involves A LOT of glue which my kids love.

4) PERIODICAL PUMPKINS & APPLES  - Do you have a stack of magazines hanging around?  I LOVE magazines - but I hate throwing them away for some reason. On the flip side, I also don't like stacks of magazines piling up.  This is a fun way to create a unique pieces for your autumn decorating all while giving new purpose to an old magazine.

  • To create a pumpkin or apple, begin by making a template to desired size, but keep in mind the size of your magazine. 
  • Fold template in half, matching the fold of the template to the spine of the magazine. Use a pen or market to trace the design.
  • Using scissors cut out your design and use a twig, pipe cleaner, construction paper or even a tightly rolled scrap of magazine, to create a stem.  Place it along the spine and glue  the front and back covers together to hold it in place.
  • Take care to fold the individual pages back, to fan them out evenly. 
  • You can leave as is, or you can take a paint to the edges to give your pumpkin a hint of orange, or apple a splash of red and green.
  • Depending on the size of your pumpkins and apples you can often get more than one from a magazine.

Tip: We love practicing our scissor skills with magazines and catalogs. Save your scraps to cut out pieces to make a collage later. If you have leftover magazines - save them because I have some fun winter projects for them!

5) CANNED PUMPKINS & GHOSTS  - We started making seasonal decorations out of empty cans during COVID.  We would use paint, construction paper, magazines and really anything we could get our hands on to create a table scape for our winter holiday table. So far, this fall we have kept it pretty simple with jack-o-lanterns, but as we get more empty cans we will certainly add to our collection!

  • Wash and dry an empty can 
  • Use paint (I always like acrylics but tempra or poster paints may work too) or construction paper to wrap the outside of your can.  Will you make a pumpkin? A mummy? The options are endless with these type of open ended projects.
  • The finished products make for great containers for anything from utensils to candy you don't want your sibling to mistake for their own.
  • If you make a set of 6 or 10 then you can turn them into some fun carnival style games!  One of our favorites is to stack them up and try to knock them down with a rolled up sock or bean bag.  Another fun one is to set them up like bowling pins and try to toss candy corns or small rocks into them from a few feet away.  We love trying to see who can do it from the greatest distance!

If you love DIYs and Crafting, you may enjoy this fall project too!