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Showing posts with label Reusing Repairing Recycling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reusing Repairing Recycling. Show all posts

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Post for my Handtool "Shed"

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I've written about using a huge rural-type mailbox as a handtool "shed" out in my garden, a few years ago, here. It's a great way to keep my tools close-at-hand, easy to keep track of, and protected from my harsh climate.

While it still sits right inside the garden gate nearest the house, over time I've made some improvements to that area. When we reconfigured the garden fence, I replaced the wire gate with an old arbor, salvaged from when they were tearing down an old house down the street, rebuilt, and given a new coat of paint.

Last fall, I made a new cushion for my garden chair. This spring, the old spool I used as a garden table was leaning precariously. So I sketched out what I wanted and had Aries put together a new support post for my "shed." The smaller footprint of a post instead of the spool makes the whole area look cleaner, plus gives me a spot underneath to store the rocks I use for holding down protective covers and netting. The post puts the box up higher, so I don't have to bend over to rummage around at the very back. And the two shelves give me plenty of room for my clipboard, solar radio, seeds and plants awaiting their turn in the dirt. Plus, we adjusted the bigger, lower shelf to be just the right height to hold a cold drink when I sit down for a rest, or just to admire my work in progress.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Waste Management

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I received an interesting piece of junk mail the other day. It was a mass mailing postcard from the local trash and recycling pick-up company, obviously sent out to addresses not currently using their services. It quoted about $20 a month for weekly garbage and bi-weekly recycling service. What I found interesting was that they then compared their rate to, by their accounting, the much more expensive option of hauling your own garbage and recycling to the landfill.

Now I live in a semi-rural part of a mid-sized town in the western United States. It's the part of the country where many people drive, or at least own, a pick-up truck. So hauling our own trash to the dump is a viable option for us. The local landfill recently doubled their rates, going from $5 to $10 for an average truck load. The dump is clear over on the other side of town from us, maybe 7 - 8 miles away. The truck gets an average of 20 miles to the gallon of gas. So, with gas going up all the time, add in maybe $2.50 - $3 for the gas to get there and back. So, a full-load trip to the dump costs us less than $15.

They came up with $15 per trip as their "haul your own" figure - that's reasonably accurate, I'd say. But what I found interesting was that they then used twice-a-month trips (therefore $30 per month, at least) as their comparison to show that using their service would cost less. Do most folks really generate that much trash?

We make dump (and recycling) runs about once every three months. We take a daily newspaper, but some of that gets used as wood stove fire-starter (our only heat source) half the year, at least. Instead of a garbage disposal we have a chicken bucket and a big set of compost bins built from salvaged pallets. I buy my milk in cardboard cartons instead of plastic. Whenever I have space in my freezer, I refill the cartons with water and freeze them - a handy ice source for camping or cooling a batch of homemade beer. When I buy juice, it's usually frozen concentrate instead of plastic jugs. We reuse bail-closure bottles for beer, hard cider, and kombucha; reuse glass canning jars and freezer bags for garden produce. I cook from scratch and do a lot of my own baking. I buy pantry items in bulk (those I don't grow and dehydrate myself) and then use 5-gallon tins and gallon glass jars for storage. For other shopping, I'm mindful of excess packaging as well.

I have a recycling area set up under the back side of my kitchen counter (that also holds light bulbs and other electrical items, empty bottles awaiting reuse or a trip out to the crates in the shed, and paper grocery bags I'll reuse until they are falling apart - and then I use them to hold newspaper recycling). I also reuse paper grocery bags to separate plastics, glass, and metals, folding down the top edges so they'll last longer. Those are emptied into plastic tubs on a shelf out by the garage maybe once a month. We have a local business that pays for metals for recycling, so we have a 55-gallon drum for aluminum and another smaller can for copper or steel - maybe a once-a-year trip, if even that, to empty those.

Out by the garage, we have three 44-gallon rubber trash barrels, and then a few 2- and a couple of 5-gallon metal cans for stove ashes (we have an old non-catalytic wood stove, enabling us to burn pallets and scrap wood, so our ashes have quite a few nails in them). To be honest, we'll fill up those cans before we do the trash barrels. We've never (knock on wood) had any problems with our garbage barrels and bears or raccoons. I do try to keep smelly trash to a minimum - rinsing, bagging, or wrapping everything - and there are good lock-down lids on the barrels (a necessity because of our infamous Washoe Zephyr). And, to be honest once again, I live in a desert climate - stuff is more likely to dry out than rot.

My husband has a couple of buddies he'll call, too, before making a dump run, and they return the favor. So a truck load is most often a combination from three homes, each taking a turn paying the landfill entrance fee. So for our trash, garbage, and recycling, we'd pay $5 a month without his buddies; averaging more like $2 per month on the dump-buddy three-month system. I think we'll stick with the "haul your own" option.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Green Fashion Show

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
A women's group I'm active in is putting on a Fashion Show as a fundraiser on Saturday. We do this every Spring - reserving the Governor's Mansion as our venue, gathering raffle and silent auction items, getting local celebrities and politicians, men and women, to volunteer as our models. In the past, we've partnered with various local chain department stores for our fashions, letting them showcase their latest Spring styles and trends. But this year, we've decided to go "green" (and not just because it's St. Patrick's Day).

even the Mayor, our MC, was wearing a thrifted tuxedo
All of our fashions this year are "experienced" - either vintage, refashioned, or clothing on-loan from local second-hand, thrift, and consignment shops. Members of the group, and some of our models, have been scouring local shops for the outfits - cleaning, mending, and altering them as needed. As with all our fashion shows, our models have the option to purchase their outfits afterwards. My task, during the show, is to serve as assistant to the first group of models - the owners and managers of those local shops. I'll then get to go sit out front to watch the second and third groups, our local movers and shakers, as they take their turns on the runway.

Our guests too, have been gently encouraged to wear vintage, recycled, refashioned, or thrift shop finds. They then are to tell others at their tables about what they're wearing, what kind of a deal they found, what they've done to customize or alter it. Special prizes for best outfit, or best deal (bring your receipt), will be awarded to one person at each table, as decided by the rest of the table.

I really don't have the time nor inclination to shop for something "new" for myself. Since it will be St. Patrick's Day, I do want to wear something green, however. So I've been refashioning one of my husband's t-shirts he never wears. Free from a bar, it had a big ugly beer logo on the chest, but the shirt itself is a really pretty green tie-dye. I cut the bottom off below the logo, trimmed off the bottom hem, and stretched that loop to make the edges curl under - voilá: an infinity scarf. I've cut petal-shaped circles from the sleeves and upper back, and am in the process of folding and gluing them into three fabric flowers to fashion into a pin to fancy up the scarf.

 a thrifted "wedding party" - the bride's dress was $225; all 9 outfits, shoes included, totaled less than $500
I had to write this post now, before the event, because it's my turn today (which is Thursday where I live, in the U.S. Pacific timezone, but already my scheduled Friday on this Australia-based blog). So I haven't included any photos (yet). If you want to re-read this in a couple of days, I'll try to update this post with a few photos from the show, and my finished no-sew embellished scarf. And so, you'll see, I did.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creating


 By Aurora@Island Dreaming


This months project has been soap, led by the example of a good friend. So excited have I been by the knowledge that I can make yet another necessity of life at home from three simple ingredients, that I made two batches and have been melting them down and adding things to them, just to see what can be done. Exercising my creativity and personal preference, in this instance, to make a soap that soothes, or at the very least does not irritate, my problem skin.

I am not what you might call traditionally creative – I am no artist, unlike many of my relatives. I have long loved the idea of setting out as a creator of musical works, as a dancer, as a sculptor, as a creative force, putting in my 10,000 hours of hard slog to then reap and sow the rewards of mastery. But I am a tinkerer and have never found anything to so catch my imagination that I could invest 10,000 hours in it. Yet I create in many ways – I am not artistic, but creative.

There was a time when not only did I not create, but I consumed with abandon. It was a short period of my life where I came to have disposable credit and the marketplace was eager to furnish me with worldly goods - in every flavour of synthetic vanilla that I could handle. The consumer economy does a nice line in convincing us that we can have the perfect life, if we just buy x. And then the new improved version of x a few months later. But ultimately everything that is mass produced is designed with an average imaginary customer in mind.

I never did find a mass produced soap that didn't inflame my skin. I never found the perfect sofa to fit in our small lounge. I still to this day would love to find the perfect pair of jeans, but I know that they will have to be made, not bought. The mass market can furnish us amply with things that almost meet our true needs. If you have unlimited time and money, then your chances of finding a match between need and product offered increases, but for the rest of us we often make do; and we may be called to compromise not just our personal tastes and preferences, but our ethics also. Whilst the market for 'ethical' goods expands, it is still hard to furnish the necessities of life from its offerings; and whilst the pursuit of perfection is futile, the reality of flimsy or poorly designed products can be infuriating.

As consumers of raw materials, as creators of finished products, we ultimately arrive at something more meaningful and more personal - if often roughly hewn - than the mass produced could ever offer. As salvagers and renovators we reject synthetic vanilla and one size fits all to find the best imperfect solutions we can. We use what we have to create something worthwhile. We make do, in the very best sense; and it is inherently rewarding.

I am almost over soap, for the time being at least (and we now have enough to ride out a few years cleanly!). There is sauerkraut fermenting on the side, making best use of an extra cabbage picked up for pennies last week. This is weighed down by a demijohn of pomegranate wine made from bottled juice that was on offer. There are bath bombs waiting to be wrapped and given as gifts and a pile of DIY and craft books stacked high on the solid side table that was once a wobbly chest of drawers. It isn't artistic, it isn't beautifully staged, but it is a very creative space.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chicken Scratch Embroidery

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
An elderly friend, knowing I do hand-sewing and embroidery, asked me if I knew anything about Chicken Scratch embroidery. She'd inherited a half-finished set of quilt blocks, with the patterns, but couldn't figure out how to read them. I had to admit I'd never heard of Chicken Scratch, but told her I'd go online for her and see what I could find out.

I was fascinated. It's a very simple embroidery technique - composed of double-cross stitches (an "x" worked on top of a "+", making a little 8-pointed star), horizontal and vertical running stitches (called bars), plus circles and ovals formed by weaving the thread under the bar stitches - worked on the grid created by the base material, any color gingham (aka checkerboard plaid). Stitched with white thread - the stars on the darkest squares, the bars on the medium colored ones, and the circles around the white squares - it makes ordinary old picnic cloth look like it's been covered over with lace (hence another name for Chicken Scratch: Depression Lace, as in the Depression era).

I found and printed out this informational downloadable PDF file for my friend. It explains how to do it, how to read a pattern, and includes a free pattern. If you Google the term, you can find images of other chicken scratch handwork. It would be easy to design your own shapes, too, using graph paper. 

In a nice little bit of serendipity, not long after I'd done all this I came across a couple of chicken scratch pillowcases in my favorite thrift store. After New Year's, I like to change my decor over to a red and white theme. It makes my home feel bright and cheery, warm and cozy during these short and cold winter days. Now that I've got some indoor craft time available, I'm going to cut those two pillowcases apart, duplicate the stitchery pattern on the two back pieces, and make a set of four placemats for my kitchen. The center diamonds are worked in a combination of dark red and white threads. Although I prefer the look of the all-white ones, I'll go ahead and match what's there. It would look better, though, if the dark double-x's were worked on the white squares. And I'm already thinking about playing around some more with the technique - maybe a white heart worked on the bib of a yellow (light blue? hmmm) gingham apron, just in time for Spring?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Upycling Christmas Cards

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

I receive Christmas cards, as do my children from their friends, despite the fact that we rarely send cards ourselves. There are many ways to recycle your received cards and I started up-cycling mine yesterday into decorations for the tree next year.


Start by cutting 8 circles from your card fronts. They can be any size (larger circles are easier to handle for small children).


Trace a triangle shape with equal sides, that fits neatly (with the points against the edges of your circle shape) and cut out.


Trace around the triangle onto the back of each circle and fold the drawn edges towards the printed side of the circles.


Start matching the folded edges together (see image above) and join with glue or use double sided tape. Join two sets of four circles together and then join the two halves.


Leave a small opening at one end to thread a knotted piece of string through so the paper ball can be hung.


Easy, whimsical and a great way to up-cycle your cards! This is also a simple enough project for kids get involved in these school holidays.

Hope readers here had a lovely Christmas and I will back writing on my blog later this week.

Amanda

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taking Stock

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

I don't mean the stock we use for cooking - though we do make bone broth, chicken stock and vegetable stock concentrate at home to cook with, and I can post about that another time!

Living with a large family, on a farm, we tend to accumulate 'stuff' - not through excessive shopping habits, just by keeping what we do have - reusing jars and plant pots, saving hand-me-downs for younger children, etc.

We have recently been changing the way we store things.  The children gave up their unloved old cubby house, which created an instant gardening shed for me!  I was able to sort through all the pots, tools and hose fittings which I previously kept on a table in a dark corner of the shed.  I parted with some of the pots for other gardeners to re-use.  I found that we had a lot of mis-matched hose fittings, but not really a spare full set to fit our tap size, so I bought a nice brass set in the hope that it will outlast the plastic ones which don't seem to cope with our high UV levels here.  With all the spiders sent on their way and everything sorted into piles and open crates, I felt much less overwhelmed by our gardening paraphanalia (bits and pieces collected over nearly 20 years of playing in the dirt)!


The same week, my husband finished constructing a 6m x 3m shed that we'd salvaged from someone's backyard a year ago.  Finally the kids' bikes could be moved from the lean-to at the front of the milking shed, and all their sports gear and outdoor toys could be moved out of the corner of the shed too.  We found some broken toys and outgrown items lingering in the bottom of the drawers and crates - so here was another good chance for a clean out!

And in the very same week we were moving things around and now have storage space for our pantry items.  So I've been taking stock off all our stored food (we order much of our food in bulk every 6 months), the preserving jars (empty and full), emergency supplies for cyclone season (like candles, matches, water, tinned food, etc), and even our camping supplies, clothes stored for the youngest two children (outgrown by the older ones), out-of-season clothes of mine and other 'stored' items.


I hardly know what to do with all this extra space we suddenly have - it's a little overwhelming!  I'm trying to organise our new spaces in an ordered manner so that clutter doesn't build up (I was glad to find that with all the re-arranging there wasn't very much we didn't use - unlike my 9 year old's bedroom last month which we realised was housing bags full of outgrown clothing and toys!).


It seems like this year Spring really is time for 'out with the old' for us, and I'm so grateful for the new spaces (at last) and creative storage options.  Now, if only the rain would stop I'd get back out there and tidy up the old shed, with it's newly emptied corners...

Do you have any storage tips?  How do you balance re-using (pots, baling twine, kids' clothes), and clutter?  Does Springtime see you cleaning up and sorting out too?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Swept away

Francesca @ FuoriBorgo
sweeping

Is the vacuum cleaner an essential appliance? I've always thought so. But in the last few months, pushed by mechanical failure, we've discovered that, in fact, it may not be.

Our vacuum cleaner was a 4 year old small-size cylinder model of a well known Italian brand, mid-price range. It came with a 2 year warranty, and it worked very well. For two years, that is.

A few days or so after the warranty had expired, the hose split open. I sealed the crack with duct tape, and it continued working for another few months.

Then, one of the plastic wheels broke off. So I decided to do without wheels. At this point, my three year old vacuum cleaner looked like it'd been through the wars (which, in all honesty, is what vacuuming my house sometimes feels like), but it was still chugging along.

Then, just a couple of months ago, it stopped dead while I was using it, and no amount of coaxing, unplugging and re-plugging it back in, no gentle (or firm) tapping, did the trick. It was a goner.

Now, the repair shop is about a 3 hour round trip from my house, in a town where I rarely go unless strictly necessary. Partly because I don't have that time, and partly because gasoline has shot up to €1.60 a liter. But also because, in Italy you pay just to have an estimate for repairs, which these days cost far more than to buy a new item!

So I decided to do without a vacuum cleaner, at least temporarily, and to see whether a vacuum cleaner is in fact an indispensable appliance. In fact, where we live, this was a real test, with the mud and dirt of the surrounding forests and fields, the sand from the nearby beach, the ash and bits of firewood in a house that's primarily heated by wood, the dust and sundry bits and pieces from our ancient house. Not to mention our the three children (need I say more?)? So it's not like a vacuum cleaner wouldn't be handy.

My conclusions? A broom & dust pan don't quite measure up to a vacuum cleaner in three main ways:

1) Efficiency: much dirt and dust are left behind after sweeping, and there are many areas in a house that a broom can't reach properly.

2) Time: since sweeping isn't as efficient as vacuuming, I have to sweep the floors all the time.

3) Cost: though sweeping the floors is free (unless I pay myself an hourly wage!), since sweeping is less efficient I have to wash the floors much more frequently, which means paying for hot water and detergent -- hence, I'm not saving much money, and may actually be spending more.

In my opinion the vacuum cleaner is an essential appliance to get a necessary (and tedious) household task done efficiently and in a short time. Yet still I hesitate to have my 4-year old vacuum cleaner fixed, because I dread the inevitable diagnosis, and refuse to accept that things these days are made to cost less instead of lasting longer.

Does this mean that I'm coming to a new definition of "essential"?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Up-cycling Plastic Bags

by Amanda from Amanda Brooke

I have a confession to make.


I sometimes forget to take my re-usable bags to the shops and I come home occasionally with plastic bags. I also accept plastic bags from friends and family that may contain items they are passing on/back to me. As a result of accepting plastic bags, we now have a collection housed in a purpose-made, plastic bag holder in our pantry and they are staring to overflow.

During the week I made a firm decision not to have a single plastic bag in our house and I don't want to see the ones we do have going into landfill. So what do you do with a collection of plastic bags?



Well, I've started making one of these. This is a great up-cycled plastic bag 'sheet' to keep in the boot of your car for a myriad of uses. Ultimately I will use mine if I am traveling with plants/wood kindling/straw etc but you can place damp towels on it after a trip to the beach or it makes a useful mat to sit on when traveling, especially if the ground is damp or a chair is dewy.

An Up-cycled 'Car Boot' Sheet

Firstly you will need quite a few bags. You might like to use up what you have and then ask some friends and family if they would like to join you in being 'plastic bag free' and pass on their bags to you. You could make one of these as a practical gift too.

You will need:

  • If you are using regular supermarket style bags you need 6 to 8 for each 'layer'. If using the thicker style plastic bags (department style) you will need around 4 to 6 for each 'layer'.
  • Scissors, baking paper, sewing machine (nothing fancy), an iron and a safe work surface

1. Using a pair of utility scissors, cut the handles away from each bag.

2. Cover and protect your work surface in baking paper.
Smooth each bag out and stack in a layer on your protected surface.

You can see the baking paper at the bottom of this plastic bag layer

3. Position another sheet of baking paper over the top of the stack of bags. Using a moderate (not too hot) setting on your iron, press the stack so the plastic bags melt and adhere to each other. If your iron is too hot the plastic will bubble and if not hot enough the bags won't seal. Please note: Your stack will over heat and bubble if you try to add each bag one at a time...so you do need to do them in complete layers. I had to fiddle quite a bit with my iron settings, to get it at the best temperature and you might like to experiment with some smaller pieces first.

I worked from the inside to the outside and held the iron down for a few seconds before moving to another area

You absolutely do not want your iron to come in contact with the plastic bags or your bags with the work surface either.

4. Continue to iron each stack of bags until you have enough 'shapes' to make the size sheet you wish.

This is a sheet of bag layers after ironing

5. Cut each shape out with straight edges. Position shapes on floor and arrange so you are pleased with the layout.

Sewing the seams

6. Pin and machine sew each shape together by overlapping one bag edge over another and join using the largest zigzag setting on your sewing machine. This is supposed to look 'scrappy' so don't worry too much about perfect edges etc. The plastic sheets warp a little too, so that makes it hard to get perfect edges.

The front

The back

No more plastic bag collection guilt and you now have a practical sheet to protect your car boot. You can also make bags, like this one my mum made for my son's soccer boots. We have used this for two soccer seasons now and it is still going strong!


I understand this post might be a little hard to consider, as like many I wish that plastic bags didn't even exist. BUT if they are there (as in my case), and you obviously don't want to throw them into landfill, you can make something useful, re-usable and practical.

This idea and the sheet in the first photo came from my mum. She was inspired by a tutorial on an episode of Better Homes and Gardens. I haven't seen this tutorial, so if you have and wish to add any further suggestions or ideas please do so in the comments.


After making my 'plastic sheet' I will give my plastic bag holder another purpose, perhaps a lost sock holder.
Now I just need to think of an idea for up-cycling lost socks!

Amanda x

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What to use as bin liners - Plastic Bag Ban

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

As some of you may know, here at Australia's capital, we are soon going to have a plastic shopping bag ban. From 1 November 2011, shops will no longer be able to give you a plastic shopping bag for the goods you buy from them.

This has raised quite a discussion in my little community - specifically what are we to use as bin liners? While many people I know use re-usable shopping bags, we all (me included) do the occasional shop without them so that we can take home the plastic bags and use them as bin liners.

Many other people are also poo-poohing the plastic bag ban in the first place, with many suggesting that this is yet another political headline-grabbing act rather than real action for the environment. Some have even pointed out that in places like Adelaide where they have banned the plastic bag, bin liner sales have gone up. A quick search of the internet reveals a news article citing that bin liner sales in Adelaide are double the national average.

Regardless of our political leaders' motives for banning the plastic bag, I have to say I support this ban. Plastic bags ARE bad for the environment. Many of our plastic bags are not disposed of properly and they end up clogging our waterways and killing a lot of our wildlife. Most plastic shopping bags take up to a thousand years to properly decompose.

For those who want to continue using plastic shopping bags as bin liners, then I think it is right that they should pay for that. (I think it would also be good if a % of profits made on bin liners can go towards environmental causes and research). When you make people pay for polluting then it makes them more conscious of it...and hopefully there will be flow-on effects in terms of reducing polluting habits.

But I am getting off topic. I guess I wanted to share what I have done and will be doing when the plastic bag ban comes in.

Firstly, the big one is to reduce the amount of waste that is going into landfill. Since embracing simple living, I no longer have a lot of waste to begin with. Currently, my waste consists of one plastic shopping bag a fortnight. This is how I reduced my waste:
  • Compost - all my vegetable scraps are placed in my compost bin (note you may want to check out my indoor newspaper compost bin post).
  • I recycle all hard plastics, tins and glass bottles.
  • I try to buy in bulk and not to buy goods with lots of packaging.
  • I serve smaller portions at meal times so that there is no meal waste that contain lots of meat (and therefore can't go in the compost bin). My children and I can always come back for seconds and thirds if we are still hungry
All of the above has meant, that pretty much the only thing that goes in my one plastic shopping bag bin liner are small amounts of meat scraps and bones as well as other soft plastic packaging (eg. packaging that my cheese comes in).

Now as I said, I do admit to going shopping once every few months or so so that I can get the plastic shopping bag for use as the bin liner. I am now down to only 5 plastic shopping bags...this means that I can continue to use those bags for the next 10 weeks (given my current waste output). After that I will no longer use plastic shopping bags for my bin. And I am hoping to completely avoid having to buy plastic bin liners. So here's my plan:

1. Soft packaging (eg. bag for the frozen peas etc) will be used for wet meat scraps and other wet items that can not be composted.
2. Dry meat scraps (eg bones) will be wrapped in newspaper and placed directly in the bin.

It doesn't look like a comprehensive plan....but then again, I tend to like simple, easy to remember plans. :)

I hope you are having a good day.


The bevy of black swans living in my local lake

Saturday, July 23, 2011

No sew doily scarf

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

Well, its proven to be a cold winter here in Australia's capital. While the temps have been around the 10 degree celsius mark (about 50 degrees farenheit), freezing winds with a chill factor of about -1 C (or 30 F)have been sweeping through much of the southern east coast.

Anyway, I thought I'd share this easy, frugal (and green) idea for a scarf. Basically, grab a few doilies together.


Tie the doilies end to end with a ribbon.


And voila! A scarf.


I wish you all a fun weekend ahead. :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Greening a textile habit

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Learning to make for yourself the everyday objects that you need is liberating in a world where few people are engaged in any form of manual labour. There is something therapeutic about being able to craft something useful and beautiful. My go-to craft is crochet, but I am capable enough across a range of other needle crafts too. I know that in the past my stash building habits haven't been particularly green or frugal and I am working on changing that by using up the yarns I already have before buying any more.

Yarn crafts don't readily lend themselves to the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra. If you have the patience, old knitted items made from good quality yarns can be carefully unwound and the yarn washed and reused (a detailed set of instructions can be found here). The yarn from old cotton sweaters is particularly good for knitting and crocheting dishcloths. One of the projects I am currently working on is a rag rug, using inch wide strips of fabric cut from old sheets and crocheted with a large hook. This is a fairly fabric intensive technique, but the result is a hard wearing rug; thinner strips would lend themselves to pot holders, shopping bags and cushion covers.


Something else I have been experimenting with is felting (by experimenting, I mean that I accidentally shrank a jumper in the wash and then decided to go the whole hog)  - garments with a minimum 80% wool content are washed on a hot cycle with detergent or soap, which causes the fibers to shrink and mat together. It isn't an exact science - it may take several hot washes to fully felt a garment, colours may run and seams may mat together, but the result is usually a durable, insulating, non fraying fabric.


I am fully aware that a skilled sewer could have got a lot more mileage from those old sheets than my fabric strips; and that I need to get over my sewing phobia. Most of the raw materials that surround me lend themselves to cutting and stitching more than any other technique.  The world is awash with cheap, disposable fashion - an awful lot of fabric waiting to be taken out of the waste stream and turned into something useful. I am starting small - a drawstring bread bag made from an old tea towel and a felt pincushion are all I have managed so far, but now that I have a little confidence in my ability to (crudely) stitch two bits of fabric together, I am saving the old jeans and shirts that were previously destined for the textile recycling bank for some bigger patchwork projects.

By making things ourselves of course, we reduce the length of the supply chains that furnish us with goods and we have greater control over the ethical impacts of the objects we own. We also get to express our creativity; and the process of making things in itself can be a form of relaxation. One of the greatest advantages of making things yourself is that you can utilize a vast array of valuable resources that would otherwise go to landfill.

So, how does recycling and reusing fit into the crafts that you do?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Occasionally Want But I Don't Need

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches


















I'm not sure about you, but for many of the people I know I am the only person they know who lives a simple, green, frugal and downshifted life. Many of them would never elect to go without their SUV's, drive through dinners, busy schedules, quest to climb the career ladder, extensive clothing/shoe/jewelry collections, the convenience of disposable diapers or even the use of paper plates {I have a friend who uses paper plates, cups and cutlery for all their meals - going through 72 of each per week!}. One of the main things I've noticed is they struggle to understand why anyone would choose to wash dishes by hand, hang clothes to dry, live without a vehicle, wait for books at the library and wonder how anyone can want those things. I try never to seem perfect or totally put together either on my blog or in real life and I certainly share that there are times I do really wish for a little bit of convenience {usually after a long hard day!} and yes, occasionally I want. The other day after a long day, I thought about all the things I occasionally want and I wrote them down. A few minutes later I countered my wants by identifying what my needs were...

I want to drive a car down a big open road, listen to tunes on the radio & gaze at the sky...but I don't need to own a car.

I want a week of no dishes...but I don't need a dishwasher, I have two hands that work perfectly well

I want a weekend where I don't have to make time to take my food waste to the city compost when my vermicomposting worms aren't quite up to the challenge...but I don't need that time, in fact I like my weekly walk and I certainly like my worms {most days!}

I want to be able to eat 3 mouthfuls of a cookie {which contains gluten} without spending the night with skin bleeding {like it is tonight!}...but I don't need to eat cookies to survive, in fact going without cookies is a good way to make my frugal budget stretch further

I want to have some reprieve from life & eczema by sitting on a beach in the sun for a week or more {just like my Dr. recommended!} and enjoying a good 5* service...but I don't need anything except inner peace and the earth certainly doesn't need those carbon miles!

I want a much healthier bank account...but I don't need anything more than trust, sacrifice and perseverance and I certainly don't need more work hours to give me that bigger bank account

I want a microwave to make my meals in 2 minutes flat...but I don't need things to be ready at the push of a button, there is a rhythm to waiting for good nourishing food that fills my evening routine, which I'd be sad to say goodbye to

I want a week of no dishes...but I don't need a dishwasher, I have two hands that work perfectly well

I want a new wardrobe that doesn't need to be built around my skin issues or a non-existent budget... but I don't need anymore than I have, even if compared to the world it is more than frugal.

I want my clothes to be dried in a dryer with no creases and no extra work of hanging to dry...but I don't need a dryer and there is something exceptionally mentally cleansing about hanging clothes to dry!

I want land with lambs, donkeys, rabbits and chickens {oh my!}... but I don't need anything more than myself in order to live the frugal, simple and green life.


Once I finished writing out my list, I reflected on what life would be like if I had all those wants. The truth is, my life wouldn't be something I personally would want to lead. I have enjoyed my little journey in downshifting, learning self-sufficiency skills and the peaceful rhythm which finds its way into my daily and weekly life. I like that my choices reflect the values I have and that I aim to tread lightly on this earth. Yes I occasionally have hard days, every so often I wish there was a little button I could push to make that particular day easier, but the truth is, I wouldn't swap my new life, or my new choices, to return to my old ways. Nope, no going back!

What things do you occasionally want that you don't need? Do you think about what life would be like if you weren't on this journey? Could you ever go back?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Plastic - where green intentions and frugality collide?

Aurora @ Island Dreaming


I finished organising the yard this week. This involved collecting all of our stray plant pots, discarding any broken ones; and taking the rest inside for a good wash. The majority of them are plastic; and every year more and more are thrown out as they are degraded by sunlight and the elements. I am astounded at just how much plastic there is in my garden. Nearly all of our large planters are plastic, bar a tyre stack – and even that must comprise a proportion of plastic additives. All but a handful came to us second hand, mostly pulled from skips and rubbish piles (I even found a huge planter dumped under a bush in the local park). Our garden chairs are plastic, the washing line is plastic, as are the dustbin and the water butt. This week we took in a serviceable plastic storage chest that was destined for landfill; a handy place to store all of that other garden plastic.


Plastics are irreplaceable in some capacities – I am glad for medical plastics and plastics in the electronic goods that make my life a little more interesting. But over the last few decades we have managed to substitute plastic for a wide range of materials that were doing excellent jobs, for no other reason than plastic is cheaper - at least at the manufacturing and shipping end - and seen to be low maintenance. At the consumer end, the price tag may be smaller than the metal or wooden or glass product sat next to it (if indeed there is an alternative to the plastic), but does that make plastic the frugal choice? The stainless steel washing up bowl that my mother has kept for the best part of 30 years has cost her far less money in the long run than the or five or six (minimum, I am guessing) plastic bowls she would have got through in that time. The bowl will probably be going strong in another 30 years with no maintenance.

The golden rules of waste management – reduce, reuse, repair and recycle - fall apart at 'reuse' when it comes to plastic. Single use plastic food containers may be pressed into service for a short while storing leftovers - but when my plastic garden chairs break, they will be going straight to landfill. No part of them will be reusable or repairable; the reason that plastic is 'low maintenance' is mostly because we perceive it to be cheap enough to throw out and replace regularly. The plastics that our kerbside recycling scheme does accept will be recycled into an inferior quality plastic that is unlikely itself to be recyclable; and ultimately it too will go to landfill, never to fully biodegrade.

Our addiction to cheap goods with short life cycles (admittedly not an attitude we reserve only for plastic products) has resulted in huge swathes of land being devoted to landfills and every ocean on earth hosting nation state sized floating garbage patches, stretching across the surface and downwards into the depths. On UK beaches, where I would have found beautiful pieces of sea glass washed up on the beach at the high tide mark - beachcombing being a truly frugal delight - my son will be lucky to find anything but abundant toxic plastic fragments. I think that this situation is unlikely to change soon. There is still huge incentive for manufacturers to be mass producing plastic versions of nearly every object under the sun. During an economic downturn, when people have less money to spend, this is especially the case. 

So what can you do? You can follow the lead of one woman and her positively heroic journey to rid her life of plastic; most of her 80 strong list of actions fits in nicely with frugal living goals and you will probably find that you are doing a lot of them already. My own approach is going to be to extend the life of all that ugly plastic that I already own and re-purpose it to the extent that I can. But what happens when the time comes to replace these things? How long should we expect for our posessions to last - a few years? A decade? Our whole lifetime and beyond? And how much are we really willing to pay?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Eleven Ways To Reduce Waste In 2011

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















This year I'm fine tuning a few of my routines, beginning new challenges and trying to be purposeful about reducing waste. Here are the top 11 ways I'm reducing waste in 2011!

1. I've begun vermicomposting in my urban apartment! I have a box full of red worms which eat all my kitchen scraps! I was a tad nervous in the beginning, but it has been exceptionally easy! As I don't have a garden to compost this is the perfect solution!

2. I use re-usable batteries and charge them up as needed!

3. I take my own bags to the grocery shop

4. I have stopped buying plastic wrapped fruit & veg as much as possible, taking my own bags to place produce in. When I do have to buy something pre-wrapped, I re-use the wrapping

5. If I'm going out for coffee or tea {rare!} I try to remember to bring my own thermos or re-usable cup

6. I use reusable toilet paper {and after a few months it seems 100% normal now, so much so I'll talk about it in conversation and not remember 99.9% of people have no clue what I mean!!}

7. I use reusable feminine products!

8. I don't use any paper towels for cleaning or kitchen messes

9. Before I throw something away I check that I can't donate it

10. I try not to buy anything that can't be recycled or composted!

11. I've gone paperless with all my bills and statements!


I'm amazed that 11 simple steps have basically brought me to a place of not having garbage, or at the very least a very small amount of rubish each week. On top of that I save a huge amount of money by making these small changes in my life!


How do you cut down on waste? Do you find the measures you take save you money too?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Frugal guilt

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

With the new year about to begin, the yearly urge to purge is coming on. Always with good intentions I bolt out the gate in January and fizzle out in a month or two. I want to be organized and finish all my projects, and sail through the year. This year will be that year, I hope... .


Another thing that comes with the year end is the self-assessment we all do. Did I live up to my goals and ideals? Or can I do better? I always think I can do better. But one of the worst areas I struggle with is frugal guilt. Growing up with older parents, who were adults during the Great Depression, I grapple with being frugal enough. As you can see, I am cutting the buttons off one of my husband's work shirts. Handmade, with whimsical pocket flaps and buttons I had already recycled, I am now cutting off the buttons, again, for the button jar. My husband has done his job, he has worn this shirt until it is so frayed, it won't do too much duty in the rag bag. In this case, I'm doing pretty good.

Other areas of the fabric nature, not so good. See, I grew up in the material culture of making all my clothes because it was much cheaper than buying store-bought clothing. I started sewing at age 8 or 9 and haven't stopped. I admit I was a very frustrated seamstress, but once I started quilting I was off to the races. Patchwork freed my mind, and a funny thing happened during that time, sewing became much more expensive, and clothing at the store came to be inexpensive. I would look at a dress on the rack, and do a mental tally: pattern - $5.00, fabric - $10.00+ per yard, notions - $5.00-$10.00, and none of that included the day at least that it would take to make the dress, making the rack purchase cost less. Now I know it doesn't really "cost" less due to all the issues surrounding the present day garment industry. I haven't came up with a cure for that, but I do dress differently too - work jeans, and sweatshirts from the Goodwill are the norm for me these days.

I'm not saying quilting is cheap either. Especially if you're a collector. I never could afford antique quilts, but I could sure afford antique quilt tops which took up much less space, and in some cases were as crisp as a newly minted dollar bill. But many were made from scraps, and some were made of soft, well-worn pieces of fabric. My favorite has some tiny pieces put together just to make a piece large enough to fashion a tiny one inch triangle. Now that is frugal! How easy I have had it, I grew up in a time where it is normal to buy large pieces of yardage and cut them into small pieces only to sew them back into a large piece of fabric! I dad-gum-goll-guarantee you that my quilting antecedents would ban me from a quilting bee these days.


But in my defense I would have to say this is where the generational guilt that we all carry comes in. My experiences are different than my forebears. I have to deal with the cards I have been dealt. I don't know for sure, but suspect that they carried guilt pertaining to their times too. I have never had to make a blanket out of patched together pieces of old clothing, but if I had to, I could now. So with that in mind, I sorted through the snippets and scraps I have been saving for years and I whittled the pile down to strips and pieces I thought I might use (quilt bucket list) someday...and I sent everything else to the Goodwill, where someone may find the scrap bag and give those pieces of my past sewing some life.

I guess what I am trying to do is justify my wasteful ways, many times we don't rise to the "occasion" if there has not been an "occasion" in our lives, yet. Life is a series of baby steps, taken one day and one project or learning curve at a time.

Do you have struggle with frugal guilt pangs too?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

by Chiot's Run

I'm always game to save money in any way I can. Gift wrapping can be very expensive, even if you buy it on sale after the holidays, and buying something that you're just going to recycle and throw away seems a little crazy. One inexpensive way to wrap gifts is by using brown kraft paper. You can buy it in big rolls very inexpensively at home improvement stores, but I find that if I save the stuff that comes in packaging throughout the year, I never have to buy any, in fact I always have a pretty good sized stash on hand. Not to mention I'm able to reuse something before it goes into the garden (we always compost kraft paper products instead of recycling).

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

The paper is usually crumpled, so I crumple it even more to give it some texture (and to make it look intentional). I love using kraft paper because it goes with just about any kind of decor and it's not gender, age or holiday specific. You can adorn any way you like if you want to add some pizazz. I have a box of saved ribbon in the basement that I occasionally use, especially if wrapping a birthday gift. I find that garden twine works well and looks lovely, especially if you include a little natural element like a pine cone or pine sprig. All those little scraps of yarn work as well, you could also use scraps of fabric, paper or just decorate with markers.

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

You can also save those brown paper bags that you get throughout the year to use as wrapping. I have a stash of all shapes and sizes from very tiny to fairly large. These are fabulous because they're quick and easy! I usually punch holes in the top and use a twig or a piece of ribbon to close it. I think a stick of peppermint would nice as well or maybe a pencil or something useful.

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

This is a great frugal way to save on wrapping expenses and to keep extra things from being produced and purchased simply to throw away or recycle. I find that when I gift a gift wrapped this way, people tend to stop and take notice. Perhaps it will make them consider doing the same the next time they have to wrap a gift.

What kind of wrapping do you use in your household? Any great ideas for saving money in this area or for creative wrapping options?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reusable Present Wrappings

I started a new job today, and just remembered it's my turn to write here. My brain is a bit overloaded at the moment, so I hope you don't mind if I just re-post one of mine from a couple of years ago - the information is still timely and useful:

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I'm not talking about re-using wrapping paper, although it can be done. Young mothers-to-be used to carefully undo the wrapping on their baby shower gifts so as to reuse the pretty paper as drawer liners in the nursery. Creases could be removed from ribbons by running them around a hot lightbulb, but that won't work with the cool swirled tubes that are now in my lamp fixtures (although a quick pass with a warm iron would still work). I'm also not talking about the advice you'll see in just about every home magazine to "make the wrapping part of the gift." However, that is a good idea, especially if you're sending presents off to somewhere else.

What I'm talking about is starting some kind of tradition within your own home. My in-laws had a couple of brightly-printed Disney garment boxes that would end up under the tree every year. I have them now. They fold down flat for storage along with the rest of the Christmas stuff, and are the perfect size to hold a book or new shirt - no wrapping required. Gift bags, too, get used year after year.

You probably have your own traditional gift wrappers already - the kids' stockings you hang up every year as part of your decor. So now, just expand that idea a little farther. I know Julie, one of my co-writers here, wrote about sewing re-usable fabric gift bags not too long ago. Of course, she might have to tie some good knots into the ribbons closing them up to keep the kids from peeking, but it's a really good idea. If you're not a sewer, you might be able to do the same thing next year with Christmas pillowcases found on the January clearance sale tables. Canning jars are also great re-usable packaging - whether giving home-canned preserves or gifts in a jar. Maybe your recipient will reuse them, or let them know they can always return the empties to you. We often come home to find empty jars, ale bottles, and egg cartons left by our front door.

We have one more option here at our house. Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of Christmas tins. Some are used year round - the red one holds buttons, a tall popcorn tin holds toys for when friends with young children stop by to visit. During the rest of the year, some of them make crush- and dust-proof storage containers for my lights and Christmas linens; others all nest, one inside the other like Russian dolls, for storage. But at Christmas time, they all end up under the tree - so many that I purposely leave the bottom tier of branches in the box to have enough room (that's Aries' first bicycle, down out of the garage rafters, completing the display). Some will periodically end up on my kitchen counter through the season, holding home-baked goodies until I put together little gifts for the neighbors. But others we use to hold our gifts to each other. Of course, we're adults here, operating (I hope) on the honor system. If you pick up a tin to use, and there's something already in it, it goes back under the tree until Christmas. No peeking!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Family napkins

by Francesca

family napkins 7

In my family we use cloth napkins at meals. I grew up using cloth napkins, and having my parents remind me and my siblings, to fold and put away our napkins at the end of each meal, each inside its own little "napkin case" - which were envelopes crocheted by my grandmother. My parents still use those crocheted cases, and neatly fold and stow away their napkins after at each meal. My mother even irons them, as she always has. How did my mother find the time to raise four children, have a part-time job and iron napkins? I honestly don't know, and in my own family, we skip several steps when it comes to napkins: no ironing, and no napkin cases. Instead, we simply use cloth napkins of different colors.



However, recently I made a batch of new ones, using a piece of old sheet which was white. So color-coding was impossible and I didn't want to make crochet cases either (which I really don't have any room for). Instead, I decided to personalize the napkins with some simple free hand embroidery. My kids loved this idea, and each came up with grand plans for their own napkin, some of which I promptly scaled back to realm of reality - embroidering on a napkin "Viva Roger Federer!", for instance, was not on the cards.


family napkins 1


Once I embroidered the decorations, I used this excellent tutorial published last week by Design Sponge, to make nice metered corners. So easy to do, once you know how! The tutorial also explains that - unlike what I did - you first make the hems, and then you embroider, which makes total sense. Ahem!


family napkins 4


And the best part? My daughter embroidered her own napkin. I was a little skeptical at first, I'd pictured a very simple and quick napkin project, and having already managed to escape embroidering "Viva Roger Federer!", I wasn't too sure I wanted to teach my not-quite-4-year-old the art of embroidery. But she amazed me, and with very little guidance she embroidered a flower (you can see the napkins I embroidered here).


family napkins 2

Watching her confidently holding the embroidery hoop with her little hands, and stitch through the fabric, I realized that she knew already the basics from watching me embroider - just as I learned from watching my own mother. She's very proud of her embroidered napkin these days, and whereas I don't know whether she and her brothers will skip some steps in their own families when it comes to using napkins at meals, I believe they'll continue the fundamentals: they've watched us.