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I have my father’s hands and feet.

And his face, but that’s another story.

Whereas my mother and sister have sleek, elegant hands, I have chunky palms and stumpy sausage fingers which are routinely garrotted by rings. They’re proper peasants hands.

“Darling, they do a lot of work”… my mother reassures me, when I bemoan how sore and cracked they get.

“You have a well-developed thenar eminence, probably from all the kneading”…my massage therapist says, whenever she works on them (the thenar eminence is the fleshy bit of palm under the thumb).

Since my dad died three years ago, I’ve come to love my hands and feet. They’re not just similar – they’re exactly the same as his were. It’s like a little piece of him that I can never lose. When he was alive, we’d often put our hands together and compare – every finger was the same length, every nail was the same shape.

. . . . .

I’d like to think they were my grandmother’s hands as well, even though she died before I was born. By all accounts, she was very clever with her hands. It can’t have been easy feeding nine children through the Japanese occupation of Malaysia in the 1940s. My grandfather was the local Presbyterian pastor, so money was always tight.

Dad once told me that his mother brought in extra income by taking on small sewing jobs, and that she donated a lot of this money to folks in need in her little village. None of her family knew about it until the day of her funeral, when strangers arrived, weeping. She slipped away peacefully in a diabetic coma, and they found her, kneeling by the bed, in the middle of saying her prayers. No-one had any doubt where she went.

. . . . .

I don’t have my other grandmother’s hands – they were small, strong, and oh-so-clever. She would come and stay with us for six months at a time when I was young. She was always making something – crocheting daisy squares, or threading tiny beads, or folding paper.

Ah Mah would sit at our dining room table, sorting glutinous rice, one grain at a time, to make joong, little parcels of rice and meat, wrapped in bamboo leaves. Just for me, because she knew that they were my favourite. My strongest memory of my maternal grandmother is her seemingly endless patience. When I’m sewing or crafting something intricate, I try to follow her example, and to slow down and work more carefully, rather than rushing to finish a project.

. . . . .

So now, when I look at my hands, I no longer see ugliness.

Instead, I see the legacy of my father and my grandmothers. In many ways, my lifelong urge to create – to bake, craft, sew and cook – is inspired by the examples that they set for me. I’m incredibly grateful for such an enduring gift! ♥

A quick post to share my denim apron pattern with you!

These have been so popular that I scribbled the instructions into my journal so that I wouldn’t lose them. The aprons can be sewn in any woven fabric, but denim is particularly sturdy and easy to wash. They work best with large, straight-leg jeans, preferably in a non-stretch denim. These are happily out of fashion at the moment, so the thrift shops (and possibly our wardrobes) are full of them. I’ve been picking them up for $2 a pair at the Salvos.

Here’s the apron I’ve just made for our friend John from an old pair of Levi’s…

It’s best to draft the pattern on paper first…

A couple of extra notes:

  • Overlock (serge) or zigzag around the outside of the pocket piece, then hem. Position the top of the pocket about 14″/35.5cm from the top of the apron, and topstitch three sides into place. Double-stitch the top of the pocket to secure, or hammer in rivets. Stitch down the centre of the pocket if you like.
  • Overlock (serge) or zigzag around the outside of the apron, then hem. Don’t try to do a double hem as it will be too thick (and the curves will be a nightmare).

I hope you have as much fun making these as I’ve had! ♥

My name is Celia, and I’m a denim addict.

Which is hilarious, because until a month ago, I hadn’t worn a pair of jeans in close to a decade.

You see, to look good, jeans need to be snug and at 53, I no longer do snug. Plus new jeans cost a small fortune, and they’re massively taxing on the environment.

But then I discovered that I could buy secondhand jeans for next to nothing and adjust them to fit. Anything beyond my sewing skills goes to our local tailor, who will run in and hem a thick pair of jeans for just $20. An almost too loose waistband is just as good as an elastic one, and as my mother and sister will attest, style is always optional when it comes to my dress sense.

But I digress..I was going to tell you about my rescued denim.

A couple of weeks ago, lovely Greg, the owner of Vintage @ 313 in Newtown, traded me a large bag of denim offcuts for a couple of loaves of sourdough. All the pieces were legs cut off old jeans, which had been upcycled into those frayed shorts and mini skirts that are so popular at the moment. Greg had pulled them out of the manufacturer’s dumpster (he can’t bear waste any more than we can) and I was keen to find a way to give them a third incarnation.

The denim was pretty stinky when we brought it home, but a 60°C hot wash in Napisan fixed that pretty quickly. The fabric itself was as sturdy as iron…

I started by opening each piece at the side seams, and then trimming them 16″ (roughly 41cm) wide by as long as the offcut would allow…

Then it was a simple case of overlocking (serging), topstitching and hemming to create this very tactile denim patchwork…

My second project was a denim bucket bag…

Followed by a patchwork version…

Here’s the other side – the strap is the inseam of a huge pair of donated Levi’s…

I added a zippered pocket and lined the bag with 20 year old cotton from my stash (last used to make toddler’s pants)…

Dotti asked me to make her a denim headband, and the mania really started to set in…

Small scraps and leftover pockets became juggling balls…

My friend Maude, who is clearly even more of a Womble than I am, took all the trimmings home to turn into bag handles…

I’ve explored the art of slow mending, Japanese boro style. I started with a large $2 pair of distressed jeans (a fashion trend which annoys me no end) from our local Salvos Store. After patching all the holes, I took the waistband in by two inches, and the hems up by three. I’m seriously chuffed with how they turned out!

It makes me ridiculously happy to have sumos on my butt…

You’re probably wondering how I can afford this extravagant new hobby!

Well, it was actually very simple – I’ve given up my daily coffee routine. On our morning walks, Big Boy and I had fallen into the habit of buying a hot drink (decaf piccolo for me, chai latte for him) as a “reward” for climbing out of bed and getting some exercise. But once I started rescuing denim, it dawned on me that every $4 coffee I had (piccolos are tiny, and I wasn’t even getting a caffeine hit) could buy me two pairs of old jeans from the Salvos. Five little coffees a week? Or ten pairs of old jeans while supporting a charity? The maths wasn’t hard to do.

Of course, I didn’t need to give up the coffees, nor do I need ten pairs of jeans every week (I can hear Pete groaning as I type this). I could easily find the money, but a little perspective always helps to keep life real. And as an added bonus, I find myself appreciating the coffees I still have even more…

Finally, a photo to make you laugh!

Some background first – I was watching these fabulous videos by Junky Styling in the UK, who used to refashion old clothing into funky new pieces. Here’s an example…

I was inspired! So I cut the crotch seam out of an old pair of jeans and slipped them over my head to see if I could turn them into a tabard or poncho. Remember my motto…style is always optional.

I sent a photo to friends, who were mostly kind in their reviews. But thankfully, Pete pointed out that I looked like a nutter, and my darling friend Dale agreed, declaring that someone had to act as wardrobe consultant on the emperor’s new clothes. I laughed until I cried…

I’ve been having heaps of fun! If you have any suggestions on other uses for my rescued denim, I’d love to hear them! ♥

Sorry I’ve been so quiet these past couple of months!

We’ve had a bad run with coughs and colds (I’ve had three since the beginning of March) and it’s been hard to get the momentum up to blog.

That said, I’ve still been baking every week, and Priscilla has been in fine form, producing loaves with wonderful texture and flavour. In many ways, her winter loaves are even tastier than her summer ones (I think it’s the longer proving time)…

Here’s the shaping trick I use these days to achieve a holey crumb – adapted from a technique taught to me by the son of an old Italian baker. Emilie has a similar method in her book as well (Artisan Sourdough Made Simple).

Small Man, with his rock steady magician’s hands, took this video for me…

 

Start with a high hydration dough – I use 100g starter, 750g water, 1kg bakers flour and 18g sea salt.

Once the dough has proved overnight, divide it up, roughly shape it and allow it to rest on the bench for about 15 minutes. When it’s time for the final shaping, flatten out the ball and push your fingertips right down to the bench top (but not through the dough) dimpling the dough as you might a focaccia. Then shape, prove and bake as per normal. It works a treat! ♥

Did you know that a new pair of jeans can take up to 13 years’ worth of drinking water to make?

After reading that, I went to the laundry and rescued the boys’ torn jeans from the rag pile and mended the ones that were still wearable. They’ve still got plenty of life in them…

Then I made an apron out of one leg…

And another one out of three legs…

I was hooked! The vinyl on Small Man’s desk chair was flaking away, so we covered it with a patchwork of jeans’ legs. It’s now more comfortable than ever…

After cutting the legs off the jeans, I was left with the waistband and pockets, and it occurred to me that the belt-loops were the perfect size for little denim rings. So I carefully unpicked them, cut them to size, and handstitched the butted ends together. Voila!

If you want to try making these, cut the loops to lengths of 6cm – 7cm, depending on your ring size. I have sausage fingers, so I rarely wear rings, but the denim has enough give to be comfortable and non-constricting. The added advantage of course is that you don’t need to be precious about them in any way. Just remember to take them off before you wash your hand…

It’s quite addictive, as they only take minutes to make…

I made a matching bracelet and ring set from old Levi’s…

My boys won’t wear them, but my other young friends can’t get enough of them…

Having used up my stash of old jeans by this point, I decided to hit the op shops.

I’ve discovered that if you shop carefully and search for fabric rather than fit, you can pick up secondhand denim for a song. The cheapest place to find it is at Salvos stores – their clothing is colour tagged, and each week, a different colour goes on sale for $2 a piece. These are the pieces that have sat on the rack the longest and they’re usually the least fashionable, but they’re perfect for upcycling.

As you can see from the receipt below, I picked up eight pairs last week for $20 (orange was $2, blue was half price)…

A couple of them were brand new! Sadly they didn’t fit anyone, but I’ll find something clever to do with the fabric…

Next on the drawing board are zippered bags, more aprons, and possibly a denim patchwork blanket. I’m threatening to make a Siberian parka out of them as well, but Pete has declared that he won’t be seen with me in it.

Do you have any denim upcycling ideas? I’d love to know them! ♥

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