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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! ♥

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We’re now entering the sixth month of our waste reduction plan, so it’s a good time to stop and take stock. Some of the changes we’ve made have stuck and become part of our everyday lives, but a few things haven’t worked as well as we’d hoped.

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Perhaps the biggest success to date has been in replacing single use dining and kitchen items with reusable ones. We haven’t used a paper serviette all year, and we’re still on the same roll of paper towels that we started a couple of months ago.

After five months of constant use, our cloth napkins are still going strong (albeit a bit stained), as are our knitted/crocheted dishcloths and waffle weave towels. Everyone enjoys using the napkins so much that I doubt we’d be allowed to go back to paper ones even if I wanted to! I was concerned about the extra washing involved, but our most recent electricity bill wasn’t any higher – in fact, it was a tiny bit lower, probably because we’ve been making an effort to use the ECO setting on the front loader.  It also helps that the Japanese tenegui are so open weave that they line dry very quickly.

Surprisingly, all our utility bills are down this quarter – gas is down 16%, electricity just 3.2%, and water, somewhat unbelievably given the extra washing we’ve doing, is a whopping 17.6% less than the same period last year.  We’ve put it down to being more conscientious about using the half-flush button on the toilet and the ECO setting on the dishwasher and washing machine – apparently the latter can save up to 30% on electricity and water compared to regular washes. We’ve also made an effort to use appliances less, preheat the oven for a shorter time, take shorter showers – all small things, but obviously they’ve added up over a three month period.

. . . . .

The reusable teflon BBQ sheets have worked so well that I’m now using parchment paper less than once a fortnight. The thinner ones are brilliant under sourdough loaves and cookies, and the thicker ones are great for roasts and other savoury bakes. They’re easy to wash and store – the trick is to either lay them flat or roll them up, as folding them causes them to crack. I’m forever grateful to Helen and Tanzles for suggesting them…

I bought my thin sheets from Magic Cooking Sheet online but the thicker ones I found on ebay for just a few dollars each. I also saw some for sale at our local Bunnings in the barbecue section.

I made a holder for my bread liners using two toilet roll tubes and a scrap of recycled wrapping paper…

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You’re probably sick of me rabbiting on about the beeswax wraps (my friends certainly are) but honestly, they’re so good! Do have a go at making your own as they can be hideously expensive – our easy tutorial is here. Best of all, if they’re homemade, you can easily touch them up with a bit more wax if they start to get a bit thin.

My latest discovery? The wraps help prevent oxidisation. I wrapped diced potato and sweet potato for half an hour while I prepped other ingredients, and they stayed pristine…

They also stop ginger from going mouldy and slimy – this piece was in the fridge for over a week and a half and it still looked like new…

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We’ve reduced the amount of single-use plastic coming into the house, simply by taking our own mesh bags and furoshiki when shopping, and the difference has been noticeable and significant. But we’ve been unable to go completely plastic-free – how do I buy a box of Weetbix without a plastic bag in it? Or a whole chicken? What about medications, most of which come packaged in foil and plastic?

All we can do is try to handle whatever plastic we end up with as responsibly as possible, by reusing what we can and recycling or REDcycling what we can’t. And the continued effort really does make a difference – I peeked into our red bin last night as it went out and was delighted to see that there was still only one small bag in it.

. . . . .

Speaking of which, the biodegradable bin liners haven’t worked as well as we’d hoped – they’re thin and flimsy and don’t cope well with the kitchen waste we still produce. We’re wrapping what we can in newspaper while we try and think of other options (the newspaper isn’t ideal with anything damp or soggy).

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The Bokashi bins have been a partial success – we now have two worm farms running, but neither of them will eat the fermented waste product. That’s partly because Big Boy and Small Man are now saving their green kitchen scraps, so there’s always more than enough vegetable leavings to feed both farms and given a choice, the worms won’t eat anything else.  We’re still diligently filling the Bokashi bins though, and then burying the remains once they’ve broken down. It’s working ok, but it’s not perfect yet.

. . . . .

Big Boy and Small Man both cart their KeepCups with them whenever they go out, and their lunches are always packaged in either a beeswax wrap or a reusable lunch box.

Small Man is a true eco-warrior – he pulled me up the other day when I was being lazy and went to throw a teabag into the bin (our teabags are made of paper, so we can remove the tag and string and Bokashi them). And it occurred to me that perhaps the most important benefit of our waste reduction plan was the example it was setting for our sons.

Thanks for joining us on this journey! I’ll keep you all posted on how we go and as always, I’d love any tips or advice you have to share – I’ve learnt so much from you already! ♥

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Here are the posts so far on our Waste Reduction Plan:

27 Jan 2018  A Waste Reduction Plan

2 Feb 2018  A Long, Rambling Catch Up

15 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Progress Report

20 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Fine Tuning

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Tips and tutorials for making your own eco-friendly products:

Mesh Bags

Mesh Bags (pattern at the end of the post)

Furoshiki

Knitted Dishcloth

Crocheted Cotton Dishcloth

Crocheted Acrylic Dish Scrubber

Beeswax Wraps

Cloth Napkins (second half of post)

Sewing a Utensil Holder

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My young friend Sophie, ever her mother’s daughter, decided that even though she’s studying for her HSC this year, she’d make 51 bracelets to give to her fellow cast members in the school play. As it was a production of Beauty and the Beast, she was keen to use a red rose as the focal bead.

I convinced her to make phone dangles instead or bracelets, and offered to lend her a hand. We spent a happy few hours shopping, then beading and turning loops. Each little ornament had a single rose, a glass pearl, and a gold filament bead…

Monkey Girl made Soph’s day by telling her that they were very Dulce & Gabbana…

One of the best parts of the day was discovering the amazing I Love You Beads warehouse in Leichhardt. It’s huge, has the cheapest prices I’ve ever seen, and the staff are very friendly and helpful….

They are the only authorised Swarovski wholesaler in Australia and New Zealand, and have an enormous range of crystals and findings on offer…

There are beads in glass, plastic, crystal, semi-precious minerals, wood, coral, shell and more. They have strands of freshwater pearls in a variety of sizes and colours, every imaginable finding, tools, stringing and wiring materials (although no precious metal wire), as well as display items and gift bags.

It’s a members-only club, so you need to pay the $10 joining fee before you can purchase anything…

I came home with a few beads to play with, including strands of 10mm amethyst rounds, unusual non-shiny black agate and large faceted tiger’s eyes. To give you an idea of cost, the tiger’s eye (no photo, sorry, it turned out quite blurry) was $16.90 a strand and the amethyst $10.50. Both had enough beads for two bracelets. The 1mm elastic I used to string them set me back just 85c a roll…

I made matching agate earrings and bracelet, as well as a funky art deco green plastic ensemble. The blue Chinese crystals were high quality and cost just $3.50 for two strands (they were on a buy one, get one free promotion), which was enough for  a necklace, bracelet and earring set using findings that were already in my stash…

Tibetan skull  bracelets are traditionally carved from bone and used as a memento mori – a reminder of mortality and the transient nature of existence. I made mine from a $2 strand of plastic beads and elastic string. As a reminder of impermanence though, it works…

We had such a fun afternoon! If you’re a Sydneysider who enjoys jewellery making, or craft in general, I’d highly recommend a visit. No affiliation, just a happy customer!

PS. I take a mesh bag with me to bring my purchases home – jewellery findings almost always come in little plastic bags, but you can avoid a couple of larger ones if you bring your own.

I Love You Beads
311 Parramatta Road
Leichhardt NSW 2040 
Phone: (02) 9572 8288
Fax: (02) 9572 8878

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Birthday Treats

I had a birthday last month.

It was meant to be a low key affair, as I’d been up at the crack of dawn to do a 6am airport run, but my friends decided otherwise. They arrived at our door at 5pm with champagne and homebaked cake. I felt very loved…

. . . . .

My gorgeous mother, always the optimist, gave me birthday money to buy a dress. And as I do every year, much to her dismay, I bought myself a new fossil. This ammonite is a doozy, weighing in at 1.63 kilos (3.6lbs)…

Dating from the Cretaceous period (65-145 million years ago), it’s covered in gloriously intricate suture patterns…

It’s not a perfect specimen, which meant I actually could afford it. The back has a beautiful translucent agatised section (often incorrectly referred to as “jade”)…

. . . . .

Returning from a visit to Singapore (and arriving at 6am on my birthday), Big Boy brought back treasures from my bae-by sister. I thought salted egg fish skin crisps would be an acquired taste, but everyone I’ve served them to has loved them. They’re highly addictive…

This beautiful Turkish tea pot and copper plate were a gift from Cynthia as well, and a perfect match to our dining room decor…

Big Boy and Monkey Girl gave me these adorable sake cups with tiny goldfish in them…

. . . . .

During the week of my birthday, I got to meet two of my oldest online friends in person!

On the Monday, I walked the Bay Run with lovely Nancy from Tokyo (who used to blog at Plus Ate Six). We had delicious bacon and egg rolls by the water and chatted non-stop for a couple of hours…

Bless her, she brought me Clover crochet hooks and a shopping bag she’d made. Oh, and a floating pig, which I tried to wear as a fascinator (it’s actually designed to hold soaking or boiling vegetables under water)…

The following Sunday, I met up (finally) with darling Emilie of The Clever Carrot fame! We had such a good time running around the city that we completely forgot to take photos, so I’ll share a funny story with you instead.

Em caught a bus into Central to meet us, but it turned out that there were three bus stops called “Central Station” and the bus driver told her to get off at the wrong one. She didn’t have wifi or mobile coverage and, slightly concerned, I went looking for her. Pete was with me, so I made him sit at the Broadway bus stop holding Em’s book (which I’d brought with me to get her to sign) in case she walked past. We found each other in the end, and oh how we laughed when we did…

Emilie brought me a gorgeous crystal bracelet, a bar of lavender and honey goat soap, and a crazy tin of putty, which you can actually draw on with an enclosed UV light. The boys have been having a field day with it…

. . . . .

Finally, let me show you the gift from our friend and neighbour, Maude. Like Nancy, she’s also a mad crocheter, and you might recall how she crocheted covers for the armrests of our car a couple of years ago.

This year, she decided they needed replacing, so she made a new set for my birthday. Over the course of a few weeks, she would walk across the road, pick up our keys, and sit in our stationary car, crocheting away. The new covers are made from heavy duty cotton which Maude tried to colour match to the seats, and they fit snuggly.

“You can wash the other ones now..” she told me.

Seriously, I have the best (and bossiest) friends in the world. ♥

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I caught up with my friend Allison recently at the fabulous Steam Engine in Chatswood. Not only do they make great coffee, they also encourage folks to bring their own reusable cups by showing them exactly how much goes to landfill from one takeaway coffee a day…

Inspired, I decided to add to my KeepCup set.

After eight months and over 150 uses, my baby 4oz cup is still as good as new. This week I added a large cup for herbal teas and a 6oz cup for iced piccolos. I toyed with the idea of just buying a large one, but my baby cup has a permanent coffee aroma, and I was keen to have a dedicated one for tea.

If you’re in Sydney’s Inner West, Caffe Bianchi in Leichhardt has the full range on offer (it can be hard to find the smaller sizes in coffee shops), or you can order directly from KeepCup. Doing the latter lets you choose your own colours as well…

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Our beeswax wraps are going strong!

Here’s how our Korean dinner party prep looked a few weeks ago. My homemade cloths aren’t as sticky as the commercial ones, but it’s nothing a rubber band can’t fix. We haven’t used any clingfilm so far this year…

Being Chinese, I’m probably washing the wraps more often than recommended, and I noticed recently that the wax coating was slowly wearing down. So I rewaxed a pile of them – it took just a couple of minutes and the addition of a small amount of sheet wax – and now they’re as good as new! If you’d like to have a go making some, our tutorial is here.

One last tip – if you have a friend who keeps bees, ask them to buy the beeswax foundation sheets for you. My friend Ian picked some up for me at under $2 each, compared to the $3.50 per sheet charged at candle shops. Having said that, each sheet will wax a piece of fabric up to eight times its size, so it’s still remarkably good value compared to buying them ready made!

. . . . .

The cloth napkins and crocheted/knitted dishcloths are going well – we haven’t used a paper napkin all year, and we’re still on our first roll of paper towels. There’s more effort involved – a bit more washing and a lot more folding, but it’s well worth it. As I mentioned last time, having a large stack of napkins reduces the need to wash too often.

The tenegui from Daiso that I used to make the napkins have been perfect – they’re pilling a bit after three months, but still holding up otherwise, and they wash and line dry very quickly. Most importantly, I don’t have to iron them!

I’ve cut up an old waffle weave bedspread and turned it into towels – they’re super absorbent for everything from drying vegetables to wiping up spills…

All the towels and dishcloths are stored in a drawstring bag in the kitchen, ready for use at a moment’s notice…

. . . . .

I’m making scrubbers from acrylic yarn (this ball was $2 at the Reject Shop) and they work brilliantly on pots and dishes. I simply crochet a small square, fold it in half and then crochet around the edges to form a double layer. I’ve found these work quite well in cotton too, providing the stitch is a bit tighter (smaller hook)…

. . . . .

The furoshiki continue to be a great success.

I don’t take shopping bags anymore as the cloths live permanently in my handbag. They’re surprisingly strong and can hold up to twice as much as a regular plastic shopping bag. At home, we use them to wrap everything from lunch boxes to excess linen to loaves of bread. A couple of my furoshiki have even become fashion accessories, thanks to these snazzy magnetic handles that Kevin and Carol bought me in Japan…

. . . . .

Finally, the Bokashi has stalled temporarily while we figure out what to do with the broken down waste material.

The system performs well for the most part (there are some things which it can’t seem to process like pork rind and processed meats), and our original thinking was to feed all the waste to the worms after it had fermented. However, we also collect our vegetable scraps for the worms, and they seem to far prefer that to the Bokashi waste.

We’ve just invested in a second worm farm which we plan to keep just for Bokashi scraps. Pete was also mumbling something yesterday about soldier fly larvae (which apparently eat the scraps very quickly) and engineering a device to add to the second worm farm so we can collect pupating larvae for the chickens…and it was all so gross that I switched off. Suffice to say that I’ll just keep sewing cloth napkins and crocheting dishcloths and leave all of that to him…

. . . . .

So, what can we improve?

We’ve reduced our paper bag usage, but I think we can still do better there. And while I always have my reusable coffee cup, I don’t always remember to take my plastic containers to the deli. We’ve invested in sturdy plastic storage containers for the fridge and freezer (glass would be preferable, but we find it too heavy), but a lot of plastic takeaway containers are still coming into the house.

Parchment paper is an ongoing problem – it’s non-recyclable, but I don’t like the result I get from baking on silicon mats. I’m reusing each sheet twice (three bakes at high heat is all it can take before it starts to crumble apart), but it’s still not ideal.

Being more aware of what we purchase means that our food waste has reduced, so that even with the Bokashi temporarily on hiatus, we’re still managing to keep our  household rubbish down to one kitchen bin bag a week. I’m making the boys eat a lot of leftovers! Unfortunately, the compostable bags we bought are quite flimsy, so we’re occasionally having to use an old fashioned plastic one.

I think the next area of focus will be really looking at how the goods which come into our house are packaged. Whilst a lot of packaging materials can be recycled (the soft plastics can be REDcycled), there are still some items (like polystyrene) that need to go straight into the red bin.

I’ll keep you posted on how we go!

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