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It’s been four months since our last update, and you’re probably all wondering how our Waste Reduction Plan is going.

The answer is…not bad.

We’re still managing to keep our waste down to one medium kitchen bin bag per week (most of the time). We haven’t opened the cling film box or used a paper towel all year. But some things have been trickier to stick to than others.

1. Paper

We’ve had great success cutting back our single use paper consumption – the cotton napkins I made from the Daiso teneggui (Japanese tea towels) have lasted more than 40 washes and I haven’t had to repair (or iron) a single one…

We used to  go through mountains of kitchen paper towels; now we don’t even buy them. They’ve been replaced completely with tea towels, knitted or crocheted dishcloths, and absorbent waffle weave squares that I cut from an old bedspread…

I can’t rave enough about the knitted and crocheted dishcloths – they’re as sturdy as iron, wash well, and just keep going. The ones Rose sent me in 2013 are still in regular rotation, and I finally had to repair one after six years of constant use. These get washed every day or two…

We’ve substantially reduced the amount of parchment paper we’re using by switching to reusable teflon sheets for most of our baking, although I still weaken and use parchment for anything that’s going to be too gross to wash up…

The KeepCups are a winner and I haven’t bought a coffee in a takeaway cup all year. These days if I don’t have my reusable cup, I’ll skip coffee or sit in to drink it. Having said that, I have bought a few bottles of water this year – not by choice, but sometimes a food court won’t offer water by the glass, and I don’t always remember to bring my water bottle.

Small Man (gently) chastised me for forgetting my KeepCup the other day. “I always have mine in my backpack”, he told me. I was very proud of him – he’s the true eco-warrior of the family, the one who pulls me up if I get lazy and throw a teabag into the bin instead of the Bokashi bucket… (Edit: since writing this post, we no longer put teabags in the Bokashi. Pete has dug them up after six months and noticed that they weren’t breaking down. Bugger…)

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2. Plastic

In terms of plastic shopping and vegetable bags, we’ve done well. We travel with mesh bags, small carry bags, furoshiki, and our lastest discovery, t-shirt tote bags…

I sketched a rough pattern if anyone is interested in making these – there are also lots of instructions online if you’d prefer to make them without sewing…

Cling film no longer even lives in our kitchen, as we’ve found that the beeswax wraps replace it almost completely. For the few items that can’t be wrapped in beeswax (like meat or soupy leftovers), we use a bowl covered with a plate, a piece of foil, or a reusable plastic box.

The best thing about the beeswax wraps is that they aren’t just an eco-friendly alternative solution, they’re actually massively better at keeping things fresh. Coriander, ginger, cut avocado…all the fruits and vegetables that might have oxidised or gone slimey in plastic…stay crisp and colourful under beeswax. And it’s the perfect way to keep sourdough fresh in our humid Sydney climate…

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Unfortunately we’re still a long way from eliminating plastic completely, but we have tried hard to reduce our single use consumption.

There are two areas that we continue to struggle with – the first being purchased items. We buy all our meat in bulk, and it almost invariably comes in sealed plastic bags. We wash and RedCycle these as much as possible, but it’s hard to get them really clean, and I don’t want to run the risk of contaminating the recycling process. Similarly, anything purchased online arrives packed in plastic of one sort or another – again, these can be RedCycled, but it’s not an ideal option. Medicines, skincare products, cereals – we’re still a long way from being plastic free.

I’m also not sure what the best options are – is buying something in heavy thick glass which needs to be recycled better than purchasing it in thin recyclable plastic? Glass and aluminium can both be recycled, but rarely are they reused, and the energy output to change them into a different form is huge.

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The other area that’s been tricky has been freezer storage.

We’ve invested in sturdy plastic freezer boxes, which seem to work well. We tried glass containers, but found them too heavy for stacking. We particularly like these 800ml boxes from Daiso – they’re cheap, wash well, and don’t go wonky in the dishwasher…

Instead of using lots of small plastic bags, we’ve been wrapping items in our rescued food safe paper from Reverse Garbage, and then freezing them in bulk in reusable plastic bags or boxes. It seems to be working well so far…

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3. Organic Waste

Between the chickens, worms, and the Bokashi bucket, very little organic waste now goes out in the red bin.

The Bokashi has been trickier to use that we expected, as the worms won’t go near it, so we’re having to bury the remains in the garden. Also, some things don’t seem to break down, including large bones, rind, and anything overly fatty. Still, it’s been a great success, particularly for all the items that couldn’t go into the worm farm, such as citrus, alliums and cooked leftovers…

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4. Shopping

Over the course of this year, I’ve become a committed Salvos store shopper!

Not only do my purchases donate much needed funds to the Salvation Army, but they also save me a fortune. I recently picked up this brand new Turkish plate at the Salvos as a gift for my mother’s birthday. It retails for $80, but I paid just $4…

The added bonus is that buying secondhand reduces our environmental impact – I’m sure it’s better to cut back on shopping altogether, but I don’t appear to be genetically or culturally wired to be able to do that.

I am, however, trying to make more informed choices. At my niece’s wedding recently, I realised that everything I was wearing had a story – my jacket was sewn from upcycled vintage saris, my jewellery was made from old watch parts by my friends at Oli and J, and my bag was handpainted vintage Japanese silk. Not surprisingly, I didn’t run into anyone with the same outfit on!

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5. Mend and Make Do

I’m mending constantly these days.

At the beginning of winter, Pete pulled out an old jumper that I’d knitted for him when we were in college. It took me forever and he wore it just once before declaring it to be too hot for Sydney.  I married him anyway.

The jumper was full of holes, so I washed it carefully and mended it badly in mid-June. Pete still wouldn’t wear it and neither would Small Man. Admittedly, it’s no longer particularly fashionable and it weighs a ton. But Big Boy, who is the essence of kindness, said “It’s ok, Mum, I’ll wear it when we walk in the mornings”.  And he did, for most of winter. I love that kid so much it hurts…

When spring arrived, he gave it to me to wash and store for next year. It came out of the wash (I promise I was very gentle) with even more holes! By this stage, I’d learnt how to darn, so I set about patching all the broken bits. The end result looks a bit like a starry constellation, but it should last another year of morning walks…

Our new mindset is…with the exception of underwear that is so threadbare that you can see through it, everything can be mended. I bought this e-book of old war instruction flyers and have found it inspirational (it reads well on the iPad but probably wouldn’t be great on an old Kindle reader)…

Here is one on saving fuel for the war effort – “Buttered Toast – or Bullets” – was particularly thought-provoking…

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Our waste reduction plan is a constant work in progress! As always, when I write these posts, I learn so much from all of you, so please let me know your tips and suggestions in the comments below. And if you’re on a similar mission, I’d love to know how you’re going with it! ♥

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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

1 June 2018 Our Waste Reduction Plan – June 2018 Progress Report

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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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A Long Catch Up

Hello lovelies, how are you all?

Sorry the blog has been so quiet – I’ve been busy making, baking, mending and cooking, which means I’m not online very much these days. But if you have time for a cuppa, I’d love to catch you up on all our latest projects.

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First our big news…we’ve bought ourselves a barbecue smoker! I’ve wanted one for about five years (ever since I first watched BBQ Pittmasters) but Pete took a bit more convincing. In the end, he agreed to a pellet smoker, which enables us to smoke (the American term for cooking low and slow over wood or charcoal) without the need to chop wood or light charcoal.

Our Traeger 34 Pro has electric ignition and a thermostat controlled auger, which feeds the 100% hardwood pellets through as needed. She’s an absolute beauty and the simplest thing to use! It’s our 30th wedding anniversary gift (in advance) and we’ve named her Rosie after the robot maid in The Jetsons. Can you see the resemblance?

We’ve only had her a week, but Rosie has already turned out a delicious six hour blade roast…

…and amazing pork belly, which we finished off on a cast iron griddle…

Stay tuned for more bbq adventures…we’re working our way through this fabulous book by Stephen Raichlen

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The denim mania continues, and the pile of $2 Salvos jeans is slowly growing in my sewing room. On top of that, my friends are now delivering their old jeans directly to our place!

Lovely Diana brought me her husband Ian’s old Wranglers – they’d originally belonged to her son Giles, but Ian had inherited them to wear as farm pants. Unfortunately, huge holes had worn through on the knees, making them unsuitable for hard yakka (that’s downunder speak for “hard work”).

Other than the knees, the denim was in excellent condition and I was loathe to cut them up, so I mended them. I unpicked the side seams and sewed denim patches in place, then reinforced over the top with lines of straight stitching, then restitched the seams closed.

Ian was absolutely delighted! As was I when I received Di’s wonderful photos of him wearing them around their farm..

I thought it might be fun to add labels to my denim creations, so I dragged out my Print Gocco set, burnt a screen, and stamped some old twill tape I had stashed away (it occasionally pays to be a bower bird)…

I sewed together the waistbands leftover from apron making and added the labels to the reverse side – they make great placemats…

These decorative feathers were a doddle to make – they’re simply cut from the side seams and fringed…

On Lorraine’s advice, I sewed denim hand towels to use with Rosie the BBQ. I added a little sashiko embroidery just for fun…

Diana loved Ian’s jeans so much that she asked me if I’d mend a small hole in her pair. I was more than happy to, then turned an old t-shirt that she’d given me into a tote bag to send them home in…

There are instructions on how to make a no-sew t-shirt tote bag online, but if you have your sewing machine set up, it’s much easier to just run a seam across the bottom of the shirt. Big Boy has just given me a pile of his old t-shirts to play with!

My young neighbour gave me her Barbie jeans to upcycle…

You know I love a challenge! I turned them into pincushions…

Lastly (on the topic of denim), lovely Steve Sheridan, potter extraordinaire and creator of my favourite tea bowl, asked me to make him an apron. Pottery aprons have two overlapping pieces below the waist to protect the knees while straddling the wheel.  I used a pair of old Hugo Boss jeans donated by my friend Anita and sewed the designer labels back on for fun. It was a perfect fit…

Steve and Trish insisted that I choose a new tea bowl in exchange – I was soooo thrilled to come home with this one. When I was trying to photograph it, Pete suggested I should hold it because “it was made by hand to be held in a hand, not to sit on a shelf.”

If anyone is interested in making a pottery apron, here’s a sketch of the final pattern (and no, I’m not taking orders)…

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I have a small collection of Royal Worcester Evesham Gold pieces, including this water jug that we use every day, a wedding gift from Pete’s Aunt Anna…

So I was thrilled to find these unused vintage egg coddlers at the Salvos Store for just $10 for the pair…

They cooked our backyard eggs to perfection…

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I’ve read and listened to two fabulous books (it’s usually a combination of both these days, thanks to the sync function between Kindle and Audible), the first being The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan…

The second was Mythos by Stephen Fry. Both books were a joy to listen to, if you have access to the Audible versions…

. . . . .

We spent last Thursday night with our old friends Cliff and Kathy at Handpicked Wines on Kensington Street, tasting the award winning pinot noir…

I’m pretty fussy about wine, but every single one I tried that night was grand. My tasting flight was called “I Need A Vacay”…and it really did feel like a mini-vacation to be out drinking on a Thursday night…

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Finally, I’ve been madly mending.  My friend Granny Annie suggested I investigate “visible mending” and it’s become very addictive. I picked up this Kindle book and started practising…

First I repaired a kitchen scrubber…

Followed by toe socks…

And then an Aldi bag…

…and I was off! I bought a vintage darning mushroom and now my sons hide their clothes from me for fear of having the tiniest holes attacked with brightly coloured yarn. If you’re interested in darning, here’s an old instruction pamphlet – as you can see, the process is more about weaving new fabric than closing up a hole…

. . . . .

Phew! I’m all talked out! We have a brisket in Rosie at the moment, and Pete’s just come in to tell me that it needs checking, so I’m going to sign off now. What have you all been up to? ♥

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Apron Pattern

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! ♥

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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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Upcycling Denim

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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