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A long time ago, I worked at Reverse Garbage with the irrepressible Belinda M. She was sassy, totally adorable and had her own unique view of the world. I remember the morning she came in and declared that she was no longer a vegetarian – she’d watched David Attenborough’s “Life of Plants” and decided that they were living things with feelings too. So, true to her Italian roots, she went back to eating bolognese and lasagne.

Belinda also taught me my most valuable “fashion” lesson and over the past twenty years, I’ve rarely wavered from it. She always wore stripes (and only stripes) until one day, when she came in furious because stripes were the hot look for that season. “Dammit, now I’ll have to stop wearing them until they go out again!” she said.

She was right too. Why on earth would we want to dress like everyone else?

However, it wasn’t until I discovered thrift shopping (driven by a new found awareness of sustainability) that I found my “style”. I know I’m using a lot of quotation marks in this post, but if you ever met me and saw what I actually wear, you’d understand.

This year, we made a concerted effort to source as much of our winter wardrobe as possible secondhand. Pete, bless him, is always supportive, so he’s allowed himself to be dragged to numerous Salvos Stores and opshops. We’ve found some wonderful treasures, but they all needed tinkering with to make them our own.

Let me show you what we’ve been playing with! But first, please allow me to introduce you to Blue Rhonda, my latest eBay find and named after her original owner…

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Pete fell in love with the cut and heavy duty fabric of this old US Air Force shirt. The entire garment is contoured for movement – the sleeves are shaped rather than a single piece, and the body is slightly tapered in at the waist. It fits him like a glove, but we needed to demilitarise it so that he wouldn’t have people asking him where he’d served.

I started by taking off all the patches…

We then soaked it in a half-strength black dye (which cost more than the shirt) to remove the khaki greens and browns, while keeping the pattern. Pete’s worn it almost constantly since, as it’s the perfect layering weight for early winter. He posed somewhat reluctantly for these photos…

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I needed a new winter coat that wasn’t black, so I was pretty chuffed to find this vintage Edward Kazas Italian wool/cashmere swing coat at Anglicare for just $25. Apart from a bit of cat hair, it was in almost perfect condition. I paid our fabulous local dry cleaners $20 to make it like new again…

Many vintage lovers insist that you shouldn’t mess with original features, but the shiny gold buttons really weren’t me, so I switched them out for funky purple ones that I found at Reverse Garbage for ten cents each. A couple of friends have commented that they look like lollies, which makes me love them even more!

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A second jacket, this time an old denim chore coat which I bought at Uturn in Marrickville for $6.70 (they were selling three items for $20, so I picked this up with Pete’s air force shirt and the jeans below). The chore coat is an American classic, but I’m bad at leaving things alone…

…so I added a panel of the Japanese print that my young friend Luca gave me when he went off to Paris to study fashion…

…and a tiny bird patch on the collar…

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The third piece in our three for $20 purchase were these too short Diesel jeans. I let the hems down and celebrated the fade line as part of the ongoing story of the jeans, then darned the holes with purple 4ply cotton (picked up for $2 from the Salvos) and added octopus patches (as one does)…

The patches were a gift from my lovely friend Moo, who bought them at WOMAD earlier this year. They were hand stitched in Indonesia on old Singer sewing machines…

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I turned a pair of too big linen pants and Pete’s old linen shirt into a couple of lightweight shawls…

…and a scrap of kantha quilting into a reversible poncho…

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No winter wardrobe is complete without accessories! I was pretty happy with this one carrot ring that I picked up at the Salvos for a dollar…

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Finally, let me leave you with some wise words from the always stylish Emma Watson and the folks at Fashion Revolution…

I suspect my clothes say I’m a bit of a nutter, but you know what? I’m ok with that.

Are you a sustainable fashion shopper? We’re quite new at this, so I’d love any tips you have to share. And for more information and inspiration, check out the fabulous Fashion Revolution resources page. You can also read all their fanzines online for free at Issuu – here’s the link.

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Sometimes it’s hard to keep up the green momentum, especially when life gets hectic.

Does it really make a difference if we turn the heating down by a couple of degrees or take shorter showers? I had an answer to that question today.

As I was decluttering and shredding old papers, I found our bill notices from the second quarter of 2005.

It was interesting to see how much our USAGE has dropped since then – water has come down by 38.5%, electricity by 32% and gas by a whopping 40.5%. We now use the gas equivalent of a one and a half person household (there are four adults living here).

It’s simultaneously rewarding and cringe-inducing – it’s hard to believe that we used to consume so much power and water, but rewarding to see all the small changes adding up a whole lot over 14 years. I’ve tried to figure it out before, but utility prices have more than doubled over the past decade, making it difficult to really track how we’re doing from one quarter to the next.

I always have a moment’s hesitation before posting something like this because without fail, someone will leave me a comment saying that I’ve made them feel guilty. Please understand that it’s never my intention to make anyone feel bad – I’m acutely aware that we all have complicated lives and that we can only do what our circumstances permit. And believe me, our household still has a long way to go, particularly on the electricity front.

What I hope is that this post will encourage you (and ourselves) to keep going! Small changes and tweaks are definitely worth the effort – switching to energy saving light bulbs and using the eco setting on the dishwasher might seem trivial, but they really do make a difference! ♥

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“It is not a plastic bag under the black sedan parked outside your house! It’s a pair of discarded denim jeans…”

My old friend Maude, who lives across the road, texted me on her way to pick up The Artist Formerly Known as Pinkabelle from school.

Sure enough, the jeans were still there when Big Boy and I went walking the next morning. They were badly ripped and had possibly been run over.

“What. Are. You. Doing..?” asked my son, as I gingerly picked them up and brought them into the house.

I threw them into a sink with Napisan for several hours, then hot water washed them with laundry detergent in the machine. They came out nice and clean…

Serendipitously, I’d just been watching all the happenings of Fashion Revolution Week and reading some of their excellent publications. If you’re interested, you can read them for free online at Issuu – here’s a link to their second Fanzine titled Loved Clothes Last

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Inspired, I thought it might be interesting to see how many things I could make from our roadkill jeans. It was such a fun challenge! Here’s what I ended up with…

One denim apron with a large double pocket

I unpicked the label and reattached it to cover up an oil stain that didn’t come out in the wash (unsurprising given that the jeans had been under a car on the street for at least two days). Here’s the pattern if you’d like to have a go at making one.

One denim placemat

I was so happy with how this piece turned out – it’s made from the flat-felled seams and waistband, cut to size and zigzagged together with matching thread. We use these all the time – the double layer of denim provides reasonable heat protection…

One useful bread bag

This was assembled from the leftover leg fabric and assorted scraps. If you’d like to try making this, have a look at our tutorial here (they’re very easy)…

Two zippered useful bags

As the scraps got smaller, I started stitching them together crazy quilt fashion. They’re perfectly imperfect! We have a tutorial for making these as well if you’d like to have a go…

One denim coaster and four denim rings

This post is starting to sound like a Christmas carol! The coaster was dead easy – I simply cut around the remaining back pocket and zigzagged around the edge to stop it fraying. A single line of white embroidery was added to make it a bit more interesting. These work really well for hot drinks – they don’t have an edge for mugs to fall off, they’re easy to wash and quite heat resistant.

The rings are an old favourite of mine – I made one from a belt loop and three from the stitching around the zipper. Sadly, I couldn’t find a clever way to reuse the zipper itself…

Two wraparound bracelets

I’m completely in love with these! They’re certainly not most people’s style, but I find them incredibly comfortable to wear and they keep my wrists warm. Pete likes them too – he says they’re “a bit biker chick without being hardcore”. Ahh men…

At the end of the challenge, only a small amount of scrap was leftover…and it went into the rubbish bin. Yes, I could have saved it for pillow stuffing, but once I start thinking like that, my house is going to overflow…

I’ve learnt so much from this exercise!

As always, I’m blown away by the resilience of denim – despite being heavily worn, left outside under a car for several days and possibly run over, most of the fabric was still in excellent condition. And it feels wonderful to give materials that would have ended up in landfill (or worse, the waterways) a second lease of life!

Have you been upcycling?

I’d love to know about any projects you’re working on! ♥

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One Month In

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Legendary tennis great Arthur Ashe famously said…

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I first read this quote in Katrina Rodabaugh’s Mending Matters, where she uses it to explain her approach to Slow Fashion.

For me, it’s great advice for all of us trying to live a bit greener.

Don’t be overwhelmed by how huge the environmental issues facing the world are. Don’t think that small changes can’t make a difference. Don’t get angry. Just start.

Start at whatever point your life is at. Use whatever skills and resources you have. Do whatever you can, even if it’s just separating your recycling out more carefully, or turning the printer paper over and using the other side, or setting your washing machine to the economy cycle. From experience, I can tell you that it’s like rolling a pebble down a snow-covered hill – once you see how much difference a small change can make, you’ll find it hard to stop.

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As most of you know, we began our waste reduction plan last year. Here’s the end of year review I wrote about our efforts, with links to all the earlier posts if you’d like to catch up on our journey. I’ve also collated them all on one page for easy reference. The most important thing we’ve learnt so far is that while it’s impossible to change everything, it’s easy to change a lot. And every bit helps!

Our waste reduction efforts are an ongoing work in progress, but this year we’ve also turned out attention to reducing what we bring into the house. Coupled with a slow, considered decluttering, it’s starting to make a noticeable difference. Here’s where we’re at, one month into the process.

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Tidying Up (Reduce)

It taking a bit of time to figure out how to get the things we no longer want or need out of the house. I don’t want to just dump it on others – all that does is pass my problem on to someone else, and it eventually ends up in landfill anyway – so I’ve been carefully sorting the wheat from the chaff. My old friend Vicki suggested a strategy of getting one thing out of the house each day, and it’s been working well so far.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt this month:

  • Tidying just one shelf/drawer/file/space per day is enough for me. By going slowly, things are being dealt with thoughtfully rather than simply thrown into the rubbish bin. Some days only one small thing goes out, but I’m reassured that the balance is improving – more is leaving the house than entering it.

  • Officeworks will confidentially shred your unwanted documents for $3 per 500 pages. Don’t worry, they’ll estimate rather than making you count the pages. I’m slowly working up the chi needed to tackle boxes of old statements.
  • Reverse Garbage will take your quirky stuff, providing it’s in a good working condition. I was so happy that they took our old gaming unit, complete with games and joysticks – it would have ended up in e-waste otherwise. Make sure you ring and ask first though, as they’ll only take what they can sell.

  • Fiona posted this great article a couple of years ago, which includes a link to Support the Girls, a charity which collects bras, toiletries and menstrual products for disadvantaged women.
  • Putting the wrong item into recycling can contaminate the entire batch. REDcycle will take a wide range of soft plastics, including used polyethelene shopping bags (the square green ones from supermarkets), but it’s important to only put the correct items in their bins. Here’s a list of what they will and won’t take.

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Use It More Than Once (Reuse)

This is a biggie, I think.

If we reduced the number of single-use items entering and leaving our houses, we’d make a big impact with that one step alone. It takes a bit of thinking ahead to remember to take mesh bags and reusable shopping totes, but it soon becomes a habit. As do KeepCups and refillable water bottles, cloth napkins and metal straws.

Although we bring virtually no plastic shopping bags into the house, it’s been harder to stop other bags coming in. These days, instead of REDcycling the thick plastic bag that the hazelnuts come in, we wash it out and use it to store loaves of sourdough in the freezer instead.

Too often we make the mistake of thinking it’s ok if an item is recyclable or biodegradable, but it’s important to remember that recycling uses a great deal of energy, so reuse is always the preferred option. And just because an item like paper is biodegradable doesn’t take away from the fact that it took energy and resources to make in the first place.

Glass is a confusing one for me. It seems such a high energy product to create and recycle, so we try to reuse it as much as possible. We end up with a squillion washed glass jars on the shelves as a result!

I’d love any suggestions you have for reuse – this is an area that we need to improve on. Thanks!

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Mend and Make Do (Repair and Recycle)

After fourteen years of loyal service, our Miele front loader finally stopped working. It was very expensive to repair it, but even more expensive in earth terms to replace it. So we paid lovely Andy to put it back together again, and now it’s running smoothly, thanks to new shock absorbers and working valves…

The darning continues, and it’s extended beyond clothing.

Small Man’s runners were still in good shape after a couple of years of daily use (he’s an elf, remember), but he caught the side of one shoe on a nail recently. It was easy to darn the hole with strong linen upholstery thread that I found while tidying up…

Have you heard of the marvelous folks at Elvis and Kresse? I find them incredibly inspiring – in 2005, they set up a company in the UK to rescue London’s decommissioned firehoses which were destined for landfill. They have since expanded into rescuing leather, including the 120 tonnes of leather offcuts which Burberry will produce over the next five years. They even make their own packaging materials from recycled paper tea sacks.

This is my favourite video from their website

 

Segueing to another story…

30 years ago, my dad bought me a green Christian Dior satchel. I used it to death and loved it to bits, so much so that he got cross at how tattered it looked and demanded it back so that he could polish it. I haven’t used it in more than 20 years but I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw it out.


Last week, inspired by all the amazing work Elvis and Kresse do, I cut the bag up and turned part of it into a small zippered pouch. A section from the base became a key fob. It was hard going and I’m incredibly grateful for my industrial sewing machine…


The best bit of this story? As I was making it, smudges of green polish stained my fingers, a reminder of how much Dad loved us, but also of how heavy handed he was with things like that. The pouch is now used to store my bone conduction headphones, which means I use it every day. And think of my dad.

When we mend, reuse, upcycle and repair, we give our material things a second life. We save their old stories and give them an opportunity to create new ones. It can be a wonderful thing. ♥

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Reducing The Input (Refuse)

Unsurprisingly, the difficulty we’re having in getting rid of unwanted items is a powerful deterrent to bringing more stuff into the house. Before I buy anything now, I try to ask myself…“does this have an exit plan?” And I remember this lesson from Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff

In the last month, the only non-food corporeal items we’ve brought into the house are five pairs of new underwear for Small Man (who was down to less than a week’s worth) and ang pao wrappers for Chinese New Year. That’s it.  These items have an exit plan – the underwear will go into the rag collection bin when they’ve done their time, and the wrappers have already been used up to make lanterns for gifts…

There have been several occasions when I’ve been sorely tempted to sneak in an indulgent purchase. The goal isn’t to stop buying things altogether, it’s simply to buy them with consideration and awareness. Do I really need it? Can I use something else instead? How was it made? What happens to it when I’m finished with it? Does it have a story?

I’ve been both surprised and embarrassed by how much “stuff” my decluttering has turned up that I’d forgotten about or misplaced. I haven’t really needed to buy anything new in the last four weeks (apart from the underwear).

I’ll keep you posted on how we go – thank you for being here to keep me on track. I wanted to buy a David Goldblatt catalogue after visiting his exhibition at the MCA (it’s both inspiring and powerful, if you get a chance to see it), but my friend Anne reminded me that I was trying not to buy any new paper books (ebooks and audiobooks are my preferred options). So I sadly (but gratefully) put it back on the shelf.

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I hope you’re all having a great weekend! And I would love any feedback or advice you have to share – I’ve learnt so much from all of you on this journey!  ♥

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Some folks go shopping, others read prolifically, but I like to make things.

In fact, I realised long ago that I’m only happy when I have a project on the go. Over the years, my hobbies (just to name a few) have included papercrafts, kitemaking, counted cross stitch, a brief dabble in screen printing, a recurring obsession with jewellery making, and a lifelong love of sewing.

Pete and I made this one metre facet kite and the ten metre snake kite in the background for the Festival of the Winds over two decades ago…

I’m still making vintage Swarovski crystal angels to this day…

And then there’s sourdough baking, of course…

I’ve always enjoyed a fast project, like these little useful bags

Last Saturday, my friend Les, who’s now 82, told me that he still uses the bag I gave him years ago to keep his sunglasses in. “It’s just so useful!” he said…

Over this past year though, I’ve learnt to love a slower paced project. Like this linen shawl I made from one of Pete’s old shirts…

The pieces were machined together and then hand embroidered with sashiko cotton using a basic running stitch..

My focus has also shifted to projects which utilise existing resources, like my upcycled denim aprons. This one was modeled by Monkey Girl under protest…

Placemats made from the seams and waistbands of old jeans cover our dining room table…

Occasionally I’ll sit and crochet dishcloths – it’s not a craft that I particularly enjoy, but my hands don’t like to be still…

My latest adventure into visible mending is still going strong – I’m enjoying it so much that Big Boy and Pete have started hiding their clothes from me.

Small Man though, my beloved eco-warrior, is happy to wear my repaired creations. His jeans had just a little life left in them – the denim was getting thin to the point of translucent – but they still fit, so I quickly hand mended them for him. The small holes were darned and the larger ones patched boro style.

He’s worn them out a few times since, so he must approve…

Ian’s old Wranglers came back for another repair – farmers are hard on their clothes! This time I added heavy duty patches sewn on by machine. They needed to be durable enough for shearing and moving rolls of barbed wire…

Last weekend, I turned a formal kimono into a lined poncho. This was actually my third attempt at upcycling this garment.

If you ever get your hands on one, please let me save you some grief now. Don’t wash it! It’s traditionally hand stitched and if it’s a vintage piece like mine was, the thread might be over 50 years old and very fragile. Also, the lining silk shrinks more than the black layer. The traditional method of cleaning is (are you sitting down?) unpicking the entire garment, washing each piece, and then restitching it.

Anyway, I did handwash it, because it was old and stained and a bit too grotty for me to wear. In the end, after much experimenting and unpicking, I ended up with a very wearable piece…

I sewed a sized-up shopping bag based on my recent Useful Bag pattern, complete with long shoulder strap. It’s made from an old Japanese banner that I picked up from Cash Palace Emporium a couple of years ago…

It carries a surprisingly large load…

Nearly twenty years ago, my wise friend Diana told me, “Celia, my father used to say that one of the most satisfying jobs has to be bricklaying, because at the end of the day, you can stand back and see the wall you’ve built with your own hands.”

In this fast moving digital age where things often seem less real, having a project on the go grounds me. It gives me an opportunity to create, and to enjoy the great satisfaction that comes from having created.

Are you a maker too? If so, thank you for understanding what I’m talking about, because not everyone does. I’d love to know more about the hobbies you enjoy, and what projects you’re working on the moment. ♥

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