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It’s been almost two years to the day since we posted our Homemade Beeswax Wraps tutorial and over that time, we’ve fine-tuned the process.

Well, more specifically, Pete has. Here are his top tips on how to make a perfect beeswax wrap at home. If you haven’t already done so, please read our original tutorial first, or what follows won’t make much sense.

Tip #1: We’ve found pure cotton sheeting to be the best material for our wraps. What you’re after is a fine weave cotton that can absorb as much wax as possible without ending up with big patches of solidified wax on the surface. The more wax the fabric can absorb, the longer the wrap will last. As an added bonus, sheeting is colour-fast, which is very important. We use Sheridan sheeting offcuts that I bought from Reverse Garbage 20 years ago for the wraps we give away, and our old bedsheets for the ones we keep. Wash any new fabrics first, as you won’t be able to launder them again after the wax is added.

Tip #2: Use pure, uncoloured beeswax foundation sheets. We currently buy these via mailorder from E. C. Tobin in Raglan, NSW (who are wonderful to deal with!), but it’s only economical to purchase from them in bulk because of shipping costs (I usually buy 40 sheets at a time). If you’re looking for just a couple of sheets, try local candlemaking or beekeeping suppliers.

Tip #3: Cover your ironing board with an old bedsheet or towel. We also use extra large sheets of parchment paper to minimise seepage onto the board (a common brand here is Glad Bake, but we buy extra wide rolls of a commercial brand from Harkola). If you don’t have access to really large parchment sheets, you might  want to cut the size of your wax sheets down a bit.

Tip #4: Each foundation wax sheet is enough for between six to eight layers of fabric, depending on the thickness of the cloth you choose to use. The Sheridan offcuts are perfect if folded seven layers thick. As the wax sheets are 8″ x 16.5″ (20.5cm x 42cm), we cut the fabric into 58″ x 18″ (147cm x 46cm) strips. Often we will use two lengths of 29″ x 18″, as we’ve found them a bit easier to handle than one giant piece of fabric.

Tip #5: Fold the fabric CONCERTINA STYLE (ie. accordion fold). This makes it massively easier to unfold at the end, and also ensures you don’t end up with too many thick folds for the wax to soak through. Lay the sheet of wax on top…

Tip #6: Pay attention to which side of your parchment paper is facing the wax, or you could end up with wax all over the iron (we learnt this the hard way). Place the fabric and wax between the two sheets of parchment, making sure to leave a margin for the wax to seep out.

Tip #7: Set the iron to DRY (not steam) and preheat to COTTON. Starting in the centre, use the iron to melt the wax into the fabric. Don’t push hard at this point. The goal is simply to melt the wax gently into the fabric – this could take a few minutes. If you push too hard the melted wax will be forced out before it’s had a chance to soak through. Keep going until the honeycomb pattern has disappeared and you can see that all the fabric up to the edges and corners is wet from the wax.

Tip #8: THIS IS PETE’S TOP TIP! Once the fabric is fully soaked with wax, start from the centre and gently try to “squeeze” the wax out by ironing towards the outer edges. Push/scrape slightly with the side of the iron until you see wax seeping out onto the parchment. This will ensure that you’re not left with large white patches of wax on the finished wrap. So basically the principle is: soak the fabric with wax, then gently push out the excess. Work around all four sides of the folded cloth.

Carefully peel back the parchment – you can see below how the surplus wax has been squeezed out…

Tip #9: very carefully lift the waxed fabric (it will be wet and hot) by the corners (if you’ve folded it concertina style, it should unfold as you lift) and wave it around to cool it down a bit. It will become manageable very quickly. Lay it over the back of a chair or on a drying rack to cool completely. The wrap below was 18″ x 29″ – we had two of them layered under the wax sheet, both folded 3½ times to make a total thickness of seven layers.

Tip #10: I wrap the sheets in my rescued Reverse Garbage paper to keep them from drying out. They also keep well stored in a reusable plastic box.

Tip #11: Clean the parchment sheets by ironing the excess wax onto a spare piece of fabric – over time, you’ll collect enough surplus wax to make another wrap.

Tip #12: If you can sew, turn the leftover scraps into a little drawstring bag!

The advantage of making the wraps in this way is that you end up with a much longer sheet than is commercially available, which is useful for wrapping everything from loaves of sourdough to snake beans. Oh, and they also cost a tiny amount compared to bought beeswax wraps – the ones we made from our old bedsheets cost us less than $1.50 each for a huge 29″ x 18″ wrap! 💚🌿

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Sustainability Working Bee

A friend mentioned recently that her daughter was saddened by what she saw as a widespread sense of apathy about environmental issues.

“I have an idea…” I said “Let’s have a sustainability working bee! We’ll get together and mend things and swap clothes and anything else we can think of!”

Over the course of a couple of weeks, the idea evolved into a fully planned out day. As I mentioned it to friends in passing, the number of eager participants grew, and so it was that 19 of us gathered together at our house yesterday for crochet and beeswax wrap making lessons, sewing projects, good food and great conversation.

I’d made a stack of cloth napkins, lace vegetable bags and crocheted dishcloths as gifts…

We served up a big cheese platter, smoked salmon, freshly baked baguettes and chestnut flour brownies. My darling friend The Norsk Nymph provided incredibly delicious gluten-free treats. I was having so much fun that I completely forgot to take photos of any of it except the brownies…

We set up the clothing swap in the hallway, which worked brilliantly! “Swap” is probably a misnomer, because our system was: donate anything you DON’T want, take away anything you DO want. All the leftovers have now been stashed into t-shirt bags for donation to the Salvos.

Maude gave crochet lessons to anyone who wanted to learn – I’d been to Reverse Garbage and the Salvos to source used hooks and donated all of my half finished balls of cotton…

Meg’s first attempt (in green) was seriously impressive!

I’d ordered a stack of beeswax sheets for the occasion and Pete taught everyone how to make their own wraps. He’s the world’s most patient man, according to my friends…

We put my sewing machines to good use and mended Cake’s vintage chenille bedspread and hemmed Ilaria’s too short dress into a top. Pete and I used a pair of old jeans to reupholster Bernie’s office chair…

The Norsk Nymph asked for a bespoke yoga bag, which came together in minutes from another pair of old jeans (it’s a basic reworking of this bag)…

I gave pilates instructor Meg a different yoga bag that I’d made earlier from an old umbrella skin…

Jenni was very happy to turn her old t-shirt into a bag. The sleeves then became a water bottle holder and a polishing rag…

I, on the other hand, was delighted with this gorgeous bag that she donated to the swap – it was the perfect size and shape for a crochet bag!

Perhaps the quirkiest request of the day came from Tara, who wanted a crocheted Christmas hat for her brother’s snake. Maude was happy to oblige! Tara was thrilled, but disappointed that she had to wait before trying it on as the snake had just shed its skin and needed to be left alone for a few days (she’s promised to send a photo when it finally happens!)…

Our Sustainability Working Bee was as waste-free and low carbon as we could make it – we used hard plastic glasses that I’d bought from Reverse Garbage in the late 90s. They get pulled out whenever we have a gathering of more than a dozen people. I figured out yesterday that a small melamine cleaning cube will scrub permanent marker off the plastic, which meant we could write names on them…

Our cloth napkins have now been in use for two whole years and they’re still good enough to use for guests (granted, my standards aren’t overly high – I’m happy so long as they’re not too stained). The napkins wash easily and line dry in a flash – no ironing required…

Finally, our newly installed solar energy system meant that even though it was 34°C yesterday and the house was full of mostly menopausal women, we were able to run the air conditioner on eco mode and still be off the grid! Yay!

The day before the working bee, I emailed my friends and asked them if they’d be interested in adding a charitable component to the day. I suggested that if everyone donated a couple of gold coins, we might be able to raise enough to fund a Kiva loan (US$25)…

And because I have ridiculously generous friends, we actually raised enough to fund four loan contributions!

It was truly such a memorable day, and I’d urge you all to consider getting together with your own friends and neighbors and starting something similar! Even if you’re not particularly crafty, just swapping clothes rather than buying new ones will reduce your carbon footprint.

It’s also incredibly rewarding to see the knock-on effects from an event like this – for example, we have several friends now discussing renewable energy with their partners. After yesterday, I think we’ll all look at our possessions a little differently, thinking twice before discarding or donating, and more importantly, before buying new.  And hopefully the younger folk who were here will have left feeling a little more optimistic, knowing that some of us really are trying to live more sustainably.

Let’s keep the momentum rolling towards a greener future! 🌿💚

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THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED

A lifetime ago, our darling friend PeteA was wearing a t-shirt that my Pete adored. Generous soul that he is, PeteA literally gave Pete the shirt off his back. My Pete then went on to wear that tee for over twenty-five years – first for going out, then as a work shirt, and finally as pyjamas.

This morning, I turned it into a bag.

It probably has ten or more years of life left in it. And I thought to myself – if a simple t-shirt can survive three decades and two owners and still be a usable resource, then what does that say about fast fashion and single wear clothing?

And on the topic of t-shirt bags…we’ve now been using these for over a year, and in that time, they’ve become our go-to reusable bags.

Environmentally and practically, they tick every box:

  • they don’t require any new resources as there’s always worn out tees in our house √
  • they take just a few minutes of dodgy sewing to make √
  • they go into the washing machine and dryer as needed √
  • they’re perfect for takeaway/takeout because they’re so easy to launder √
  • they’re super strong and carry large, oddly shaped loads √
  • the wide straps don’t cut into your shoulder √

If you haven’t made any of these, I’d urge you to have a go! You really only need to sew the one seam at the bottom as the handles can just be cut and left unfinished, although I prefer to hem them.  There are also lots of tutorials on how to make them without sewing (I haven’t tried it, but this one looks good).

Here are the wee instructions I wrote last year…hope you find it useful! ♥

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Being Woke

Photo from the fabulous Fashion Revolution Fanzine LOVED CLOTHES LAST,poem by Hollie McNish. (click for links)

. . . . .

My young friends have a current slang term – they talk about being “woke”.

Loosely translated, it means “aware”. And once we start looking into waste and sustainability and our impact on the environment, it’s very hard to stay asleep. Whether we like it or not, we end up woke.

We started down this rabbit hole (a metaphor used by my old friends) 18 months ago, when we tried to reduce the amount of waste we produced as a household. If you’d like to read about our journey, I’ve collated all the posts here. But once I started researching, it became obvious that there were other aspects of our lives that needed changing too. It wasn’t just about finding ways to recycle our foodscraps or switching out paper napkins for cloth ones, we also needed to start questioning the clothes we bought, the food we ate, the way we voted, and so much more.

In particular, we needed to start assessing the true cost behind how we chose to live our lives, taking into account the price being paid by the environment, other living creatures and our fellow humans, rather than making decisions based on assigned dollar values. Being even a little bit woke about the current state of our planet is discomfiting, but without some awareness, there can be no impetus to do anything differently.

I know that it can sometimes feel pointless to keep trying. I drove past a bridal wear store recently and saw someone filling an entire red wheely bin with plastic wrapping, even as I was heading to Coles to drop my soft plastics into the RedCycle bin. I wondered if the efforts of our small family of four really made any difference at all in the face of fifty years of thoughtless global plastic consumption. Mind you, I’m in no position to lecture, as we have used, and continue to use, more plastic than I’m comfortable owning up to.

But…there’s no turning back now. Thankfully the zeitgeist is shifting, and folks no longer consider us deranged greenies for refusing to use cling film. And it’s a mistake to think that our small changes aren’t having an impact, because we humans are social creatures (some of us more than others) and as we talk and share our ideas, they start to spread. Now that we’ve stocked up our own green kit, I’ve started sharing the things I make with friends and neighbours. The crocheted dishcloths and mesh vegetable bags are always in high demand, and I know that the six veggie bags I sew for a friend could result in their family avoiding hundreds of single use plastic bags this year. My darling neighbour Jane arrived to pick up bread yesterday with a furoshiki, which saved a paper bag. I was sooo chuffed, because I knew she’d take that loaf home and wrap it in the beeswax wrap that I made her six months ago.

Bit by bit, we’re becoming more aware of the need to conserve resources. After months of reading and watching and trying to understand, the conclusion I’ve come to is that the biggest impact I can personally make towards reducing my environmental footprint is to simply consume less. As a raging extrovert, I find that hard to do, because I like new things. But I’ve discovered that approaching my purchases with curiosity – asking questions about where, how and why something was made – has turned me into a discerning shopper. I bring home far less than I’ve ever done before, and appreciate my carefully selected items much more. We eat less meat, purchase misshapen vegetables with glee, and recycle all our food waste via four different backyard methods (chickens, worm farm, bokashi bucket and soldier fly farm). Even if our impact is miniscule in global terms, I’d like to think that we’re making an effort to reduce our personal family footprint.

Which leads me to the purpose of this blogpost.

I’ve realised that the way we can make a difference beyond our efforts at home and within our community is to share our story with you. I know we all make decisions based on our personal circumstances, but I would like to encourage you to be woke. Ask endless annoying questions. Were the folks who made my jeans paid living wages? What was the environmental impact of growing the cotton? Was this chicken allowed to free range or locked in a crowded shed? How long does this head of lettuce take to decompose in landfill? (Believe it or not, the answer is 25 years.) Do I really need to buy water in a plastic bottle?

Try to do as many of the “re”s as possible – reduce, reuse, restore, refurbish, rewear, recondition, reclaim, reimagine, recycle – you get the picture. I guarantee you’ll save money in the process. And please, please share your ideas with the rest of us in the comments below. Through discussion and conversation, we can learn from and encourage each other to keep the momentum going. And I know from personal experience that even small changes can lead to huge results. ♥

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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…

. . . . .

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…

. . . . .

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!

. . . . .

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…

. . . . .

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…

. . . . .

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…

. . . . .

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…

. . . . .

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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