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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.

The True Cost is an incredibly moving documentary, and one which is relevant to all of us. I strongly urge you to watch it – it’s available on Netflix, or you can purchase it directly from the movie  website.

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You might never look at clothing in the same way again – I know I certainly won’t. For too long, we’ve simply bought, worn and discarded clothes without really understanding the price being paid for it by both the planet and the one in six people worldwide who work in the industry. Fast fashion is, quite literally, killing the people who make it.

The documentary is confronting and challenging, but also enlightening and extremely important. I didn’t know that clothing consumption had increased by 400% over the past twenty years, or that 250,000 Indian farmers growing cotton had been driven to suicide over the same period. I didn’t know that most cheaply made garments donated to charity were ending up in countries like Haiti and destroying their local industry as a consequence. I didn’t know children were being born with severe mental retardation as a suspected result of pesticide use.

But I do now. Knowledge is the power that informs choices, and our individual informed choices can create change for the greater good.

I hope you have an opportunity to watch this, and that it gives you as much reason to pause and reassess as it gave me. ♥

My hands and wrists don’t do well in cold weather.

I try to look after them, but as my mum pointed out recently, they do quite a lot of work. Lately I’ve had some RSI in my wrists, my knuckles are a bit swollen, and because it’s winter, my skin has started to dry and crack. I guess it’s just part of getting older.

Bread baking, however, must continue! Lately I’ve been making my friend Emilie’s twisty baguettes because I can prep the dough with a spatula, which means I don’t have to keep washing my hands in cold water. The only tricky part is shaping the baguettes – the high hydration dough can be sticky to handle. The secret is lots of fine semolina, a gentle touch and…learning to appreciate the wonkiness.

Here’s my spin on the formula, which substitutes a mix of plain and bakers flour for the American all-purpose that Em recommends (our local plain flour is lower in protein than the US equivalent).

  • 100g ripe sourdough starter
  • 720g cool water
  • 440g plain flour
  • 440g baker/bread flour
  • 18g fine sea salt
  • fine semolina for dusting

1. The night before: combine all the ingredients except the semolina in a large wide mixing bowl. Stir them together with a silicon spatula until all the dry ingredients are incorporated and you’re left with a shaggy dough. Cover and leave to rest for an hour.

2. Uncover and using your spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl, lift up some of the dough and fold it into the centre. Turn the bowl a little and repeat until you’ve formed a smooth ball. Cover and allow to prove overnight. Coat your hands with barrier cream, pop on some cotton gloves, and go to bed. (Ok, that bit is optional.)

3. When the dough has doubled in size (it can take 12 – 18 hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is), dust a clean bench with a generous amount of fine semolina. Line two oven trays with teflon sheets or parchment paper, and dust them with semolina. Preheat your oven to 220C with fan.

4. Scrape the dough on to the bench and using a scraper and a gentle touch, fold it in half so that both the top and bottom are coated in semolina (“like a book”, Em says). Using your scraper, cut the dough in half, and then into three short logs.

5. Now this bit can be a little tricky – roll each log over in fine semolina, stretching and extending it as you go. Gentle gentle – you just want to get it well coated and roughly baguette shaped. Transfer the log, stretching a bit more as you go, to the dusted oven tray and repeat with the remaining five logs.

6. Starting in the middle of each log, gently twist the dough – first to one end, then to the other. Cover the shaped dough with clean tea towels and let them prove briefly while the oven heats up.

7. Spritz the top of the baguettes with water (no need to slash), then bake them in the preheated oven for a total of 25 – 30 minutes, rotating halfway through. Allow to cool on a wire rack before eating.

Em’s clever twisting technique produces the lovely holey crumb of a traditional baguette, without the detailed shaping and slashing. I’ve found that these keep well for up to three days if tightly wrapped in a large beeswax wrap – any leftovers make wonderful croutons and garlic bread.

This recipe comes from Emilie’s fabulous book, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. If you haven’t already bought a copy, you’re missing out on some amazing bakes!

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! ♥

“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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