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I’ve always had a problem with the expression “Mend and Make Do”.

I understand the history behind it, and during a period of war shortages, it would have been a critical mindset. But the notion of compromise irks me, because mending and making help our family to thrive, not make do.

My most recent project has been to replace our fitted sheets. After more than a decade of daily service, our king sized Lands End sheets have finally given up the ghost. The fabric won’t be wasted though – I’ve turned the usable parts into beeswax wraps, the thinner sections into large furoshiki to bundle up out of season blankets, and the really torn bits into rags.

I was keen to purchase new sheets from Sheridan Australia – their fabrics are sensational and I’ve long been an admirer of their many sustainability and social justice initiatives. I didn’t end up buying from them in the end (the $300 starting point for a KS set was out of my budget), but their website is definitely worth a read.

So I went back to what I know, and made some new fitted sheets. They’re actually a doddle to sew, providing you can wrap your head around the big numbers. If anyone is interested in knowing more, let me know and I’ll try to draft up a rough tutorial.

In 1994, I’d purchased a roll of thick pure cotton sheeting – a Country Road second, I was told – from Fox’s Fabrics for $1 a metre. Oh how I loved that shop! Old Mr Fox was a wizard at picking up bargains at auction, and Maude and I used to visit almost weekly. The giant roll I bought has since been used for everything from bags to beeswax wraps, and face masks to dress toiles. I’ve also made bedsheets for the entire family from it, and I found two king sized top sheets leftover from an earlier set I’d made (it always seems to be the fitted sheet that wears out first!).

The first sheet was slightly too short, so I added a section from the worn out fitted sheet to extend it (the bits which had been on the side of the mattress were unworn). I then boxed the corners and sewed some leftover boxer short elastic (another Fox purchase from 1994) around the outside and voila…new king size fitted sheet…

The second sheet was larger, but I’d run out of boxer short elastic, so I used the drawstring elastic I’d purchased from The Sewing Basket in Newington. Donated by Bonds Australia, I’d been trimming it down to make mask straps, but it was also perfect for the sheets. I started by pulling the cord out from the middle channel…

The elastic was then folded in half and zigzagged around the edge of the boxed sheet. I used a wide stitch, stretching from front and back as I sewed (see video below). When I make these, I don’t pin anything (too lazy), I simply stretch the elastic, encase the edge, stitch, then move on to the next bit. The elastic on fitted sheets doesn’t need to be precise! My KS fitted sheet used up approximately 5 metres of the elastic, which meant I ended up with a super high quality thick cotton fitted sheet for just $5 and about 40 minutes of my time. It’s hard to argue with those sorts of numbers!

In case you’re wondering, the hand wave was a signal to Small Man to keep filming, rather than a Liberace style flourish…

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To finish off the sheeting story, I sewed a new linen flat sheet from a rescued quilt cover. It also needed an extender piece, provided by the other side panel of the old fitted sheet…

Here’s an upcycling tip – sheeting is the great find in thrift stores. Most people are put off by used bed linen, but it’s completely fine if you’re selective. Avoid fitted sheets and pillowcases, as they’re usually very worn and often a bit gross. Flat sheets are always worth a look, particularly if they’re vintage. But quilt (doona) covers are the real treasure – they’re usually barely used and offer a wealth of fabric for very little money. I picked up an as-new vintage Sheridan (back when it was still made locally) pure cotton quilt cover, queen sized, for just $12 recently at the Salvos. It’s nearly eight square metres of super high quality fabric! A soak in Napisan followed by a hot water wash brought it back to new.

Over the past year, I’ve gone through a lot of drawstring elastic – firstly for mask straps and now for sheeting – so I was keen to find something to do with the excess cord…

I ended up attempting my first macrame project in over 40 years, following this very clever tutorial…

Tah dah! I stitched three cords together to make a thicker handle, and the bag ended up a lot smaller than the one on the tutorial, probably because I was using thinner cord. It’s the perfect size for carrying a bottle of champagne to a restaurant though, 70s hippy style…

Best of all, it made use of a resource which might otherwise have gone to waste…

See how this is so much more than simply making do? Being able to repurpose and rescue materials, save money along the way, exercise creativity, problem solve…it’s all about thriving rather than just surviving.

Do you have a project on the go at the moment? I’d love to hear about it! (I’ve just started a slow stitch journal which I’ll tell you about soon) ♥

Good morning, friends!

Pete and I have just celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary, and I thought this mash-up might make you smile – the photos were taken 36 years apart.

The first you’ve seen before – it was snapped by our best man Yuji in Cath’s bedroom at college in 1984. Back when photos were on negatives and sent to the chemist to be processed. Back when I wore berets and wristwatches.

The second was taken by my darling sister at Big Boy and Monkey Girl’s wedding in February last year. We’re still so grateful that it all happened before COVID19!

Wishing you all a very happy day! ♥

It’s now been three full years since we started our waste reduction plan.

Here are a few of the changes we’ve made that have worked brilliantly, and continue to do so after all this time. They’re our sustainability winners!

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T-Shirt Bags

We’ve experimented with all sorts of reusable bags – the green polypropylene ones from supermarkets, crocheted mesh bags, foldaway minis and furoshiki (which I still love), but without a doubt, our favourites and the ones we use almost exclusively now are t-shirt bags. Here’s our simple tutorial on how to make them.

They’re super strong, very durable, sit comfortably on your shoulder and most importantly, they WASH easily. Which means we use them to cart home messy stuff like raw meat and takeaway chicken, then the bags go straight into the laundry afterwards. And they’re made from Pete and the boys’ old t-shirts, so they make me smile every time we use them.

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Beeswax Wraps

Yes, I know, I blag on endlessly about these, but what can I say? It’s not just that they’re an adequate green alternative; in most cases, we find they work much better than plastic bags. This is the pile we currently have on rotation…

And here are our latest veg purchases, wrapped ready for the crisper drawer. A nice, thick beeswax wrap will keep a head of lettuce fresh for up to two weeks…

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I recently spotted a packet of three small wraps (11″ square in imperial terms) for $39.95. That’s too small to wrap one of my loaves of sourdough or a bunch of snake beans from the garden…

By comparison, our homemade ones are 60-74cm long x 46cm wide (that’s about 24-29″ x 18″) and cost us less than $2 each to make. Plus they’re made from fabric that would otherwise have been thrown away (old sheeting is particularly good).

Our tutorial is here, and recently we’ve discovered that putting the fabric through the washing machine and tumble dryer first causes it to plump up, which means it will absorb more wax and therefore last longer. Some of our wraps have been going for over a year now, and we no longer keep any clingfilm in our kitchen…

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Secondhand Clothing

This handsome man would like me to tell you all that secondhand and vintage clothing is not just more sustainable than new, it’s usually much more interesting as well. Over the past three years, Pete’s wardrobe has transitioned to almost entirely used and vintage finds (thanks in no small part to lovely Arnold at Potts Point Vintage). And my engineer who would only ever wear muted blues and blacks seems to have discovered a love for colour in the process (which I’m completely thrilled about!)…

Here he is, fully vintage attired in Japanese denim ($500 jeans that we found secondhand for $12), a 70s tshirt, a thick 1950s suede jacket which came from the performance collection of comedian “Bob Downe”. and a belt made from upcycled firehose by the inimitable Elvis and Kresse. Clothes are so much better when they have a story to tell!

Ok, this photo probably wasn’t necessary and I’ve posted it before, but I’m a bit besotted with it (and him!) and it’s Christmas, so I thought I’d share it again…

 

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Secondhand Everything

It’s been surprisingly cathartic to step back from the new retail market.

With a few notable exceptions – underwear, the odd hardcover book, and purchases made to support young artists – almost everything we’ve bought this year has been secondhand. My Chinese mother finds it perplexing – why would we buy secondhand when buying new on sale can often cost the same?

But it comes down to two things for us: firstly, a wish to limit our consumption of new resources, given the energy and raw materials required to produce these, and secondly..the thrill of the hunt! It’s enormously rewarding to scour opshops (thrift stores), Reverse Garbage and the Bower for the perfect secondhand frame, only to find an even better, imperfect option. As a craft lover, finding everything I’ve needed this year (and…ahem…quite a few things I didn’t) at The Sewing Basket has meant that all my purchases were donated items diverted from landfill. And I’ve returned the ones I didn’t end up using, after “renting” them for a couple of months.

I’m honestly not sure my mental health would have survived 2020 without these creative outlets…

. . . . .

Cloth Napkins

Our stash of cloth napkins has been going strong for THREE YEARS and we haven’t had a single one wear out in that time. We use them every day, and we even pack our own when we eat out.  They’ve been through over a hundred washes each and occasionally I’ll Napisan a batch after a big curry dinner. That’s a saving of over 4,000 paper napkins to date.

I wouldn’t normally recommend using new fabric to make things, but the tenegui cloths we bought from Daiso have been so durable and low maintenance that it’s hard to fault them. The open weave makes them particularly easy to wash and line dry, and I’ve never bothered to iron them…

. . . . .

Solar Panels

It’s been a full year almost to the day since we had our solar energy system installed and we haven’t regretted a single minute of it. Whilst we’re still dependent on the grid for about 25% of our energy (because of timing issues and seasonal fluctuations), we’re thrilled to have been able to completely offset our electricity consumption for the past 12 months. According to one of the tracking apps we use, we’ve offset nearly 4.5 tonnes of carbon emissions over the year…

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Worms, Soldier Flies, Chickens

It’s taken a while for us to get our backyard food recycling system running smoothly, but these days almost no food waste ends up in the red bin. Our original attempts included a Bokashi bin, but that didn’t work well for us – waiting for the leavings to break down and then burying them was too much of a smelly palaver.

These days, large scraps go to the chickens, vegetable scraps to the worms, and everything else goes into the soldier fly hatchery. The soldier fly pupae then provide a high source of protein for the chickens. Throwing organic material into waste is one of the worst things we can do with it – not only are the nutrients lost, but once it’s buried and trapped in plastic, it produces large quantities of methane as it decomposes…

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Cotton Dishcloths and Hessian Scrubbers

I took the photo below just before drafting this post – several of the dishcloths shown have been in use for SEVEN YEARS. That sort of track record is hard to challenge! In all that time, I’ve only had to repair one, and only because I cut through the stitches while washing a knife.

These days we use the cotton cloths for wiping down benches and spills, and we clean pots with our homemade hessian scrubbers. The latter don’t last nearly as long, but they’re completely biodegradable, remove stuck-on burnt bits pretty easily, and go through the washing machine at least a dozen times before they need to be retired. And when they’re past their best, they go straight into the worm farm where they break down within weeks – the worms love them!

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Learning to Mend

Again, I know you’re all sick of hearing me say this, but learning to mend has shifted our perspective on material possessions. We no longer look at something and automatically discard it when it’s broken or past its best. And when something has to go, there’s quite a lot of thought given to whether or not we can reuse or upcycle the materials before they finally end up in the bin.

This old laundry bag is a great example – it only cost $1 to buy years ago, and the plastic zip had separated from its base…

I was very close to just throwing it away, when I realised that a few handstitches were all that was required to reattach the zip. It lives to wash another day…or year…

I mended these for wee Sebastian across the road and he loves them…

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Research Pays Off

This isn’t really one for the list, but it’s probably the crux of our sustainability journey. Make informed decisions! Wherever possible, deep dive into a topic as much as you can before making a choice. For example, after a couple of weeks of research, we decided to stick with our Kleenex toilet paper instead of switching to Who Gives A Crap.

Examine the information provided on items carefully – not only for what is provided, but also for omissions – do they advise how to dispose of their packaging? What are the ingredients and additives, and where are they sourced from? Are the items truly biodegradable? (Remember, there is no mandated definition of “biodegradable”, so in theory, everything will biodegrade…eventually).

Before each and every purchase, we try to ask ourselves, “could we source this secondhand? Are we making the most sustainable choice? Is there an end of life plan for this item?” It would be very hypocritical of me to imply that we do this perfectly, but we continue to make imperfect attempts in the hope that we can gradually do better.

I still get caught out with annoying purchases – like the roll of “biodegradable” wipes I picked up at the Salvos recently that had plastic in them. And we continue to eat meat, which is both environmentally problematic and can really only be bought in plastic, although we have reduced our intake substantially this year. But it’s worth noting that even with our imperfect efforts, the difference is still massive – we continue to only throw out one small bag of rubbish each week, whereas before we started this journey, the bin was often full to overflowing.

. . . . .

So that’s where we’re at, three years into this journey.

We all have different lives and homes, which means we can only do the best we can, but I hope this post will encourage you to think about the small changes you might be able to make.

Not everyone can set up a backyard recycling “farm”, but there may be options within your community that let you manage your food waste and leftovers more sustainably. My friend Carol walks hers down the road to a neighbour who happily collects the street’s waste for his compost – she found his details on our local council website.

The Big Kids hired artificial flowers for their wedding from Faux Fernery, saving thousands of dollars but even more importantly, saving a truckload of flowers from ending up in landfill after just one night. For Christmas, we baked cookies, tempered chocolate and made beeswax wraps for our friends and neighbours – they all went out in sustainably sourced packaging and everyone loved them.

Learn to mend your tea towels – it’s amazing how much wear and tear they can survive with just a little bit of maintenance. And explore your secondhand options – even my mum has learned to love her local Salvos! As a wise friend once told me, it’s much better for many people to be making an imperfect effort, than for just a few to be making a perfect one.

I’d love to know how your green journey is going. Please feel free to leave a very longwinded comment below if you like! ♥

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Here’s a link to our earlier
Waste Reduction Plan Posts

♥ With love from our family to yours! ♥

 

Low impact, sustainable, homemade, artisan…our approach to gift giving has changed significantly over the years! These days we hardly ever set foot in a shopping mall during the festive season, choosing instead to make presents at home, or to source them through opshops (thrift stores) or reuse centres.

Here are some of our gifts for Christmas 2020 (warning: spoiler alert)…

As always, we started with chocolate. Monkey Girl and I had a fun afternoon chocolatiering, then wrapping our creations in rescued boxes, foodsafe paper liners and raffia ribbon (all from Reverse Garbage). I still need to whip up a couple more batches to go with the cookies that I’ll be baking next week…

Pete made a batch of his fabulous apricot jam from a large bag of fruit that we were given at the Addi Road Food Pantry

Trays and trays of apricots were headed for landfill because they were blemished and ripe! We bottled the jam in jars leftover from The Wedding in February

‘Tis the season for beeswax wraps and we’ve had a production line going. These ones were made from an unused Ikea doona cover that Bryan gave me before he went back to Singapore. I recently saw tiny (28cm/11″ square) beeswax wraps for sale at Harris Farm for $40 for a set of three. By contrast, our humungous wraps are 60-74cm long x 46cm wide (that’s about 24-29″ x 18″). And they cost me less than $2 each to make…

A chance find at The Sewing Basket in West Ryde led to the coolest beeswax wraps ever

I turned a thrifted sheer curtain (it was new but I washed it anyway) into two outdoor food protectors, one for me, and one for my hostess-with-the-mostest neighbour Faye…

A couple of vintage Chinese painting books picked up at The Bower in Marrickville were the perfect gift for my daughter-in-law…

…and this little book of cocktails was just $3 secondhand. The illustrations are frame-worthy!

Lovely embroidery artist Han Cao has become a friend over 2020, and her art has brought me a great deal of joy during this difficult year. Here’s an earlier post I wrote about her work. I’ve been buying her postcard packs to use as gifts and last night I gave this card to our old friend John, because it looks exactly like he did in 1983 (the bloke in the middle, not one of the horses)…

A pile of unfinished quilt squares that I bought from The Sewing Basket Balmain earlier in the year became five useful bags

Small Man and I adore a bit of trivia, so I grabbed these boxes from The Bower for just $2 each. They’re a little after dinner fun as we wind down towards the end of the year. These didn’t come with a board which is completely fine – we just take turns quizzing each other – although they were made in 1984, so some of the answers are no longer correct!

It’s been a while, but this year I picked up tools again to make angels from my stash of vintage Swarovski crystals. They’re the perfect small gift…

This secondhand baby Groot planter was picked up for $5 at the Inner West Garage Sale Trail a few weeks ago. We sent it home with the Big Kids, completely with succulent…

Finally…I found the perfect gift for my young friend Grace (who’s now nine – can you believe it?) at Reverse Garbage

Discarded by an art school, this stack of press-out paper dolls was just $2 (there were about 30 cards in the pile)…

The stencils for her clothing were just $1 each…

Bethany sent me a photo of her daughter’s creations this morning. I love Grace…

So that’s where we’re at with just over a week to go until Christmas!

I’ve baked a fruit cake and made a steamed pudding, so dessert on the big day is now sorted. We’re glazing half a free range ham for Christmas lunch, and because it’s the festive season, Pete is letting me serve it with tater tots (or potato gems, as we call them here). I can’t wait! Some last minute baking next week and we’ll be good to go.

How are your festive preparations going? It’s been such a strange year and we’ll all be celebrating in different ways – Australia is out of lockdown now (social distancing restrictions still apply) – but I know that a lot of our overseas friends are still very limited in terms of numbers of visitors permitted. I hope that whatever your current situation, you find a way to eke out a little peace, joy and headspace in the coming weeks! ♥

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