I Belong Here, by Anita Sethi

When I read The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, I went on a bit of a hunt for more lyrical books about ‘walking to find your place in the world’. Ever since visiting Holy Island, I’ve had a hankering to walk St Cuthbert’s way – it’s like an itch that won’t pass – but until my children are either big enough to join me or big enough to move out, I have to content myself with enjoying such trails vicariously.

I Belong Here by Anita Sethi is one of the books which have helped assuage that urge.

The book is – at its core – about a walk along the Pennine Way. This trek across the ‘Backbone of Britain’ is not just as a hike, however, but also medicine for the soul.

Sethi suffered a racist attack prior to undertaking the walk and skillfully uses the path as a metaphor for discussing our sense of origin, self, and home. She speaks about the dangers of being a woman, walking alone – particularly the additional dangers which occur when you’re not a white person in a predominantly white country. She discusses the difficulties faced by single parent families and those on low incomes when it comes to access to nature.

It was a timely reminder for me, as I struggle to reach civilisation using public transport, just how lucky I am to live swathed in the green of the countryside. I know that I’d rather be having issues getting into town than getting out of it. The health benefits – both physical and mental – of living in the midst of nature are touched upon in Sethi’s work, as are the ways in which those with money act as gatekeepers to the natural world for those without. Sethi makes many references to the way that walking and nature helped her to combat her anxiety – the book is a wonderful piece of activism, championing the fact that the countryside is for everyone.

There are so many excellent points about identity, and how the countryside of a nation can define us as much as the culture of it can. Again, it’s not something I’d given much thought to, but of course we’re shaped by our physical environment. The book made me feel, more than ever, that I belong in my little corner of the North East – the summer chanterelles, winter kale, and autumn apples of my immediate area have built my bones. The earth here has fed me, and I, in turn, will feed the earth. The land and I belong to each other, and Sethi’s book was an incredible reminder of this.

I could say so much more about this book, but in short, the best thing about this book was the way that it made me reflect on my place in the world. And the conditions which allow me to feel that yes, I Belong Here.

This is a definite ‘must read’.

Have you come across Anita Sethi’s work before? If so, I would love to hear what you think.

xx

Elderberry Cordial

You’ll have to excuse the absolutely terrible photos – it’s been a mad sort of weekend. I’ve got so much going on right now, and so much to tell you about, but I didn’t want to let the elderberry season sail past without writing up a brief tutorial on how to make this incredibly tasty autumn drink.

First of all, you’ll need some elderberries. Gently remove them from the stalks and weigh them. I had 400g, so I put them in a pan with 400mls of water. If you have 700g, you’d use 700mls etc. Then, add the zest of one lemon. Use your best judgement on this one. If you’ve got a lot more berries than me, add the zest of two lemons…

I’m very lazy, so I just used a potato peeler to slice off strips, but if you’ve got a proper zester, then feel free to employ it here.

Now, simmer the lot for between 30 minutes to an hour.

Once that’s done, mash the berries as best you can to release the juices and then sieve the lot. I use our incredibly fine metal sieve, but a cheese cloth, or old baby muslin would be better. Again – lazy. Washing a cloth was too much work.

Pour the liquid back into the pan and discard the pulp. Add sugar – this should be the same weight as your berries. In my case, I added 400g because I had 400g of fruit, but if you had 300g, you’d add 300g sugar etc.

When the sugar has dissolved, pour your liquid into a sterilised bottle and you’re ready to go. I dilute this 1:5 with boiling water.

You can add a cinnamon stick at the same point I added the lemon zest for a slightly more festive flavour, but to be honest, I forgot this time and haven’t missed it.

If you try this I would love to hear how you get on.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, was a book that I initially dismissed after having read 161 pages.

I’m not really sure how that happened. Usually, if I make it to the 50 page mark in any book, I’m guaranteed to finish, but in this case, I just didn’t. In 2019, I bagged up the book and took it back to the library unfinished, presuming that I would think little more of it,

Except, I thought about it all the time. I thought about the wonderful ways in which Jahren uses the scientific processes of plants as a metaphor for the many facets of humanity. I thought about the many different kinds of love she talks about. I thought about the unlikeliness of life as she describes it – poetry meets science.

I knew I had to find a way to finish the book.

I put myself back on the waiting list for it and was about to check it out again when the pandemic happened. And then my place in the queue expired and I forgot to renew it.

But earlier this year, that same copy I’d started in 2019 made its way back into my hands and I gobbled up the rest of the story.

There’s not really a lot to say in terms of plot – the book’s subtitle covers it all rather succinctly. It is a story of trees, science, and love. But it’s more too.

It’s a book about the family we choose and about the ways that love endures. It’s about plants, undoubtedly, but about people too and our connection to the world. I felt like a cell of a bigger organism whilst reading this book and that sense of connection is worth so very much after such a long spell of isolation.

It’s about the sacrifices that we make to do the things we want – living in dodgy trailer parks to own a horse, for example, or sleeping in a van. It’s a nice reminder that our priorities might not be linear, and that at some points in our lives, our actions might align with our values more than others.

There is so much here to love, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why I put this to one side. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to hear what was being said, or perhaps I just needed time to let the first half percolate. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I went back to it.

Another great reminder that life isn’t linear, and reading books doesn’t have to be either.

What’s the longest time you’ve taken to finish a book? I think this one is a record for me at three years, but in my defence, I did have a chunk of time off! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Love.

xx

#CanaryCraftivist – The Letter

It’s time to post my little yellow canary off to my MP. (If you’ve not seen the previous post about the #CanaryCraftivist activism that I’m taking part in, the you can catch up here. 🙂 )

I’m really, really proud of the letter that I’ve written, so thought that I would share it here, in the hopes that it might inspire other people to put pen to paper – even if they don’t have a canary to post.

Hopefully, my writing is not too scrappy for you to read it.

With much love, and hope.

Farn

How to easily repair torn sweater cuffs

Last time I posted, I covered how I mend school trousers. This time, I thought I’d relay how I repair sweater cuffs.

My eldest is a chewer – anything that can go in their mouth, does go in their mouth.

The picture above isn’t the best, but you can see where the cuff edges have been gnawed.

This can technically be repaired in a similar way to the trousers, but this time I opted to replace the whole thing. And because the replacement fabric is a slightly different colour, I needed to cut off both of the original cuffs.

I cut outside of the seams to try and reduce the bulk of cloth going through my machine.

Here are the sleeves, ready to receive their new ends.

I used the pieces of sweater that I removed to figure out how big I should make the new cuffs. These are the same width as the originals, but double the height so that when they’re folded, they end up the correct size.

Next, I sew down the short edge – you can see where it’s pinned in the above picture.

Because this is a stretch fabric, I needed to use a zig-zag stitch, so couldn’t set my hand-crank Jones to work. This is my* Frister and Rossman Cub 7, doing its thing. It’s a hardy little machine and a great model for someone just starting to sew. If you can pick one up second hand, it’s absolutely worth it for general household repairs.

If you have access to an overlocker, you can also use this for the cuffs, and it’ll arguably give you a better, more professional, finish. But then, if you have an overlocker, you probably know all this already… 😉

Now that the sides have been joined, the cuff needs folding in half. These raw edges are going to join up with the raw edges on the sweater sleeve.

You should have 3 layers of fabric in a sandwich here – two from the cuff and one from the sweater’s sleeve. To align the cuff properly, I keep the right side of the sleeve facing out, then slip the cuff over the top of it, on the outside. I hope the picture helps that to make sense…

Again, I’ve used the zig-zag stitch for this. I went around the seam twice, because my child is not so kind to clothes, but once is adequate for most sweaters…

In addition, when I turned the cuff the right way round, I zig-zagged over the join – again, this isn’t necessary, but I’m hoping this will make it all last a little longer!

Finally, repeat the process the the second cuff…

As you can tell from the picture above, the colour match is far from perfect, but it’s good enough for things like art or gym days. Eventually, the bright blue of the new cuffs will fade to be more in line with the body, at which point they’ll be significantly less noticeable.

If you have old, worn out sweaters, they’re absolutely perfect to cut up for this, but otherwise, a fat-quarter of stretch jersey rib will last a long time – definitely cheaper than buying new sweaters!

Have you tried repairing any school uniform in preparation for the coming term? If so, what did you mend? What are the most common tears you come across? Is there anything you’d like a tutorial of?

As ever, much love ❤

*I say ‘my’ Frister and Rossman – it’s technically my mum’s…

Is it worth mending school uniforms?

The schools in our area are back in session very soon, so I thought I would dig out the uniform from last term and have a look at the condition of it. I’ve spoken before about removing stains from otherwise well-fitting items, but stains are some of the easier things to remedy.

Harder, are the little tears which result from slightly-too-long-trousers being rubbed along the ground, or from sweater cuffs being teased at with teeth during difficult sums.

I thought we’d start with a trouser leg cuff.

I started by turning the trousers inside out and unpicking the half of the cuff with a hole in it.

Here, you can see how big the hole is, and how frayed the edges are.

For the purposes of this post, I drew roughly along where I planned to stitch the fabric using tailor’s chalk. It doesn’t show up especially well, but I hope you can make it out.

It’s possibly easier to see in this photo as I’ve already started stitching. I tried to get as close to the edge as I could so that I lost as little length as possible.

Here it is, all stitched up. The raw edges will be contained within the cuff, so there’s much less risk of fraying now.

Next, it’s just a case of folding the cuff back into place and stitching it down again. As you can see, the edges of the trouser leg no longer line up, but when these are being worn, you won’t be able to see this at all.

To reattach the cuff, I used a simple whip-stitch (or felling stitch), taking care to only catch the tiniest bit of the leg fabric with the needle.

When the repair is finished, it looks like this – it’s only a little neater, but it is significantly less likely to unravel. Again, you won’t notice this mend when the trousers are worn because of how the fabric hangs over the shoe.

This is how it looks ‘end-on’. You can see the tuck, but if the difference in the way this is folded bothers you, then you can continue stitching all the way around the inside of the cuff…

Which is a repair I’ll show you on a sweater at some point soon…

Do schools use uniforms where you are? If they do, do you buy new every year, second-hand, or repair the previous ones (presuming they still fit)? What are your uniforms made of? Our logo’ed ones are all poly-cotton blends, which is far from ideal.

As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Farn xx

The one thing I wish I’d known sooner…

There is so much advice out there about ways in which to curtail our impact on the planet – leave the car at home, stop buying bottled water, stop eating meat, don’t use plastic products…

Refuse.

Reduce.

But for me, none of that was sustainable.

The human mind is a funny thing. I know that all of the above is factually accurate – that these are all necessary things which I should be doing in order to combat the climate crisis – but when I’m told that I can’t do something, I feel a spark of rebellion.

“I don’t want to stop using my car, thank you very much.”

I suspect I’m not alone.

Doing the right thing became much, much easier when I started to rephrase what was being asked of me. Instead of looking at my life in relation to the environment in terms of deficit, I began looking at it in terms of abundance.

Instead of saying ‘use the car less’, I began to think of it as an opportunity to walk or cycle more.

Rather than ‘eat less imported food’, I started to tell myself that I should eat more local produce.

You’re probably sick of this picture, but I’m not sick of eating this kind of mushroom! 😀

So to anyone who is just beginning to look at living more sustainably, I would say look for abundance.

  • Plant more edibles – herbs, or even bean sprouts, on the window ledge are enough, though Project Diaries on YouTube have amazing tutorials about how to garden cheaply/for free
  • Cook more – check out Madeleine Olivia on YouTube for seriously easy, quick, and delicious recipes, or Pick Up Limes for something more involved
  • Plan more – the better the meal-plan, the less food waste there is and the less money lost – an all round win
  • Walk or cycle more – it feels better than being stuck in a car, and could potentially save money on travel (or gym membership if you’re so inclined)
  • Read more – it’s a free hobby if you use the library or Project Gutenberg, and it’s a sustainable choice
  • Get more from your possessions – repair them so they last longer. There are so many tutorials online that the world really is your oyster.
  • Take more picnics, have more adventures – if you have your lunch with you, there’s less of a limit to where and how far you can go in a day (and it’s cheaper than buying something while you’re out)
  • Keep more money – I’ve saved so much money by finding joy in cooking new recipes, exploring the countryside, and reading books.
  • Enjoy more time – fewer things means less to manage and more time for yourself
  • Learn new hobbies – a few mending skills can see you on your way to sewing or knitting a whole garment – that’s a whole new creative outlet
  • Enjoy the things you love – by buying what you adore rather than what’s trending, you end up filling your house with things which are truly unique to you. And if you love the things you have, you won’t want to replace them regularly with new equivalents. (I personally have a penchant for 70s melamine camping crockery and old enamel cookware – both in hideous orange and brown combinations – but find your own

My life feels so much fuller since I started looking at things in this way – it feels like I’m living a life of plenty, not of loss – despite the fact that I’m consuming less. I think that we need to start looking at environmentalism in terms of what we gain, rather than through the prism of what we stand to lose.

What advice would you give to someone who was new to sustainability? Or what aspects of low-waste living do you think aren’t spoken about enough/are spoken about in a way that perhaps doesn’t tell the whole story?

With much love.

Farn

#PlasticFreeJuly

The year before last, I made a huge effort to chronicle our plastic usage and find ways in which to curtail it.

You can read about that here.

This is a swan’s nest I saw in Amsterdam harbour. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget – nothing should have to live like this on account of humanity.

This year… I feel slightly differently about the whole thing.

It’s not that I don’t agree that we should be trying to reduce our dependence on plastic – we absolutely should. We should also continue to try and dispose of the plastic items we do use in a responsible fashion – reusing and recycling where possible.

I just feel that sometimes, all the anti-plastic rhetoric distracts from other environmental issues.

For example – we encourage people to recycle any plastic waste that they have, but simultaneously advise against buying new plastic products. This creates an imbalance – what’s the point in recycling the material if we’re not going to use it anyway? In addition to reducing our consumption of ‘virgin’ plastics, we need to ensure that the plastic we do use is coming from recycled sources. This will be my personal focus this #PlasticFreeJuly.

I also think it’s important to acknowledge that products packaged in glass or cardboard often take up more space in transit, so require more vehicles to transport them (i.e. bottles of wine, vs bag-in-a-box). They also weigh more, so the amount of fuel used on freight is higher than their plastic-packaged counterparts.

I don’t feel like looking at carbon footprints is the answer either – to be honest, I’m not sure which metric we should be measuring ecological credentials on. I just know that avoiding plastic isn’t the whole story.

So, what can we do?

We can reuse things – and not just the pretty things like mason jars. I did a whole post about the uglier items which I hold onto – old food packaging, produce tubs, and sandwich boxes. Keeping these items saves me money, but it also diverts them from landfill.

We can assess what is actually necessary in our lives. Do we need a pack of disposable, plastic cloths for doing our dishes, or could we cut up an old towel? Can we look at what we feel we’re lacking, and try to fill that gap with objects we already own?

And finally, we can recognise that the current state of the world is not our responsibility alone. We can engage with protest groups (such as the Craftivist Collective) to try and influence government policy, we can vote for parties which prioritise our values, and we can hold companies to account for products and packaging which aren’t fit for purpose. There comes a point where we’ve done all that we can reasonably be expected to do whilst living within the realms of modern society, and it’s at this point we need to take a good look at whether or not we can change society itself.

This plastic-free July, I will continue to examine the objects I buy and consume, and continue to look at ways in which I can better myself. But I’m also going to take a look at some of the ways in which I can change the world around me – can I start looking at ways to pass on my mending skills, for example? I definitely plan on taking part in the Canary Craftivist project, but I hope I can come up with other ways in which to make a difference too.

Aside from curtailing your plastic purchases, are you planning to do anything for Plastic Free July? I would love to hear your thoughts.

xx

Canary Craftivism

The Craftivist Collective has been on my radar for a while now. I even helped to crowd-fund the up-coming book via Unbound.

I really love the idea of slow, gentle protest. It resonates with me – I understand the need for riot, for huge public uprising (i.e. The Berlin Wall), but I would also love to think that we can get to a kinder world without the need for violence.

So, when I heard that the Craftivist Collective were planning a Climate Crisis protest, I was super excited to take part.

This particular protest involves creating small, handmade canaries, because;

the yellow canary is the perfect symbol for this project. They need clean air to be able to fly high in the sky and far afield. In years gone by, they used to accompany coal miners into the mines and give warning signals when the air was too toxic to work in. Miners often called their canary partners ‘colleagues’ and cared so much for them that they wanted to protect them from harm, sometimes more than themselves. 

Just as canaries were effective warning signs then, our Gentle Protest will be a kind, encouraging warning for Members of Parliament now. It will remind them that they can help nature, wildlife and humans flourish before it’s too late.

https://craftivist-collective.com/blog/2021/06/canarycraftivists/

So, I dug out a pattern that I used a while ago – the ‘Bluebird of Happiness’. It’s a really neat, quick little pattern, and one that I’ve never made any alterations to. Now my little Canary is all ready to go!

When I’ve written the letter to my MP, I’ll share it here. I hope it will at least spark a thought.

Have you taken part in any climate activism? If so, what kind?

With much love,

Farn

Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough

This was a really interesting book.

First published in the early years of the new millenium, this book argues for circular design, and gives amazing examples of instances where such a thing has been achieved.

It argues that humanity can do better than being ‘less bad’ for the environment – that we have the capacity to create a world in which waste fuels industry in a more meaningful way than the incineration of refuse to produce electricity.

It argues that we need to stop selling products, but to sell – instead – a product’s service. One of the examples given is a carpet – the customer pays for the service of the carpet, then at the end of said carpet’s useful life, the top is removed, reprocessed and remade into another carpet, whilst the underlay remains intact and ready to receive its replacement.

It talks about incredible work at the Ford Rouge plant – where mushrooms and plants are used to purify the soil of toxins, caused by a century of industry. It talks about incredible financial savings that businesses can make, simply by making their car-parks porous. It talks about what a city would look like if all the roofs were made of living grass – a natural way to improve air quality, retain water to cool the town, and to ease strain on public water systems, all whilst improving habitat for wildlife.

This book was really inspiring for a number of reasons. Firstly, it didn’t deal with the concept of ‘reduce’, at least, not in the way we’re used to viewing it within the sustainability movement. Instead of ‘use less’, Cradle to Cradle encouraged ‘reduction’ by redesigning our systems to use waste as raw material, effectively, negating it as a concept entirely.

I guess the most accurate description of this book I can think of is: ‘an optimistic capitalist does environmentalism but in the best possible way’. It’s the sort of thing I’d give to an engineer, or small business owner – or an eco-skeptic who acknowledges there’s a problem but doesn’t think we can do anything about it.

It also made me look at some of my own deep-founded beliefs. Whilst I’m not going to start spending money at That River Company any time soon, and will continue to boycott Nestle, I have a lot more respect for businesses who do work with the brands that I personally consider evil. The question: ‘How can you work with such people?’ was asked throughout the text, and the answer the authors gave – as a sustainability based company – remained ‘How can we not?’ If we want to change the world, we can’t just ignore the parts of it we don’t like – we have to actively engage with them to change them.

The book is a very short read – under 200 pages. It’s perhaps beginning to date a little now, the main body of the text having been written around the year 2000, but the concept is sound and if you’re interested in learning more, there are multiple case studies on the Cradle to Cradle website.

Have you read this book? If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’m also open to recommendations of nature themed/sustainability books and documentaries. Particularly those which don’t place sole responsibility for the climate crisis on the consumer…