#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…

I wasn’t expecting this from an old towel…

I wasn’t expecting to be asked for sweatbands.

I mean, does anyone ever really expect their youngest child to request such a thing?

But such a thing was requested, and as such, I did my best to oblige…

Using some wide elastic, liberated from my grandmother’s stash, and an old towel with a hole in the centre, I cobbled together perfectly adequate sweat bands. Or at least, the small child seemed happy with them. But that’s not really the end of the story.

I was left with the rest of a very bald towel. And I hate throwing away fabric, even when it is as ancient as this.

I honestly don’t know how that hole got there…

This came at a fortuitous time, though, because my knitted dishcloths look like this…

Massive holes all round.

So.

I decided to do what anyone would do – I cut up the remains of the towel for dishcloths.

I started off by cutting through the hole, then by cutting those halves into quarters. Luckily everything came out pretty evenly, but you cut your cloth according to what you have…

I ended up with 8 good sized dish cloths. Despite the baldness of the fabric, though, I found that the edges were pretty prone to fraying.

So, out came the sewing machine.

I started by folding each edge over twice, but this was a lot of fiddly work, and it all got very thick on the corners. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue for the Jones, but I’ve run out of ‘period-correct’ fully round needles so I’m down to modern ‘organ’ needles. These work, but have slightly different proportions so the machine tends to struggle to catch the bottom bobbin on thicker projects.

I abandoned the double fold for a single folded hem and this worked just as well in stopping the fabric from disintegrating.

Double fold on the left, single on the right – not a huge difference.

When it came to the cloth which had been right next to the hole, I just made a slight detour with the presser foot and everything came out ok…

It’s not perfect, but honestly, who cares when it’s a dish cloth?

And that’s really all there is to it. It took around 20 minutes from start to finish to make 8 cloths in total (but would be faster on an electric machine). These are also 100% cotton, so whilst 20 minutes of time vs 85p for a pack of 5 dish cloths isn’t a huge financial saving, it does prevent plastic microfibres from entering the water system, and it’s one fewer towel destined for landfill at the end of its life.

What do you do with your old towels? We used a lot as packing material when cleaning out my in-laws house so we have many, and only one dog to use them on! I’d love to hear any suggestions!

I cycled to the train today and this is what I learned…

Firstly, I learned that I am really, really unfit.

This surprised me enormously because I’m not a very still person. Walking is still my main (only) social activity, despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, and I’ve been wandering up and down all our local hills for literal years now (formerly with a 16kg toddler on my back!). All that practice wasn’t enough though – and it wasn’t even the incline which I thought I wouldn’t manage which forced me to dismount and walk. It was a very long, very slight climb to the top of a hill.

Which brings me neatly to point two: No matter how pretty the German city bike is, 3 gears are not enough. It’s a heavy bike – two very large wheels, a nice low cross bar, sit-up-and-beg handlebars… I imagine that in the Netherlands, or parts of Denmark, or even the Fens in the UK, that it would be a perfect bike. I mean, on the flat bits, it is an absolutely perfect bike – super comfortable to sit on and very, very smooth to ride.

But this is Scotland. And we have hills. There was one point – a sudden, but sharp incline which I don’t actually notice in the car – which almost brought the bike’s wheels to a stop, even in the appropriate gear.

Interestingly – point three – it actually took the same amount of time to get to the village on the bike as it would in the car. The car has to slow tremendously for the corners because the road is super narrow and the track to our house is made mostly of holes. Because the car is low, and because I can’t hear if there’s any traffic coming over the engine, I never really get above second or third gear, whereas on the bike, I can see over all the hedges and hear if there’s anything coming, meaning that I don’t have to moderate my speed nearly as much. So, I can actually get to my destination as quickly on two wheels as I can on four. There is one very steep hill on the way there, but for the most part, it’s a road to roll down. Hence why the way home is… a struggle.

Finally, there are very few places I feel happy leaving a bike in the village. One is able to rent locked parking at the station from the council (it’s not too expensive, but for one year’s rental, I could buy a massive bike lock and park for ‘free’ for the length of my degree), or there are a handful of bike stands, but these are in places where I would feel really conscious about abandoning my vehicle for the day – the leisure centre car park, or just outside the corner shop… It feels… invasive of me, to take up space which customers might need.

Mostly though, I learned that it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be.

Some things which would make my life easier/make me more likely to keep this up:

  • I’d like to get some trousers which will be acceptable for use in the classroom, as well as on the bike. Currently, I’ve only really got large, linen confections (and an oversized pair of dungarees made from orange cheesecloth). I’d be worried about these catching in the chains. I’m not really a leggings person so I’d need to figure something out in terms of clothing.
  • I need to figure out a way to carry as few things as possible. I’m currently weighing up the logistics of photocopying textbook pages and only taking the chapters I’m working on, but that seems wasteful. I’d never planned to take my laptop with me (I don’t trust myself with it on a bike!) so PDF scans aren’t really an option either. I wonder how many books relevant to my course will be available via e-reader, and if so, whether I can get them without using That River Company.* I wonder what the best way to carry lunch, snacks, and possibly breakfast is. I wonder how to take enough water with me for the day so I don’t have to buy more… There’s only a small front basket, and I’ve got a backpack which will mostly be filled with my helmet, unless…
  • I rent one of the bike lockers at the station, though realistically, that ties me into rail travel as the relevant bus stop is right at the other end of the village. The bus is cheaper, and whilst it takes longer, it gets me into the city closer to the university. The train station necessitates a 30-45 minute walk at the other side… Good for fitness, but hardly great for studying.

Ultimately, my transport situation remains a work in progress. I will do what I can to avoid purchasing another vehicle, but the infrastructure round here does not make it easy!

Do you cycle? Do you have any hints and tips for a total beginner, tackling hills for the first time? I would really appreciate any wisdom you could impart!


*FYI: I use That River Company’s e-reader because someone was giving one away on Freecycle. I download classics for it via Project Gutenberg. I’m one of those people who refuse to buy from said River company, hoping to – and utterly failing to – make a difference.

Transport

Well…. I actually got accepted into University. As of September, I’ll be going back to school to study an MA in Archaeology.

I’m excited. Also nervous – I was 18 when I started my last degree and the difference between how I feel now and how I felt then is stark. I remember only one mature student from my time before – a lovely woman, if somewhat distant – and I’m beginning to worry that the distance she experienced was not voluntary but enforced. It’s not as though I’m going there looking to find friends – I’m very much going to learn – but I’m also acutely aware of how lonely education can be if there aren’t people to share your passions with.

But let’s focus on ‘excited’. And transport. Because I live approximately an hour and a half from the campus.

I’ll know more about my schedule in July, but if my last arts degree was anything to go by, teaching hours will be minimal. I sort of hope so, because it’s a heck of a commute to do every day!

I do have a few options. As it’s only myself travelling, I do have the freedom to walk the hour to the nearest bus stop. I can hypothetically cycle too, but my bike is a European back-braking city-bike – designed for Hamburg streets, not Aberdeenshire hills. In order to cycle with any regularity, I feel as though I would need to trade my bike in for something with (at the very least) gears in order to tackle the not-insignificant hill which leads to the nearest village. Once at the village, I can then choose between a bus and – miracle-of-Beeching-surviving-miracles – a train. The train is fast, but expensive, and I would need to undertake another hour’s walk from the station to campus on the other side, whilst the bus is painfully slow but cheaper and – ultimately – more direct.

I’ve spoken with my family about possibly purchasing a small, second-hand electric car, but I just don’t feel like the charging infrastructure is there yet – hardly unsurprising for the oil capital of Europe, but I can hope. And of course, there’s the option of the ‘banger’ – a cheap, ancient car which limps along between fixes. Hardly green or economical.

Before I go any further, I know that this is, as my husband would say, a ‘luxury problem’. I’m talking through a myriad of transport options for accessing voluntary, expensive, higher education. I could make points about how many people have to make this journey daily for employment purposes and don’t have the easy option of ‘if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just get an old car’. I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in and I fully appreciate that. It is beyond frustrating that there isn’t an affordable, easily accessible public transport infrastructure up here – arguably where people need it most due to hugely scattered population and centralised services….

But I digress. This is where we’re at.

During my first year of studies – because Covid – much of the learning will be online anyway, so I’ve pledged not to purchase a car until at least year 2, by which point I hope to have proved to myself that I can absolutely do without one.

My plan at the present time is to cycle while the weather is conducive to using my heavy, gearless bike, then walk through the worst of the winter months. In an ideal world, I’ll take the train – because I’m still a child who loves the romance of trains at heart – but I’ll inevitably end up taking the bus because money.

If I’m being entirely honest, the environmental impact isn’t the main driving force behind my decision. Yes, it’s definitely part of it, but what swayed me, was the ‘dead’ time spent on public transport. Since mobile phones came into common usage, we’ve been expected more-and-more to be ‘on’ at all times. We need to be ‘doing’ in order to be valid*. Using public transport will – for me – carve out a time in which I can’t do anything other than read. I’m still using my Nokia 3310, so I won’t have access to the internet for the entire journey, and I won’t be behind the wheel so I’ll be free to let my mind wander as I enjoy the countryside.

In addition, it’s going to help me work exercise into my day. I’m someone who very much benefits from exercise in terms of my mood, but I’m also someone who never makes space for it. Hopefully by making it a necessity, it’ll keep me going.

Obviously, all of this could change in the coming months, but for now, this is my plan.

If you’re a cyclist and you have any advice for me, I’d be super keen to hear it. I already have the helmet, high-vis vest, bike basket, and waterproofs. My friend has recommended a set of solar bike lights with a decent charge life, so I’m excited to research them. Any words of wisdom beyond that are thoroughly appreciated. I’m especially interested in how to keep my ears warm in the freezing winds which are still – in May! – bringing sleet and hale.

I’m going to get my bike out and make sure it’s all in working order then have a few ‘trial runs’ into the village. I’ll let you know how it goes.

For now, much love.

Farn ❤

*If you’re interested, Jessie Gender does a whole incredible video about the nature of work that I would definitely recommend… even if you’re not a Star Trek fan.