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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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!
If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend doing so (or other books on the subject, like How to Break Up with Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo). These insights into the way that clothes are made and disposed of are the basis of my mending skills. By looking after the apparel we have, we delay the need for new garments and prevent mostly functional pieces from ending up in landfill.
So, as I had a shirt collar to turn, I thought I’d share the process with you today, in case it’s of any use.
This is an easy job to do and can be done either by hand or with a sewing machine (though the machine does give a lovely, neat finish). You only need to unpick/sew one line of stitching so depending on how quick you/your machine is, this might only be a five minute job. Even photographing things as I went along, this took less than 20 minutes. And I had to rewind my bobbing.
So, here’s the shirt collar…
As you can see, the fabric has worn thin and there are holes in it.
To begin, I need to unpick the line of stitching which connects the collar to the main body of the shirt. You can see this in the above picture, just below where my thumb is.
I use little scissors to start this process because it makes it easier to get the seam ripper in, but you can use a ripper straight away, or scissors all the way along – whatever is easiest, really.
Here we are, almost finished…
And now we have a seperate shirt and collar. And here you have some options.
a. flip the collar (as I detail below) to extend the life of the shirt. b. do a better job than I did and insert some iron-on interfacing into the collar to better support the holey bit, then flip the collar (as detailed below). c. Remove the collar completely and sew up the top of the shirt, thus creating a ‘granddad shirt’ neckline.
I opted for – obviously – option a, mostly because I have no interfacing at present. When holes appear in the collar on the other side, I’ll probably opt for option c. I’m not sure how that’ll look on a checked-shirt, but it’ll be perfectly fine for sleeping in, if nothing else.
Anyways, on with the sewing.
I flipped the collar and pinned it in place. Here you can see the holes are now on the outside of the shirt. This means that when the collar is folded back on itself, they won’t be visible.
After that, it’s just a matter of feeding the shirt through the machine, being sure to catch all the layers of fabric. This is easier than it might sound because you can just follow the previous line of machine stitching. *
And then you’re done. The collar looks as good as new on this side, and it’s ready for another half-decade of service! Hooray!
Like I said to begin with, this is such a simple five minute job, and when you compare the labour and materials (i.e. some thread) with the cost of a new shirt, it’s a really easy way of saving money. This is a job I did whilst watching a video so it’s not even like it ate into any leisure time. I’d call that a win all round.
Are there any easy, quick-fixes that you do on your clothes? I would love to hear about them – maybe I can have a go!
*I’ve been asked about my sewing machine a few times now so thought I’d chat about my menagerie of machines here.
The one pictured is a Jones Family CS from 1895 – a hand-crank, bullet-bobbin, organ-needle machine. I bought it in a charity shop in Norwich in 2006 for £20 and it’s what I learned to sew on.
I do also have two electric machines – a Frister and Rossman Cub 7 from the mid-80s (which is technically my mum’s), and a Pfaff from the late 80s/early 90s (which I inherited when my mother-in-law died and am yet to use).
The Pfaff needs significant work, which I plan on having done when lockdown eases – it sat uncovered and unused for a decade so is really gummed up – but I hope to bring it back into regular use soon as it has various embroidery settings which the Jones and F&R don’t have. The Cub 7 is also in desperate need of a service, but if you’re looking for a beginners sewing machine and can find one of these gems, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s easy to use, built like a tank, and runs really quietly.
For me though, nothing will ever beat the Jones on a straight stitch. That’s literally all it does – stitch forwards in a line. I can service it myself because it’s such an elegant, unfussy machine, and because it’s a hand-crank, I can set it up anywhere. I’ve been known to sit in the garden with it on a sunny day, or in front of a film with it on the coffee table. It’s slow enough that my children can use it without it running away from them too, and that’s a massive bonus. Around 2 years ago, I did a lot of work on it, and if anyone is interested in seeing the pictures of it being brought back from sitting in storage, let me know and I can write a post on it. 🙂
The other day, I went looking on Pinterest for some inspiration.
I love writing here, I really do, but sometimes I feel a bit like I’m repeating myself – that I’m not providing any new information. At some point in the later half of 2020, I began to grow self-conscious about what I was writing and it led to me slowing down in terms of posts.
I imagined people reading my work, getting bored of hearing about my garden, or the books that I’ve read, or the swaps that I’ve made.
Other people have done it all before and they’ve absolutely done so in a much prettier way.
And that’s when it really struck me – I wasn’t posting things which I thought were useful because they weren’t also pretty.
There’s a very specific…. aesthetic to low-waste/zero-waste living. Bright, minimalist spaces, glinting mason jars, soft brushed linens….
That just isn’t my reality, and I’m sure it’s not the reality for most people trying to reduce their impact on the planet. We all take baggage – literal and figurative – when we leave home. For my part, I took an entire Saab 9-5 full of stuff with me to university all those years ago, along with a severe lack of practical cooking skills which led me to far too many ready-meals.
Over the years, I consumed without thinking, and it was only in 2011 – after reading Lucy Siegal’s To Die For – that I began to consider the impact of the objects in my life.
As a result, there are multiple relics from my personal ‘before times’ in my life. They’re not pretty – they don’t fit with the ‘zero waste aesthetic’, but they do fit with the spirit of the thing, and so I thought I’d share them with you here. Hopefully they can help reassure you that just because you don’t have beautiful stainless steel lunch boxes, that you’re still doing a great job.
First up, my box full of ugly plastic bags…
This is exactly what it looks like. I keep a small box full of plastic food bags. I have diligently washed and dried each of these and here they sit, awaiting use! I employ them in my freezer, or – more pertinently at the moment – when giving my children snacks for school. Pre-covid, I used to bake them little cupcakes and back them in decades-old tupperware, but the fewer things which go to/from school just now the better. And that being the case, having these free bags as ‘disposable’ packaging for home bakes is excellent. Generally speaking, I try to get a few uses of the bags at home before I send them off with my kids, but given that typically these would have been tossed out instantly after unpacking the food within, even one extra use is a huge bonus.
And aside from anything else, I find it bizarre that we’re willing to spend money on a roll of freezer bags, whilst simultaneously throwing perfectly functional plastic bags out…
Next up – my ‘compost bin’…
This is an old yogurt pot from back when I used to buy yogurt regularly (I think I discussed yogurt before and decided that this is one of the ‘basic’ things that should be a real treat).
It sits on the side in the kitchen and gets filled with compostable food scraps. It’s ugly – especially now it’s so sun-faded – but it’s the perfect size to collect things in. It fills up quickly enough that we remember to empty it before it starts stinking.
I also have a load of these tubs which I use to freeze food in too – no need to buy special containers when I could just repurpose something that was free. It’s not as pretty as its custom glass/metal counterpart, but it’s keeping something out of the waste management system and that’s important.
Next up, my packaging supplies…
Yup. That’s where it all lives – in front of my dining room fireplace. We don’t light this fire because we haven’t had the chimney swept in actual years so try not to worry about the safety hazard all that paper near a flame presents.
Here’s a close up…
All that folded brown paper in the basket on the left is ‘padding’ from deliveries we’ve been sent, so I save it for gift wrapping. Either the children draw on it, or we use stamps to decorate it, and we reuse it that way. Also visible are some gift bags and some printed wrapping paper (which I rescued from the skip when we cleared out my inlaws’ house). I literally haven’t bought gift-wrap in years, but as a result, we do have to live around this… sculpture…
None of these things are attractive to look at. You’re not going to find them on Pinterest. But I think it’s important that we talk about the instantly accessible ways in which we can reduce our waste. I hope that this mini-selection of the literal (but useful!) junk that I keep around my house has given you some ideas.
I would love to hear some of the uglier things you manage to keep out of landfill. At some point, I plan to do a post about ‘random things which we’ve found and attached to our walls as art’ but this seems like a good place to start!
One of the low waste advent activities that I like to do with the children in the run up to Christmas is to make chocolate snowmen.
For these, I use white chocolate, dark chocolate chips, and the tiniest pinch of turmeric. I bought the chips from our local refillery, but the chocolate tends to be whatever I can get from the supermarket that’s wrapped in foil and paper – Green & Blacks, if I’m feeling flush but Lidl’s cheapest otherwise.
The snowmen are fairly self-explanatory. I melted the white chocolate and set aside a few tablespoons of this. I added a pinch of turmeric to the set-aside chocolate and dabbed it onto some baking paper to make the carrot noses.
After the now-yellow chocolate had set, I let the children spoon some of the still white chocolate onto the paper, and adorn with chocolate chips and turmeric noses.
One the snowmen had dried, we packed them in little brown paper bags to gift to friends. Although the paper isn’t plastic free – modern baking paper being coated in a sheet of silicone – we did reuse this many times over the week as we created an army of snowmen. And overall, I think we definitely reduced the amount of plastic that conventional chocolate gifts would have produced.
I would love to see any pictures if you have a go – I think these guys are so cute! What are your favourite festive treats? As ever, you can contact me here or on Twitter?
To start with, I plan to continue my efforts to #CutTheWrap by using cloth bags for all of my family’s gifts. This will not only cut down on expenditure over the long term (never having to buy gift wrap again!) but it will also save me time – something that’s very presious in the winter months.
Over the coming weeks, I would like to talk a little bit about expectations, panic buying, and the need for research before gifting anything. I want to discuss whether it’s ever OK to ‘gift’ someone a library book, and what you can do instead of giving gifts.
These are all pretty big topics, so I’ll pause here for the time being and invite you all to ‘watch this space’ for what’s to come.
As ever, if you’ve got any suggestions about ways to make Christmas a less wasteful period of time, I would absolutely love to hear them – either here, or on Twitter.
As an ever increasing amount of our time is spent online, it’s hard to imagine ways that we can make this greener. Happily, it is possible, free, and a relatively quick process. The following took me an afternoon.
Go through your ‘promotions’ folder in your email inbox. Unsubscribe from everything. This serves you in two ways – it will reduce the amount of spam mail you receive and so free up valuable server space. It will also remove some of the temptation to over consume. If you need something new, chances are you’ll have a point of purchase in mind anyway, and if you’re purchasing online, a quick search for ‘Store Name + discount codes’ should show you any voucher you’re afraid of missing out on.
Delete all of your ‘promotional’ and ‘social’ emails. Again, the data contained within these emails is stored somewhere. If you delete the things you’re never going to look at, you make the storage space available for other data and this in turn means that increasing amounts of storage isn’t necessary.
Turn off notification emails on your social media. Facebook and Twitter really don’t need to email you every time people interact with you. This will keep your ‘social’ tab nice and empty, and mean you won’t spend as much time clearing it out in future.
Switch your browser to Ecosia. I’ve spoken about this before, but basically it’s like Google, except the ad revenue you generate goes towards planting trees.
If you’re in the UK, sign up to the Mailing Preference Service. Though not technically decluttering your life online, it’s worth doing as it stops unsolicited post to your address.
In addition to the Mailing Preference Service, sign up to the Post Office’s own version. This is slightly more convoluted, but absolutely worth doing. It prevents such a huge amount of waste every year per household.
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list – there are doubtless loads of other things you can do in order to keep your digital impact down.
Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? I would love to hear them! As ever, you can contact me here or on Twitter.
Any readers who have been with me for a while, might remember me having a go at making soap from fryer oil.
The oil never really lost the smell of food and though it did eventually lose the melted-toffee consistency in the drying process, it melted again in my soap bowl.
So, I tried a few different things with my second batch, and Oh My Goodness! What a difference it made!
One of the main issues with the soap was the smell. This time round, I filtered the oil the same as before, but then I left it in a bowl on the kitchen side for a week. I think ‘airing it out’ helped a lot, but I also heated it with some lavender flowers in then strained it again. I don’t know which of these things actually performed the magic of removed the smell but I don’t actually care! Chip stink was gone, and I was ready to go!
As I discussed previously, the first batch of soap had the texture of chewy toffee – not something I want from a soap! According to a book about soap making that I have, this was on account of a lower quality lye. So, to compensate, I took the quantity of lye that SoapCalc told me to use, and added 4g more. I just sort of guessed how much extra to add, because I’m not an exact cook and somehow, this just felt a bit like recipe fudging, rather than the science it actually is.
I also added a jar of coconut oil – this was primarily because I had it, don’t like cooking with it, and I wanted to use the jar for something else.
This time round, everything combined to make an absolutely perfect soap. It smells clean, the texture is perfect, and it lathers wonderfully. I actually feel happy giving this as gifts. I’m so excited to try making some more – perhaps adding in some coffee grounds as an exfoliant, or some oats and camomile for a honey smell?
What are you favourite fragrances for soap? I’d love to try something a little different next time! As ever, you can contact me here, or on Twitter.