Back to School backpack

As I said in a previous post about school uniform, we really don’t need to buy brand new paraphernalia for our children at the start of every school year. I’m a great believer in using what’s at hand and ‘making do’.

That said, my youngest starts school this year. There is no pre-existing backpack, or pencil case, or gym bag. And looking at the things we used for nursery, I don’t feel like there’s a way we can repurpose them on this occasion. So, as I’m not going to buy anything new – as per my birthday pledge – I thought I would share the making process as I attempt a backpack.

There are so many reasons why it makes sense to craft your own items (if you have the ability to do so) and I would definitely encourage you to read many of the amazing works out there about why we should reject high-street fashion/supermarket retail if we can afford to – both Lauren Bravo’s book and Lucy Siegle‘s spring instantly to mind. Plastic fabrics, dyes, and awful work environments are just a handful of issues inherent in cheap, imported goods.* Second hand is a great middle ground if you can’t afford something ethically produced and eBay is full of high quality satchels which are no longer seeing any love.

However, as I’ve got a large fabric stash (mostly inherited) and the skills to make a basic bag, this seems like the most cost-effective, eco-friendly way for me to do this.

So, without further soap-boxing…

Step One – Select your fabric. 

I’ve touched before on the advantages of natural fibres, but I’d like to add here that you’re looking for something hard-wearing and duarble. School bags see a lot of punishment from day-to-day. Denim is an obvious choice, and most houses have an old pair of jeans or two which aren’t getting worn. If you’re going to use old clothes, selecting those with as few seams as possible gives you a lot of options as you’ll have larger areas of ‘uninterrupted’ cloth.

Step Two – Decide on your size.

In our case, school provides a book-bag, so this satchel will largely be used for a gym kit, water bottle and snack, so it doesn’t need to be huge. I think a good rule, is to think about the largest thing that will need carrying and then make your design just that little bit larger – around 2 inches on each side is usually a good shout.

Step 3 – Decide how you’re going to carry the bag

In some cases, a drawstring bag will be enough, especially for a gym kit. In which case, don’t make life more complicated than it needs to be and check out this tutorial. It does instruct you to overlock/serge the sides, but you can get around this by sewing a ‘French seam’ instead – tutorial here. For anything else, I would have said to just zig-zag over the raw fabric, or use some pinking shears, but for something that children are going to toss around at school every day, I really think that the seams need to be fray-proof for longevity. I didn’t actually do anything special for the outer layer of this particular bag, though, as it’s a plastic cloth which doesn’t fray. It was my table cloth for years so saw a lot of usage – I know how it’s going to stand up to punishment! – so I didn’t make more work for myself.

Step… I’m just going to start uploading pictures now. Wish me luck. 

To start with, I cut my fabric… I chose an old, plastic-coated tablecloth for this bag. Because longevity. And children. And I had it already.

I cut the same size of lining fabric too. This lining came from an old bed sheet – you can see it behind the garish periodic table above.

I folded the outer layer in half and sewed along the side and bottom.

Then I folded the bag in such a way that I could sew across the corners to make the base square. It’s difficult to explain it  but I hope the pictures help…

I did the same to the lining (check out those French seams!) and it might be a little clearer here…

I then inserted a zip into the top of the bag. The zip I had in my stash wasn’t quite long enough, so I added some denim scraps to either end…

I’m not sure if you can really see it in the picture above, but after I’d added the zip, I added a little strap with a popper on. If my child chooses not to fasten the strap, the bag has about another 5-6 inches of space. Not necessary just now, but hopefully this will last a while and might become relevant later…

This was actually pretty difficult to do because I’d already put the zip in, but it was possible and that’s the main thing!

I just hand stitched this big metal popper into place. It’s not glamorous as far as closures go, but it does the job.

Then I had a break for about 2 weeks while I figured out what to do with the straps. I wanted a backpack, but I’d already added the zip which made adding straps… less than ideal. I also didn’t really have the various buckles and clips to make the straps adjustable which isn’t really ‘future-proof’.

So I decided to be a bit… creative with the straps. I measured from my child’s waist to shoulder, multiplied this by two, then measured from shoulder to shoulder, and added these numbers together. I then doubled that number. This gave me the length of continuous fabric I needed for… whatever you’d call the contraption I’m rigging up.

I then sewed a second length of this strap fabric and stitched it across the back of the bag, with little gaps for the length of strap to pass through. Because I’d already sewn the zip in place, this process redefined my personal idea of hell.

For the sake of my sanity, I decided to hand-sew the rest of the bag…

Hand stitching is one of those things we’re conditioned to think of as too slow to be practical, but actually, for small and fiddly objects (like this bag!) it’s probably faster than trying to find a machine-friendly alternative. I used backstitch to make the straps really secure and always sew with a thimble – this really helps when you’re sewing heavy fabric like the plastic table-cloth. Also worth noting and contrary to what I used to think, using a thinner needle tends to be easier than a thick one on thick fabrics.

You can see from the pictures below that the straps can move between the two holes and the function of the bag can change from backpack to shoulder bag.

The shoulder strap will make is easy for me to carry when I inevitably get dumped with the bag after school, but the backpack position is perfect for small people…

All that remained was to fit the lining. Again, I chose to do this by hand for speed and ease. Sewing around the zip is just vastly easier this way.

Once I’d done that, all that was left was to turn the whole thing inside out and try it on the enthusiastic recipient…

I’m not going to lie – this does look… homemade. Our school is tiny and rural, and the children are sweet. They do pick on one another every so often but in such a small community, there are few places to hide so I’m not overly worried about my child being bullied for not having something ‘bought’. I do think, though, that this is something which you might want to consider if your children attend a bigger school or is a little older and part of a brand-conscious crowd.

There are ways to ensure that the bag looks as good as possible – all of them easy, some of them free.
– Measure everything carefully
– Press your seams as you go along
– Use the sharpest scissors you have access to
– Use a new sewing-machine needle for each project
– Use as high quality fabric as you can
– Make sure to sew in all loose threads (I think this makes the biggest difference).

I didn’t actually buy anything for this project – most of it came from my mother-in-law’s substantial stash – so it was really cheap. You could technically make it without the strap to fasten the top down, so you don’t necessarily even need the popper.

Have you tried making school supplies before? How did you get on?

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*There are, of course, arguments that we should continue to buy from these lower-priced places in order to prevent job-losses in overseas factories. I can absolutely see the reasoning behind this, and if this is where your moral compass is pointing you, then ‘you do you’ – crack on. If you do want change, though, you need to let the retail outlet you’re purchasing from know – drop them a Tweet, ask about how the garment workers are treated, and then don’t act as though the clothes you’ve bought are disposable. If enough brands are held accountable for the ethics of their products, then we might begin to see a change.

Depending on the point in time you’re reading this from, something like Lost Stock might be a good compromise. In short, due to the Covid pandemic, many UK retailers cancelled their orders leaving

Buy Nothing New – month 2 review!

This month was vastly easier than previous months as half of it was technically #PlasticFreeJuly.

The feeling of overwhelming responsibility for my things (which I’ve spoken about before) has abated somewhat, but that’s possibly because I’ve been distracted by actually mending said things. I’ve darned the elbow of a knitted sweater (which was second-hand anyway)…

I am SO pleased with this. It’s obvious in the picture, but in real life, it’s all but invisible now that the sweater has been washed and the wool has felted a little.

I’ve also reused elements from an unsalvageable hoodie to make a pair of jeans for my eldest child…

I used the hood drawstring for the waistband and the sleeve cuffs for the ankles. I even managed to rescue some of the cloth from the sleeves to make a smaller pair of trousers for my youngest child. I was especially pleased with this because it made a nice change to patching left knees – something I seem to spend my life doing as sharp kneecaps are apparently a genetic trait that my husband passed on.

This month, my purchase list is small. The fact that my car insurance was due probably helped a lot with this! Regardless:

  • I bought a comic book in the series that Husband is reading (second hand, of course!)
  • I bought three strangers a book, via the Big Green Bookshop‘s Wednesday event. I know these are new books, but it was a lovely thing to participate in and I got to share my favourite works with others this way. And at the moment, in a world which seems so very dark, it was nice to spread what little love I can.
  • I bought my eldest some second hand school trousers.
  • I bought a second hand Christmas gift on eBay. I’ve been looking for this particular item for ages now and as it came up on a saved search, I took the opportunity to buy it.
  • I bought a nail brush for after I’ve been working in the garden. Second hand isn’t really an option here so I bought new from Boobalou because it’s wooden.
  • I bought a digital knitting pattern from an indie designer. I’m going to use it in conjunction with some wooden peg dolls I already have, scrap yarn, and some champagne corks (for mushrooms) to make a fairy play set as a Christmas gift.

Are there any things I’ve wished I could buy?

  • Cotton wadding for a quilt… still. I mentioned it last time so I’ve set up a saved search on eBay and hopefully something will come up soon.
  • Fan merchandise for a game I love which is ridiculous, so I’m not doing it.
  • A set of silicone baking sheets in an attempt to reduce the quantity of baking paper I get through. I might still buy these – baking paper sort of comes under household goods, right?

 

An update on the garden

My goodness, my garden has been good to me this summer!

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I am more and more grateful every day for the lovely patch of land we inhabit. From giving us a space to meet family in the early days of lockdown easing, to feeding us delicious fruits and vegetables, and drying the constant stream of laundry which comes out of my house daily, the garden has nourished us.

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I’ve done my best not to waste a single gift I’ve been given. The beetroot has been pickled for winter – a sweet and tangy accent to hearty stews and stovies. The leafs have been saved for salads and a soup I’ve taken to calling ‘summer borscht’ – a mix of potatoes and beetroot leafs.

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The wilds have been fruitful too – mushrooms and berries aplenty. We’ve supped on blaeberries gathered from a woodland carpeted in plants dripping with fruit, and on peppery chanterelles, buried like gold.

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I’ve dried camomile, fennel and lovage in the sunlight that streams through the car windscreen – an impromptu dehydrator that we’re so lucky to have.

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And the peas and courgettes keep coming – dressed in fine summer mint, they make every meal feel like a treat.

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And the salads! They look like sunshine on a plate, sprinkled with petals and agate-slices of radish.

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We’ve even had hazy elderflower cordial and blackcurrant schnapps from our wonderful trees and fruit bushes.

I’m not naive enough to believe that we could feed ourselves entirely from the garden – we’ve had help from an incredible Community Supported Agriculture farm a few villages over. If you’ve not looked into this scheme near you, I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. It has totally changed the way we eat, building our meals around vegetables we’d never used before. The farm near us make YouTube videos about what they’re planting and how they’re doing it, so even my beige-food-loving child is excited to eat the things ‘seen on TV’.

My next step is to start looking into ways I can be good to my garden. I’m already composting everything I possibly can – the next step is to use this as mulch and put it to good use. Other than that, my main aims are to try and remove as much of the rosebay willow herb as I can, and to address the black spot that’s involved itself with my roses.

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…and the mystery spots on the gooseberry bush…

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…and the spots on the crab apple…

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… and finally the rather tragic pear tree…

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I hope I can find out what these issues are – I would love to be able to save these plants!

If you have any suggestions, I’d be really keen to hear them!

Liebster Blogger Award

A couple of months ago, someone commented on one of my posts, and – as usual – WordPress sent me an email notification. I absolutely love to read comments and if the person leaving them is also a writer, I take the time to go and go and enjoy their work. I’ve found some wonderful blogs this way.

On this particular occasion, the commenter was Msdedeng of Read, Learn, Live. 

I was hooked, as soon as I read the post  ‘I shall paint my nails red’ – “because a bit of colour is a public service.” So true! Recently, I really enjoyed reading ‘First Things First’ and the linguistics student in me gobbled up the word ‘Endiro’. I absolutely love learning about other languages.

The other day, Msdedeng was kind enough to nominate me for a Liebster award.

If you’ve not heard of The Liebster Awards before, the premise is fairly simple – you answer the questions posed by your nominator, decide on your own set of questions, then tag other writers you admire. It’s a wonderful way of discovering new work and learning a little more about who is typing on the other side of the screen.

  1. Where do you get the inspiration to keep writing/blogging?

    I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember – my parents still have little paper books I made as a child and gifted to them! Prior to having children myself, I thought in fiction – how i would describe a landscape I was standing in, what would happen if a dragon suddenly flew over the forest on the horizon… but after my eldest was born, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND) and the fantasy I used to enjoy so much became too much work. I switched to reading fluffy romances, but I never shook the habit of describing everything I saw. Writing a blog seemed a natural outlet for this, and it’s helped me to keep up my wordy skills. I keep posting here because I’m still learning, and it’s a way to keep track of what I’ve done.

    I actually have two blogs – this one, where I try and chronicle the things I’m learning about environmentalism, and The Inquisitive Newt, where I talk about the things I’ve read with the children. As they grow up, though, I write less and less about the books we share together because increasingly, they read alone.

  2. How do you find the time to blog on top of everything else that needs your attention?

    I set aside an hour on a Monday evening – it coincides with #EthicalHour on Twitter so I can do two things at once! – and try to tap out as many posts as possible in that time. I usually don’t even manage one, but as long as I can get the bones of something down, I can flash it out later. I aim to publish two posts a week – Monday and Thursday – but this isn’t set in stone and it’s just to give me a goal in my writing.

  3. What is the first thing you plan to do in the aftermath of COVID-19?

    My husband is Danish and we lost his parents in the last three months of 2018. I didn’t realise how much I would miss visiting Denmark, or the funny little traditions we’d built up in the time since we met there in 2004.

    I hope I can get back there before Brexit takes its inevitable toll and makes travel through Europe harder for me. My family will all be fine to go – they have dual citizenship – but I fear being left behind at the passport desk. On top of that, one of my greatest joys in going to Denmark is taking the dog and letting him run his little sighthound heart out on the beach. I hope that the powers that be see sense and continue the UK’s involvement in the pet-passport scheme.

So, which questions would I choose to ask?

  1. Has the Covid outbreak made you rethink your life in any way?
  2. Do you have any unexpected hobbies?
  3. What’s your favourite book and why?
  4. Ketchup is evil – discuss.

If you’re reading this and have the time, I tag you 🙂 Make sure to let me know if you answer – I would love to read your responses!

 

 

School uniform and the environment

As a return to actual, physical school grows ever closer, I decided to take a look at the uniform my children will wear.

Going forward – possibly two of the words I use most on here – I won’t be buying the branded school stuff. This makes me slightly sad, because I love our little, wonderful school and I’m proud of it, and I know my children are too. But the sweatshirts and t-shirts are largely polyester, and as white cotton shirts are a viable alternative, I think I’d be wrong not to make the switch.

Meanwhile, I’ll be using my newly-purchased ‘Guppy Friend’ bag in an effort to reduce the damage done by the microfibres of the current uniform – at least until these garments wear out. Like the stingy economic parent that I am, I set aside the clothes my eldest wore to school and saved them for my youngest. This week, I took them out to check the state of them before going back…

… I’ve got to say, those t-shirts really don’t look good.

On the one hand, I know that within five minutes, whatever I put either child in will be covered in… something. On the other hand, I know that so many other children will be returning to school with lovely, brand new clothes so I don’t want my two to feel left out.

So, I thought I would attack the half-decade-old stains with some soap that was recommended in one of the lectures of the Sustainable(ish) online festival. Said soap came from a website called Chateau Du Savon and arrived plastic free in the post – bonus!

For obvious reasons, I’m not going post pictures of the school uniforms online, but suffice to say – they’re messy. For illustrative purposes, however, I did manage to find an item of clothing in a comparibly dreadful state….

This is a white shirt that my husband wore whilst chain-sawing an entire tree into small enough pieces to burn in our stove.

Let’s all have a good look at that shoulder… Take note.

So, it’s a challenge. Almost as much of a challenge as my eldest’s hideous old t-shirts…

As I said, this white shirt is masquerading as a school uniform, so from this point on, I’ll be referring to it as such.

I started by soaking the polo shirts in cool water. This actually removed a fair amount of grot. I then rubbed the bar of soap directly onto the areas which were most stained – namely the inside of the necks, and the point on the front of the shirt where the stomach meets the table.

After I’d done that, the water looked like the picture above.

So I rinsed and scrubbed a second time and got this…

Still mucky. So I filled the sink one more time, scrubbed lots, and then tossed everything into the Guppy Friend bag.

The result was actually incredible. Honestly, I wish I’d done it sooner, and it gives me hope for when I do switch to white cotton shirts – perhaps they won’t end up as destroyed as I’d feared.

And that shoulder is all clean again!

Not that you can really see from this picture, but the cuffs also came out particularly well. No-more worn-on grime.

I wish I could show you the transformation that took place on the uniforms themselves – there was only one shirt which really didn’t scrub up to the point where I could pass it off as new.

It begs the question – why do we buy new uniform every single year? Obviously if our children grow, we need to replace items, but there seems to be a mass purchasing before the start of every autumn term where back-to-school=new uniform. This really isn’t necessary. If we take care of our clothes, they will last so much longer. This involves washing cool, line-drying, and keeping them in a good state of repair. All of these things will save you money. All of these things will reduce your impact on the environment.

I’m not saying that you need to go out and buy specialist stain-removal soap, or laundry bleach, or Napisan – even using concentrated amounts of regular soap will help – but if you do make this small, environmentally sound investment, you’re likely to see big rewards.

I plan to cover the repair of a chewed sweater cuff in the coming weeks, so if you have a child that likes to eat their jumpers, it’s worth coming back!

Do you have any top tips for keeping children’s clothes free of stains? Are you a fan of the back-to-school, everything-new-for-a-new-term ‘tradition’, or are you happy to reuse things until your child outgrows them? Comment below, or on Twitter.

The End of #PlasticFreeJuly – a long, musing post.

So, July is drawing to a close and I’ve been trying my best to live without plastic packaging – how did I get on?

It’s a hard thing to quantify, really. I jumped on board with this at the very last minute with absolutely no forethought as to how I was going to talk about it all, so I’ve not done any prep whatsoever. Had I been an organised soul, I would have photographed what a week of plastic looked like pre-July so we would have a comparison.

Alas.

I do, however, have a particularly heartbreaking photo of a swan’s nest I took in Amsterdam harbour in 2012. Yikes.

Anyways, I did take pictures for each week of the challenge, so at least we could have a look at what’s there.

If you’re not interested in reading the breakdown, head straight to the conclusion.

WEEK ONE

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2 x plastic milk bottles, Sweet wrappers, 2 x ‘Rice & Grain’ sachets, Channa Masala Kit, Croissant box, Meat Tray, 2 x Mozzarella bags, A bag for bread rolls, A bag for tatties, Strawberry box, Misc. bags, Postage material.

I recycled the meat tray, strawberry box, the two milk bottles and the cardboard in the packages which were mixed materials.

WEEK TWO

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Croissant box, Meat Tray, Mozzarella bag, A bag for bread rolls, Bag from a brownie mix, Pack of sunflower seeds, Crisps, Butter pack, Bag from muesli, Antihistamine blister packs, Coffee bag,Tomato Paste cap, Top of a chocolate spread jar, Cheese packet, 3 black foam trays, Bag from a salami.

The meat tray and card from the croissant box went in the recycling bin.

WEEK THREE

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Jiffy bag, 3 x vacuum packaging, replacable dish-brush head, granola bag, almond bag, cream lid, crisp packet, 2 x croissant box, jelly baby bag, dog food sack.

I recycled the croissant boxes and will reuse the jiffy bag and dog-food sack.

I’m adding this picture, because when I take out what I can recycle/reuse, this is the volume of plastic waste for my family of 4 in week 3…

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WEEK FOUR

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Coffee bag, muesli bag, cover from a multipack of cans, cocoa powder pot, crisp bag, yeast box, 2 x mozzarella bag, cheese bag, butter pack, scotch tape pack, Costco sandwich box.

I’ll recycle the lid of the cocoa tub, the yeast box and the scotch tape holder. I’ll use the sandwich box as a propagator in the spring next year.

CONCLUSION

Even though I didn’t notice a huge difference to usual in our plastic consumption, this was an incredibly interesting exercise. Having the weekly picture and analysing each one really made me focus on the areas I haven’t managed to reduce our consumption of waste in – animal products being the obvious one. Were plastic my only focus, I could change this easily by buying from the deli counter at Morrisons and bringing my own tubs, but outwith July, I do try and think of fuel consumption too. I’m not sure how to balance this one long term, but hopefully a solution will become evident.

The other big area in which I noticed waste was surrounding convenience – trays from lunch out, the sachets from our camping food…. All things designed to be grabbed and consumed with minimal thought and effort. Coincidentally, mid way through the month, Surfers Against Sewage posted the following infographic on Twitter :

It’s really interesting to note that with the exception of Tesco, all of these are convenience brands – things that are designed to be ‘grab and go’. There are three ‘stimulant’ brands – Red Bull, Lucozade and Costa Coffee – designed to keep your fuelled for longer. I can’t help but feel as though if we all slowed down – rested instead of caffeinated – we’d make less mess.

And I know that slowing down isn’t always an option in a world full of such sweeping inequality. There are hundreds of posts I could write on the subject, but in short, a lot of people actually aren’t paid enough to slow down and many of us have been conned into thinking we aren’t paid enough to slow down – trapped in debt we’ve used to pay for things we don’t need. In addition, a 2018 study found that women have an average of 5 hours less leisure time a week than men. Until we address these inequalities which are eating into our time, convenience – perceived or real – is always going to sell.

So what’s the answer? The single most effective thing we can all do is ‘buy less’. It sounds easy, but in a society where even the bus stops are designed to tempt you into wanting something you don’t already have, it can be harder than you’d think. It’s especially hard in a country where poverty is increasingly viewed as a moral failing.

Those of us with the luxury of a disposable income need to stop over-consuming because it widens the class divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ – it fuels the desire for debt and the idea that happiness can be purchased. We need to start by being honest with ourselves about the difference between want and need, then we have to act accordingly. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to cancel junk mail (I talk about that here), unsubscribe from all promotional emails (if a shop’s worth going back to, I’ll remember it), and install an Adblocker on my internet browser (I use this one).  It means that I have to actively search out things I’d like to buy, rather than succumb to outside influences. Adding the layer of Plastic Free July and Buying Nothing New has really helped to focus that effort too.

I can only speak for myself – in this as in all things – but I would love to hear your take. Did you participate in Plastic Free July? Will you be continuing with any of the swaps you’ve made?

Beanbag Revamp

My parents bought this beanbag for my eldest child, just before we moved in with them (in order to facilitate a house move) around 6 years ago. It didn’t always look like this, though – originally, the beanbag was an amazing, vibrant orange colour, and made of pleather.

Since the initial purchase, it’s definitely been a well-loved item of furniture and I’ve refilled it more than once (using beans I picked up on Freecycle, no less). It’s now 7 years old, though, and just as loved as ever. I get the impression that it was constructed for fun and aesthetic impact, rather than longevity. I especially feel like the pleather wasn’t made to last that long. In fact, let me show you…

Isn’t it an awesome colour? You can see the white specs on the seat, though, and here’s a close up of where the layers of plastic are peeling away.

Sad times. I expect that in years gone by, this is where I’d have thrown in the towel, saved the beans and the zip, and taken the rest to the tip.

But not today!

I decided to go stash-diving and select a new fabric to cover the beanbag with.

First, I drew up a pattern. Looking at how the original shape was constructed, I made three panels – one for the back and sides, one for the front and top, and one for the base. I cut draughts for these from some old lining paper that the kids had drawn all over…

I then used this to cut out the fabric, which I proceeded to stitch together into the top and sides of the cover.

At this point, I put the beanbag in, then stitched the bottom on by hand. If I’d taken all the beans out, put the original shell into the new cover and then returned the beans, I could have finished the entire thing using the sewing machine but honestly, knowing how those annoying little beans behave, it was actually just quicker to sew this myself.

I finished by adding velcro along the back seam. This isn’t so I could extract the original shell – which I can’t see myself doing – but so I could access the zip to refill the whole thing, should this become necessary. I used velcro that I found in amongst my mother-in-law’s sewing things, which is – coincidentally – where I found the blue, floral fabric.

It was a total pain to do, I’ve got to confess. The plastic of the velcro was really tough to sew through and I would say that if you decide to give this a go on your own beanbags, you either need to learn to sew with a thimble or do the whole thing on a machine. I could not have made this, were it not for the little thimble I learned to sew with last year. Having that tiny shard or armour on my middle finger made the whole thing possible.

And this is the end result. You might notice the handle at the top of the beanbag here – I achieved this by cutting two little sections of interfacing, and leaving part of the top seam open.

I can’t actually get over how neat the handle looks.

And that’s about it really – here’s to another 6 years, at least!

Have you ever tried making a beanbag, or recovering one? Have you attempted to make covers for any of your other furniture? Would you have chosen fabric that was a little more… subtle? I’d love to hear your opinions.

 

Low Waste Living with Children – the baby years and beyond!

Looking back over the last few months, some of my most popular posts have been those which look at how to reduce waste and expenditure with young children. Today, I thought I would try and bring together a lot of that information.

A point to note: my own children are just that little bit older now – past the nappy stage, past the days of pushchairs and slings – so some of the things I’m suggesting might not be current. I do try my best to keep up to date, but really, this isn’t where we’re at right now so keep that in mind as you read. I’m just a parent, trying my best – not an expert in child-rearing.

In the very early days, things like nappies, milk, clothes, and transport are key. I’ve spoken a little about them here. This is a fairly comprehensive post, but looking back, something I wish I’d had the money/car-space to do is to invest in an extended rear-facing childseat. Some of these will see your child from birth to 25kg which means you’re only buying one seat which spans this entire time. My own have had three seats each. This would have reduced our waste in this area by 2/3. This becomes especially relevant when we consider the fact that second-hand car seats are discouraged for safety reasons. This is definitely one of those cases where buy-well, buy-once applies.

Going back to clothes for a second – whilst charity shops, car-boot sales, repairs, online auctions and schemes like Lost Stock are all great, it’s worth remembering that there are rental schemes (like Bundlee) out there. It’s also worth remembering, that you don’t need to conform to societal norms. Clothes can be passed between genders. 

As children get older, they’re increasingly viewed as a potential ‘market’. Toys and books aimed at children are big business. You can reduce your spending here by using your local library and by embracing the loose parts toy movement. There are also toy subscription services like Whirli.

If you’re specifically looking for books which discuss the environment and the natural world, then there are many available for a whole range of ages. One of my favourites is Plants from Pips as this encourages easy, instant action.

If you’re looking at opening a dialogue with older children, a great starting point is this Need vs Want activity – it certainly got me thinking!

A bit of a controversial one, but if you’re looking to spend more time at home as a family, then remote working might be the solution you’re looking for. Not only will this cut out your commute, making it a more environmentally friendly option, but you also win back the time you would have spent in the car. The above link details some of the ways in which we’ve learned to work around children in the 8+ years Husband has been working from home.

When it comes to birthdays and other celebrations, don’t feel as if you need to go completely overboard. I’ve written about Christmas gifts and advent calendars before, but the same theories can be applied to other events. Whether you’re buying used gifts, books about sustainability, or creating gifts from things you already own, there are many, many ways to reject the common consumerism of celebration.

The wonderful thing about children is that if we take the time now to discuss things with them and teach them the reasons we’re making the choices we are, then we’re investing in a better world for the next generation. No time educating a child is wasted (even if it feels like it at times!).

What are your favourite ways to reduce waste with children? I’m always on the look out for new ideas! You can contact me here, or on Twitter and Pinterest.

Oak and Ash and Thorn, by Peter Fiennes

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
Oh let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.
–Gerard Manley Hopkins, INVERSNAID

Quoted in the book Oak and Ash and Thorn (OAT) by Peter Fiennes, the above poem largely sums up the message of this work. At its most basic, OAT is a love letter to British woodlands and an obituary to the ancient forests we’ve lost. More than that, though, it can serve as a roadmap to where we could should be going, if we want to make things better.

The book is structured in such a way that we follow Fiennes on a tour of different woodlands – from scraps of forest near large London airports, to slivers of wood abutting Sheffield. Along the way he explores our national relationship to the forests and concludes that whilst Britain loves trees, we’re afraid of the woods. By citing beautiful classic literature and contemporary studies, Fiennes holds up a very telling mirror through which we’re invited to examine the changes that have been made and those we’re making.

It sounds, from what I’m saying, like something of a bleak book – but it really isn’t. The last chapter in particular is a wonderfully hopeful end to an otherwise sometimes often heartbreaking tale. Yes, in places, it feels like an extended edition of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, but that’s down to the truth that we are exploitative and take our woodlands for granted. The prose and mood – by contrast – are optimistic and focus on the restorative power of the woods. I think this is the overall message we’re supposed to take from the book – forests are healing places. 

There are many chapters in which Fiennes begins by entering the woods in a dark mood. Whether discussing hunting, macarbre fairy tales, or impotent rage against impending service stations and runway expansions, his time in the trees is always grounding, always mending. 

This book took me far longer to read than many of the others I’ve reviewed. Written in proper prose, rather than the bullet points of ‘how to’ guides, the format accounts for some of this – but not all. I think, primarily, it was a desire to actually digest fully the information I’d been fed. It isn’t that the prose is heavy, or difficult to read – the difference is that there’s nutrition in it. A meal, instead of a snack – nourishing and wholesome and a little bitter. And like a proper meal, the things I’ve gained from reading it will help build me – shape me – and become a part of me. This book is one of those rare tomes which I’ll keep with me, long after I’ve closed it.

Now, more than ever, I’m determined to make a change.

The Woodland Trust is mentioned often in the book. If you’re interested in discovering more about thier invaluable work, you can find out about what they do here.

Have you read Oak and Ash and Thorn? I would love to hear what you thought of it. You can get in touch either here, or on Twitter.

Unexpectedly useful items for low-waste living

Whenever I find myself in a bit of a rut, I tend to find myselflooking online for some ideas about low-waste living. Sometimes I’ll find something new, but often, I keep coming across beginner tips in low-waste living. Which is great – we all have to start somewhere – but I do sometimes feel like after a certain point, we’re sort of just left to get on with things.

And on the one hand, I absolutely appreciate just how much of a difference it can make if you take your own reusable water bottle and coffee cup when you’re out and about, but I find myself wishing that there was more being written about the unexpected things which help with waste reduction.

So, keen to redress that balance, I thought I’d give you a run-down of things that I find really useful when it comes to cutting back…

  1. Funnels – I really, really love my jam funnel. The wide opening makes it ideal for decanting things like pasta and rice, preventing wastage through spillages. Since we started using our local refillery for dried goods, decanting dried goods has become a fairly regular occurance and whilst I could technically manage without this, it does make life significantly easier. The example below came (I think) from Lakeland many, many years ago. It has survived many jam seasons, the dishwasher, two children using it in the bath to slosh water… I highly recommend. The other funnel is equally useful for cordial, homemade schnapps, oils and all things liquid. I use the jam funnel to refil glass yogurt tubs for school lunches – replenishing the containers with chocolate mousse, or homemade jelly. The jam funnel also allows me to buy mayo and other table sauces in glass jars, then decant them into old plastic ‘squeezy’ bottles.

  2. A Bucket – This one might seem a little random, but I honestly don’t know where I’d be without my bucket! I’ve spoken before about trying to save water, but that’s not easy when you factor in how my shower works. You have to turn it on from across the corridor, before running into the bathroom, stripping off and jumping in!  Having a bucket on hand to retain water that would otherwise run down the drain really helps for watering plants – both inside and out. I also use the water to wash the car. Whilst we don’t have a water meter (water is included in council tax in Scotland), I can imagine this being especially useful for those who do.
  3. A teapot & thermal cup – This has halved the amount of tea I use. Not because I drink less tea, but because I waste less. At the moment, I use a little red, enamel pot. It happily fills two cups and uses one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea to do so. When I make tea now, I always pour a second cup into my thermal ‘to go’ mug and come back to it later. This means I don’t have to boil the kettle a second time, use another spoon of tea, or throw out the unused no-longer-hot liquid. Winning all round.

The beauty of all of these things, is that they tend to be present in most households. Perhaps not the jam-funnel, but the bucket and the teapot are fairly common items. The others are cheap to pick up second hand, and the bucket needn’t be a bucket – it could be an old waste-paper bin, a washing-up bowl, a particularly large saucepan…anything which catches water. You don’t need a teapot either – using a heat-proof jug is perfectly acceptable too.

What are the unexpectedly useful items on your low-waste list? I would love to hear them – either here or on Twitter.