Eco-friendly clothing: links roundup

Over at A Little Bit of All Of It, it's eco-friendly clothing week! In honour of which, here is a round-up of various links and so on from me and elsewhere, on the subject of eco-friendly clothing.

Upcycling

Upcycling existing clothes that you no longer wear is an eco-friendly way of getting new clothes. I haven't up cycled anything for myself lately, but I have been upcycling a T-shirt of mine (no longer wearable into a T-shirt for Leon. A skirt I don't wear became a pair of baby trousers last summer; they're still being worn this summer, just as three-quarter length rather than full length. I also made a pair of smart trousers from some suit trousers recently, but haven't yet blogged it.

Not clothes, but I made toys from scraps from my scrap box earlier this year, too.

Making clothes from fabric

How eco-friendly it is to make your own clothes (if not upcycling) depends on how eco-friendly the source fabric is. Although you could argue that making your own makes you more likely to wear and appreciate the garment, rather than treating it as disposable; it may also last longer and you might be more likely to patch it.

Here's a few sources of eco-friendly fabric, or yarn:

  • Organic Cotton do eco-friendly (organic, also fair trade) cotton and other materials, and deliver very fast. I've used them personally and can recommend them.
  • The Hemp Shop do hemp fabric, which is organic. It's not fair trade but they do give their factory working conditions on that page.
  • There are several sorts of yarn which is recycled from other yarns or fabrics:
    • Recycled sari silk: can be a bit odd to knit with, though, and doesn't knit a smooth fabric.
    • Second Time Cotton: recycled from consumer cotton scraps. Nice to knit with, but sadly I can't find a UK stockist at the moment.
    • Full Circle worsted and bulky wool is also made from leftover bits of British wools. It's 100% wool, very snuggly, and nice to knit with. It's a bit scratchy but only in the way that wool is often a bit scratchy.

You can also knit multi-coloured things from your end-balls of yarn; blankets are another way to use up ends of balls.

Shopping

Finally, if you're buying, start out with charity shops or Ebay second-hand clothes (as well as promoting reuse, this is also much cheaper!). If you're buying new, look for organic and fair trade, and be prepared (sadly) to spend a while at it, as it can be difficult to find both. Once you do, make your clothes last as long as possible by washing them only when they're actually dirty, protecting them when you're doing dirty chores (get an apron!), and patching them if possible.

Baby tipi, and another guest post

I really wanted to put a willow den in our back garden for Leon to play in.

Bamboo canes pushed into a grassy lawn and tied into a small tipi, with a sheet clipped over them, in foreground; in front of that the top of a blueberry bush, a rosemary bush to left of shot, apple tree behind, blue sky
Baby tipi between the blueberry bush and the rosemary

Unfortunately, that was scuppered by the realisation that there's a sewage pipe running underground through the middle of the garden. You're not supposed to plant willow within 3m of any pipes (it seeks water, and can sneak into the pipe through any cracks), and the apple tree prevented me planting further down the garden than that.

Instead, it occurred to me this week that after building the bean wigwam recently, I had lots of bamboo cane left over; and a couple of old sheets in the bottom of the airing cupboard. So now we have a baby play tipi.

Unfortunately the baby was unconvinced, because it has grass on its floor, and he is somewhat mistrustful of grass on bare feet. Hopefully as he gets steadier on his feet he may be more enthusiastic; in the meantime I might put a blanket down in there tomorrow.

Baby focussed on playing with a box of rice
Those moments of total absorption are a lesson in mindfulness.

In other news, this week I wrote about the competing pulls of parenting over at the Natural Parents Network: The Two Minds of Parenting.

Up-cycled baby T-shirt

I have a stack of old T-shirts in my fabric box waiting to be turned into baby shirts (ones that are no longer fit for adult use but have enough good fabric in them to be worth chopping up), and this week made my first attempt, with an old Belle and Sebastian shirt. Lots of pictures after the cut.

Pink Belle and Sebastian "Write About Love" T-shirt, adult size, a bit crumpled
The original grown-up size shirt

I got some ideas from this Makerland blog post (though in this case I didn't need to use her shoulder yoke trick), and used Burda Easy pattern 9614*. The smallest size was 3T, which as expected is way too big (better too big than too small, I thought, for a first effort). He will grow into it soon enough.

Dismantling the T-shirt properly (I took apart the seams rather than just hacking it, to maximise available fabric) and cutting the pieces took half an hour or so. I was able to use the existing hems for the back piece and the sleeves, but not for the front as I prioritised getting all of the T-shirt picture in. It is worth carefully unpicking the neck ribbing so you can reuse that, too.

Yellow tissue-paper pattern pieces for front and back of toddler T-shirt laid out on dismantled original adult T-shirt body
Front and back pattern pieces laid on fabric

Yellow tissue-paper pattern pieces for toddler T-shirt sleeves laid out on dismantled original adult T-shirt sleeves
Sleeve pattern pieces laid out

The actual construction was pretty easy (took about 1h20 all in, and I think I'd do it quicker next time). As jersey doesn't fray, I didn't bother finishing any of my seams properly on the inside, especially as I don't have an overlocker anyway. I did press as I went, though, which really does help it stay neat.

Body of toddler T-shirt, sleeves separately resting on it, with pair of scissors nearby
Body and sleeves both sewn, ready to set in sleeves

Close-up of neckband of pink toddler T-shirt, slightly puckered
Close-up of neckband

The neckband is a little puckered; I tried a bit too hard to stretch it as I sewed.

Cut-down pink Belle and Sebastian T-shirt, picture of girl writing with "Write About Love" caption.
Finished shirt!

And on my slightly grumpy model.

Slightly sombre baby looks at camera, wearing pink Belle and Sebastian T-shirt
Leon models his new (and rather large) T-shirt

(Note for my own reference: total time taken, from getting pattern out of the packet to finished T-shirt was 2h20 (done in several stages).)

For my next one, this post covers making a neckline that crosses over at the shoulders (a lot of baby shirts have this; it makes it easier to get their head through the shirt). I'm intending as well to cut the pattern down to 2T size myself, and make the long-sleeve version to have ready for next winter when he's outgrown his existing shirts.

* A irritated note in passing: nearly all the patterns, even ones for unisex clothes like T-shirts, have little girls on the front. Very very few little boys. Apparently one doesn't make clothes for boys? [sigh]

New shelves

I have new shelves! Some months ago I decided I needed to replace the dark wood bookcase on my desk with something in white (to lighten up the corner), with space for taller things (to clear out the untidy heaps of file folders on my floor), that was fixed to the wall (to free up some desk space). Here is the Before shot:

Shot of left-hand side of desk, with dark wood bookcase standing on it against the wall)

Desk (out of shot: untidy heap of files on floor)

I didn't want to buy new wood for this, so I was on the lookout for something to reuse. Plan A involved some scaffolding board (transported from Limehouse by trike), but when I got it home, it seemed a bit too thick. Plan B came about when I found a stack of 1" thick wood abandoned beside a bin. Sanded down and cut to size, they did the job admirably. White paint we had already (a tester pot of Holkham Linseed white, which is lovely to use and non-toxic, but does take forever to dry), and we have a pot full of miscellaneous reclaimed/acquired screws from which I found sufficient for the brackets. I did have to buy the brackets themselves, and the rawlplugs were new.

In the process of putting them up I learnt something about measuring for mitred corners, specifically, that it pays to be a bit more careful when marking the position for the second set of boards. Getting someone else in to help hold the shelves while I marked up would have helped. The long and short boards are also very slightly different widths, but it's not obvious, and I'm pleased with the outcome anyway.

Same desk, less stuff on the desk, white shelves fixed to the walls above the back left corner of the desk
Lighter and tidier

(The untidy area on the floor now houses a different set of miscellany, but one step at a time...)

Making a laptop caddy

In our household we have a tendency to leave laptops lying around the living room. It occurred to me, as L began rolling and trying really hard to crawl (he is currently managing whole millimetres at a time, often backwards), that this might not be a good long-term strategy.

So I consulted the rest of the household (the dog wasn't that helpful), did some sketches, dug around in the piles of miscellaneous wood in the garage, and spent last Sunday afternoon making this between bouts of feeding L:

Wooden laptop holder with four upright slots

We have three laptops and a couple of tablets, so 4 slots seemed like plenty, with a box at the end for power cables. The original design was altered a bit when I established what wood I had readily available, but I think for the better (I was a bit too generous with the original sizing).

The short ends are a couple of bits of 3/4" pine shelf offcut; the long sides and the dividers are plywood left over from a flooring project. The other ends of the dividers are held by a 1" batten, because I didn't have another piece of the 3/4" pine:

Close-up of inside of laptop caddy, with wooden batten

To cut the slots for the dividers, really I could have done with a router[0], or failing that, a chisel which hadn't been wrecked by being used to prise up carpet nails. I also realised afterwards that a hacksaw would have been a better tool than a regular saw. All in all, then, they're not the neatest ever, but they do the job:

Close-up of top of laptop holder, with plywood sitting in roughly-cut slots in the end piece of wood

I'll probably paint it sometime soon (we have some nice grey linseed wood paint left over from the same flooring project as the plywood) but the natural wood looks OK for now. And it's doing the job, for the total investment of a dozen screws and an afternoon with the power tools and a manky chisel.

[0] After chatting to my Dad later, I will be getting a router next time I'm at B&Q. He says he's spent 30 years repeatedly thinking that a router would be useful but not quite worth it for any given project...

Building a table

I went to a workshop on Wednesday at the OffMarket Freeschool (running for another week yet, with some great workshops still to come!) on furniture building. It was very much about using what you have around: we started out with some thick plywood, a table top, and some lengths of 2x2, and we fetched up with a pretty solid table.

(I also discovered the wonders of a handheld circular saw. Awesomeness.)

The basic principle goes like this:

  • Work out how long you want the table's legs to be, and cut 4 lengths of 2x2 to that.
    Hint: If you're starting with 4 separate bits of wood and cutting them all down, it's a good idea to line them all up next to each other, aligned at one end, and mark the line straight across all four at the other end. If you have pre-cut ends, plan to use those on the floor as they'll likely be straighter than your cuts.
  • Next, take some pieces of plywood maybe 4-6" wide for the supports. These will fit under the table, outside the legs, and act to support them. Pieces wider than 6" are fine, and in fact will be stronger; but remember that you may want to be able to fit your legs under the table, and a support that's too wide will prevent that (see the photo of the finished table below to understand what I mean here). You want two pieces the same length as each other for the short parallel sides of the table, and another two pieces the same length as each other for the long parallel sides of the table. Put the table-top upside down on the ground and work out where you want your legs to be, then mark up and cut the supports accordingly.
  • Attach the table legs to the supports. Ideally each one should be overlapped at one end, and overlap the next at its other end. In the photo below, the support on the left overlapped the end of the middle support, which in turn overlapped the end of the right-hand support (you can't unfortunately see this as it's behind the legs. I should have taken another photo!). Put in one screw per leg side (so two per leg) all round, then go round again putting a second screw in each joint. It is definitely worth drilling a pilot hole first!

    Table upside down on the floor, supports being screwed to legs
  • Turn the whole thing back the right way up, and straighten up the table top. Measure roughly where the middle of each leg is, drill a pilot hole straight through the table top and into the leg, and put a screw through the pilot hole. You want one per leg.
  • That's it! Table!

    Finished wooden table standing in middle of floor
  • You can adapt the same basic technique to make all sorts of different sizes of tables, but also stools, benches, and anything else with four legs and a top. (We also discussed making something a bit more like a chair, with a slight adaption of the technique.) Our tables were pretty rough-and-ready, but with slightly more careful choice of materials (and maybe a little paint afterwards) you could produce something more elegant.

    And it was fantastic fun!

We are weeds, vegetation…

Yesterday I went down the allotment to harvest weeds.*

Specifically, I dug up a bunch of dandelion roots, and gathered a handful of what I suspected was (and now am sure is) chickweed.  I've been reading this fantastic herbalism zine, which told me that both of these are medicinally useful.

Dandelion root can be used to stimulate the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys; or just as a general tonic containing lots of minerals (including iron, potassium, and calcium, all particularly useful if you're vegan).  To preserve it, dry the roots (wash them and leave them somewhere dark; if you split larger roots down the middle they'll dry faster), and store them in a sealed container in a cool, dark place.  To use it, make a decoction by putting 1oz of root and 1pt of water in a pan and simmering until the water has reduced by 50%.  Strain and drink.

Chickweed is good as an infusion of dried herb for coughs and hoarseness; and as an infused oil to treat minor skin problems (burns, rashes, itching, dryness).  Alternatively you can just eat the leaves as a salad leaf.  I tried my sample plants after I'd IDed them, and found it quite tasty.  To dry it, it's best to hang it somewhere dark and warm (but spread on a windowsill is fine if that's the easiest option for you).  To make an infusion, pour boiling water over the dried herb, cover, and leave for 10-30 min.  To make an infused oil, macerate the dried herb in olive oil, place in a warm sunny window for 2 weeks, strain, and bottle in a dark glass bottle.  (You can make a stronger oil by adding more herbs and leaving for another fortnight.)

I can't yet report back on how these work (or taste!) as I'm still in the drying stage.  I'll update in a couple of weeks.

The best bit about all of this is that these are not plants which I have any trouble at all in growing.  Currently the chickweed is popping up all over the squash bed as the squash dies down.  I'm incredibly pleased to find out that there's something useful (beyond just chucking it in the compost heap) that I can do with it. 

Next task: try to establish whether any of my other weeds are useful.  Sadly I'm not sure we have any yarrow. 

* I planted some broad beans and early dwarf peas, as well -- we have an Aphid Problem which means that the only chance to get any actual broad beans is to get the plants up and producing in the spring before the aphids have woken up.  Which in turn means overwintering them.