November 25, 2010

Green your party season, and Happy Thanksgiving!

I'd like to begin by saying Happy Thanksgiving to you guys across the pond! But I have a couple of confessions.

The first is, I nearly forgot to write this post because I'm so busy (in a good way!).

And the second is that up until a few days ago, all I knew about Thanksgiving was that it is a day when lots of Americans eat lots of turkey. And on TV programmes everyone sits around the table listing what they're thankful for.

Well, I couldn't possibly list all the things I'm thankful for. But I think it's interesting how the idea of thankfulness is, I think, part of the core of the green movement -- thankfulness for the life we've been given and the planet we have to live it on. And what better thought to start what, for many of us, can be the most wasteful time of year?

So I thought I'd leave you with a few top-tips for reducing your rubbish this holiday season without spoiling your fun as you go partying, giving, shopping and feasting. And if it all seems a bit overwhelming, just do what you can. A little effort can go a long way ...

Christmas tree furoshiki, GreenerFrog on Etsy (also, click here to visit Hop Frog Pond for excellent furoshiki information and instructions!)

1. Furoshiki -- gift wrapping with fabric. Traditionally, the Japanese giver would unwrap the gift in front of, and then present it to, the recipient and take the wrapping cloth home with them. This isn't necessarily a practical solution in many cases, but it would be easy to keep a set of cloths for wrapping your family's presents. Make them part of your holiday tradition, re-loving them year on year along with the baubles!

2. Aim to only send cards to those you can't see in person during the season, and choose recycled or sustainably sourced cards where you can. Save the cards you receive to make new cards or gift tags next year!

3. Try to plan ahead, and if you want to give someone a gift but don't know what they'd like, ask! That way, you can avoid panic-buying that over-packaged gift set -- and if all else fails, get a gift voucher.

4. And when I say gift voucher, make sure you check out Etsy, DaWanda and other handmade venues for sellers who might offer them. :)

Vintage comet rhinestone brooch, ThePeacockFeather on Etsy

5. Make your new party dress a vintage gem, or check second-hand venues for a treasure somebody else got tired of. Then alter it to fit you like a glove! Admiring those sparkly embellished bandos that are everywhere at the moment? Grab a plain bando, and pin a vintage brooch and some trim to it for a covetable party hairpiece.

6. Avoid leaving a bad taste by buying local food; avoiding over-packaged food in the supermarket; choosing organic and free-range; and making full use of your fridge and compost bin for leftovers :)

Above all, remember to relax and enjoy yourself, and the company of your loved ones!

And this is my final contribution to Sew Green this year, so I'd like to wish you all a (very universal) Happy Holidays and my best wishes for the new year!

Maimy x

November 19, 2010

If the pants fit, wear them out.

Clothes and fashion are topics that pop up regularly on Sew Green, and with good reason. We all dress ourselves on a daily basis (and many of us are also dressing our children), and I'm sure we notice and respond to what other people have dressed themselves in every day too. But it seems to me that clothing and fashion are inherently not about sustainability. Core drivers of the fashion industry are consumption and change- constantly throwing out the old, and buying the new. And the reality of wearing clothing is that it wears- few (if any) garments have a unlimited lifespan.

When Shash did her recent post about Slow Clothes, I had also been thinking long and hard about the state of my (and my family's) wardrobe, and doing a little bit of sustainable fashion research. One of the web resources that I found that I felt was quite useful, in regards to clothing yourself and your family more sustainably, was this post at Planet Green, which I found via Treehugger. There are many ways of approaching a more sustainable wardrobe, and this post succinctly captures 10 key ideas. Some might tie in with things you already do, others might fire your interest and inspire you to research, think or take action in a different way. Their tips cover a number of approaches to shopping and thinking about your clothing needs, caring for your clothes, and disposing of them when you're done.

Number 2 on their list (love your duds) inspired me to sit down and do some mending to some toddler clothes. I received a couple of pairs of good quality pants from a friend when she was clearing out her son's wardrobe a year ago. In addition to being worn by her son for some time, they've now been worn by my son for most of the year too. I have to say we love them. They have a great feature that gives them true trans-seasonal functionality- the bottom of the leg can be zipped off so they transform from long pants into shorts (particularly great when you live in a place that is famous for offering four seasons worth of weather per day). However, after so much wear I noticed that not only were the hems well past being well worn, but the fabric was starting to fall apart at the knees.

As they still fit really well, and are so handy to have, I decided to give them a bit of a life injection by patching the knees. We pulled out some fabric scraps from the scrap tub and I stitched them over the worn places with rows of three-step zig zag. Definitely not perfect, but perfectly appropriate for casual toddler play pants I think. While I was in the swing of it, I also mended a fraying linen tea towel (the only kind of tea towel to have) and a few holes in some toddler T-shirts (must keep a closer eye on him when he's playing with his scissors!).

I hope the Planet Green post also inspires you in some way. Some other inspiring links and resources I have come across include:
  • ecouterre which provides posts in a range of fashion and beauty issues and news items, and whose mission page highlights some hard core facts about the environmental impact of clothing and the fashion industry; 
  • How big is your eco, an Australian site listing local fashion labels including their eco credentials in relation to fabric, care, packaging or carbon footprint. It's made me more aware of some local designers and manufacturers(like Otto and Spike, and Gorman) who I'm now keeping an eye out for on those occasions when I am shopping to buy something new;
  • This article on Zero Waste Fashion, an idea which is slow to catch on in the mainstream fashion industry, but it perhaps something that home crafters and sewers are in a great position to employ;
  • And not far removed from the idea of Zero Waste Fashion is the inspiring work of Sew-Green contributor Lisa Solomon, with her creative side project MODify/d, making use of fashion industry "waste" and transforming it into something beautiful and useful.

November 11, 2010

I spent the morning in bed.... weeding.

My daughters and I packed up the car early this morning and took the 45 minute drive to our farm.  I like to call it "our farm".  It is in a way.  We are CSA members of a small (5 acre) organic farm in Oxnard, Calilfornia (just outside of Los Angeles).

paradise (with kale)

We have been members of Join the Farm (as "our farm" is known) for almost a year now.  I stumbled upon them quite by accident - during some late night googling for a local organic CSA to try and bring to our neighborhood elementary school.  I hadn't been able to find one as "local" as I wanted - most seemed to be south of Los Angeles, and we live on the northern end. I did not relish the idea of produce being driven through the City to get to us.  I had been doing a lot of reading on food access - and the relationship between the communities our freeways intersect (on which our food is transported) and those same communities access to fresh produce. It was shocking.

As I looked more closely at Join the Farm I learned of their relationship with The Abundant Table Project. The project centers around issues of faith, social justice and sustainability. It sounded like a great fit. I contacted the farm and off we went. Drumming up subscribers in the beginning wasn't easy. We began with a core group of five families - not enough for delivery to our school site. Confident we could build it up we signed on and rotated driving to the next nearest pick-up spot. Soon we had doubled our subscribers and were able to move delivery to our school. (How does your CSA grow?)

CSA (week 6)

At first I struggled with making my way through our weekly box but we are now in a groove, and look forward to unpacking our bounty each week.

I've turned to on-line resources for new recipes, including past CSA posts here on sewgreen. We've built a blog for our subscribers to share what they are doing with their box. We organize visits to "our farm". That is the icing on the cake.

my field of dreams.

Today the girls weeded a bed of purple beans for two hours. Careful to stay in the furrow, they worked quietly and carefully. The only break they took was when they were asked to go check for eggs in the hen house - they took off running. They love it there. They have taken it as theirs without question. And this connection to the soil, to our food, to the people who grow it, to where we live, is more valuable than I imagined.

November 4, 2010

The privilege of biking in the rain

On my drizzly bike ride to work this morning, this sage wisdom occurred to me: If you want to feel like you can conquer anything, take a bike ride in the rain. There’s something about that feeling of perseverance in unpleasant conditions, all with the end result of transportation from Point A to Point B, that just makes me feel virtuous. (I think you would feel even more special if you were in the bike taxi pictured above, though perhaps a bit less virtuous.)

But then I had a second thought. That’s easy for me to say, realizing that I was wearing waterproof pants and jacket, using waterproof panniers to carry my change of clothes and lunch, and riding a nice bike, which I purchased new from my favorite local bike shop.

Perhaps I am not so virtuous after all. I’ve written before about the notion of bike commuting as privilege. It seems strange to think of it that way, but really, bike commuting is relatively easy for me simply because I do have a level of privilege. I don’t have family members requiring child, elder, or illness-related care. I have a level of formal education that has helped me have more opportunities for work, including the ability to choose to work near my home. I don’t have to worry about getting to multiple appointments for services, medical care, or to search for a job. Any of those circumstances could, of course, change in an instant.

And if they did, and I did not have a car, my daily life would become much more complicated. My mid-size city does not have convenient and reliable public transportation. I do utilize the city bus at times, but more than once it has failed to show at the appointed time.

If we are to have communities which truly promote bike commuting for transportation, we have to address the needs of those who don’t have some of the privileges which I enjoy. That includes efficient multimodal transportation, for one thing.

But it also means making safe bikes and bike repairs accessible to everyone. One group in my city, R Community Bikes, has given away over 1,810 bikes this year alone, to help meet the basic transportation needs of those in need. All an individual needs is a signed letter from an employer, doctor, school, church, or social services agency stating why she needs a bike. They also go out to events at communities in need to repair bikes.

Programs like this are a great start, and I would love to hear about other such efforts to make bike commuting accessible to all. Perhaps donations of waterproof gear, or a bike taxi service like the one in Malaysia, floral plastic covering included?

p.s. Cycling in the rain requires some extra care. Here's what the League of American Bicyclist recommends.