Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You should hear how she talks about you

tilleys embroider
I just spent a lovely evening with my two sisters at Tilley's, a rather dimly lit, atmospheric cafe/bar. There was stitching,
tilleys basket
basket-weaving (this is soooooo on the shortlist for 'my next craft skill')
tilleys basket hands
and for me, a little knitting, though a black sock toe probably wasn't the best choice (did I mention this place is a bit dimly lit?)
tilleys knitting

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Peace and love gan with ye

I loved all your comments on my "being the change" post. Clearly the love-hate relationship with stuff is a common one. It's so familiar and yet there's something very bizarre about it too. Is it just a peculiarly modern problem? I wonder if there is some sort of genetic programming for survival in times of scarcity - always 'needing' more and hoarding what we have.

I've listed here some of the things I'm doing to try to reuse things and consume less. In true "incrementalist" fashion (Alwen mentioned this term, which she got from Redneck Mother), some of these I've been doing for years, some are more recent - often after sitting in the back of my mind for some time. I'm sure some of these will seem really obvious to you. I'd love to hear in the comments if you've got other suggestions to share.

Reusing things

Aluminium foil. On some level, those single use sheets of metal have always seemed a crazy thing to only use once. Yet I've only really tried washing and reusing it very recently. I'm ashamed to say I was probably put off by what others in my house would think. I now decided we really should ban it altogether. We really only need alternative ways to cover casserole dishes in the oven, and I'd rather not go out and buy new dishes that come with lids. I've tried putting a baking tray on top, and also repurposing a foil baking dish which came with some Turkish takeaway - both worked fine as covers while baking. Of course, I'm a very basic cook and not doing anything fancy that requires a really good seal.

Getting the olive oil bottle refilled at Choku Bai Jo. I'd like to buy more foods this way, bringing my own container, to reduce packaging.

I recently bought myself a KeepCup for my takeaway coffees at work. I did it to feel better about the amount of waste created by disposable coffee cups. Getting a 50c discount per coffee was a brilliant surprise bonus. The cup has now just about paid for itself. The ceramic I Am Not A Paper Cup might be a bit nicer than plastic to drink from (the KeepCup's plastic retains a slight coffee-milky smell even though I wash it soon after use, but this does not affect the taste or enjoyment of my coffee) but it costs a lot more and couldn't be as carelessly thrown in my bag when I head out for a lunch time walk. I'm now wondering if I can bring my own packaging (eg a lunch box kept at work?) for takeaway food on the days I don't bring my lunch to work.

Buying second hand. I've gotten back into op-shopping for clothes. (Op shops are thrift stores or charity shops, for those outside Australia) I had given it up for years, finding it too frustrating. Now I find I have to be in the right mood. I also try to be relaxed about whether items ultimately make it into the wardrobe or not - if it gets re-donated, I just consider the purchase price part of my charitable donations.

I haven't bought furniture for ages, but there are one or two items I am thinking of for the 'new' house (we've been here about nine months now - time to finish unpacking perhaps?) and I intend to get them second-hand if I can. I like to save money but I also like the idea of giving good pieces an extended life rather than encouraging the manufacture of more cheap stuff. I would also condone buying new things that have been made well, from renewable materials - but for the moment I would rather spend less and pay off the mortgage. Eilleen at Consumption Rebellion recently furnished her whole house for under $1,000.

Reusing packaging and wrapping materials. I try to avoid using plastic mailing satchels - one of my guiding principles is to avoid single-use plastic things. Reusing wrapping materials was standard practice in my house growing up - some of the more study pieces of wrapping paper have been passed from person to person in my family countless times!

Trying to think of other uses for the many durable containers designed for one use, that normally go in the recycling bin. The return to op-shopping spawned a button collection, and each additional jar I save allows me to sort the colours more finely. I'm also planning to try these luggage tags, as mine broke on the last trip. This is a wonderful, if more ambitious, use of plastic containers.

Reusing the plastic bags from magazines and catalogues. I think I might have gotten this idea from Taph - I thought it was crazy at first, but it obviously stayed in the back of my mind. I only have a couple of magazine subscriptions but several catalogues also arrive sheathed in plastic and the wastefulness of it used to annoy me. Now I cut it open at the end and reuse the bag, mainly for small quantities of wool (they fit just a few balls), or to protect a book carried in my bag.

Using handkerchiefs instead of tissues. The tissue habit is taking a long time to really break. We use them as serviettes too. (One of the next things I should do is buy some cloth serviettes). We grew up without tissues in the house. Mum was never a fan, saying they were harsher on your nose than hankies. Unfortunately this was one of my mild acts of rebellion when I moved out of home. I bought a bunch of hankies several years ago but it's only this year that I've really cut down on tissue use. It's partly just remembering to carry one. I finally remembered to stuff a couple in my ski jacket pockets and they were brilliant because they don't shred like tissues do in wet conditions. I've also finally used hankies throughout a heavy cold or two this year and of course Mum was right, my nose did get less sore.

Using less of or less harmful versions

Washing my hair with bicarb soda and rinsing with apple cider vinegar. This is still in the experimental stage and may deserve a post of its own - I could probably spend a while trying to work out exactly why I am doing this - anyway it's cheap and (I think) more environmentally friendly. Kudos to Bells for the push.

Buying more local fruit and vegetables (to reduce my carbon footprint) - I try to be organised and get them from Choku Bai Jo as much as possible, instead of the supermarket. We do have a supermarket literally across the road, so this takes discipline. Their stock is both from their own farm and other sources, and their labels show how far it's travelled as well as whether it is organic.

Taking the bus to work. I've always done this, because it's mostly quicker and cheaper than driving, given that the bus stops outside my work whereas I would have to park much further away. Also, I get 10-15 min of reading time each way. I never used to be able to read in the car, as a kid. I'm not sure I can even now (I am almost always the driver so don't get to test this). But I can read on the bus, as long as the driver is not too herky-jerky.

Not using glad wrap - I put leftovers in lidded containers. I also have some washable plastic covers that look like shower caps, for anything without its own lid. I bought them in the supermarket (first time was many years ago) - the elastic slowly stretches out but they last quite a long time, with care.

Shopping bags - I'm a bit amazed that anyone still takes plastic bags in shops - they should all be charging for them by now, but only a few do. I find those green bags much more pleasant to use than plastic bags - they are strong and fit more in. We actually held out with plastic bags for some time after the shopping bags became popular, because we used them for picking up after the dogs.

Then we discovered that bread bags are the perfect size for a second use as dog poo bags. They are much less likely to have holes in them, too.

Using leaf tea instead of tea bags. I have a little infuser at work and a teapot at home.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Like fool I spent it all on you

The other day I was out of sorts. I had worn a shirt to work that didn't feel very 'me'. This was particularly annoying as I only bought it very recently and it cost quite a bit.

I thought a brooch might be just what it needed, and at lunch time I found a button I really liked at Mooble - it's by Bird Textile. I was thinking I might be able to put it on a felt circle, but when I tried it out at home that didn't seem like it was going to work. I remembered the waxed cotton I used for those knitted cuffs. I still had plenty left to crochet a circle as a base for the brooch. I also had some brooch backs in my collection of jewellery findings, and it was pretty simple to sew the whole thing together - actually I did this part this morning before work.

And here is how I wore it today. I haven't tried it with *that* shirt yet. I never thought I would do one of those dodgy work bathroom photos - I used the wheelchair accessible bathroom to avoid funny looks and questions! It would have been smarter to just ask the ladies I knitted with at lunch time today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On being the change*

Knitting Sprouts said recently that she has been giving more thought to her impact on the planet. Well, me too. This post has been a long time coming and tricky to write, because it's a mess of different things which all go together in my head but seem to take some untangling.

What has been building in me for a long time is the desire to use less, treading more lightly - or perhaps fairly is a better word, considering the variation in living standards and resources across the planet.

In the first place, I am a hoarder. I don't like to get rid of things that might be useful. (My super thrifty, practical Grandpa was a champion in this department). I also like to use things up slowly, which can end up meaning not using them at all. I used to drive my sisters crazy by eating my Easter egg chocolate slowly over a period of weeks. My hoard would be sitting in the fridge long after theirs was all gone. We used to give and receive lots of pretty shaped soaps as kids. Never wanted to use them. Same for a fancy shaped candle, nice notepads - these things were too precious to actually use.

Now I find myself trying to go in two different directions. One is against my nature, to use things up. These days I'm much better, at least with some things. The other day I made a necklace using ALL of a particular type of bead, which was satisfying where once I would have designed it to use less, so that I would have a few of those beads left for an unspecified other project. (In spite of having a collection of many other beads). These days I delight in finishing off a ball of wool, because I know how many more there are bursting out of the cupboards, all wonderful and useful... but I only have so much time each day, week and year. And even though I am cheap and disciplined, and generally only buy wool when it's a really good deal, it is still hard to work through more than I aquire over time.

On the other hand I find I am keeping more miscellaneous things that might be repurposed, rather than throwing them out (landfill is especially to be avoided, but even to recycling - given recent difficult experiences trying to get rid of stuff). Now that I think about it, these two things don't really conflict so much - it's just finding the balance between keeping stuff, finding space to store it, finding ways to repurpose it, and remembering my good intentions. One subtlety I'm starting to appreciate is that while disposable items may not have long term use, they can sometimes have a limited extension of useful life (bread bags, for example).

There's another angle to this which is less directly greenie and more about not being a victim of consumer culture. I'm not usually too bad here, but I do sometimes engage in retail therapy. Because I'm both fussy and a cheapskate, it doesn't generally hurt the credit card too badly. I've always marvelled at those people who go clothes shopping and come home with bags of new exciting items. Then again being a cheapskate leads to buying cheap imported crap (and I'm not only referring to clothing) probably made by people who are poorly paid, and with a large carbon footprint. Where I have fallen down on retail therapy, so often, is craft supplies. So often on a work day, I wish I was at home making stuff instead, and the next best thing is to pop into Lincraft or Big W and buy a little something, dreaming about what it will become. It's such an obvious psychological trap, and even though I am well aware of it now, I still have to be on my guard. Much better to have a small project in my bag so I can do a bit of making, instead of more aquiring.

I do feel weighed down by my stuff, and want to enjoy what I have. The weighed down feeling is complex though, and it's not simple materialism, because a lot of it is stuff I interact with in what I consider meaningful ways. It's tied in to my notions of time/free time/me time as well. Having a lot of projects, materials, books and DVDs is simultaneously wonderful and a burden. I often think back to the feeling of being a kid and loving my small collection of books SO MUCH because I had read each of them several times. They were precious. Now I have so many books I haven't read, sometimes they feel like a burden. Not a really bad burden though ;)

But to get back to the environmental / resource use angle, it really disappoints me that it's only relatively recently, because of more-or-less mainstream acceptance that human activity has probably caused global warming, that governments are doing anything much about resource use and energy sources. The concept of sustainability has been around for a long time, but nothing much has been done. We keep on our merry way, finding new ways to consume and new levels of affluence, at least for the privileged classes.

I'm far from an expert, I'm not even particularly well-informed. I probably fall on the side of believing in global warming. But I don't think it should matter quite so much as a motivating factor. We should be concerned about the sustainability of life on this planet. It seems obvious that the way things currently done in much of the world, we use far too much of our resources, far too carelessly. We create so much waste that isn't reused or recycled and we have nowhere to put it. I have a lot of first world guilt when I see those pictures of discarded computers shipped to African countries for dumping. I do feel that I live in ridiculous luxury, much of which I could do without.

For a long time these feelings of guilt and irritation were too undefined and too big for me to do anything about them. It seemed almost hypocritical to take up certain "greenie" practices when they seemed like a mere drop in the ocean, and more importantly, I felt I was certain to end up complicit in some other area, and therefore a hypocrite. Eventually I realised we are ALL complicit. Unless you take up a very extreme lifestyle, living off-grid and growing all your own food and somehow manage to know everything about anyone you happen to trade with, you will still be involved in some way in the modern, wasteful way of life. So now my attitude is that small actions do matter. And I just try to keep building on what I am willing to do. I have never been one for wholesale change - I like moderation. That way it sticks.

* Mahatma Gandhi said you should be the change you want to see in the world.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nowt could I find

wooden pear 2
My parents were visiting family in Tasmania last weekend, and Dad picked this wooden pear for me at Salamanca Place Markets. It's made from Tasmanian Huon Pine, by David Jackson.

It is perfect. I've seen wooden pears before but not one in this mini size, on the same scale as my mini felted pears. I'm sure it will be sneaking into more of my photos in future.
wooden pear

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

it's not you, it's me

I have just finished reading Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. It was published in 1932 and is a parody of gloomy, romantic English rural novels of the time as well as earlier novels by Thomas Hardy and the Bront√ęs.

I was glad it was quite a short read. The last book I read (The wind-up bird chronicle by Haruki Murakami - still working out what I think of that one) seemed to take a ridiculously long time to finish. And the previous book is still unfinished (The hour I first believed by Wally Lamb) - it was too huge and heavy to take on the ski trip, especially as I was mostly finished, so I allowed myself to start the Murakami instead.

Humorous novels often do leave me cold. I enjoyed the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series long ago but after that I didn't get far with any of Douglas Adams' heirs in the 'funny fantasy' field - I read a couple of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels but got over them pretty quickly too. In reading comedic fiction I often feel that the writing is too self-consciously clever, taking me out of the suspended reality of the story. I think it's simply 'not to my taste'. This is the polite phrase my nephew has been taught to use when he doesn't want to eat part of his dinner.

I don't think there's anything wrong with it; by many accounts Cold Comfort Farm is a brilliant and funny book. And I did laugh quite a few times. I just didn't love the experience of reading it. I think it's because when I read fiction I want to really engage with it. It can even be not the best writing or predictable, as long as something about it grabs me and I can manage to get a little bit lost in the story, whether it's wondering what happens next, or simply enjoying the ride even when you can see pretty much where it is going.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Earlier this week a little birdie suggested I have a closer look at the Floriade program, and I was thrilled to find my pears featured in a print ad for the Craft ACT Shop. Until now I've only seen these ads in their own emails to members.

Hot on the heels of that discovery, a different one turned up in 'see Canberra' magazine (a glossy insert from the Canberra Times) with a picture of my pods/bowls.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Somebody said they saw me swinging the world by the tail


These little bags came about because I wanted to make something for my nephews and niece during my time off work. At 15 months, the twins love putting things into and out of bags. They've been playing recently with little paper gift bags.
E & B
Yes they look like mini handbags, and I took pleasure in making one for my nephew as well as my niece. They both like to carry their toys and books around. The two are quite different to each other in looks and personality, so the days of matching gifts are probably numbered - not that these are exactly matching.
elephant & bee
Their three-and-a-half-year old big brother scored a wooden bead bracelet and a little pouch to keep it or other treasures in.
bracelet & pouch
I had all the beads already (and a great many more besides). I remember when I bought those letter beads I took two packs knowing that when I came to use them to spell something, I might have trouble finding the letters I needed. And even with two packs, there was no 'E' - I ended up having to transform an 'F' using a fine black pen.
bracelet & pouch_2