Learn. Choose. Change.

I pledge to learn the true cost, to people and the planet, of what I eat, wear, drive, use and do every day. I choose to consume justly and to increasingly change my habits.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Just Make: Homemade Halloween

In order to compensate for the challenges of trick-or-treating in a rural community, our merchants shut down the roads in town to allow walking traffic only and pass out candy.  We had an unusually moderate night temperature-wise last night, which allowed for lots of chatting and admiring costumes.  And although the whole event is a mixed bag for me (I can get pretty worked up about fair trade chocolate and high fructose corn syrup), I do love to see the inventiveness that shines through in people's costumes.  Homemade costumes are definitely the norm around here, ranging from simple (cardboard box Legos, Minecraft, etc.) to elaborate (an oyster shell where her head sticking out was the pearl).

My youngest settled on being a Hedgehog pretty early on.  I was able to keep an eye out for brown clothing at our local thrift store.  The one elusive item was the shaggy fabric for her "spikes".  Last weekend I picked up a white bathmat just in case our trip to the city didn't pay off either.  Surprisingly, we struck out at a huge fabric store, too.  I ended up dyeing the mat brown and sewing it to a resized men's sweatshirt.  We scored an off-white velvet top for her belly and paws and finished off the look with some women's leggings that I also resized.  She was very happy with the whole thing and said it looked just like she pictured.

Considering CNN reported that Americans throw away 40 million pounds in Halloween garbage each year, and that much of that is plastic costumes, making your own out of repurposed clothing is a good way to put a dent in those numbers.  A lot of people also first experiment with sewing and upcycling making costumes.  Hopefully, they'll gain confidence and realize the same techniques work with everyday clothes, too!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Just Make: Melissa & Doug Shadow Box

Sometimes it is hard for me to believe certain toys in our house are over ten years old.  Part of that is due to how unbelievably quickly the time has flown since we had kids, but I am also amazed at the longevity some of these toys have had in our lives.  The toy kitchen (affectionately known as Tiny Kitchen) along with our wooden play food sets are among our oldest items that still get used regularly.  My youngest still has the Tiny Kitchen tucked away in the corner of her very tiny room and loves to play restaurant with her friends.  However, long gone are the days when we carefully put each set away in its appropriate tray.  As we were streamlining our toy collections this summer, I set these Melissa and Doug trays aside, sure I could use them in some way.
Sitting empty, they reminded me of the old printer's trays people often repurpose as shadow box displays.  I simply wiped them down, sanded any chips in the wood, and then painted them.  We already had black all-purpose spray paint on hand, so I used that.  Obviously, your options are endless when it comes to painting.  I also lined some of the sections with dictionary pages and wrapping paper.  By just using double stick tape, I figure I can change it out if I want.
This was such an easy project that has a lot of versatility.  I'm still deciding if I want to mount them on the wall or leave them lying flat to corral our more varied collections, like my youngest's French collection above, or some of our more special ornaments over the holidays.  Either way, I'm happy to keep these in our lives just a little longer.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Just Sew: Congo Confection

When it comes to candy, chocolate is the only choice for me.  Even when I was a kid I would pass on all those sickly sweet fake fruit flavored candies.  At our house we have committed to eating only fair trade chocolate for the past few years.  Of all the industries out there exploiting children and imposing forced labor on adults, cocoa is one of the worst offenders.  The majority of the world's chocolate is grown in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.  Most of the workers are "recruited" (often kidnapped or lured under false pretenses) from the surrounding poorer countries.  Once they arrive on the cocoa plantation, many are devastated by the long fourteen hour work days, the poor to non-existent living conditions, and the harsh treatment they receive if they do not meet their quota, not to mention sustaining injuries from their machetes.  Theo Chocolate is a fair trade company based right here in Seattle.  They do lots of cool projects, and we are always happy to support them.  When Project Run and Play announced a candy inspired theme for the second week of this season, I knew right away what to choose.  Theo is sponsoring cocoa farms in the Congo to stimulate the economy and raise awareness, both about fair trade and the current conflict in that country.  As I mentioned last week, I am sewing this whole season for my new niece, who is waiting in the Congo to come home to my little sister.
I began with some thrifted clothes.  The (very wrinkly) pants are a size 5T in a nice, lightweight brown corduroy.  I knew I wanted some brown to represent the chocolate.  The top is a 2T long-sleeved onesie, with My First Birthday (oddly enough) embroidered on it.  Other than being the right shade of pink, this isn't exactly what I wanted to start with for the top, but I just couldn't find anything in my stash or at the local thrift stores to match my vision.
As you can see I resized the pants down to 2T, even managing to save a cute ruffle and bow detail at the hem.  I also ended up cutting out the embroidery (after trying to pick it for about an hour) and doing a reverse applique of the sun and triangles from the wrapper.  The bottom of the onesie was chopped off and finished with a rolled lettuce edge hem to make a big girl shirt.  
I have to admit I do not love the results this week.  I really struggled with how to best interpret the printed design with fabric.  Anything I tried with the sun's eyes and nose, which look so African, came out kind of creepy looking in my version.  And, to add insult to injury, the applique is slightly off center.  It's kind of driving me crazy.  I will most likely cut it out and try again, but definitely not in the thirty minutes before the linky party closes!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Just "Choose": Bikes, Hikes, and Public Transit

A few years ago we bought an old Mercedes wagon and committed to using biodiesel.  Not long after, we bought our house located right "in town" (think 1950s era main street - grocery store, bank, movie theater, etc.) with the intention of walking instead of driving when it came to running most of our errands.  Not surprisingly, we started off great, savoring our walks in the lovely Pacific Northwest summer, happy to not have to find a parking space amongst all the tourists.  But, it didn't take long after the rains started for us to just grab the car to make a "quick run" to the store, bank, etc. justifying that it was such a short distance, and we were using biodiesel, after all...

Fast forward to this past summer when our trusty car started acting weird, dropping into a low gear for no reason or never getting out of first when we started it.  Luckily, my husband is super handy, and he and his friend took a look at it. Unluckily, it was the worst case scenario, and it looked like we would need a whole new transmission.  We were in the unfortunate spot of probably investing more into the car than what it was actually worth.  So, instead of just rushing to fix it, we thought about it.  Because it was summer time, the kids and I were off school/work and could somewhat manage without a car, mostly walking or using the bus.  My husband often rides his bike to work anyway.  Friends that were on vacations offered the use of their cars while they were gone, so we were able to borrow one pretty easily if we needed to.

Then, school started.  We still hadn't come to a decision about fixing the car, and were even discussing biting the bullet and buying electric.  However, we haven't had a car payment in about ten years and are not super excited to take one on again (debt feels icky to us).  My husband was pretty sure we could actually manage without a car for a little while longer to give us more time to make a decision.  I wasn't so sure, because this meant I would probably have to ride a bike.  Like, every day.

We just wrapped up our second week of school, and I have to say, it's not as bad as I thought it would be.  Granted, I thought it would be horrible, but it's really not.  My oldest two ride the school bus to and from the middle school and can walk or get a ride to extra-curricular activities.  My youngest usually rides the school bus, too.  This week she joined me one day on the Metro bus one day (it was going to be 90 degrees and I didn't think I could hack that!), and actually biked with me on another (I work at her school).  And, I will admit, biking together was kinda sort of fun.

I'm sure we will get another car soon, but I can say these two weeks have changed me.  Riding a bike somewhere, especially to work, has become my default.  I sincerely feel I will only resort to using a car as a last resort, and even hope to one day live without one again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Just Sew: Operation Project $0

About a year ago I started actively participating in the sewing blog world (after stalking/creeping for a year before that).  One of the first blogs I chose to follow was Suzanne's Winter Wonderings Wanderings & Whatnot.  She was challenging herself to create a fall wardrobe for her twin sons without spending any money by using up fabric in her stash and upcycling other cast off clothing.  At the time, I hadn't run across any other blogs with that kind of focus and was excited to find a kindred spirit.

What began as a personal challenge for Suzanne a year ago, has blossomed into a full blown blogging series featuring some heavy hitters in the sewing blog world, that she is calling Operation: Project $0.  While none of my kids were in dire need for an entire fall wardrobe, we did fill in some gaps at the thrift stores before school started.  As we were shopping, it became evident that my youngest has really developed an eye for the potential in clothing.  She knew just what she wanted to (re)create for her first day of school outfit.

Each of the pandas on the shirt above were cut out and reapplied to a thrifted t-shirt (half off at $1.50).  The pandas came from a hand me down shirt that has been in the pajama drawer due to its overall "rattiness".  
The jeans were also a hand me down from big brother, that were, of course, blown out at the knees.  We talked about different ideas for patches, and finally settled on embroidering one of her favorite phrases, "Art Rocks" (this is not the first time I have embroidered this phrase).  We wrote it out in many styles and decided to go with a Rock and Roll kind of font.

She was so proud of her customized look and could not wait to wear it on the first day of school.  I am so grateful for her creative spirit and look forward to collaborating with her more throughout the year.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Just Sew: Japanese? Remix

Well, nothing like another season of Project Run and Play to kick me back into blogging gear.  This summer, my girls and I got to visit an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum entitled Future Beauty:  30 Years of Japanese Fashion.  And while there was lots of amazing sewing and mind-boggling techniques, one of my favorite moments was a collection of three sweet dresses on the wall that actually looked like something I would wear.  The silhouettes were similar to the popover dress, only with cap sleeves.  I wanted to recreate the proportions, the use of patterns, and a graphic element like I saw on one of those dresses.

So, obviously for the remix, I pieced together three pieces of fabric.  The solid pink is from a thrift store sheet.  The stripes and the cutie animal print are from some old Birch organic fat quarters.  I also took  advantage of the bias tape in the design and lined the dress with the pink sheet and then hemmed the dress with bias tape as well.  And let me tell you, I sewed this thing so carefully that it became a reversible dress!  On accident!  I am so proud and cannot wait to show it to my husband's grandmother.  When she turns it inside out (because she always does) I won't even flinch.
The only thing left to mention is the lack of a model for this dress.  I am sewing all of this season's themes for my new niece, who is waiting in the Congo to come home to my little sister.  Like all adoption stories this one has been long, and also particularly heartbreaking, but we eagerly expect little Noel by the end of this year.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Just Learn: Dhaka Factory Collapse

Last week a building that housed a garment factory, among other businesses, collapsed in Bangladesh.  The number of confirmed dead was 359, as of this morning, and though they are still pulling out workers that survived the collapse, rescue efforts are nearing an end as the building is becoming even more dangerous for rescue teams.  There are still hundreds of unaccounted for victims, trapped or dead inside.  The actual death toll may be close to 1,000 workers.

Reports have surfaced that business owners from the building were warned to keep their workers at home after cracks appeared.  Several of these owners have been arrested now for negligence, because they ignored these warnings and forced their employees  to come work in the garment factory.  What has not been as widely reported, is that employees from other businesses (banking and insurance) in the building were not forced to report to work that day.  This is very telling evidence about the type of worker that is exploited in the garment industry and the very little value that is placed on their lives.

While protests erupt in Bangladesh and in the U.S. demanding safer working conditions in the garment industry, it is doubtful any significant changes will be handed down from the government or the industry itself. Garments account for 80% of exports from Bangladesh.  Many executives overseeing this 20 billion dollar business are also involved in local politics. In short, the garment industry is "Big Oil" in this region.

The BBC posted an article online asking, "Can Clothes Industry Change?" The answer is, of course it can, by why would it?  As long as consumers turn a blind eye to the exploitation of the earth's resources and people groups, why would business executives sacrifice their bottom line?  And while Americans are quick to point the finger at obvious targets selling cheap clothes like Walmart or Forever 21, high end labels are actually just as guilty.  Their prices may reflect some higher quality fabrics, embellishments and finishing techniques, but they are typically not paying their workers any higher wages than the ones sewing for Walmart.

This is where the post gets preachy, and most people already know what the solution is:  
1)  Buy less clothing (and fabric!!)  
2)  When you do buy something, looked for it secondhand or as a remnant first 
3)  If you have to buy new, support a company that is verifiably doing things right
4)  Invest in quality pieces of clotihng
5)  Repair/reuse/upcycle what you have
6)  Let companies know you expect change and that they have lost you as a customer

Changing an entire industry often feels like a monumental task, but it truly starts with individuals.  If there can be any good that comes from this tragedy, I hope it is that more people will consider the ramifications of their purchases, and will change their buying habits.