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.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Just Sew: Sweatshirt Blazer

Having taken a new job at our local elementary school, I decided to get a jump on some of my Project Run and Play pieces.  All of these, in turn, will be altered and used for our community's First Friday Gallery Cruise in October, when I am our textile collective's featured artist.  There will be more detailed posts about both of these events when the time comes, but for now, here is the tutorial on transforming a sweatshirt into a comfy and pretty blazer.  Working with a sweatshirt that fits comfortably, cut off the cuffs, bottom band, and collar.  Find the center of the neckline and cut the sweatshirt in half up the front.
Trace a lapel from another jacket, or freehand a pattern from newspaper and pin it on to see if you like the size.  Once you are satisfied with the proportions of the lapel, pin, trace, and cut them from the sweatshirt.  Because I wanted my lapels when flipped to be the heathery grey fabric and not the fleece, I had to play with which side to trace where.  In the end, I labeled the wrong side (fleece) with a W and traced the straight edge of the left lapel with the straight edge of the right front half of the blazer and then vice versa.  Miraculously, I cut them both correctly.
There was the smallest triangular scrap left in the neckline after I cut the lapels.  I just held a ruler following the angles of the edges of the right and left sides and cut all the way up to the shoulder seams.  Next I finished all of the edges around the cuffs, collar and the bottom.  Because this is for a more feminine project, I stretched the fabric to give it a lettuce edge.  You could certainly finish it with a straighter stitch or even piping to make it more masculine.
To attach the lapels, I rolled the unfinished edge and pinned it in place on top of the sweatshirt.  I then stitched over all three layers so the lapel would be flipped over the way I wanted on the blazer.
 I am very excited to combine this blazer with some other pieces and accessories for submission during the second week of Project Run and Play.  After that it will be dyed and embellished and begin its next incarnation, hardly recognizable from its lowly, plain grey sweatshirt beginnings.

Just Eat: Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream

In 2010 Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream announced they were working towards using only Fair Trade Certified ingredients in their products by 2013. Longtime supporters of local farms and non-BGH dairy products, the founders always felt uneasy about the origins of their more exotic ingredients of vanilla, coffee, and cocoa, three industries which frequently use forced, and even child labor.  In a press announcement Jerry Greenfield said, "Fair trade is about making sure people get their fair share of the pie. The whole concept of fair trade goes to the heart of our values and the sense of right and wrong.  Nobody wants to buy something that was made by exploiting someone else."

Although Ben & Jerry's is definitely priced as a premium ice cream, our family accepts that we are paying for fair wages for their US employees, as well as, those abroad.  Also, it makes having ice cream a special treat, as opposed to a standard nightly dessert, which is definitely instilling healthy habits and attitudes in our kids.

Forced labor and especially child labor are really tough topics, and most of us want to believe it isn't that much of a problem anymore, but the reality is in 2012 over 21 million people worldwide are being exploited in forced labor situations and a quarter of those people are children (according to the United Nations' International Labour Organization's latest study).  But limiting our consumption of products that typically use forced labor and choosing fair trade when we do buy them is one step towards a solution. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Just Read: Get Real

When I discovered this book I was both an independent bookseller and a fledgling passionate ethical consumer..  And yet, I found it hiding under some picture books at a Scholastic book fair at my kids' elementary school.  How had I missed this book?!  I bought it immediately and began stocking it for our bookstore.

Mara Rockliff has written a variety of books for young people, and I really appreciate her clear and concise way of addressing the huge topic of ethical consumerism.  The first quarter of the book introduces the reader to the concepts of True Cost, Western consumption habits, and advertising schemes.  The bulk of the book breaks down the issues around production, transportation, consumption, and disposal of individual industries like textiles, fast food, electronics, plastics, and chocolate.  The last quarter of the book is devoted to strategies and examples of points of action the reader can take, whether it is pledging to buy fair trade coffee or joining an international movement.

The layout of this book keeps all of the information in very digestible chunks and is very stimulating.  It also serves to break up some of the more somber statistics with bright graphics.  I used this book as one of my resources when teaching a class on consumerism and upcycling to middle schoolers and granted them permission to make the "Debbie Downer" sound effect (mwah - mwah) when the information got too depressing or overwhelming.  Despite exposing these heavy issues, Rockliff still manages to keep the tone of the book positive, assuring the reader he or she can make a difference.  The blurb on the back of the book says it best:
     Can you really change the world with your wallet?  You already do.  Buy a pair of sneakers, and where does your money really go? Order a cheeseburger at a drive-up window, and what are you really buying?  Spend your birthday money on a cell phone or a video game, and what are you really getting?  Ask yourself this:  Who made it?  What's in it?  What's it doing to the earth, other people, and me?  Start seeing the world for real - and discover how you can make a difference.  You've got buying power - now let's see you change the world for good!

Although Get Real: What Kind of World Are You Buying? is geared towards kids, there is enough content to make it interesting and inspiring for adults, too.  It would be a great book for a family to read together and then set mini-goals to begin changing buying habits.  How does your family try to make a difference with your dollar?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just Sew: Wrap-Around Circle Skirt

Earlier this summer, I made a similar skirt for Skirting the Issue over at Project Run and Play.  My youngest was my model and she really loved how comfortable it was and the mushroom appliques.  Because I sew primarily from thrifted materials, my final products are often one-of-a-kind and tough to duplicate.  Luckily, I made the original skirt from a large stash of turquoise jersey someone donated to our local thrift store, and had enough leftover to make her a skirt, too.

I began with a standard circle skirt using the tutorial at Made.  Since this is for a young girl, I like the coverage, shape, and fullness a circle skirt gives, as opposed to using a long, rectangular shape if I were making a wrap-around skirt for myself.  Once I had the fabric cut, I made an additional cut from the bottom of the skirt to the top in just one section.  At this point I began the tedious task of finishing all of the edges.  You could use a serger or a zig-zag stitch to do this.  If you are using a jersey knit you can also leave the edges unfinished, if you like that look.

The next step involved wrapping the skirt around my daughter's waist and marking where a hook and eye closure would go inside the skirt (on the right in the picture) and where the buttons and elastic loop would go on the outside of the skirt (on the left in the picture).  I just placed paper clips in each of these spots, but you could use pins or chalk or an erasable fabric marker.

The concept for the visible closure uses two buttons and a colorful elastic hair band (we have all graduated to boring black around here).  This allows some flexibility when wrapping because you can double or triple wrap the hair band around the button to make the skirt tighter.  I hand sewed the hair band to the skirt and then positioned the button over it so each hole was on either side of the hair band.  This keeps it very secure and hides where you had to sew the band to the skirt.  I then sewed the second button onto the skirt where I had placed the paper clip.

Lastly, I added the mushroom appliques to give it a little personality.  My youngest is very happy with this skirt and is currently planning on wearing it on the first day of school. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Just Use: Handwoven Towels

It is a rare occasion that I purchase a new textile product.  Knowing the excess that occurs at all stages when it comes to producing textiles, buying secondhand feels like a stop gap (albeit a tiny one) in that cycle.  However, the dish towels people donate to places like Goodwill are either often a) very worn or b) very ugly.  After several years of settling for un-absorbent and unattractive kitchen towels, I decided to invest in some quality, handwoven organic cotton ones.

Reader, (I've been re-reading Jane Eyre lately) I will never go back!  The difference is a hundredfold.  Just by touch you can tell the item will hold up to a lot of use and will last a long time.  The longevity of a product's lifetime justifies purchasing new.  I think I  found my new go to present when it comes to weddings.

I used the term "invest" when I described my decision, because an individual towel can run between twenty and thirty dollars, but a set of three is likely to last ten years or more and is not contributing any textile waste to landfills.  Also, you are getting something very practical and supporting a local artisan.  While I purchased my towels from the fiber arts and textile collective where I am a member, there are many weavers listed on etsy or to be found locally

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Just Make: Peacock Necklace

All week I knew there was a get-together coming up for a friend's birthday, and I wasn't sure I would be able to finish her present on time.  But this afternoon, my oldest left early for a sleepover and my husband took the other two to the pool, and suddenly I found myself in an empty house!  These types of necklaces are so easy, you really can make the whole thing in less than an hour.  Also, although I did add some detail with machine stitching,  if you used iron-on paper, you could do this without touching a sewing machine.

Per usual, I began with a thrifted t-shirt and some scraps from my knit jersey bin.  I also pulled out my metallic silver thread which only gets used on special occasions.

To create the necklace I cut the hem off of the t-shirt and marked out two strips about an inch and a half wide across the bottom of the shirt.

After cutting the strips I held them at the seams of the shirt (or where the seams would be if your shirt doesn't have them) and stretched them as far as I could. I rotated them and held on at the halfway point and stretched again.   The material simply rolls onto itself hiding any raw edges.

Now I turned my giant circle into a figure eight and doubled the loops onto each other to form the necklace.  You can actually cut more strips and make a nice lush necklace/scarf using this technique as well.  Because it hit ninety degrees in our town today (highly unusual) I wasn't in the mood to make a scarf.

To make the pendant I approached it as an applique and used the techniques from my tutorial and used lightweight fusible webbing.  Any type of iron-on paper would work, too.  I drew out the front of the feather with all of the extra feathery details on one piece of fabric, and then just the main part of the feather for the back to add some stability.

After pressing those two pieces together I cut out the turquoise and purple pieces to form the eye of the peacock feather.

With the pendant and the necklace finished, the last step was to make a "jump ring" from fabric.  Cutting a strip from the sleeve I made a smaller strip of pulled and rolled fabric to work with. I threaded the strip through a couple of extra beads to add a nice detail and then sewed the strip closed around the necklace. 

Attach the pendant to the strip, and before you know it, the necklace is complete, just as your family returns from swimming. Of course, this necklace could be made with a variety of pendants.  I am already thinking of a nice fall-colored one featuring oak and maple leaves, or something more festive for Christmas.  What color scheme and pendant would you use?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Just Watch: The Story of Change

If you are unfamiliar with Annie Leonard and The Story of Stuff Project, all of her movies are well done.  She and her team have done a great job of communicating big ideas in easy to digest films that even our kids can follow and enjoy watching.

I am very excited about their latest movie, The Story of Change, because it feels like this will really get the ball rolling.  For the past few years she has worked to educate people about the consequences of our choices as consumers, tackling general Western habits, as well as, specific products like bottled water, electronics, and cosmetics.  Her philosophy exactly mirrors the tagline around here:  Learn. Choose Change.  And while she is quick to point out we all wield a certain amount of power as consumers, she also places heavy responsibility on our government to have better policies in place to protect the health of our citizens and our resources.  

The Story of Change outlines the three components to every significant movement of the twentieth century:  big idea + commitment to work together + action.  After watching the movie, you are encouraged to take a quiz to see where your strengths lie regarding taking action.  Although it reminded me of a "spiritual gifts" tests from church, or even the "What kind of teacher are you?" quizzes from college (both of which I always found a little off-putting), this quiz is pretty straight forward and my results were spot on, even suggesting action items that I have already done in my community.

There is also a good-sized forum where people suggest ideas for taking action.  These range from huge tasks like overturning Citizens United to smaller jobs like organizing a clothing swap.  It is very encouraging and inspiring to see the enthusiasm of others around the topic of consumerism, and I am looking forward to the changes that come out of it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just Sew: Easy Applique

My youngest has developed an inexplicable love for all things French over the past few years.  She owns two vintage berets (one still has the Made in France tag inside of it, much to her delight), Eiffel Tower earrings, a pocket French/English dictionary, and an antique key to a door somewhere in France.  And while my husband and I have a general, probably average appreciation for France, we cannot pinpoint where or how her affair began.

Last weekend, while out garage-saling I found a black and white, slightly boat necked shirt in my youngest's size.  I called her over and remarked it looked very French to me.  It even had the two button detail on the shoulder.  With the exception of a couple of stains (chocolate ice cream, I'd guess) it was in good shape.  As proof that our brainwashing careful training around consumerism is working, she immediately said, "You could sew something over that, and I could wear it, right?"

We brought it home and decided an Eiffel Tower and a little moon (to cover a conspicuous stain towards the middle of the shirt) would be a cute design and chose some scraps from my jersey fabric bin to use.  I also grabbed a sheet of lightweight fusible webbing.  It seems a lot of people sewing children's clothes have had some experience working with quilts first.  Although I have owned a sewing machine throughout all of my adult life, prior to children, it only came out to hem skirts, repair holes, and occasionally sew curtains or pillows.  When I began modifying/repurposing/upcycling secondhand clothes, I was very inexperienced.  My first appliques were always simply pinned to the fabric.  Ninety-nine percent of the time I was working on t-shirts with scraps from other t-shirts and despite the pins, the fabric would simultaneously stretch and wrinkle in the most frustrating ways.  Finally, while participating in an upcycling workshop, a quilter tipped me off to fusible webbing.  Unfortunately, it was a heavier weight, and I was always dismayed by the stiffness it created in the shirts.  My kids would also complain that it made the clothing less comfortable.  Eventually, while shopping for elastic in our local fabric store I stumbled on the fusible webbing section and discovered it came in different weights.  I had no idea!  So this post is for the other sewers like me, who just might not know what is out there.

Start by cutting a piece of fabric that is large enough to accommodate your design.  Then cut a piece of webbing slightly smaller than your fabric.  I always like to iron out my fabric first and then lay on the webbing.  It keeps everything smoother and crisper when you make the design.  You will lay the webbing filmy side down/paper side up on top of your fabric.  The filmy stuff gets very sticky when exposed to heat, so you don't want any peeking out from under the paper or overhanging onto your ironing board.  I have done both and it is a pain to clean off of both items.  Run the iron over the paper for about thirty seconds.  Do not peel off the paper yet!  You want to use it while drawing your design.

Sketch your design on the paper, keeping in mind it will be reversed when you cut it out and flip it over and apply it to the fabric.  Also remember, you will be sewing along the edges of the design and may not want a lot of detailed edges (e.g. a sun with many pointed bursts around the circle).  I used to draw on the fabric side, which left very little wiggle room for mistakes.  At one point, I even drew on the fabric and cut it out before ironing on the webbing.  Very messy when it came to ironing.  Once you are happy with the design you can cut it out and peel off the paper.  You will see a very thin sheen of webbing has been applied to the fabric.
Now it is time to iron the design onto the shirt.  I always give the article of clothing a once over with the iron to take out any wrinkles, plus the applique is easier to place on warm fabric.  Lay the design shiny side down where you would like it.  Don't forget if you are covering stains or a logo to double check this is effective.  Even with the webbing, jersey knit has a lot of stretch to it, and I have been able to manipulate it more than I would have guessed.  Run the iron over the design, making an effort to press down all of the edges.  Although, this feels a little permanent, once it cools it will begin to lift on its own from the fabric.  This means a) you need to be ready to sew the design on fairly quickly after ironing or b) you can always reset the design if you don't like the original placement.
Sew around all of the edges and Voila! your applique is done.  I cannot tell you how much this seemed like magic to me the first time I did it.  The pins, the pulling (think superhero shirts with insignias inside of circles), the tearing out of stitches, the inevitable little creased wrinkle left in because I did not want to do it again...  Now my kids can have one-of-a-kind shirts within an easy afternoon.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Just Wear: Spicy Green Mango

Last year I was able to start a fiber arts and textile collective for other artisans in my community.  Some I already knew, and invited personally, but I also made use of some of our town's Yahoo groups and Facebook pages.  As we neared our launch I used the Shop Local feature to search Etsy and stumbled on the shop for Spicy Green Mango.  Anya, the owner, was new to our island, having moved recently from Cambodia.  While living in Cambodia, she saw firsthand the waste generated by the many garment factories located there.  It is not uncommon for these factories to be filling an order for 50,000 articles of a single item of clothing.  They are often working with huge bolts of fabrics with up to 1,000 yards on them.  Despite efficient pattern cutting, it is understandable they end up with thousands of pounds of excess fabric every day.  In fact, the average garment factory throws away about 60,000 pounds of excess fabric every week.

Before this fabric is thrown away, it spends some time in a warehouse waiting for someone to use it.  This is where Anya and Spicy Green Mango enter the picture.  After purchasing the "deadstock" fabric, Anya works with a team of designers and seamstresses to create clothing for men, women, and children.  Since its inception, Spicy Green Mango has been committed to providing their workers with a fair living wage and employment opportunities allowing women to stay with their families.

Now, Anya returns to Cambodia a few times a year to purchase more fabric and develop more designs. Besides mixing and matching various prints and patterns creatively, she utilizes fun and graphic screen printing to make their pieces unique.  A statement from their website sums up their style and mission best:  Spicy Green Mango believes that globalization does not mean cultural homogenization.  That mixing ideas between - across - through cultures, places, and people adds to the amazing kaleidoscope of life, love, and cool clothes!

Just Read: Overdressed

Unlike Elizabeth Cline, I have never liked to shop for clothes.  My best illustration of this is the "search" for a prom dress in high school.  After walking into the first store on our list at the mall, I spotted an adequate dress.  Off-the-shoulder, fitted bodice, full skirt, in a nice shade of green, it was very Grace Kelly.  It was even under a hundred dollars!  But my step-mom felt we should keep looking.  I might find something better.  However, this was, and still is, torture for me.  I only shop with a specific purpose in mind.  And once I find what I am looking for, I am done.  This goes for groceries, birthday presents, craft supplies, and clothes.  The only exception is bookstores, and even then, I usually have one or two titles in mind.  All of this is to say, when our family made a decision to change our consumer habits, it really wasn't that hard for me.

Overdressed:  The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion chronicles Elizabeth's journey from cheap clothes connoisseur to conscientious consumer.  At the beginning of the book she details the "steals" she would find while shopping (for fun!) on her lunch break.  If a top was under twenty dollars and she liked it, she would buy it.  Her bottom line on dresses was thirty.  When she finally finds herself lugging home seven pairs of identical shoes ($7 each) she realizes she might have a problem.  Her closet was bursting, and she hadn't even worn half the clothes in it.  Because she is a journalist she began addressing her problem through research.  I appreciated how thorough she was in addressing the entire stream of effects connected to cheap fashion: where and how cotton is grown, the depletion of the American textile industry, the reality of garment workers overseas, and the tremendous amount of waste generated by Western consumerism.  By the end of the book she has pared down her wardrobe to well-made, well-tailored items that look great on her and that she loves wearing.  Sometimes she has to splurge on a sustainably made jacket, but sometimes she finds a quality skirt at a thrift store.  Considering she was impulse buying at least one item a week, at an average of $25 a pop, I am sure she still comes out ahead.  

After reading this book, I was very excited to tell others about it, even claiming it could do for "slow clothing" what Omnivore's Dilemma did for slow food.  How pleased I was to see a reviewer label Elizabeth as "the Michael Pollan of fashion."  It was not just me and my Pollyanna hopes, others think this as well!  If consumers will just take the time to learn the facts, eventually they will choose to change.