upcycling 101

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lately I've become intrigued with the idea of "upcycling" clothing. The term "upcycle", was first used by by authors William McDonough & Michael Braungart in their 2002 manifesto on sustainable design: Cradle to Cradle; Remaking the Way We Make Things so I bought the book and am reading it right now. To be truly upcycled, according to McDonough & Braungard, a material would be either composted and used to fertilize the next crop of raw material or if manmade, returned to it's original pure state for reuse in quality manufacturing. Recycling only converts used commodities to new materials of lesser purity and quality than the original form, using a lot of energy in the process. Most of what is manufactured today are such "monstrous hybrids" that the different components cannot be separated and returned to their original state and ultimately wind up in a landfills after their second, lesser life.

Upcycling has taken on a somewhat different meaning in the indie design world. Upcyclers convert something that has outlived it's usefulness into something equally or more useful and beautiful, extending the life of the raw material. The item may or may not wind up in a landfill when the it is done with its second life, but it doesn't require much new energy to create it and slows down the need for more raw material. Much upcycling is going on in the indie design world by companies like Sardine Clothing Company who use unwanted t-shirts as their raw material and convert them into funky skirts and dresses.

 photo courtesy Sardine Clothing
I visited the Sardine booth at the Crafty Bastards show in DC and again at Cut the Craft! in Philadelphia where they were doing a brisk business with the hipster crowd. They also have a thriving business with boutiques. Upcycled clothing is impossible to mass-produce in the traditional way and has become a niche market for indie companies who also want to be easy on the environment. Cotton production is especially taxing on the environment. 25% of the world's pesticide use is on cotton crops. Cotton also requires extensive irrigation, organic or not. Then comes the milling, bleaching, and dying which release toxins into the environment. After that comes shipping over long distances using fossil fuels.

 photo courtesy Peeko Apparel
Peeko Apparel has found a unique way to convert men's shirts into modern tunic-style tops for women. Brook, founder of Peeko, feels reusing the shirts not only takes some stress off the environment, but also helps the community by supporting the charity shops where she buys the shirts.

 photo courtesy of The Devil Made Me Do It
This gorgeous pieced scarf by The Devil Made Me Do It was upcycled from cashmere sweaters. Cashmere production also causes huge strain on the environment, so extending the life of it is a good thing. If only the demand for new fiber would go down! The incredible demand for cashmere has caused farmers in China to overpopulate the grasslands with goats, stripping the lands bare and causing desertification and dust storms. Unfortunately, the true cost to the environment has not been factored in to the price of cashmere which seems to get cheaper and cheaper every year.

 photo courtesy of Snuggle Pants
This adorable child's skirt by Snuggle Pants uses every last scrap of wool from retired sweaters. First, pants are ingeniously cut from the cloth of sweaters, then whatever slivers are left get made into these charming skirts. The finished garments are even cuter than the original sweaters they came from!

The concept of repurposing unwanted clothing is nothing new. It was done out of necessity in the 1940's and throughout history. What child of the 1980's doesn't have a picture in their mind of Molly Ringwald wearing her transformed thrift store dress to the prom in the movie Pretty in Pink? The difference with today's "upcycling" is that people are aware of the negative impact that typical mass production has on our environment and are being creative about minimizing it. If only the big companies would do more to lessen their impact as well!

Cut the Craft! 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

If you didn't make it to Cut the Craft! this weekend in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, you really missed out on a treat (but thank goodness for the internet because you can still purchase items from these sellers online!). Local green fashion heroes, Scott and Maryanne of Sardine Clothing Company organized the event that showcased a nicely balanced variety of locally made and ecologically responsible goods. My co-conspirators, Beth and Maria came along to get a jump on their holiday shopping and found a plethora of charming and affordable gifts.

photo courtesy of Sardine Clothing
27 vendors filled the former factory space at 376 Shurs Lane, many of which had been at Crafty Bastards in DC in October, and will be at more shows coming up next month. The smaller venue made for better chatting with the artists and easier browsing.

Jennifer McBrien of JennyJen42 creates the cutest appliqued pillows, bags, and accessories ever! That is, when she's not busy teaching art to high school kids or painting.

Squeeeee! Plush toy designer, Jen Bennett Gubicza of Zooguu , is shown here with her ingenious astroturf-lined display and squee-worthy characters.

Mama Ma i's colorful ribbon-trimmed baby items include "fidget" fiddle toys, burp cloths, and colorful dolls designed by Jessica Perkins and tested by her own little one.

Sara Selepouchin of Girls Can Tell puts her architectural training to good use through her diagrams of everyday things screen printed on kitchen towels, oven mitts, placemats, journals, and book pages.

Architects and designers, Christina and Kimberlee of Rogue Theory, displayed a cheerful array of clutch purses, wallets and other small items just perfect for gifts.

Sardine Clothing Company didn't disappoint with their one-of-a-kind urban chic skirts, scarves, and bags made locally from reclaimed t-shirts and sweaters. These folks are my upcycling gurus!

Josh Harmony makes modern pottery that juxtaposes geometric motifs on organic forms using a pleasing color palette. You'd better hurry if you want one of his vessels, he's off to Brazil for adventures on Dec 8th.

We got sidetracked at Lisa Volta's soap, bath salts, lip balm, and fragrance display, compelled to smell everything. The Volta Soap line contains no animal products, uses only all-natural essential oils, and is handmade locally.

The sweet selection of ribbon and button-embellished cards at aptly-named Sugar Paperie invited prolonged browsing. Owner Monica Stroter was pleasant to chat with as well.

More great gifts were to be found at Pinkkiss Pottery. Shauna Pincus features her sensitive line drawings on anything from spoon rests to a full place setting of dinnerware.

There were too many great sellers and items to describe them all here. There is no reason to buy mass-produced foreign-made gifts with the amazing work being done by our local artisans! More indie craft shows are coming up over the next few weekends if you missed this one. Bazaart on Nov 27-28 in Baltimore, Crafty Balboa on Dec 5 in Philadelphia, Holiday Heap on Dec 5 in Baltimore, Bazaar Bizarre in Boston on Dec 6th and San Francisco on Dec 12-13. Many, many more shows all over the country are listed here.

corn syrup-free pecan pie

Sunday, November 22, 2009

If you need a pie to bring to Aunt Mildred's for Thanksgiving, this is the one. Unlike most pecan pie recipes, this one does not call for corn syrup. We are avoiding anything with high fructose or regular corn syrup around here for health reasons, not that this pie is particularly healthy. It's basically candy in a pie shell, but isn't as cloyingly sweet as the corn syrup version.

corn syrup-free pecan pie adapted from a recipe by Elaine Helms
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple extract
1 cup chopped pecans

Prepare crust using Martha Stewart's pate brisee recipe (same as for my apple pie recipe here). You will only need half of the dough for this recipe, but you can freeze leftovers for later (or make two pies). Roll out dough and press into a 9" pie plate. For extra credit, roll out any leftover dough and use mini leaf cookie-cutters to make decorations to place on top.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy and stir in melted butter. Mix in the sugars and the flour. Add milk, vanilla, and nuts until well combined.

Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Protect edges of pie with tin foil to prevent excessive browning. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 minutes, or until set in the center.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

invisibly-zipped pillow project

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've been feeling all crafty this week, maybe since I am anticipating going to the Cut the Craft! indie craft show in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia this weekend, November 21-22. This show has fewer vendors than Crafty Bastards in DC, but I am confident it will be equally delightful. Some vendors I recognize from Crafty Bastards like Jenny Jen42 and Sardine Clothing Company will be there. These indie shows are not he craft shows you think of with the ubiquitous watercolors of flowers in a vase, scarves with piano keys, and that certain kind of pottery that looks lost in time. It's definitely worth a jaunt over there!

So, I decided to whip up the lumbar pillows I've had planned for the hand block printed fabric I bought from Jenny Nelson at Home Sweet a while back. The fabric is a blend of organic cotton & hemp and is printed with non-toxic ink. The fabric is very soft and smooth (not what I expected of hemp), yet has substantial weight. I ordered a half yard of the minileaves pattern in chocolate which turned out to be exactly enough to make two 16" x 26" pillow fronts (17" x 27" including seam allowance).
I mean, here is the wastage. Was that close or what?

I went with a 22" invisible zipper closure along the bottom seam and no trimmings for a sleek look. You can get a a special invisible zipper foot here that is convertible to machines with different shank types. I always feel like I have dyslexia or something when I read the directions for putting in invisible zippers. There are several tutorials out there if you can't figure out the instructions that come with the zipper. This tutorial by Lara at Kirin Notebook is very good.

Step one, the part about ironing the zipper, is very important. In it's zipped-up state, the coils curl in on themselves. If you don't unzip it and manhandle the coils flat with an iron (you should be able to see stitching next to the coils if you are doing it right) you won't be able to sew very close to the coils and your zipper won't be invisible.
The part that messes me up, though, comes at the pin-on stage. Match right side of fabric to right side of the zipper with the coils pointing away from the edge. Do one side first.
Then lay the piece down next to the other side and line up edges. Flip the zipper over and around, pinning right side of zipper to right side of fabric with the coil facing away from the edge again. Once both sides of the zipper are sewn down, zip it up. Hopefully, right sides face out and you zipper is invisible. Once you've done it once, you will think invisible zippers are easier to put in than the regular kind.

Close the rest of the pillow with right sides together. To get up close to your invisible zipper stitching, use a normal zipper foot. Hint: unzip the zipper some before you've stitched all the way around so you will be able to turn it inside-out at the end. The 16" x 26" size is a standard pillow form size available at places like Jo-Ann Fabrics.

Chic and eco-friendly!

up and running in the studio

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The studio is still a work in progress, but it's up and running.

I bought two 8-foot x 30" folding tables from Office Max to use for laying out and cutting. They can be folded up and stashed to make the basement back into a roller rink if I want to. It sure beats the dining table where I kept having to shift my fabric around and was continually bumping my head on the chandelier. The rug is a plastic outdoor floor mat by KOKO that I got online at Outora. If it floods, no worries!

Meet "Lucy", my sweet new child size 5 professional dressform. I lucked out and snagged her on ebay for $50! It's got a cast iron base and linen body. I keep pinching myself because these things cost 7 times that new! We had her in the dining room for a while which was a little disconcerting, since she is headless and all. Now she lives in the studio. I'm on the hunt for a mom-size one now.

This is where I plan to spend the winter. I am loving being able to keep my machines out and ready for action. On the right is my trusty 1970's Singer Touch and Sew 750, and on the left is my new serger, another ebay find. It's a used Husquvarna Viking Huskylock 936 (that's a mouthful). I was afraid to touch it for the first month I had it. Then I attempted to absorb the manual and my brain almost exploded. Finally, I broke down and got lessons which turned out to be a time-saver in the end. I'll do a review on the machine after I fool with it a little longer.

For earlier studio pics, click here and here.

makeovers from men's suits

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another priceless find from the box of vintage stuff from Anne's mom's house...

This intriguing leaflet was distributed by the US Department of Agriculture in 1943 when there was a "Bureau of Home Economics" within the department. This bureau was charged with doing research into food & nutrition, textiles & clothing, and economics with a focus on helping homemakers run a better household. The 1940's were an especially thrifty time when plenty of reusing and recycling was going on and was actually encouraged by the US government, as apparent in this leaflet, as a means to conserve raw materials needed for the war effort. The introduction  of the leaflet reads:
 "Uniforms of the military service are fast taking the place of civilian suits, This means that much good wool may lie idle- stored away in moth balls- or be wasted. If folks at home cannot use these discarded suits as they are, it is patriotic to rework them into clothes that will be worn."
Included in the pamphlet are directions for determining what to make from a particular suit and how to prep the suit for its transformation.
"Early in your planning, consider the size of the suit and the size of the person for whom you want to rework it. Naturally there is more to work with if the suit is large-sized, is double-breasted and has two pairs of pants."

Apparently, if the man is generously proportioned, you can get a whole jumper out just of his pants!

"Study fashion books for a pattern as nearly as possible like the garment you wish to make. Changes can always be made in the pattern, but try to make them fit in with the style of the garment. That's one secret of making old clothes into new successfully. Be resourceful."

"Save all buttons, tapes,and lining materials to use again" 
This leaflet shows an attitude that is refreshingly counter to the that of our recent Bush administration which encouraged folks to continue shopping in the face of economic disaster. Since that thinking didn't help us, maybe we need to adopt the Roosevelt administration's stance and strive to be less wasteful!

how to recover an office chair

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm almost done outfitting my studio. Today I solved my sewing chair problem. My dream chair is the Eames Aluminum Management Chair from Design Within Reach in apple green leather.

At $1749 it definitely is not within in my reach.
What I have to work with is this cast-off office chair in battleship grey. Why do office chairs always come in such boring colors like taupe, grey, black? Even at IKEA, I couldn't find an apple green or orange office chair. I will recover this dingy grey one in... apple green of course!

If you don't already have a standard office chair to recover, you can get one cheap from a used office furniture store. They have scads of them.
Most standard-type chairs have a 2-piece back like this one attached to a vertical support with either fabric or plastic on the back side. This one has a spring-loaded pin that you push in from both sides and, presto, the back is off,exposing the metal piece that holds the front and back together. Once the screws are out, the two pieces need to be pried apart. I was unsure about this part at first. What if it is glued together? Turns out it's special nail-stapes securing it that you don't need when you put it back together.The screws hold it well enough.
Getting the bottom cushion off is just a matter of turning the chair upside down and unscrewing all the screws. If there's a chipboard board backing, just remove it and save it to staple back on at the end.
Next, the bazillions of staples holding the old upholstery on need to be pried up with a screwdriver and yanked out with pliers. Patience!
I use the old pieces of upholstery as patterns for the new fabric, but cut it leaving a little extra around the edges as fudge factor. For the back piece, mark and slit where the screw holes need to go. Make sure they line up with the holes when you staple on the new upholstery to the back.

The fabric I am using is Sunbrella 100% acrylic outdoor fabric that I picked up at The Interior Alternative in Newark, DE, a wonderland of off-price home decorating fabric. The Sunbrella line is bullet-proof and easy to clean, just sponge off with soap and water. It doesn't have much stretch, though, so I run a gathering stitch close to the edge all the way around to help it cup around my seat shape. 
Stretch the fabric as taut as as it will go and start with 4 stapes, 1 centered on each side. Work your way out from there, stapling liberally, easing out the puckers as best you can.

Now it's just a matter of screwing everything back together. New life for a sad old chair!

apple pie heaven

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Today was one of those crisp fall days that cries out for apple pie. Maybe it was the shift in barometric pressure, or just the sun finally coming out again that gave me that extra oomph to get baking.
 honeycrisp apples from Highland Orchard in Wilmington
This time of year in the northeast, there is no excuse for buying trucked-in supermarket apples. The local orchards have any kind of apple you could want. Here in Delaware we have Fifer Orchards in Wyoming, Highland Orchards right here in Wilmington, and just over the line in Elkton, Maryland is Milburn OrchardsWe stopped in at Highland today because they are so close and I love their honeycrisp apples (yes, they are crisp and taste like honey). 
inside the Highland Orchards store
The family-owned orchard and farm is hemmed in by residential developments and it amazes me that they've resisted selling out. I hope they stay forever, so I like to support them and get eggs and produce there. They have goats, chickens, pigs, rabbits, ducks, and peacocks for the kids to observe. It's a nice little outing.
My pie recipe is nothing exotic. I use Martha Stewart's pate brisee recipe for the crust which only sounds fancy. It uses butter instead of shortening, that's about it. I don't use a food processor as Martha recommends since I don't own a full-size one. A pastry cutter works fine and little helper-hands love to use it. The part about using very cold butter and chilling the crust dough is important. The goal is for the little nuggets of butter in the dough to retain some separation, so when they melt in baking, it makes the crust flaky.

For the filling I use my trust Betty Crocker 10" pie recipe but with half the sugar and little lemon juice added:
1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh, if you can)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt
8 cups peeled and sliced apples (chunky!)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in apples. Dump into your pastry-lined plate. Dot with butter and sprinkle with lemon juice. Cover with top crust, seal edge with a fork, and cut slits in it. Cover edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Bake until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust, 50 minutes or so.
I got this nutmeg grinder for Christmas a few years ago and use it a lot this time of year. You can get them at Williams-Sonoma. I never knew what a whole nutmeg looked like until I got this.
I likes it chunky!
Nothing like a fresh pie cooling on the windowsill. Heaven! The weekend is coming- you'll have time...

funky 70's apron kit

Monday, November 2, 2009

I am feeling sooooo lucky this week! I received the best gift ever from my friend Anne. She has been sifting through her mother's things, getting ready to sell the family homestead, and she actually took the time to set aside a box full of vintage sewing patterns, craft supplies, and pamphlets that she thought would be up my alley.

I am loving this apron kit from craft kit company, National Handcraft Institute (the name is so official-sounding!), dated 1974. They used to bombard people with postcards advertising various cheesy crafts available for mail order. Anne's mom apparently sent away for the kit but never got around to making it. Well its 35 years later and I just finished it!

It's such a simple project, you can do one with no kit if your feeling crafty. It came with a 22"x34" rectangle of a deliciously 70's whimsical border print, a 18"x4 3/4" rectangle of electric avocado green for the waistband and a matching 28"x7" rectangle to be cut lengthwise for the ties.

To finish bottom & side edges of apron & ties- turn fabric 1/4" and press, turn again 1/4", press, then machine sew. I actually didn't hem the bottom of the apron because the selvedge was nice enough. For the tie ends, you can fold at an angle (above) and sew if you want to get fancy.

The ties need to get sandwiched into the sides of the waist piece. Fold waist rectagle in half lengthwise & press. Then fold up 1/2" seam allowance on one of the long sides & press again. Now fold in half lengthwise, backward, against the fold. Line up the tie ends with the side edges of the waist piece (see left). Take a little tuck in the tie to make it clear the a 5/8" seam allowance on the edge that will attach to the skirt. Sew the side waist seams closed (see right) with ties sandwiched inside. Turn right side out & press.

Gather the top of the skirt part by running two rows of machine basting stitches (longest stitch length) along the edge, 1/2" & 1/4" from the edge. Pull threads from the back side and keep pulling until the length of the gathered piece matches the flat waist piece. Try to evenly distribute the gathers. Once it's the right length, you can tie a knot in the threads to keep them from coming undone. Pin in place and sew skirt to the unfolded edge of the waist piece using a 5/8" seam. Now you can press the seam and pin the folded edge of the waist piece to the back. All the raw edges will be inside the waist piece.

I sewed the skirt to the waist with a 5/8" seam, but only folded a 1/2" seam allowance on the back side of the waist. This is so I can close the waistband using the "stitch in the ditch" technique. I want the back of the waistband to hang down about 1/8" past the waist seam, so I can sew it closed by stitching in exactly in the little crack where the two fabrics meet. I quickly hand basted the seam closed first so there wouldn't be any shifting while sewing.

Look how professional that looks! You could hand whipstitch it closed, but this way is quicker & more secure.


Oh, and these coordinating coasters were in the box too! I'm ready for entertaining. Fondue anyone?