Showing posts with label re-use. Show all posts
Showing posts with label re-use. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


James caught me pinning together the layers of the little quilt that will go inside the backpack. I had a piece of quilt batting that was exactly the right size, and I used up lots of odd bits of cloth. It went together like it was meant to be.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Hot Water Bottle Cosy

I just spent way too long making a hot water bottle cosy from the last few scraps of the old quilt. I actually had to piece three scraps together, so I covered the seams with giant pink rickrack from the stash. It is great fun using up these odd bits of stuff that I have had for years - stuff that somebody else probably had for years before that, since I pick most of it up at the thrift shop.
Why would such a simple thing take so much time, you ask? Well, first I had to go looking around the internet to see what else is out there (and the various side journeys that entails), and then engineer something from the just barely enough bits of fabric I had. Auditioning various seam bindings and trim takes longer than  one might think, and then searching for just the perfect button adds still more time. If I was going to charge for my time I'm sure this humble little item would cost more than $100! Instead, it's going to the school craft fair where I'll be lucky to get $25, hot water bottle included.

But it will add a priceless amount of love and comfort to the world, which makes me happy. I'll never be a capitalist!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Time Worn

Don't worry, I haven't been pining away for poor old Lou. Between windstorms and power outages things have been a little disrupted here on the island. The fall colours are giving way to subtle shades of time worn beauty. Above, the vanilla leaf mingles gently with the oregon grape and fallen bits of cedar.
I must confess to taking part in an upcoming Christmas craft fair. Not usually my thing, but I am told it is the premiere event of the season.  I'm sharing a table with my neighbour Robin, who is a wonderful quilter in the traditional Mennonite style. She loves using old cloth, particularly men's suits, for her quilts so we hope that our work will be complementary. I've just made a set of large-ish (18") pillow covers out of an extremely well-worn quilt that I brought with me from Saskatchewan. I had mended and re-quilted it, but some of the patches were starting to disintegrate, so I cut out the worst bits and used the rest, edging it with my favourite cotton pom pom fringe that I found several years ago at a Swap-o-rama-rama in California.
The opening at the back buttons up. I used an odd variety from the button jar. It was a pleasure working with the old quilt once again, and I am secretly hoping these pillow covers don't sell, so I can keep them!

Today also marks my favourite holiday of the year, when we turn our clocks back and time suddenly seems like a bountiful, luxurious thing to lazily wallow in. What did I do with my precious extra hour? Cleaned the stove and did the laundry, natch!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Really Great Pincushion

This pincushion is almost as old as I am. It was made by an elderly German neighbour lady, Mrs. Kuntz, back in the late '60's, and has served both my mother and me through many years of sewing projects.

The construction is quite ingenious and a marvel of re-purposed materials. Seven clean, empty baby food tins (about the size of tomato paste cans) were wrapped in scraps of upholstery fabric gleaned from sample books, then nested tightly together. I would want to use a glue gun to hold them together, but since they didn't have glue guns back then maybe she used rubber cement or white glue.
Then, a base of a tough laminated fabric was cut out and hand stitched to the fabric covered cans. I'm just guessing how she made the top - perhaps she wadded up fibrefill stuffing over a layer of cardboard and then glued or sewed the upholstery fabric over that, covering the seam with a twisted cord made of leftover yarn.
I love the generous size. It's great for when I'm sewing a seam and removing pins as I go, blindly stabbing them in the general direction of the pincushion and usually hitting the target. Since the suit I am currently making used almost all of my pins, I took the opportunity to clean the cushion and remove the buried needles. Now it's ready to serve another 40 years!

I remember we also had a small footstool made by Mrs Kuntz in exactly the same materials, only using large juice cans. It was quite sturdy and just the right size for a young child to sit on.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mending as an Art Form

Platform 21's Repair Manifesto

Jude Hill's post from a couple of weeks ago keeps coming to mind. Her words, always poetic, are particularly so here.

"The truth is, life has changed.  As it does.  And I have some new things to tend to.   And I am mending plans to fit.  Because that is what we do.  The nature of mending is to never really to be done.   It is Just to keep Going, patching here and there, carefully renewing to maintain usefulness.   Knowing there is a beauty in that.  Accepting that as enough."

I just love this. As it happens, I have been doing a lot of literal mending lately: resurrecting torn chain saw pants, replacing zippers, altering dog raincoats. What Jude says applies to this sort of thing, of course, but I like it even better as a metaphor. "The nature of mending is to never really be done." could be a mantra.

Mending is a part of the creative process and also of life. We create, we bring ideas and words and objects and gardens and relationships into being, but the act of creation doesn't stop there. There has to be attention paid, a nurturing or stewardship, a revisiting of intention. When I sell something I've made, it comes with a lifetime guarantee to repair or restore as needed.

One of the very difficult things about mending is that sometimes, eventually, things just wear out and become unrepairable. Sometimes one just has to call it, to let go. I think this aspect underlies the power of mending as metaphor, and it, too, is part of the cycle of creation.

 My friend Jen and I have made a proposal to offer mending as a workshop and performance piece for the conference Open Engagement in Portland later this spring. While researching this proposal I came across the artist Eleanor Ray, who offers workshops in Radical Mending. Another artist's project is Platform 21 Mending. Their Repair Manifesto is pictured at the top of this post. It seems that mending is being talked and thought about more now that it has become a practise that, for most people, has become old-fashioned and nostalgic.

If you know of other people working in this area, please comment. I'd love to hear about other artists working with mending as metaphor or art form.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To Mend

I wanted to pass along a couple of links to recent articles about cloth and mending. Gracie (I don't know if that is her real name or a nom-de-plume) at Grace and Mending is working with discarded cloth she finds on her daily walks. She has been thinking deeply about how and why the cloth she finds is left behind, and how her reclamation of that cloth intervenes in a culture of disposability.
And John Hopper at Design, Decoration, Craft has written an insightful, fascinating piece on repair and sustainability, with lots of video links for further exploration. The title Repair, Reimagine, Responsibility points to the need for us as consumers to consider the whole life cycle of objects in our possession.
And here's a blast from the past: A piece I wrote several years ago when I was involved with Swap-O-Rama-rama on Stewards of Materials. The book I mention, Susan Strasser's Waste and Want is still on my "Highly Recommended" list.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Between Sea and Sky

My latest project was a fun one. My friend Jean-Pierre (he of the thoughtful comments and gifts of Japanese cloth) was given an old duffel bag, and he wanted it turned into something he could hang on the wall. The resulting piece, above, retains its rough, utilitarian air. I have worked in a few details to embellish the story.
This is the bag as it came to me. It appears to have been originally issued to a Cpl. H. Burrow of the RCAF. Given the vintage of the bag, he may have seen action in W.W.II.
After discharge from the military, he hung on to his bag and took it with him to his new job with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 
The only online reference to Mr. Burrow I found puts him at Bella Bella, way up the west coast of BC, in 1952.
The tough canvas bag had obviously seen a lot of use, probably been thrown in the back of planes, boats and god knows what else.
I took apart the bag and laid it flat. The canvas measured 36" selvedge to selvedge. I used a red thread to stitch around the perimeter of the piece, then used a graphite pencil to slightly darken the faded stencilled text.
There is another, more faded stencil under the handwritten address.
Since I am into animal images lately (Oh, and I finally saw, and was enraptured by, Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams!) I machine embroidered a pair of wings, based on the RCAF insignia of Cpl. Burrow's era.
And I embroidered a fish from the DFO's current emblem.
And as a final touch, I sewed on a row of notched metal buttons that look like little gears. They are spaced about as far apart as they would be on a shirt, so there is a relationship to the human body and the ephemeral presence of Mr. Burrow. They also work with the composition, keeping the eye moving around the piece.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Her Creativity Knows No Bounds

(Photo by Benny Paulino,

My friend Gretchen Elsner has done it again. I have written about her incredibly inventive re-working of old cloth before, but her latest collection is astonishing.

Much of the fabric she has used came from vintage wool kimonos that were sent to me by my friend Jean-Pierre in Japan, and that I forwarded to Gretchen in Athens, Georgia. A lot of mailing around but finally these fabrics are singing.

Gretchen has also been busy building her own home on wheels: a custom travel trailer, as well as actively participating in democracy via social and environmental justice movements. She's a dynamo!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Do It Yourself - Part 3 - Stewards of Materials

There's more. (At Swap-O-Rama-Rama, our motto is: There's always more!)

As Susan Strasser points out in her essential book Waste and Want, A Social History of Trash:
"Fixing and finding uses for worn and broken articles entails a consciousness about materials that is key to the process of making things to begin with. If you know how to knit or do carpentry, you can understand how to mend a torn sweater or fix a broken chair. you can appraise the materials and evaluate the labour of the original maker; you can understand the principles of the object's construction; you can comprehend the significance of the tear or the wobble and how it might be mended; you know how to use needles or hammers; you can incorporate scraps from your own previous projects or consign object beyond repair to your scrap collection. Even at the end of the 19th century, when factory production was already well established, many Americans possessed the skills and consciousness required for repairing. Women, who continued to sew and to mend clothing, preserved the skills longer than most men."

Strasser uses the term "steward of objects and materials" to describe people who possess such "skill and consciousness". I savour this idea - that we can actively, lovingly care for and manage the materials we have within our personal realm. It wasn't so long ago that women sewed all the clothes for the family. Cloth used to be precious, a valuable commodity. This knowledge isn't far out of our fingertips, it is still carried in our bodies. The idea of stewardship takes it farther: DIY is not just for yourself, DIY can be for the greater good, for others. Making, mending and repairing are not just practical skills, they reflect an attitude, an ethic of care.

Strasser also refer's to Claude Levi-Strauss's description of the bricoleur. This is a person who works with his or her hands, using scraps or odds and ends, the materials at hand. The bricoleur collects tools and materials because they might come in handy, and always considers new projects by engaging in a conceptual dialogue between the toolbox and the junkbox to determine how they might best be put to use. Obviously, the feminine counterpart here is the sewing basket and the scrap bag. Women used to routinely make and mend clothes for themselves and their families, and when the cloth couldn't be taken any farther it was turned into rag rugs and quilts.

"In cultures based on handwork, handmade things are valuable without being sanctified as art; they embody many hours of labour. People who have not sewed, or at least watched others sewing, value that labour less than those who have, and lack the skills and the scraps that enabled so many women to see old clothing as worthy of remaking. It is easier to discard a ready-made dress, cut and stitched in an unknown sweatshop, than it is to throw away something you or your mother made." says Strasser.

And I agree. I had the experience of visiting a woman this weekend, a very well-to-do older woman who was selling an old Singer sewing machine as part of clearing out her house in preparation for a move. (My entire house would have fit in her driveway.) She had a lovely old treadle machine as well, but said she would never sell it. "My mother sewed all her children's clothes on this machine, she sewed my wedding dress... .I don't sew myself but I have so many memories of my mother at her machine." I wondered how many of the luxurious furnishings of her house would spark that kind of attachment.

Just as Swap-O-Rama-Rama founder Wendy Tremayne says in her essay "Unbounded" it is our birthright to know how to make things.:

"It is a task of our time to take back creativity from industry, reclaim independence, replace ignorance with knowledge and accept our own birthright as creators.

Breathing life back into living is no easy task but it does offer great rewards of the spirit. Revivifying the human experience is a mission of purpose, something commodified life has taken from us. What we have to gain is intimacy, creativity, the revival of community, a healthy planet and ultimately happiness. We can each embrace a do-it-yourself spirit and use it to break down the barrier between consumer and creator and by doing so begin to reclaim the creativity that has been lost to industry.

Like all magnificent things the journey begins with a leap of faith, arms in the air, falling back while questioning if there is a net to catch you. This is the task of our time, to scream with full lungs "we are unbounded" not limited and mechanistic. We are creators."