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DIY Christmas, Sew Cool, and The Joy of Resale or Thrift is the New Black

February 1, 2011

Stuffed turtle I made from an old (very soft) sweater that was no longer wearable. It was my niece's Christmas present.

DIY Christmas:

As you know Al and I made a vow to live as sustainably as possible.  But as snow falls on the ground, lights sparkle in the trees and commercials on TV start laying on the holiday gift giving guilt…it is tempting to log onto and let our credit cards do the walking.   You could argue that as long as we vote with our dollar and buy sustainably produced items we’re following through with our promise…and to a point I agree.  But there is still the eco-cost of shipping the items to you.  In the end we were not able to avoid it all together (we bought four amazon gift cards  and one bottle of organic hand cream online) however the majority of our gifts this year were homemade.  Many of which were created from either recycled materials, sustainably produced materials or both!  We sought to create a simpler Christmas experience, one defined more by the love we have for one another than consumer products.  I think we succeeded. Here were our gifts:

For the adults:

Homemade handkerchiefs with the initials of the receivers embroidered in the corner

Hand designed gift certificate for a dinner on us.

Two awesome tote bags made from some beautiful Ikea curtains (cream with flower print) that had a few tare and stains along the edge (I cut those parts out of course) and a pair of Al’s old jeans. I used these for the liner and the reinforced bottom.

Gift Certificates for Amazon printed directly from PDFs on recycled paper.

Homemade Salsa Verde in a jar – the family’s amazingly tasty recipe with jalepenos, tomatillos, cilantro and a few other mouth watering ingredients.

Al’s famous decadent chocolate chip cookie bars

A bottle of homemade coffee liquor I bought from an industrious co-worker.

For the Kids:

Homemade gift-certificate with Financial Literacy game. The certificate’s value increases the longer you hold on to it.  We’re hoping the kids save it for a rainy day, sports equipment, the cost for a field trip or something they really want.

The aforementioned stuffed turtle who was proudly named Shelly

A piggy bank made from a pretty little red and white striped paint can tin. Al carved a slot in the top for money, lined the inside with postal tape (which was then painted a bright yellow) so there are no more dangerous sharp edges. We also inscribed the lid with a inspirational message.

And perhaps best of all, all of our wrapping paper was either homemade or made from the scraps of old wrapping paper.  Al decorated two paper bags with absolutely beautiful winter scenes using pastels.  Truly works of art. We also used crayons, markers, colored pencils to draw on envelopes and wrapping paper made from paper bags.  The result was uniquely festive and heartfelt.

Sew Cool!

Imagine not having buy a new shirt just because it has a hole in it.  Imagine creating new and exciting objects from clothes that are no longer wearable.  Imagine throwing out less and getting more use out of what you have.  A simple skill once required of all ladies (and many men) can enable us to have all of these things.

My gift from Al this year was a sewing machine.  My old one putzed out on me and although I considered repairing, in the end I opted for a new one.   My new machine is light and energy efficient.  It uses about the same amount of energy as a 50 Watt CFL bulb. It contains new technology that helps prevent tension problems with the thread and an automatic needle threader.    I feel a little guilty about the new purchase but I think the machine has more than paid its keep.    So far I have sewn:  a dozen or so hankies ( I am starting to lose count) A new dog bed for Lola following the Molly Mutt design (Super cool!  I will tell you more about this totally green pet bed design later) Curtains for Lola’s kennel (already destroyed by the “Kracken” but oh well, they were super-cute while they lasted) A dog ball (went the same way as the curtain…) Did a little mending, and the best yet…

An adorable stuffed turtle made from an old soft sweater (see the picture above) for my niece and a very cool, yet functional tote bag (picture above).  Here’s a link to the comprehensive tutorial on Growing Home I used as an inspiration for the design for my totes. I altered it by adding sturdy handles sewn into the lining, and a lining inside the bag.

I think moving into the hard times learning to make things ourselves is going to be crucial.  Learning now will save time later.  In the meantime you can help reduce your own footprint by getting full use of every scrap of fabric in your home and avoiding buying new stuff too soon and too frequently.

Now the stats….

Ease of incorporation: B+ It was a little easier for me because I had some experience sewing as a kid, however with the advent of You Tube and blogs like this one there is a wealth of instructions complete with video, pictures, etc on the Internet.  It’s like having your own personal Home Ec. teacher!   I have been able to complete projects that I thought were way beyond my ability thanks to these tutorials.  My advice is to start with easier projects and work your way up (my hankie project is a good beginner’s project), make sure you have a machine in good working order, find a good tutorial with understandable instructions and pictures.  I love the Threadbanger Channel on You Tube for example.  Videos are great because you can pause and go back as needed. Keep your computer by your sewing machine for easy reference.   Take advantage of scrap fabric you have laying around the house.  Old Jeans, tee-shirts and sheets can be made into thousands of things.   I have made about a dozen projects so far and have not bought any fabric yet!  Google DIY _____ (material you have at hand) for great ideas as to what you can make with what you’ve got.

Cost to Incorporate: $$ I bought a sewing machine for about $95.00 with taxes and shipping.  I already had thread so I didn’t need to purchase it.  I imagine that you could spend another $15 or so on a few spools of various colors. I have yet to purchase any fabric and I have a plan for when I run out that will save money and the planet!

Impact: Pretty Darn high: Everything I produce from recycled items (mostly unwearable clothes and fabric scraps from other projects) is being given one more life before it is thrown out.  Furthermore every one thing I produce is one less thing we have to buy.

The Joy of Resale or Thrift is the New Black

Ok so I had this idea that if I run out of fabric or if I want a specific type of fabric instead of buying new I would purchase old clothes and linens in thrift stores and second hand shops so I headed down to Milwaukee Ave. between Dame and Division–a hot spot for a new style of thrift store. Boy was I in for a surprise, instead of waves of polyester, mismatched china and over-sized furniture I found trendy little shops selling stylish gently used clothes at really reasonable prices.  Many of these stores have a green message.  I had a little epiphany when I spotted the most darling 70s  forest green vintage sweater-dress perfect for holiday parties for only $20.00. And that was only the beginning, there were snazzy suits and sexy boots, cozy sweaters and hip jeans–all of it perfectly eco-friendly.  I have to admit I am excited, I think I could buy a large percentage of my clothes in stores like these.  Best of all many of these stores buy used clothes and give you store credit!  By giving second lives to used clothes we can rotate our wardrobes, find vintage and exciting items unique to our personalities with less of an impact on our planet than traditional shopping!

Ease of Incorporation: A+ Easy-peasy. This is no harder than shopping in a regular store. Be sure to bring a reusable shopping bag though, you get extra Greenie points.

Cost to Incorporate: $ I paid $20 for a totally hot sweater dress made from high quality yarn. It has a ribbed design on the front and very vintage look.  Similar dresses sell for $50+ in the mall!

Impact: Pretty Darn high: Well, my wallet will certainly be impacted.  Perhaps my fashion sense as well, I will never end up accidentally buying the same accessory as a co-worker again!  I highly doubt many people throw away clothes anymore. I like to think that most people donate to Salvation Army or at least have a yard sale. So these clothes would probably have been given a second life anyway. But by buying used is as much a philosophy as a practical planet saver.  Its a belief beyond fashion trends and always buying the newest thing each season. It’s a belief that we can value the resources that it took to make each clothing item by making the most out of them.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 1, 2011 1:11 AM

    Your bags turned out great, and I’m inspired by both your commitment to reuse materials and to save money. Way to go! I’m thinking that I need to go through my scraps and see what I can use them for. Actually, even if I don’t have anything big enough to make a bag, I could piece them together to create something really fun–all kinds of possibilities when you apply a little creativity to upcycling! Thanks for the link, and for letting me know about your finished product. – Elisabeth

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