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PATCHING POST #2: MENDING JEANS

Friday, January 16, 2015

Regular jeans are probably the most widespread, mendable item still owned in the western world. By 'regular' jeans, I mean: made of strong, non-stretch cotton twill

Unsurprisingly, the current mending renaissance is happening big time through the denim world. Check out the beautiful repair corner of the japanese clothing brand Kapital, or the mending gallery from the stitcher Darn and Dusted.

This made me think about a major principle of the repair/re-use economy (if we ever manage to create one): it just can't exist if the objects exchanged are not of the best quality. Things cannot and will not be repaired if they aren't sturdy enough to handle that repair, and/or if their beauty and quality isn't worth the time it will take to mend them. One more reason to acquire thoughtfully, and encourage the making of good goods.

Current repair happening in the home shop:
LEFT LEG repaired by the people at our dry-cleaning place - with a sewing machine, for $10.
RIGHT LEG repaired by yours truly - by hand, with love. 
LEFT LEG FRONT: almost exactly matching thread - wow
LEFT LEG BACK: denim patch (probably less comfortable, but strong)
RIGHT LEG FRONT: cotton thread colors available in the house
note: the big black stitches are temporary basting holding an unfinished patch above the knee 
RIGHT LEG BACK:  the soft, double cotton canvas patch.

Still working on an extra patch covering the thigh.
Can I just warmly express how enjoyable an activity this kind of mending is?
The stitch isn't complicated, you make progress fast, and the peaceful rhythm of stitching is absolutely calming. I used this sashiko tutorial.

Just let go, and listen to the radio.

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WARDROBE INVENTORY

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's on!
After reading some excellent pages on minimalist wardrobe websites such as Into-Mind, Project 333 and Un-Fancy (thanks to a friend who pointed them to me), I have finally decided to take stock of my wardrobe. 

The goal being (and this is totally personal):
1) identifying useful-successful garments and understanding why, so as to make better informed acquisitions in the future
2) identifying useless-unsuccessful garments and understanding why, and then getting them out of the house by donating or selling them
3) understanding the minimum number of garments I can function with

It was a scary thought.
Like diving into a messy pile of reasonned vs. impulse purchases, more or less successful attempts at a redefinition of myself, things that had just accumulated and never got worn, things that had gotten overly overly worn, items I was clinging on for the wrong reasons, and a heavy sprinkle of memories.
On the other hand I knew I had been pretty good (verging on the obsessive) in the past few years about buying ethically and locally made clothes, and mostly natural fibers.

To make the process less daunting I made it playful: got all the draft paper I could put my hands on at home, cut it into cards, and sat in front of the wardrobe with a pen.
Made a card for each item of clothing I had, with the same 5 pieces of information:
- LITTLE SKETCH
- NAME
- MATERIAL
- PLACE OF MANUFACTURING
- COLOR
I figure that once all created, the cards will be a useful tool to sort through the wardrobe (put them all on a table, start sorting)

This made me realize how crucial the information on the inside labels is (and also how some brands get away with never telling you where the clothes are made). It's a tricky one because I dislike labels intensely: very often they itch, are made of a synthetic material different from the clothes themselves, and are stitched inside a garment's seam (so if you want to remove them you'll need to close a hole afterwards). Food for thought - form to be improved.

Also, there were items I couldn't find a name for ('hum, this is too thin to be a sweater, too structured to be a t-shirt, too light to be worn over other clothes, too full of zippers to be worn under clothes, gosh what is it?' - surprise surprise, it never got worn).

Still in the process of compiling all that info.
More wardrobe-editing posts to follow.

INTRODUCING IR4

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It seems we need a total change of paradigm.
So many of us are making so much effort to navigate the current material world, every day, because it's too polluting, too socially unfair, too wasteful.

Consumption needs to change for sure. But production needs to change too.

Very roughly (and condensed by yours truly from wikipedia), there have been three successive industrial revolutions already:
- from the 1750s, with steam power, ship transport, textile, steel
- from the 1820s, with electricity, oil, the reciprocating engine, automobiles, railroad transport - global production doubled its pace
- from the 1970s, with the internet, microprocessors, computers - delocalization became possible, plants moved out of industrialized countries, the financial & communications sector flourished, social inequalities rose.

I believe we now need Industrial Revolution #4 (IR4): the generalization of environmentally and socially viable low-tech solutions, made as locally as possible, in the context of necessarily frugal consumption.

1. minimum material - i.e. do not over-engineer, use the minimum amount of material that will do the job safely > saves material

2. least harmful material - choose the material with the least embodied energy, the most renewable source, the least risk on health > protects the environment and its inhabitants

3. least processed material - use materials as raw and mono-material as you can find them, avoid using or creating composites > makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier; lowers costs.

4. most local labor force - employ the qualified people nearest to you, or train the people nearest to you > supports local economy, reduces carbon footprint, reinforces & creates communities

5. no harming of labor force - do not kill, abuse, or exploit people; offer compensation sufficient to make a decent living, make the job safe in terms of materials, processes, and schedules; ensure a caring, supportive environment > honors basic human rights and relationships

6. equitable distribution of revenue - strive to create horizontal partnerships instead of vertical ones, give back cooperatively the profit created cooperatively > expresses respect for all types of work, makes everybody engaged in the enterprise

7. function, safety, sustainability, over aesthetics - do not let aesthetics / fashion / future media coverage have an influence on your design process strong enough to make you weaken your commitment to making good objects > prevents going back to the situation we are trying to get away from.

8. full biodegradability OR full reusability of parts - do not think of objects are individual finished goods, but as a temporary assembly of ressources, belonging to a vast material cycle > allows for composting; otherwise makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier

9. maximum repairability - planned-obsolescence is forbidden. > reduces labor and material waste, maximizes return on investment into product, creates repair service jobs

10. no harming of animals - do not kill nor abuse living things; avoid animal material if you can, otherwise make sure what you take from them does not prevent their best livelyhood > respects all forms of life

Naturally not ALL things can be made following these principles, but if we try to at least transform all the ones we can, we might end up in better shape.

Wishing you IR4 new years to come.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS !!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Last year we didn't have a christmas tree. This year we thought it would be fun to have one, but didn't want to kill a tree or purchase anything new.
So here it is !!!
Our uplight transformed into a tree, using only stuff that was lying around the house:
- the structure is made of reed, jute string and white paper tape
- the ornaments are made mostly of draft paper and used giftwraps (tissue paper, cardboard & ribbons) that we have been keeping over the years; the ties are made with cotton thread from our sewing kit.
It was so much fun to make - pinterest was great to research origami and celtic knots tutorials.
The rest was just imagination, memories from childhood crafts, and making do with what was there.
Happy Holidays !!!

FRUIT & VEGGIES GROCERY BAGS

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Finally finally I took the step of purchasing small reusable bags for fruits and vegetables.
(found them at this store - they are supposed to be tool bags (?), according to the owner)

These are the bag-within-a-bag kind: they are replacing the thin plastic bags that are offered to pack fresh produce in the supermarket - we were getting absolutely overwhelmed with their number (as opposed to the thicker ones, which we had already managed to reduce by bringing in reusable shopping bags).

I got 5 of them to start with. They are 8 x 10 inches (20 x 25 cm), which comfortably fits 5-6 oranges / apples at the time - the amount I usually get when grocery shopping.
So excited about this.
However mine seem made of 100% cotton with a cotton string, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were imported from faraway (cost was around $2 each).

Advantages over plastic:
- no noise
- soft to the touch
- can be washed with all your other clothes in the laundry
- super strong
- lasts for years and years and years
- no pollution / waste during its use time

If you wish to have a really sustainable version of these, I recommend making your own out of hemp or linen muslin. Cotton is just too much of a pesticide and water intensive crop (unless you get it organic, from non-irrigated fields), whereas hemp is truly good (grows without any chemicals and cleans the soil naturally).

I was too lazy and impatient to make them myself, but that's really not an excuse (a lot of the ugly state of the environment today is directly linked to the fact that we're lazy and impatient). Apologies.

UPS will take your packing peanuts

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It seems that UPS stores will gladly take off your hands:

- packing peanuts 
- air-filled plastic pillows
- cardboard boxes

I just dropped off a bag full of polystyrene peanuts (which I couldn't have disposed of properly at all - polystyrene foam is a bitch, and even specialized recycling places will not take peanuts) and air-filled bags, along with the big cardboard box that contained them. They were all taken in with a smile.

I suppose they will get reused directly to pack things again. 

I heard of this tip while browsing the web,
made a quick phone call to the closest UPS store to confirm that was true,
et voila!

ps: do make that phone call beforehand though, to make sure your local store does that as well.

A Pattern Language

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I cannot thank my friend Charlie enough for showing me this book.

It is THE BIBLE for anyone interested in real space-making, architecture design & urban planning (which is all one thing stretched at different scales).

By real, I mean with the principal purpose of creating a sense of place for human beings, as opposed to a lot of design nowadays which is preoccupied with other things (the market, fashionable gestures, editorial potential, expression of ego / money, etc.).

How does it work? Very simply, it's made of 253 chapters, each describing a pattern of human space-making that has been observed accross time & civilizations, occurring frequently enough that it seemed worthwhile saying: "hum, this has been working for hundreds of years, maybe it's a successful move worth learning about." A lot of them link back to human behavior and the human body - in terms of scale but also our 5 senses (makes sense, right?).
The 253 patterns are ordered from the biggest scale (metropolitan regions) to the smallest scale (your personal belongings), and rated with degrees of certainty (some patterns are unquestionnable, some are more tentative).
Each is illustrated with one or more photographs, as well as sketches.

It's not a book you read in one go, but more like a reference which you leaf through whenever you have a question (how long should I make my kitchen counters, what is successful outdoor seating, etc.)

It was written by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa & Murray Silverstein, and published in 1977. After all these years it is still the same treasure trove of knowledge and founding principles that will allow you to start your own thinking / experimenting. Its only drawback would be that the book is all black and white, and some photographs are pretty old - although what they illustrate isn't obsolete at all.

SO, as New Year gift to the good people of this world, The Bare Necessities has undertaken the task of creating A Pattern Language pinterest album illustrating all 253 patterns, with contemporary examples in full color. Under each photo you'll find a short quote summarizing the essence of the pattern.
Happy space-making!

how to get rid of stuff

Saturday, November 29, 2014

It's shocking how quick & easy it is to buy something,
and how awfully difficult it is to get rid of anything.

I've found that the biggest hurdles to feeling comfortable participating in the second-hand economy are lack of information and lack of habit. So let's get rid of these first obstacles right now with a little how-to guide.

0. Know that getting rid of objects will likely make you a little bit of money, be it in cash or tax-deductions (most donations are tax-deductible). It will also free up storage space in your life, physically and mentally, which is great.

1. Dedicate a place for all the objects you feel are irrelevant in your life (depending on size, it can be a bag, a box or a corner in a room).

2. Pile up these objects there until their volume or quantity calls for action.

3. Meanwhile, do the research part (a one-time ordeal):

     - do a web search to locate the closest thrift stores that accepts donations.
The most well-known in the US are Goodwill and The Salvation Army, but your city might also have a local chain of thrift stores. Some of these chains offer pick-up services, either for free or a small fee, if you schedule it enough in advance - which is great if you cannot do the drop-off yourself!

     - also keep an eye out for donation boxes when you're in town. Sometimes they are located close to supermarkets, which is convenient on your way to grocery shopping. They usually are made for clothes, shoes or books (make sure to check beforehand).
     - also check-out your city's website, or call city hall to learn about their donations / recycling programs (for example, our town has a page that links to all the local places that accept book donations)

     - additionally, you can register at your local Freecycle chapter. It's a non-profit network of people who give stuff out for free. Super easy, basically a list of OFFER / WANTED from folks in the same town.

     - if there are universities near you, chances are they have a student furniture exchange program or a swap fest at the beginning & end of the academic year. Call the schools or look online for such possibilities.

     - last but not least, you might wish to sell some of your objects, in which case your first 2 options would probably be your local craiglist and then ebay. (note: craigslist also has a free category). Oh, and of course local vintage stores for clothing & accessories. And lastly, your very own garage sale if you feel so enclined.

4. Decide which of these options are the most convenient and/or interesting to you.

5. Get your objects ready, i.e. put them in the state of cleanliness in which YOU would like to receive them.

6. ACT !!! Do the drop-off / set up your meetings / go bargain at the vintage store / set up that selling table in your driveway. On your way to work, or as a weekend routine, or however it pleases you. As long as it gets DONE.

7. Rejoice for the good deed done, and also know that this effort will eventually dwindle and stop if you reach your own equilibrium at home - i.e. at some point, hopefully, you won't need to declutter anymore (I'm not there yet). The good news is, getting rid of stuff the right way is work - which makes you think real hard next time you consider an impulse purchase.

8. Now that you know all the tricks, it becomes easy as pie to shop second-hand yourself for future needs.

Note: tax-deductions linked to donations are not based on their retail price, but on their current value as objects. (ie: a very expensive pair of shoes might be valued just a little bit more than a cheap pair of shoes) The amounts might seem surprisingly low, which can be disappointing but also a good reminder of how relative the value of things is. (hey, all of them are shoes - actually I don't totally agree with that, but that's a long conversation for later).

UPDATE: Building materials get re-used too! A lot of places have centers where you / your contractor can drop off materials and fixtures in good working order (old kitchen tiles, washbasins, etc). Just search "building material recycling center" + the name of your city on the web to locate the closest one.

the book book

Friday, September 5, 2014



The way one could describe most low tech  :D

12 objects to stay clean

Thursday, August 28, 2014


This is the result of my trying to reduce to the max when it comes to the realm of keeping a clean body.
Remember the object diagram

Each circle represents a realm of objects, from the most necessary to the least - a very personal ordering of course, for other people this might be different.

I am starting with CLEAN, just because. ('Begin anywhere', John Cage said)

Here are the 12 object types which I still need and use today in order to be clean.
1. soap
2. toothpaste
3. toothbrush
4. dental floss
5. big towel
6. small towel
7. cotton swab
8. toilet paper
9. tissues
10. pads
11. liners
12. nail file
I say 'object types' because some of these come in numbers (alternate towels, hundreds of cotton swabs, etc).

It's neither perfect nor totally frugal, nor waste free yet. But I am happy about the absence of plastic bottles (hurray bar soap).
Details in upcoming post!