Life after Plastic

Plastics are everywhere. But although it is a very affordable and convenient material, plastic is very often toxic to produce, toxic to use and also toxic in its disposal.

Scientists are increasingly finding that there may be hidden costs to our health. Some common plastics release harmful chemicals into the air and into food and drinks. Maybe you can’t see or taste it, but if your dinner came in a plastic tray, you’re likely eating a little bit of plastic with your dinner.

On top of this the use of plastics cause an enormous amount of enduring pollution as every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, except for the small amount that has been incinerated,  releasing toxic chemicals in the process. Plastic waste is accumulating in huge quantities in the sea where fish are ingesting toxic plastic bits at a rate which means they may become unfit for consumption.

So how can we reduce chemical in the home?

Making Better and Safer choices

  • Reduce use of plastic. Look for natural alternatives like textiles, solid wood, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, etc.
  • Look for items with less plastic packaging or better none at all. If you cannot avoid plastic, opt for products you can recycle or re-purpose (e.g. a yogurt tub can be re-used to store crayons or sewing cottons and bits).
  • Get to know your plastics – see guide below:

The most common plastics have a resin code in a chasing arrow symbol (often found on the bottom of the product).  This list is just a rough guide and by no means definitive.

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): AVOID
Common Uses: Soda Bottles, Water Bottles, Cooking Oil Bottles
Concerns: Can leach antimony and phthalates.

HDPE (High Density Polyethylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Milk Jugs, Plastic Bags, Yogurt Cups

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride, aka Vinyl): AVOID
Common Uses: Condiment Bottles, Cling Wrap, Teething Rings, Toys, Shower Curtains
Concerns: Can leach lead and phthalates among other things. Can also off-gas toxic chemicals.

LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Produce Bags, Food Storage Containers

PP (Polypropylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Bottle Caps, Storage Containers, Dishware

PS (Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam): AVOID
Common Uses: Meat Trays, Foam Food Containers & Cups
Concerns: Can leach carcinogenic styrene and estrogenic alkylphenols

Other.  Includes:
PC (Polycarbonate): AVOID – can leach Bisphenol-A (BPA). It also includes ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), SAN (Styrene Acrylonitrile), Acrylic, and Polyamide. These plastics can be a safer option because they are typically very durable and resistant to high heat resulting in less leaching. Their drawbacks are that they are not typically recyclable and some need additional safety research.

Green and White Flower Cotton Bag
Green and White Flower Cotton Bag

A few suggestions to become more green:

Textile bags are reusable, washable, biodegradable, eco-friendly and can be easily made from fabric remnants.   Watch for our post on How to make a Textile Shopping Bag – coming soon.  See here for textile bags or visit our eBay shop for bags and fabric remnants.

Make your own yoghurt and recycle the same pot each time, or use your own ceramic or glass pot. There are a number of online sites that give instructions and if you have an airing cupboard it is very easy and costs a fraction of the price in the shops (about 55-60p per 500ml using organic milk.

Have you got ideas to share?  Please let us know your ideas.

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Recycling, upcycling, precycling?

Director's Chair with patchwork cover
Director's Chair revived with patchwork cover

This Director’s Chair was looking rather tired.  The fabric had faded in the sunlight but was otherwise in good condition, although the area where the screws hold the back panel in place had become stretched and weren’t holding the back section upright anymore.

I decided to give it a makeover and made patchwork from a variety of strong cotton fabrics in complementary greens and yellows in florals, checks and stripe patterns.  At the same time I reinforced the areas where the back bolts slot through into the frame to make sure they would hold securely.  The end result has not only given the chair a fresh feel but means that it will last a lot longer as stitching the patchwork on top of the original canvas has given it extra sturdiness.  I also gave the wood a coat of Danish oil as it was rough and dry and had been bleached by the sun and this will also help to protect it from the elements, although I probably won’t leave it outside in the rain as that would spoil the pretty patchwork over time.

Is this recycling or upcycling?  A bit of both maybe?  The fabrics used were recycled materials from pattern books, and the chair became enhanced and of value again as a result.  The chair itself is a good example of ‘precycling’.  This is when the materials used to make a product are chosen for their environmental footprint prior to production.  The wood from the frame could be repaired many times over and when it finally reaches the end of its life it can be used as firewood.  The oil used does not contain any chemicals that could be harmful.  The fabrics are a mix of cotton and linen and are biodegradable over time and will become compost.  The bolts could come in handy for repairing something else at a later date.

Have you got any projects you would like to tell the world about?

Patchwork detail

Patchwork detail

How to Make a Patchwork Throw

Use to cover a chair, as a picnic blanket or a child’s play mat

Close up of Patchwork in pink, yellow and green
Close up of Patchwork
Patchwork Throw on a Lloyd Loom Chair
Patchwork Throw on a wicker Lloyd Loom Chair

You will need:

  • 15 pieces of material 35 x 25cm each in complimentary colours in fabrics of equal weight and thickness.  Being eco-friendly, we used 100% curtain weight cotton fabric from an old pattern book
  • Two strips of plain fabric 135cm long and 17cm wide for the top and bottom borders
  • Two strips of plain fabric 115cm and 17 cm wide for side borders
  • 1.5m Lining fabric or plain cotton fabric (137cm or more wide) for backing
  • Sewing thread in appropriate colour/s

A 1.5cm seam was used throughout.  We recommend pressing seams open as you go for more accurate results

How to make the throw

  1. Lay out the fabric squares and decide best how to arrange them
  2. Sew together the top row of three and press seams open
  3. Continue by sewing the next three together, press, and follow with the third , fourth, and fifth rows
  4. When all the rows are sewn together, join the top row to the second row, being careful to match the seams of the squares by placing a pin into the seam at right angles to hold the two together ready for stitching.  Stich together and press seams open carefully
  5. Continue in this way until all five rows have been sewn together making a finished area of three squares by five
  6. Find the middle of a long border strip, and mark with a pin, fold or pencil dot on the wrong side of the fabric.  Do the same for the patchworked piece and match the centre points.  Pin carefully in place and sew together, leaving ends extending away from sides (approx 17cm).  Repeat for the bottom edge.
  7. Repeat the above for the side borders, trimming away any excess length once you have matched the lower part of the side strip to the sides of the top/bottom borders, which now lies between.
  8. At this point you can add a layer of wadding if you wish for a warmer, padded quilt.  Pin the wadding at regular intervals making sure that the fabric lies flat and that there are no folds catching in anywhere. Basting the wadding in place will help to reduce any movement.
  9. Lay out the completed top layer, right side up, either on a large table or on the floor, and taking exact measurements of the finished piece cut the lining fabric to size.  Place the lining fabric over the completed patchwork with right sides together matching side seams and corners.
  10. Sew around the outside edges of the throw leaving 40cm open along the bottom edge.  Turn the throw inside out and press around the edges, folding in and pressing the seam allowance at the bottom opening, and then handstitching this closed.
  11. Press the whole throw until you have a good finish to the edges and the seams are all well settled.  Top stitch around all four edges about 0.5cm in, and again on the inside of the border edge.  You can use the same colour or choose a contrasting colour as a feature.
  12. To anchor the throw in the middle section, we used a small decorative flower feature stitch in the corners of every other square.  This holds the layers together while  allowing them to be flexible at the same time.  For a more quilted effect you can sew down every seam from top to bottom, and across in a grid, but bear in mind that this requires greater accuracy in the preparation of your piece as any discrepancies in measurements will surface at this stage.  You can also use crochet cotton to “tie in” the layers at the corners of the patches.  Stitch through from the top with the thread leaving the end free, coming back up, down and up again, then double tie  and trim the ends leaving tufts, for a more rustic or shabby chic style finish.  Again you can make a feature by using a stronger colour.

From a recycling perspective, you could also use fabric from old curtains, or old shirts to make this throw, as long as the fabrics are of a comparable weight, clean and in good condition.  A variety of textures and colours can be fun.

Making eco soft-furnishings yourself with recycled materials contibutes to a more sustainable way of living and brings great pleasure both in the making and use of the finished item.  If you would like to let us know how you get on, or have ideas to share, or other examples of upcycling,  we’d love to read them in the comments box.

Happy making!

Pink Patchwork Throw folded view
Use as a picnic blanket or a baby play mat

 

Some later projects…

Pink Patchwork Throw
Pink Patchwork Throw
Blue Patchwork Throw
Blue Patchwork Throw
Red Patchwork Throw
Red Patchwork Throw

Make a decorative window curtain

Personally, I have never been a fan of net curtains.  I love to be able to look out of my window and see the trees, the sky, the birds, it gives me a sense of connection, a link to the outside world.  However, depending on where you live, your window may be somewhat exposed to the eyes of passers by.

Here’s something I came up with which doesn’t completely do what a net curtain will do, but nevertheless breaks up the line of vision and usually absorbs people’s attention in its own right.

A decorative window curtain, or display.

Window Curtain by Day
Window Curtain by Day

The great thing about this is that it’s really fun to make.  You can allow your creativity full reign and add things in different colours and textures, or you can use pieces that are all the same tone with just a few accents of colour here and there.  You could choose a specific theme, the obvious one at the moment being Christmas decorations, with pretty fabric hearts in vibrant reds and greens, or later in the year change to a nautical theme usings blues, pieces of string with driftwood and shells for example.  You could make a statement with unusual recycled or vintage artifacts. shabby chic style, or handpaint your own glass baubles or wooden hearts.   It’s also a very affordable alternative to curtains as you do not have to have to spend a lot upfront, but can add bits as you go along.  If you’re a collector, like me, you’ve probably got lots of bits of ribbon and buttons tucked away somewhere.  Or create a 3D scrapbook of memorabilia.  What’s great is you can just remove anything you are bored with, and change with the seasons.  I have hung my bits and bobs over a simple curtain rod which can be bought very cheaply and has a spring mechanism which holds it in place in the window recess so no need for drills or anything high tech.  Just measure your window before you buy the curtain rod to be sure you buy the correct size.

 

Window Curtain by Night
Window Curtain by Night

Of course this is quick and easy to apply if your windows are as small as my present home.  In a larger window I had in my previous house I bought a beaded door curtain and hung this from two hooks in the centre of the bay window.  I cut it to the length of the window sill, but of course check that the beads are fixed individually before doing this!  You can personalise as you wish, adding beads or ribbon to suit your taste and the mood of the room, or leave plain if you prefer a simple look.

Post us a picture when you’re done.  Have fun!!

Make your own door draught excluder

Door Draught Excluder
Door Draught Excluder

Now that autumn is here and those nights are becoming chillier and the wind is often gusty, how about checking some of those draughts and saving on the heating bills by making your own door draught excluder?  It’s easier than you think.  You don’t have to have a single large piece of fabric, any scraps will do.  You can mix and match a range of colours and textures to create a lovely bright feature for your hallway.  Here’s how …….

 

Door Draught Excluder Fabrics

Select some fabrics.  These can be in a similar tonal range, but in different textures.  Here we have used some heavy weight upholstery fabric with an almost North African flair which was left over from making a chair seat cushion for a client, teamed with some pieces of velvet from a book of samples of discontinued fabric.  You could use a variety of different colours with a similar texture, or colours and textures which contrast.  Or why not use florals and stripes, or checks?  You may even find some interesting fabrics in charity shops – a perfect bit of “upcycling” (see our March entry)

Step one

Fabric pieces for door draught excluder
Layout pieces in possible combinations

Play with different combinations of colour and texture until you find a combination that you like.  You can create all sorts of ‘looks’ – rustic, shabby chic, modern bold stripes of colour, anything that matches your own style of decor and colour scheme.

 

Step 2

Sew fabric pieces for draught excluder together
Sew pieces together in chosen order

Sew all the pieces together allowing at least 1/2″ (or 1.5 cm) for seams.  If the fabric looks likely to fray it may be better to overlock the edges if  you can, but as the seams will be inside the draught excluder this is not usually necessary.

 

Step 3

Make up the pieces for the draught excluder to the required length
Make up to the required length

Continue to join fabric pieces together until long enough to fit the door, plus seam allowances at each end.  We made ours 34″ (cut 35″ with seams) long which is fairly standard for a front door, and 7″ wide as the door has a stormboard outside and we wanted to be sure to cover the gaps to each side.   Repeat the process to make a second strip of fabric.  Press all seams open.

Step 4

Place both fabric pieces together, right sides facing and stitch around the edges, leaving a 6″ gap to turn right sides out and to add the filling.  You don’t have to buy special wadding.  We used scraps of fabric cut into strips.  You could also use an old towel,  old pullovers or T-shirts, or old socks.  As long as they are clean!  You could even use shredded newspaper, or if you have some old cushions that have become matted you could use the fillling.  There are all sorts of eco-friendly materials you could use.  Once you have enough filling in place, fold the edges in, press and pin in place.  Close the seam either using handstitching or machine very close to the edge.  Your door draught excluder is ready to go.

The draught excluder in place
The finished draught excluder in place

Got some ideas you want to share?

Shabby Chic Anyone?

 

Moving Home comes with a great opportunity to let go of a lot of clutter and take stock of what is of real value.  Leaving behind a three bed semi with a very large garden for a small 1 bedroom cottage is the perfect platform for a spot of recycling.  Enter Necessary Furniture, a local company who for the cost of a phone call will come and take away unwanted items of furniture to a warehouse where things are stored until someone else decides to give them a new home, in return for a very modest fee!  Other small items of furniture found shelter among family and friends.  Some slightly more weary pieces found their way into the Council wood recyling facility.

Those bits that made it on to the van and off the other end got a shock…….  Where are the white walls and stripped wooden floors we went so well with?  A green carpet?  Suddenly all the stripped furniture looks totally out of synch and dated, even scruffy.  Being in rented accommodation and for an indefinite time means having to live with it for now. And there’s still plenty of life left in this solid vintage furniture.   As the days go by,  with smaller windows letting in lower levels of light,  a flash of inspiration pierces the gloom and “Eureka – I reach for the paintbrush!”    Shabby Chic saves the day!  It started with the chest of drawers in the bedroom, and spread to the desk and then to the sideboard in the living room, and on to the shelf in the hall.  Where will it all end?  Where else can you get so much fun from £14.99?  And the pot’s not empty yet !  It took a bit of hunting to get the right shade of grey, but there was a soft light shade in the Dulux mix-your-own range.  Not so stark as white, but still light enough to merge with the green carpet and go with the magnolia walls!  I’m sure I’ll find other things to shabby chic to the end of the pot.

Sideboard in Dusted Moss

Not sure what to do about the curtains yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something…….

While on the subject of recycling, a fab site called Tactile Interiors has lots of wonderful things made from ethical, sustainable and recyled materials.  Check out the lovely lampshade and table lamp made from re-cycled plastic bottles at www.tactile-interiors.co.uk