My Organic Veg Box

There has never been a better time to go organic.  Daily we are hearing in the media of the rise in cases of obesity, and of the increase in Type II Diabetes.  For a long time the argument has been that organic food was too expensive.  This is simply not true and anyway can you put a value on well-being?

my organic veg box
My Organic Veg Box bursting with delicious fresh seasonal vegetables

My weekly veg and fruit box is always full of fresh, seasonal organic produce, grown in sustainable, eco-friendly ways that are supportive of the environment, without pesticides or chemicals or any kind.  Since they are not pumped full of water to increase the size unnaturally, the vegetables have more substance and body and do not shrink when cooked.  You get more for your money and stay full for longer as the fibre and nutritional content are higher.  An absolute bargain at £10.  And no plastic trays and shrink wrap to throw away either.  The cardboard delivery box goes back each week when the fresh box arrives, creating no waste while at the same time reducing my carbon footprint!

Most of the produce is grown locally on the organic farm in Purton, Wiltshire.  Purton House Organics  is a well-established business and has grown from strength to strength over the years through the support of its local customer group.  What started as a local veg box delivery scheme has blossomed over the years and now includes a shop with a full range of organic groceries, including bread and dairy products and more recently a cafe area. Buying fresh, local produce means that every penny you spend goes back into the loop, supporting the farm, helping it to thrive and grow , while creating more jobs and opportunities.  Green living at its best. When shopping in a supermarket, most of the profit goes elsewhere, with only a very small percentage benefiting the local economy.  So your food may be a tiny bit cheaper, but all the profits go somewhere else.  There is no way of knowing if the producers are being paid a fair wage or treated with respect.

In the winter months, some of the fruit comes from other countries of course, like oranges, grapefruit and bananas, this is inevitable.  But most of the home grown winter warmers in the form of hearty root vegetables, carrots, swede, parsnips, along with leeks, sprouts, cabbage and kale, are available right through until the Spring.  My kale plants in my garden planters got me through the winter and kept my quota of greens topped up, and my ruby chard amongst my flower borders has also survived and is throwing out again nicely.

More and more local organic producers are getting up and running.  Have a look around your home area, you may be surprised.  If not, there’s always Abel & Cole or Riverford Organic .

Do please leave the name of  your local scheme in the comments box to share with others!

My Eco Home

My new home is a project and a half:  An older, 17th century stone cottage in need of a lot of TLC.  It stood empty for about a year and had been seriously neglected prior to that. The cobwebs would have made Miss Haversham green with envy.  It does have great potential, though, and I am busy renovating with a view to creating  a quirky yet stylish living space and at the same time a healthy home.

One big attraction to the property in spite of it’s rundown state, is the fact that it predates the use of modern, building materials.  I am a great lover of green low impact living and this enables me to keep my carbon footprint low and the amount of chemicals in the home to an absolute minimum by using eco-friendly organic lime based natural paint and plaster to repair and update. Auro natural paints, decorating and finishing products are fantastic and easy to order online, with fast delivery.

By using natural materials I aim to keep embedded energy values as low as possible.  Stripped back style is one that really appeals to me, with elements of ‘industrial’ thrown in, and Country Living’s Special Edition Modern Rustic Magazine, Issue 2, has been one of my sources of inspiration.

Where to start? Using the Permaculture principles enabled me to come out of overwhelm and start to take some action. Principle 9, Small and Slow Solutions, was my starting point: moving in and making gradual changes would enable me to keep costs to a minimum as I had been living in rented accommodation while looking for a project. It didn’t take long to decide that the 80’s style gas fire needed to go, to be replaced by a traditional log burner.

log burner in gunmetal grey
Log Burner in Gunmetal Grey

Continue reading “My Eco Home”

We love wool

Cushion in Purple Tartan Wool
Cushion in Purple Tartan Wool

What a fantastic renaissance wool is having this season in the soft furnishing sector.  Thanks to it’s unique natural properties it has stood the test of time and is one of the oldest textiles known.  We hope you will also be inspired by the wonderful virtues of this fibre,

Blue and Green Tartan Wool Bag
Blue and Green Tartan Wool Bag

The fact that wool will only smoulder and not burn means it is naturally flame retardant, making it the perfect chemical free eco-friendly choice for upholstery and for creating a healthy home environment,  unlike synthetics which can be highly flammable.  On top of this the natural fibres absorb dye very easily, deeply and uniformly, without the use of chemicals.

Wool is such a versatile fibre as it is soft and light and drapes brilliantly making it ideal for both clothing and soft furnishings, including curtains, cushions, throws and blankets, as well as upholstery and a whole range of accessories such as bags, scarves and much more.  The fibres are naturally elastic and will stretch under pressure and then spring back into shape so that anything made from wool will not sag or bag.  And on top of that it is also dirt resistant!  The fibres have an outer layer of scales that are resistant to  dirt and dust penetration, so any stains will sit on top and not embed, making the fabric easier to clean.  Soiling is easily removed by gentle washing in warm soapy water. And even though it absorbs moisture, the scales have water repellent properties, perfect for rainy days, and your sofa.  Wow!

Grey wool cushion with hemp
Grey Wool Cushion with hemp

And just when you were thinking it can’t get any better, it does, because wool is also hard wearing.  The fibres are strong and less likely to break, and resist piling and snagging, so wool fabrics will look good indefinitely and typically have a longer life span than synthetic fabrics.  No wonder fathers used to hand their overcoats down to their oldest sons!  What mileage.  Great for both your wardrobe and home soft furnishing budget then.

Oh and I almost forgot to say, that wool is also a natural insulator, so it keeps us warm!  The crimp in the wool fibres mean tiny air pockets heat up when any moisture in the centre of the fibre heats up, thus holding the warmth.  This works both in a wool jacket as well as for curtains.

And last but not least the acoustic and insulation properties deserve a mention.  Wool carpet helps minimise noise levels in the home, while the fibres are also making their mark as insulation for loft spaces and walls, as a natural alternative to petro-chemical derived products for those wishing to become more green.

Let us know what you love about wool.

How to make Lavender Hearts

Lavender Hearts in striped ticking
Lavender Hearts in Striped Ticking

If you had lavender in your garden this summer and were able to save some of the flowers then making lavender hearts is a lovely way to use them.  The heady scent is great in amongst the fresh laundry or in underwear drawers, and it also acts as a good repellent for any roving moths.

  1. Place the heart shaped template on the fabric, lining up any stripes or patterns
Use template to cut out heart shape
Use template to cut out heart shape

2. Cut two pieces, front and back

Cut a front and back of heart
Cut a front and back piece

3. Place right sides together and pin in position, matching stripes carefully.  Sew round edges leaving a 2″ gap on each side away from the centre top to allow a gap for stuffing.  See picture.

Sew round the edges of heart
Sew round the edges of the heart leaving a 2″ gap each side of the centre

4.  Turn right side out

Turn Heart inside out
Turn Heart inside out

5.  Fold in the top edges the same amount as your seam allowance and use a little fabric glue to hold in place and prevent fraying.   Position the ribbon folded in two in the centre of the back of the heart on the inside and glue lightly as this will make it easier to pin and sew once the lavender filling has been added.

Use a little glue along top edges of heart
Use a little fabric glue along the top edges of the heart

5.  Add lavender filling and stitch across the top edge, finishing off all ends securely.  Et voila!

6.  You can also make Christmas Hearts and fill them with wadding, or for an even more Christmassy feel use cloves, cardamom or anis.  Shabby chic edging looks good, too.

Christmas Hearts
Christmas Hearts

Really eco-friendly Christmas decorations.  Hang on the tree, in a window or use little ones to personalise your gift wrapping.  Lovely stocking fillers, too!  A good way to become more green.

Have fun being creative in the long winter evenings.  You’re welcome to share your ideas here.

How to Make a Simple Shopping Bag

Grey striped ticking shopping bag
Sytlish Shopping Bag in Grey Striped Ticking

Whether you are just starting out and learning to sew or just love making things with fabric, making a simple bag is a fun way to spend a wet afternoon.

Unless your lifestyle is totally Zen you are bound to have something around the house that lends itself to recycling or more correctly, upcycling.  Tea towels for example are excellent, or old pillow cases, sheets or duvet covers, as long as the fabric is strong and still in good order.  Old cushion covers can also be good candidates.  We’ve used old jeans, too.

To make a tote bag 17″ deep x 15″ wide (43 x 38cm), you will need:

2 pieces of fabric 18″ x 16″ (46 x 40cm), this includes seam allowance

2 long strips of fabric for straps, 20″ (51cm) long x 3 1/2″ (9cm) wide

Sewing cotton

Grey Striped Ticking for Shopping Bag
Edge the Grey Striped Ticking pieces and pin together

Begin by edging the two pieces of fabric if it is likely to fray, either with a zigzag stitch or an overlock stitch if your machine has one.  Pin the two pieces right sides together.  Sew down the sides and across the bottom, leaving top edges open.

Side seams for Grey Striped Ticking Shopping Bag
Press seams open

Press seams open.  We’ve used Grey Striped Ticking for the front of the bag and a plain white canvas for the back.

Bottom corner edge for grey striped ticking shopping bag
Pin the seams together

In each of the corners match the side seam with the bottom seam creating a point.  Pin in place.

Stitch securely across the corner at right angles   Cut off excess fabric and seal edges.  This gives the bag a greater carrying capacity as it will accommodate larger items more easily

Top edge of grey striped ticking shopping bag
Fold in 1″, press and sew

At the top of the bag, turn 1″ to the inside, press and stitch into place, about 1/2″ from the edge

Making the straps for Grey Striped Ticking shopping bag
Fold in the rough edges and press, then fold together and pin, then sew in place

Make straps.  Fold in 1″ along the whole length of the long edge and press. Repeat this for the other side, leaving a small gap in the middle so there is no overlap when the two sides are folded together. Fold, press again, pin and sew in place.  Oversew ends or press under 1/2″ to get a clean edge.

Straps for grey striped ticking shopping bag
Adding the straps  to the Shopping Bag

Measure 4 1/2″ in from the side seam and mark either with a pin or chalk.  Place one end of the strap alongside the pin or chalk mark or as close to this measurement as possible matching stripes as shown, and pin.  Repeat for all four straps. Stitch straps to bag with either a box or multiple rows of stitching to make sure the straps are strongly secured.

Press bag to finish.

The possibilities are endless, just let your creativity flow.  Some suggestions:

  • Add you own designs to the front panel, eg embroidery, hand-painted designs, applique, patch pocket from an old pair of jeans, buttons, beads, iron on patches.  It’s easier to do this before making up the bag, so plan your design first if you can. Choose a modern stripe, or if you’re a fan of shabby chic or boho chic go for it.
  • Make the bag bigger or smaller.  You can make it long and narrow, or make the bottom corner sections bigger so the bag becomes wider.
  • The straps can be made narrower or wider, or you can use twisted cord, leather straps, or wooden hoops.
  • If you want to use up lots of small pieces of fabric you can create a patchwork panel in the desired size with a plain back, or use patchwork for both.  Straps can also be made of multiple pieces as long as they are securely stitched and not too bulky.
  • For thinner fabrics you might need to use either double thickness or stitch the lighter fabric to a lining fabric, or you could use iron on vilene to get a firmer result.

Crafting is fun, and carrying your own bag is so much nicer than carrying some brand name around on your arm.  Your bag will last much longer than a plastic bag and will be washable and eco-friendly, too.  Advertise your own creativity, you never know someone might ask you to make one for them, and they make great presents.

Boot fairs can be good places to find odd pieces of fabric or check if your local church or scout troup are planning a garage sale.  You can find patchwork packs in our eBay shop or go to www.designercushionsandthrows.co.uk where we will soon be selling organic linen, cotton and hemp if you want to become more green.

Send in your photos and we can vote for the most creative.

Transitioning to a sustainable, life-enhancing,ethical business

“We have a duty to leave the Earth in a better state than we found it.”

Today I pledge to be “part of the solution rather than part of the problem”

An opportunity to join a group being brought into being by Transition Marlborough, “Practical Permaculture for Transition”, has come along at precisely the right time.  The discovery a couple of years ago of just how much pollution on the planet is created by the textile industy left me reeling and for a considerable time questioning how a soft furnishing business could be justified.

Blue Green Organic Cushion with Tulip Flower Applique
Blue Green Organic Cushion with Tulip Flower Applique

At that time the alternatives were either almost non existant or barely viable for those on run of the mill incomes.  So in the spirit of ‘Kaizen’, we started small, with a couple of meters of organic hemp.

Cushion in Natural Hemp with Party Girl Applique
Cushion in Natural Unbleached Hemp with Party Girl Applique

Later we tried some natural unbleached hemp, and also some vintage wool.

Looking at issues around waste, all the out of date pattern books loomed into view, and patchwork was born.  It was exciting to discover that even heavy weight upholstery fabrics can be used creatively for projects like bags, rugs, footstools, chairs and more.  This stops the books from ending up in landfill and they offer a variety of patterns in complementary colours and textures.  It’s worth checking out local small soft furnishing businesses to find out if they have books or offcuts left over from design projects, they will probably be delighted for you to take them off their hands, or you may be able to make them an offer for a bulk purchase.

Vintage Black Patchwork Shabby Chic Footstool
Vintage Black Patchwork Shabby Chic Footstool

So, in the spirit of Permaculture, Designer Cushions and Throws will from now only only be buying or using fabric for our soft furnishing projects that meets certain criteria and is:

  • produced in ways that are organic
  • eco-friendly and sustainably grown, for example, fibres that are naturally more resilient and thrive with little or no pesticides, such as bamboo and linen
  • locally produced, such as wool and linen from the Cotswold Woollen Weavers
  • respectful of ethical principles, without harming land or the people who are involved in production or sales processes
  • recycled, mostly fabric that would otherwise end its lifecycle in landfill (like pattern books, offcuts left over from curtain projects)
  • vintage, predating chemical saturation and a naturally healthier option

If there are other business out there aspiring to the same principles we would love to hear from you, share ideas and work with you towards a wiser future.  Or if you just love fabric and have comments to contribute, please get in touch.

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.