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Looking at issues around waste, all the out of date pattern books loomed into view, and patchwork was born.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.

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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

10 Reasons to Get Excited about Hemp

Have you ever had a favourite outfit that you loved so much you wore it to death and you have never been able to replace it?   Whatever happened to timeless elegance in the rush to conform to the High Street command of “get the latest look”?  How much money would we have left over for that holiday we have all been dreaming of if our clothes lasted more than one season?

Organic Hemp is now available in a range of beautiful colours

Well, hemp fabric could be the answer.

Here are 10 reasons why we should all get excited about hemp

  • Hemp is stronger than cotton.  It is the most durable natural fibre with the highest abrasion resistance and tensile strength amongst all of the natural fibres, providing maximum wear and use
  • It becomes softer with use.  The inherent lustre and light reflecting qualitites of hemp are enhanced by washing
  • The fabric breathes as well as linen and better than cotton, and is as effective an insulator as wool.  It feels cooler in summer and during cool weather it retains body heat
  • Hemp resists staining by releasing a microscopic layer of cells with each laundering, exposing a fresh surface.  In effect, this means that hemp retains its sleek sheen every time it is washed, that it never dulls and that it releases stains more easily than other fabrics.  It becomes finer and more luxurious with use.
  • It will not stretch out of shape, so it will always look good
  • The fabric is very porous, making it highly absorbent and quick drying.   Hemp absorbs more moisture than cotton and much more than synthetic fibres, and faster.
  • It is naturally resistant to mould, mildew and bacteria, and naturally mothproof, and has natural antimicrobial properties, so it does not need to be treated with chemicals and is therefore better for you and your family’s health and well-being
  • Hemp blocks UV rays more effectively than any other fabrics with less fibre degradation from UV exposure than any other natural fibre, making it especially good for window coverings and a wide range of eco soft-furnishings
  • With a longer lifespan than other natural fabrics, it can render a lifetime of service,  is biodegradable and easily recyclable and even more than any other eco fabrics lends itself to re-fashioning and upcyclling.

Wow!  And if  you thought that hemp fabric and eco textiles means a return to the dark ages and the days of sackcloth, look again.  With ever better production methods, fibres can be polished and finished to much higher standards than ever before, meaning that it is possible to be indulgent and kind to the environment at the same time.

Anything we’ve missed here?  We’d love to hear from you…….

Eco for Health

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Ever wondered why you get a headache or become mysteriously ‘off colour’ when you go on holiday?  Not so long ago I treated myself to a short break with a swimming pool, sauna, gym and yoga classes and was so looking forward to relaxing and regenerating my batteries.  I had hardly been in the hotel room more than an hour or two when I developed a headache and felt really ‘off’ and ‘liverish’.  I put it down to a reaction to having been stressed and tense for so long previous to that.  Now I’m not so sure.

Ever since making some curtains for a hotel and a nursing home I have known that fire safety regulations dictate that fabrics used for making curtains and the covering of furniture such as sofas and chairs be coated with flame retardant chemicals to reduce the risk of fire.  I imagine it’s the same for carpets.  Now I have experienced first hand just what this means in terms of human health and well-being.

I shall give where I next go on holiday some very careful consideration.  Camping anyone?

For  more information about eco textiles and eco soft-furnishings visit www.designercushionsandthrows.co.uk/natural-organic-fabric

Cushions and Curtains is 'Hardy Organic Hemp' - colour Alabaster and Mist Grey