We can Change the World by the Power of our Purse

In these unsettling times we are becoming ever more aware of the pace of change and it’s easy to feel that things are beyond our control and that we don’t have a say.  But what if we decided to make our mark in our own way – not in the ‘old fashioned’ way of protest marching or casting the ballot for the same old party politics just with different coloured rosettes, but in a new way – with our purses and our feet.  What if everyone decided all at once that “same old, same old” wasn’t good enough, wasn’t what serves us or the planet, and from that moment on we all did things differently?

Take the example of textiles.  We all know just how much the textile industry pollutes clean water and how all the clothing and soft furnishings we buy are saturated with toxic chemicals which offgas into our rooms and are absorbed by our bodies through the skin.  We think we have no alternative, but you may be surprised:

Clothing

  • Buy vintage:  There are so many shops springing up offering good quality vintage clothing and often vintage fabric which predates the chemical saturation era.  Most is so well made that it may even have a longer shelf life than something you buy today.  And anyway who wants to be a High Street clone?  Oxfam offer a selection of vintage online.  Google vintage clothing with your town name or look on Yell in your local area or Freeindex.
  • Organise a swishing party with friends:  It’s the perfect time of year to declutter your wardrobe and have a fun evening trying on and swopping clothes with a group of girls over your favourite tea or a glass of wine.  Find out how to organise a swishing party here, or if there is one local to you. Some more info and rules
  • Revamp your wardrobe:  lay out anything that looks and feels a bit tired and step back.  That T shirt that’s always annoyed you because the sleeves were too long, could you just make it a short sleeve for the Spring?  What about adding some beads, ribbon, trim, embroidery, buttons to freshen it up or to match the colour of a favourite cardigan or skirt?  Or make one top into a vest, to wear over another.  Make a skirt out of a pair of jeans by opening up the inside leg seams, or get ahead with a new pair of shorts.  Use a scarf as a belt or make a bag out of an old felted pullover.  The ideas for upcycling are endless, like this
  • Jumble sales, community sales are making a comeback.  Check out your local newspaper or parish magazine for boot fairs many of which will be in full swing by Easter.

Home

  • Many of the above will apply:  local garage sales, swop shops, vintage shops, second hand shops.  Check if there is a local curtain exchange.  Look up eBay, Freecycle, etc,
  • Make patchwork curtains and cushions:  If your budget is tight and you have fabric to hand but not enough of any one, make a pretty patchwork or bands or stripes of colour.  Buy a small piece of fabric to enhance what you already have and to create a coherent theme, for example, if you have lots of pink or red florals, buy some blue striped fabric, or polka dots as a contrast. Great for completing that shabby chic look.  If your skills are a bit rusty, ask a friend or neighbour to help you.  It’s fun sewing together, with tea and cake!
Pink Patchwork Fabric
Pink Patchwork fabric
  • If you are just bored of the style and feel of the room, how about making a Roman Blind out of an old curtain?  This will make a room feel more fresh and modern in an instant.  You don’t have to spend lots of money on tracks either.  A wooden baton works just as well.
  • Prefer a minimalist look?  Wooden shutters are becoming more popular.  They last a lot longer than curtains and are easy to maintain.
  • When it comes to warmth and elegance, you just can’t beat a good pair of hand-made, interlined curtains though.  They can set the tone of the room, and bring a softness and feeling of intimacy to a space.

    Curtains in organic hemp by OEcotextiles
    Curtains in organic hemp by OEcotextiles
  • Organic fabrics  for are becoming more readily available and gradually more affordable as the technologies improve, demand increases and production prices of cheaper fabrics worldwide begin to rise.   You often only need to spend a little more to get healthy, quality organic cotton, linens and organic hemp which will last for years, meaning that over the  product life cycle they actually work out much cheaper, and don’t cost the earth. Get together and help each other to make curtains and clothes, or find someone local who has the skills and get them to teach you.

Being creative and sitting back in the warm fuzzy glow of having made something yourself beats any shopping spree. It’s fun, it’s satisfying, it’s original and is often a fraction of the cost.   So why not be the change and make more from less,  make conscious choices how we spend, who we give our energy to, how we share our resources?  Have you got an idea, a resource or a site to share?

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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.

Prefer natural fibres? Alpaca wool is great for cushion fillings

Do you have allergies to feathers or dust mites?  Do you prefer natural fibres to fibres derived from petro chemicals?  Do you look for quality products that last, rather than something that has to be replaced every 6-12 months?  Cushion inner pads in 100% natural Alpaca wool could be an alternative.

Looking for ways around dependence on the oil industry and also to reduce carbon footprint of the business I came across locally based Spring Farm Alpacas.  A visit to the farm introduced me to these delightful animals whose wool is naturally soft and cuddly, and it rapidly became obvious that the high standards of animal husbandry at Spring Farm ensure that their herd’s fleeces are exceptionally lustrous and full of bounce.

Alpaca Wool Filling
Alpaca Wool Filling

Wool is naturally flame retardant and does not need to be treated with any chemicals therefore making it an ideal material for people who experience allergic reactions to a wide range of substances in the home.  In addition, Alpaca wool is said to be particularly hypo-allergenic.

Alpaca Wool Cushion Inner
Alpaca Wool Cushion Inner

Test driving the cushion inners throughout the cold winter months revealed that not only are the fillers soft and comfy, but they also bring a warm glow to the back on cooler evenings.  Using organic cotton for the covers completes the chemical free experience.  I have started with cushion fillers in 16″ size as this is the most popular.  However, any size could be made to order.

Baby Organic Cushion
Baby Organic Cushion

Using textiles and fibres in the home that are free of chemical additives is particularly beneficial where there are young children or a small baby.  There are hidden pollutants in many furnishings.  Or if you  just want to become more green and move away from products dependent on the oil industry,  towards things that are renewable and biodegradable, then choosing wool fillers and cushion covers in natural fabrics such as organic hemp, linen and wool will help to put you on the road to a healthy home.

Cushion in Organic Hemp in Alabaster White with Pink, Feather Filling
Cushion in Organic Hemp in Alabaster White with Pink, Feather Filling
Sea Foam Blue Green Organic Hemp Cushion with Alpaca Wool Filling
Sea Foam Blue Green Organic Hemp Cushion with Alpaca Wool Filling

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

Eco at Home

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Our home is an extension of our body, an outer shell.   How we furnish our home environment is as important as the quality of food that we eat and the quality of the air that we breathe.

You may be surprised to know that, in our ‘modern’ world it has become usual to preserve home furnishings in the same way as foods, as a means to improving wear or maintenance, texture or appearance.  Additives such as formaldehyde are used to make fabric ‘crease resistant’ or ‘easy-care’ and remnants of chemicals used in the dying process such a dioxins and even heavy metals are often present.  Even many so-called natural fabrics have been treated with potentially harmful chemicals, either during the growing cycle, to improve crop resistance and increase harvest, or as applied finishes.  These chemicals can pose a threat to human health and well-being.

Non-synthetic fibres such as cotton, linen wool, jute, sisal, coir, hemp, bamboo can be processed in ways that demand less treating although cotton is a very thirsty plant and does need large amounts of water to grow sucessfully.    These fabrics can also be coloured with natural dyes which have far less impact on the environment.  They are also biodegradable and can be recycled.   Hemp for example has a very long life, being very hard wearing, and its texture actually tends to improve with age.

For some examples of how to become more green and take the first steps towards using eco fabrics in the home, visit http://www.designercushionsandthrows.co.uk

Cushions in 'Hardy Organic Hemp' from the Emily Todhunter Collection at OEcotextiles
Cushions in 'Hardy Organic Hemp' from the Emily Todhunter Collection at OEcotextiles