Sisyphean sewing tasks

A couple of months ago I bought a pair of trousers, and something about them made me question several things, who had made them, and what was the true cost beyond what I had paid at the till?

As with so many things with our economic model, there really was no way of finding out, so to avoid any more attacks of a queasy conscience, I decided that henceforth I would make my own trousers. How hard could it be after all?

Turns out that it was more difficult than I imagined. Pre-washing the fabric to allow for shrinkage was a lesson I learned after I shrunk the first pair and the now-too-short hemmed bottoms ended up flapping round my shins. Fabric choice was another lesson to learn, as the first lot of fabric I bought was white with pastel butterflies on it. I thought it was pretty and boho, my four-year-old asked me why I was wearing a pair of pajamas, during the day.

But having made one pair of trousers, simply by tracing the ones that I’d bought and had sent me down this path, I went on to make several more, honing my ability as I went along. I then challenged myself to make a few tops, using the same technique: tracing existing clothing and learning on the job.

There are loads of plusses with this I’ve found. 1. I can finally get trousers long enough. 2. I can circumnavigate what I’m told to wear by the fashion police, as I now only sew clothes that suit me and fit me properly ignoring being told that red is the only colour to wear during the three summer months of 2017 or that floral blankets a la post-twins Beyonce are the only things to be seen dead in. 3. I know who made my clothes. Me.

I’ll also be less willing to surrender them to a charity bag and will be more careful about not getting them stained. I’m awful for just doing a bit of painting or DIY and not putting scruffs on to do it!

So far so virtuous right? Nope, there was me thinking that from now on I could quell my queasy conscience regarding clothing, as one of the four major ways we impact on the environment (the others being transport, housing and food).

A few weeks into my new-found epiphany for making my own clothes I was confronted with a photograph on the Guardian website of a tide of toxic slurry apparently from a foreign fabric dyeing plant. So, my making my own clothes could be seen as a good thing, but what do you do to close the loop about fabric sourcing?

During my research I came across Mark Boyle’s Moneyless Man blog where I discovered that to be truly revolutionary and green in terms of clothing I need to be growing my own hemp and nettles and weaving cloth from them instead of sourcing fabric from a nice lady in a nice fabric shop. I guess that rules out using a sewing machine too, as to be truly authentic and post-apocalyptic I really need to be using a needle hewn from a piece of bone.

There are times when trying to do the ‘right’ thing seems like a Sisyphean task – like gender-neutral parenting or trying to keep your kids away from Disney. You’re pushing uphill against a cultural and societal tide that threatens to swamp you coming from the other direction. But, it won’t stop me from trying. I still love my homemade trousers, even if they look like nightwear!

ANTIDOTE: Making my own clothes has stopped me drifting into clothes shops thinking I can buy my way to looking a certain way. It’s a trap. The dream in the shop rarely translates into reality at home.


Hang on to your plastic, it might be worth something!

I’ve been having a tiny declutter this week. Another five bags of assorted items to go to the charity shop, well, after they’ve sat in the hallway for a week or so, as I’m good at bagging and less good at actually dropping off.

As part of the purge I went through the kitchen cupboard, you know the one. The one that buries you alive as everything falls out of it, so you have to snap the door shut quick to keep it all contained. Well, not for me anymore. I tackled our plastic container cupboard today, and I was so doing, I recalled something my brother said a few months ago about Tupperware (other brands are available). His argument was that pieces of this kitchenware should be passed down between the generations as family heirlooms. Sounds odd doesn’t it? I’ve got crockery, as does my mum, that was her mum’s, and it’s treasured and used as such. But plastic containers just wouldn’t be revered in the same way would they and I wonder why, because they’re practically indestructible (unlike china) and so would last for a very long time.
It got my thinking about our attitudes to plastic as a material. I know with my son’s toys, the wooden ones are the ones we treat as special, whereas the plastic stuff is mostly the stuff I can’t bear as it breaks easily and tends to be at the cheaper and more disposable end of the toy spectrum.  Interestingly I kept some of my toys in our loft that I’ve handed down to my son and they have all lasted incredibly well, (apart from the doctor’s kit where the case fastener has broken, but hands up, I did that in childhood!).

So, I can only conclude that plastic’s sheer universality and the price value we put on it as a result means that it’s unlikely we’ll start writing, ‘and to my best beloved wife I leave my second-best set of Tupperware containers’ in our wills anytime soon. But maybe it’s one of the things we need to change our viewpoint on in order to prevent so much of it being simply thrown away or ending up in the sea. There must be a correlation here between the tonnes of it that end up as litter and our casual regard, for what it actually a remarkable material. We could start by introducing a bottle-return scheme where customers are paid back 5 or 10p for each bottle they return. It would have a two-fold effect of (hopefully) encouraging to think in terms of plastic as being a valuable material, and also help keep it off our streets and seas. #PlasticFreeJuly

I want to ride my bicycle

It’s raining stair-rods and I’ve just come in, soaked to the skin after cycling my son to nursery. Lucky him, he was on his child seat cocooned in a lovely waterproof.  I just went out in a high-vis cycle top and gambled, and lost, on it not being that wet. Trust me, it is.

It’s lonely being a cyclist on days like this. Out comes the sunshine and the two-wheelers are 10 a penny. On a day when the gutters are inches deep in brown soupy water and the spray from cars relentless and it’s usually just me and one other bedraggled compatriot exchanging knowing looks through the veil of water. The Swedes have a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, and I exemplified that principle today.

I get used to the confused glances of people in their cars as they can’t understand why I’m biking in this weather with my child. Surely, I must be mad to put my child at such risk? I mean, he’ll get wet won’t he? And the only safe place for kids these days is in the womb-like confines of a car isn’t it? They’re not safe on the streets, they’re not safe in our public spaces, they’re not safe at school, but they are safe in the car, and preferably one with some sort of aggressive faux armouring on it, just so we properly know they are safe.

This must be one of the biggest myths going at the minute in the UK, but it’s surprisingly resistant to challenges, despite the choking traffic jams, the air pollution, the rising obesity levels through lack of exercise, and the accidents. It’s the accidents bit that there seems to be a collective ignorance over. Hundreds of people die in road traffic accidents every year (and that’s just fatalities and doesn’t include injuries) and thousands more die or are affected by air pollution, but the biggest perceived threat to our kids is seen as being paedophiles taking them off the streets. Sadly children are more likely to be abused in their own home than by strangers. And the fearful society we’ve now created where we travel in metal boxes and then shut ourselves up in our homes actually makes that potential worse if you don’t know your neighbours well enough to spot when something looks not quite right.

Why does this myth persist that cars are the best form of transport despite mounting evidence of the damage they do to our environment and our society, not to mention their real-term costs?

Part of it must be to do with status, as for some, cars are a shiny status symbol, and also, people may be misguided in their thinking but the MSM has got them convinced that they are keeping their children safer by driving them everywhere, as counter-intuitive as that is. Part of it is our built environment. My mum lives on a new estate built entirely around car ownership, there are no shops, schools, buses, cycle lanes or amenities, but plenty of roads.

I also wonder whether people don’t want to be seen as being not being able to afford a car, are they worried that not going around in a car or public transport means that they’re poor or, a failure, to quote Margaret Thatcher who apocryphally said: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”

I credit my ambivalence towards cars with my upbringing, which was car-less. My dad died at the age of 48 without ever having learned to drive. My mum passed her test when I was 16, I would be 30 before I would get my licence. I simply got used to cycling, walking or taking public transport.

My husband, however, grew up in a house with a car, so he passed his test at 17. He will always chose the car to travel in, even though he could bike to work, most of the time he chooses not to. You see that’s the thing about making changes in society, you can’t force your principles on to other people, however much you may think that they are wrong.

So, I will carry on biking, whatever the weather, and just accept that until the wind changes, there will probably just be me out their bikes battling the elements. I do know this though, my son thought it was great being on the back of my bike this morning and his cheeks were lovely and rosy by the time we got to nursery!