Archive for August, 2011

No Impact Week is coming up again! I participated in this for the first time in January, and now that I’ve had a chance to gauge my progress forget about all the progress I’ve made and revert to old habits, it’s time to sign up again and give it another go. This time around, the folks at Yes magazine have added the option of being able to register as a group. So…..I created a group for Path to Green. This is an open invitation for anyone who’s interested in giving this a try. No judgments, just effort and action. Start yourself wherever YOU are in this process, and make progress at a pace and level that works for YOU. Every little bit counts, and it’s not about comparing what you do (or can’t do) to what others do.

It’s a week of daily challenges to try, and by the end, the idea is to have a different perspective on your life, what you need, what you appreciate more, what you can do without, and what hinders rather than enhances your life.

Anyone out there who wants to sign up? I’ll (try to) post my reflections every day about my own experience, and hopefully this can be an outlet for us to all share our thoughts, experiences, and commiserate cheer each other on.

No Impact Week is scheduled to start the week of September 18.

Go here to sign up: http://noimpactproject.org/experiment/register-for-the-yes-magazine-no-impact-week/

And in the box that asks if you have a private group name to enter, be sure to type in Path to Green

Some specifics on how the project works: http://noimpactproject.org/experiment/how-it-works/

More general info: http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/join-yes-for-no-impact-week-september-2011

Some inspiring words from creator Colin Beavan: http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/jump-in-together-an-invitation-to-no-impact-week

Drop a line in the comments if you’ve signed up, so we can all get an idea of who we all are and how to support each other throughout the week!


Read Full Post »

An umbrella is truly an item that has been designed for the dump in every possible way. If you don’t like being wet when it’s raining, you need to have one. But they don’t really work all that well to begin with, the slightest wind will turn them inside out, they bend/break painfully easily, and wet umbrellas are often left outside of places by accident. They are so cheap and easy to replace, there’s not much incentive to make an umbrella last. Even if something small and simple breaks on an umbrella (like one arm bends just a little), it affects the way the whole thing works. It doesn’t open up all the way and won’t fold up anymore. Umbrellas aren’t really fixable, which is a shame when only one arm is broken or something. So the whole thing ends up being trashed when there’s only a small problem with it.

I always try my best to take good care of my umbrella (I’ve had the same one for about a year and a half now, which really says something considering I walk everywhere), but there are lots of people who just toss an umbrella on the sidewalk when it breaks. It’s been a rainy past few days in the Boston area, which means it has been a great time for me to go out and scrounge for broken umbrellas. I know, I know, that sounds totally weird, but go with me here for a minute. Broken umbrellas make for a great source of free fabric. And I love free fabric.

With a bit of washing, this fabric makes nice and easy lightweight grocery bags, sandwich wrappers, or lunch bags. It would also make a nice travel bag for toiletries. Really, the possibilities are endless. I’m even currently pondering the possibility of an umbrella skirt….that would take some of the edge off walking home in the rain wouldn’t it? Hmm…and it could have maybe two different layers of two different colors or be pieced together from various colored umbrellas…..

Ok, back on topic, focus. This is supposed to be a tutorial.

Making a grocery bag from an umbrella is surprisingly simple. I just used a regular plastic grocery bag as a pattern and made one just like it out of the umbrella fabric. They roll up into a tiny little package, so I can carry one with me at all times and never have an excuse to ever bring another plastic bag home. And they make fantastic gifts. I made about fifteen of these suckers last year, and everyone in my entire family got one for Christmas.

First, find a plastic grocery bag to use as a pattern. Cut the bottom melted seam off and the top melted seams out of the handles. Next, slice open the two sides, so you have two separate pieces that look like this:

These will be your pattern pieces, but they’re not quite ready yet. Fold the pieces in half up the center, matching up the sides. Trim down as necessary so your pattern piece is symmetrical. I folded them together and cut them both at the same time to ensure they’d both be identical. That’s important too.

Now on to the umbrella. Get your seam ripper out and carefully cut all the threads that attach the fabric to the metal frame. Check the very top of your umbrella. There is usually a button up there you can unscrew to free the fabric rather than cut a hole to get it off. Also, if your umbrella has a Velcro or snap strap, carefully take your seam ripper to this as well and set the strap aside. You’ll need it later.

Fold your umbrella fabric and both of your pattern pieces in half. If you have a really enormous piece of fabric, you might be able to match the folds of both pattern pieces with the folds on the fabric, but generally, I can get one to fit and end up piecing together the other one.

If you’re having trouble getting the pieces to fit, keep in mind that it makes a difference how you fold the fabric in half. If you’ve got it folded on a seam, try folding it between two seams to see if that works any better. Sometimes a change even that small makes the difference between having the pattern fit on the fabric or not. If the fabric piece is on the small side, you might have to piece both sides, or use a different umbrella for the other side of the bag.

Here is what mine looks like: one side fits on the fold, and one side will need the two halves sewn together up the middle. This is pretty standard for the umbrellas I pick up, and will likely be how yours will fit too.

It’s hard to get them pinned down straight on the curved dome shape of the fabric, but don’t worry about it. Pin them as best you can, and once you make a few cuts, the fabric will lay flat so you can readjust pins as necessary.

Here’s what the pieces will look like when they’ve been all cut out.


Match the right sides together of the two partial pieces and sew up the middle. Now, you’ve got two full pieces to work with.

Next, find the strap you set aside and pin it on the right side of one of the fabric pieces with the fold lined up with the edge of the fabric, about 6 inches in from one side. It doesn’t have to be exact or anything, an estimation is fine.

Match the other piece on top of the first one, right sides together, with the small strap in the middle. Pin the whole length of the bottom, making sure to pin the strap too. Don’t forget to remove the pin that was under the top layer, holding the strap in. Sew along the bottom. Then, pin the sides and top of the handles and sew these sections too. Yes, that is hideous, non-matching white thread that you see. That’s what was in my machine and I was too lazy to change it. I mean…I used white thread so it would show up in the photos. And you’re welcome for that.

You now have a bag, but it’s not quite finished yet. To add a bit of width expansion, take each of the sides and fold them over about 3 inches. Again, it doesn’t have to be precise. Actually, it should fit the measurement of folding the strap in half. So fold and pin the strap, and follow the fold line all the way to the bottom of the bag and pin the flap down on each side. Sew along the bottom again, with the sides folded in.


Now the bag itself is done, except for the raw edges. If you like turning edges in, you can just hem the top and handle holes. I don’t like doing that sort of thing, so I usually just fold bias tape or ribbon over the edges and sew it down. If you’re really ambitious, you can make your own edging out of your umbrella scraps. Or you can just dig around and see what you’ve got in your sewing scraps: some ugly brown bias tape I’ll never use. I was hoping it would be something a little brighter, but I’m too lazy to make something in a nicer color. So here goes. I’ll have to sew it down with some bright thread. Fun colored thread always makes it better.


And for the last step, fold the straps in half and sew them down, a length of about 2 inches across the top of the handle.

Now you have a nice bag that will roll up into a little ball and fit anywhere!

I mentioned saving something from the landfill, but really, it’s only the fabric I’ve found uses for, which makes a difference, but only a small one.

So….what can you do with the rest of the umbrella?

I haven’t really figured that one out yet. Mostly, I strip it down and separate out recyclable metal pieces and recyclable plastic pieces from the parts that have to go to the landfill. Occasionally I save a few spare parts, but most of the umbrellas I pick up do not have interchangeable parts and would be nearly impossible to repair.

Occasionally, I use pieces for various artistic endeavors, such as my lottery sculpture, and if they have a long wooden post in the middle, I’ll save that. I can usually find a use for a good-quality dowel stick.

Recently, I used a few of them to make a giant indoor tree. In my mind, it’s sort of the equivalent of making a giant fort out of sheets like I used to do with my sisters as a kid. (Actually, I still do that when I hang laundry to dry…What can I say? Forts are just fun!) And having an indoor tree is just awesome. What kid (or grownup!) wouldn’t love to play with a tree for a while? I have to be honest and say I’ve had lots of fun with the tree over the past week. It provides a nice place to sit and read, to do homework, or to change up the eating routine with an indoor picnic; it just provides an endless source of fun and creativity. And it will really let you know just how much excess green fabric you have lying about. I really should do something with all that fabric. Wait….I made a tree with it!

So I’ve used the actual umbrella mechanism for a few different things, but I’ve mostly only been able to prolong its eventual trip to the landfill. Anyone have other ideas? What else productive might we make out of broken umbrellas?

Read Full Post »

We don’t have company very often, but we’re getting ready to have a party with some friends and coworkers, and I’ve been worrying (just a little) about how my “greenness” will come across. It doesn’t seem to me that anything I do is extreme or off-putting, but all the small changes we’ve made have added up gradually to what amounts to a new lifestyle. I’ve had time to get used to it all, and all this stuff is normal to me now. But to the outsider, we might look like hippie-environmentalist cheapskate freaks. And I worry about that.

It’s not that I want to hide anything about the fact that I live environmentally consciously, I just want to make it seem less “out there.” I’ve just been trying to take a look around my house and see things as an outsider. It made me realize I should clean out the compost bucket. So instead of asking others to take a deep breath and hold their nose before adding anything, it’s a clean and easy disposal. I’ve fixed the flip-up lid on the bin for our used toilet rags so they’re all covered up now. I still have regular toilet paper out too, but the option is there for anyone who wants to use them. I’ve gathered up all my half-used tissue rags into the laundry so there’s only clean ones out. Not that I really want to admit that I leave half-used tissues around, but there you go. Not everyone is used to these things, so one thing I thought would help would be to put a sign on our trash can, reminding people to please make sure their trash goes to the right place: food into the compost, recyclables into the bin, and only landfill trash into the trash can.

I don’t want to be preachy or seem self-righteous, and I don’t really want my lifestyle to be a pervasive topic of conversation. I just want to bring a little awareness. Someone can ask if they want to know more, and anyone can see how do-able it is to maintain these changes because I make it look so easy! I’m not going to change. I’m not going to stop doing anything I would normally do because I’m afraid of people thinking I’m crazy. I just want it to be there and to gently make people aware of how even small actions and changes can impact our environment, and that it’s not that hard or weird to just jump in and make those changes.

Have any of you other “greenies” experienced this? How do you prepare for visitors?

Read Full Post »

When Husband and I got married 3 years ago, friends and relatives at the time were mortified to hear I was planning to cut up my wedding dress. “Don’t you want to preserve it?” “Why would you want to cut up something so nice?” or “What if someday one of your daughters or granddaughters wants to wear it?” were some of the most common desperate pleas.

I finally started returning to the askers, “Well, where’s YOUR wedding dress?”

Mostly, nobody could really remember, it hadn’t been gotten out in ages, or it had been ruined in storage, turned yellow, never been worn again. I explained that I was going to remake mine into a nice cocktail dress and then make my husband take me somewhere nice on our anniversary so I could wear it every year.

It took me three years to finally dig in and actually DO it, but I was (finally) motivated by this year’s upcoming anniversary to get it finished. Husband took me out on a 3-hour Boston Harbor dinner cruise, and I got to wear my newly refashioned wedding dress!

It was mostly simple, really. I cut off the dress at my desired length. That was the hardest part, the first actual cut. From there, it was easy! I had to take in the back a bit because the extra fabric for the train/bustle looked really weird when it was short. I replaced the ivory colored trim at the top and waist with hot pink, leaving a big bow in the back instead of cutting it off like the ivory had been. It still needed a little something extra, so I put the remaining pink trim around the bottom, and sprinkled in some hot pink seed beads amongst the beading.

Here are a few before and after shots.

My dress went from this….



To this!

I made a matching bracelet/necklace set from all the extra pink beads I had.

Another closeup of the beadwork

I really like this picture, even though it came out a little blurred

Another shot of the back

And I had so many extra beads, I decided to make myself a matching necklace!

There’s a bracelet in one of the photos, but it got dismembered when I realized those large pink beads would be better used as earrings. They’re nothing special, so I didn’t take photos. Just a big pink bead and a small one mounted on a pin and hooked on an earring finding.

So to my married female readers out there: Where’s YOUR wedding dress? What are your plans for it?

Read Full Post »