Archive for repurposing



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When I grew up aprons were made out of chicken feed sacks. This sounds odd and sort of gross until you know that during and after the Second World War these chicken feed sacks were made from one yard of calico. It was a selling point, I’m sure, since every backyard I knew of had a few chickens and a vegetable garden. That company wanted the chicken feed business of millions of women backyard farmers. Women also used these sacks for curtains, little girls dresses, napkins, place mats and pillow covers. The trick was to get enough sacks of feed of one pattern at one time to get the job done. It was a time of careful frugality.

Back to aprons though. Ordinary, every day aprons were once voluminous affairs compared to the stiff straight canvas barbecue aprons we normally see now. These current aprons have one function – keep your clothes clean when you cook. Aprons my Mother and Grandmother wore were for keeping clean and oh so much more. A good apron for every day wear was used as a pot holder to pull a dish out of the oven, wipe tears away, mop a sweaty brow, dry your hands fast when someone came to the door, and hold the freshly gathered eggs or vegetables from a trip through the back yard.

As I added children to my home, I remembered aprons and all the things they could do. It came to me for two reasons: my Mother was slimming down the amount of stuff in her home and handed me a pile to go through; and as  I loved to wear skirts I found I was using my skirts for all the functions an apron served – and ruining them! Of course, you might say, that’s what aprons are for! It also meant that I was going against the current fashion of mothers in my neighborhood, hard to do at a young age. Easy for salmon to swim upstream; not so easy for someone who wanted to fit in and didn’t want others to know she grew up on the farm.

We had aprons and I even made some. There were frilly little cocktail aprons made out of starched organdy, clothes pin aprons just to wear to the clothes line and hold the pins, and the ubiquitous barbecue apron. Have you ever tried to dry a little ones tears with any of these? They hurt! I suppose, like buttons on cuffs, we were to use those new paper tissues and not something as unsanitary as an apron corner. Humph! We also knew you had to eat a peck of dirt before you die, and now the farmers market doesn’t even know what a peck is!

Now that I have a passel of Grandchildren, I’m going to make aprons again, as soft and full and useful as I remember. I’m going to get a yard of bright printed calico to hide the stains and have a pocket in it to hide a homemade cookie. I think it is an idea who’s time has come – again!


The Life of a Garment

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As I was pulling up my underwear yesterday my hand went through it as the elastic pulled away from the fabric with a soft ripping sound. As I looked at the damage in the mirror, my first thought was on what they would become next. Another part of me simply said “Throw them out!” Here is a perfect example of what used to be and what is now.

Long ago and far away, when I was small, worn garments were sorted by fabric and type. They were all useful still, just in another form. Would the collars and cuffs get turned on a dress shirt? Would the soft cotton knits become polishing cloths and dust rags? Would the old clothes be washed and folded neatly to be ready for the rag man? Could this dress be made smaller for a younger sister or turned into doll clothes? This may sound very frugal and time consuming to us now; and yet I wonder if there are not some good ideas for these strange times as well. Let me just touch on some ways Grandmother reused a garment.

We got chicken feed in calico cloth bags during and, for a time, after the War. When the feedbag was empty the seams were carefully ripped out and these one yard lengths of cloth became curtains, aprons, napkins or a child’s dress. Fancy church and party dresses became pieces for a special quilt. Linen was eventually turned into fine quality writing paper, and everyday clothing became rag rugs. We always had a rag bag to grab out of for wiping up spills, washing the car, and polishing our shoes.

The best pot holders ever were made from the cut-off legs of jeans, filled with a thick square of old cotton mattress pad and decorated with apples and pears cut-out of bright colored napkins. You never got burned through these no matter how hot the pot or the oven. Sweaters and flannel shirts with stains, or holes in the elbows, became mittens or glove liners. Big sheets became small sheets and table cloths became placemats or napkins.

Now that I am again thinking about what I buy and whether I need it, my rag bag has taken on new life – no more paper towels! Cloth napkins are more common again – no need for paper napkins. In the garden the tender plants prefer to be tied up with strips of cloth ripped off an old cotton t-shirt rather than a plastic and metal twist tie. All natural fiber cloths can also be composted.

So the life of a garment starts out decorating our body, becomes a different piece of clothing or a useful household item, then a rag or a garden tie and finally returns to the soil as compost. It could also become paper, filler for quilts, or a rug. So when you buy clothes, realize you are also buying something for the future, something that can be so much more than just a pair of pants!


Gardening and Graduates

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This time of year is so full of new plants and new life. Suddenly the leaves are fully out on the trees and the smell of fresh baked Strawberry-Rhubarb pie drifts about on the wind. Light filling the early evening is a mixed blessing for gardeners, urging us to do one more thing outside before supper and then making that meal far too late! I love the urge to plant and clean up last year’s old growth.  I want to go get fish and bury them under the hills of squash and corn and potatoes. Primitive urges surface to dance in the light of the moon and stand for long minutes inhaling the seductive scents of Spring – lilacs, honeysuckle, iris, apple blossoms and wet earth. All of the wonderful abundant diversity of plants in our lives fills my senses with gratitude and awe. Their ability to come up through cement, live in the cracks of rocks, survive in all conditions, and change with the seasons is a good metaphor for all the graduates in this season as well.

The schooling that has been accomplished through all your study and hard work is amazing. The subject matter, though, may or may not pan out to be what you really need; may or may not be relevant in this rapidly changing, morphing world. The skills you have gained that will allow for your greatest success may not have been mentioned by your teachers and professors. Now at graduation it is time to take stock of the tools and techniques that will help you create your next life stage with passion and certainty. As with gardening some things will flourish this year that didn’t do anything last year. Some other ‘old faithfuls’ will wither and die for no apparent reason. We have more idea of the mystery in our lives now than ever before. So I look to the plants and animals – the natural world – for the most useful skills, talents, and tools for a future you can count on. We, like them, are evolving.

The key concept is to develope personal sustainability. Each one of us has the ability to sustain ourself as long as we also have the ability to re-think our life and then go with what works right now. Careers and trades come and go now with great regularity and increased speed. Count your education as something that has taught you how to think things through; how to find new answers and make up new solutions; how to get outside the box. Everything that has gone before can only give us the basic unstructured building blocks for the future. We are all standing on the very edge of the known universe. What do you want to have with you to help you with whatever is next in your life?

This is a variation of the old thought experiment: What do you want to have with you if you get stranded on a deserted island? What do you want to be able to achieve in a future that is not now defined; that is basically unknown; that is brand new? Think about it. Do you know how to make a solar cooker, plant seeds, be in community, step out of the backdoor with a song and a prayer knowing you can sustain yourself and others? Develope an understanding of re-purposing and frugality with your commodities. If we are going to create a world out of the best of the old world, what does that look like for you? In a world where money is no longer a stable commodity or even present in the same way as it was in the past, what matters to you and how will you get there from here?

These are the interesting questions. And the questions are always more interesting than the answers. Always. What questions are you asking yourself these days?  How many different options/answers can you think of for every question? If you can start from where your passion is and how it can be increased and expressed positively in the world, you will have a better way of creating your future. Don’t base your expectations of the future on anything from the past. We are in such a totally different world that approach will not work.

What do I suggest? Be flexible and head for a passionate dream, not an old tired goal of our Father’s and Mother’s design. Their dreams and accomplishments are history. Your’s has not yet come into being. Know all of the basics of personal sustainability and how to get by out of a backpack OR have a good friend who does. Know how to think and figure out new solutions to new problems. Know how to drop anything that doesn’t work, no matter how long it has been in use. This includes beliefs, patterns, and solutions used by anyone else for any other time. Assess the situation with a new eye, and remember that ‘I can’t’ never did anything. We are a creative, inventive people. Use this to energize your life.

I’ve gone on long enough. We are in the midst of turning this world onto a new course or dying trying. That is what’s at stake here. Those are the skills we need now. All your young eagerness and enthusiasm are the very qualities we need now every where at once. There are no limit to the number of jobs available to birth our new world; you simply need to create them, see them, do them, and enjoy the ride!

Congratulations and Blessings! You are our future! Live in it with passion!