Monday, 30 May 2011

Sewing: a gift

Here's a make-up bag I've made as a present for my grandmother.  The pattern is the Flossie Teacakes Slouchy Make-Up Bag which you can buy from Florence as a PDF.  With so many free patterns around these days, you might be reluctant to pay for one, but this one doesn't cost much and it's worth it.  You get very detailed instructions, step-by-step photos, and helpful tips that really are helpful.  It's probably not for complete beginners, but you certainly don't need to be an expert (I'm not).  I didn't take any work-in-progress pictures because if you want to know how it all goes together you should buy Florence's pattern.

The fabric, which has proved very difficult to photograph, is a family heirloom.  My grandmother gave it to me when I visited her a couple of years ago, but it had originally been bought by her mother.  Some of it was already half-made-up into little pillows, and my mum finished those and is using them in her new house.  I'm sure there's some sort of cosmic dimension to a long-unfinished project being completed at last - one more little thing ticked off the universal (as in universe-al) to-do list.

Anyway, this fabric is a stunning deep blue-green heavy silk jacquard (I think... or brocade?).  My boyfriend and I recently watched The Last Emperor and while I was sewing I was thinking that my fabric was like something from the movie.  Then I realised that, having been brought from China by my great-grandmother, it really is like something from the movie: it was probably bought around the time of the earlier parts of that story.
I really don't know where, or if, you could buy fabric of this quality now, or for what price.  And besides, I generally choose not to buy silk because most silk production involves boiling the silk worms alive in their cocoons.  So, having this fabric to work with is a real treat - one that my sewing skills and equipment are possibly not quite level to.  I now realise, for example, that you can buy special fine pins to avoid leaving snags all over your precious fabric...  I hesitated a little to cut into it, but it seemed so perfect to make a gift for my grandmother from her mother's fabric.  In the end I even cut a little wastefully, so as to center one main element of the woven pattern on each side of the bag.  (Fear not, every gorgeous shiny scrap will be saved and used.)

I made a few small changes to Florence's pattern.  First, I worked out a way to make the neat little zip-end covers with no stitches showing.  (I might share that when I have time to put a mini-tutorial together.)

I added a very simple patch pocket to the lining.  I hope I've remembered correctly that my grandmother's right-handed, because I've put the pocket so that it's facing you when you pull open the zip from left to right.  The lining fabric is a hand-woven shot cotton, organic and fairly traded.  My mum recently bought a couple of metres of it from Bishopston Trading and let me have some for my project because it was such a good match.

I also slip-stitched by hand the turning hole in the lining, rather than machining it, and made a different zip-pull.  I've run out of velvet ribbon and am trying to resist buying more because it's polyester which is basically plastic (you can get silk - but see above!).  So I used some Rowan organic cotton knitting yarn to make a very dense pom-pom to go on the zip.  It's a subtle pale pink shade which picks up the pink flowers on the fabric quite nicely.  My boyfriend says the pom-pom is over the top, but that's really the point.

I made the pom-pom the old-fashioned way, with two doughnuts of card from an old greetings card.  Those fancy pom-pom gadgets you can get now look tempting but again, I'm trying to resist unnecessary plastic.

Does anyone know of a good alternative to the synthetic interfacing that gives this make-up bag its shape and structure?  I bought one metre thinking that I'd be better able to think of eco-friendlier options if I knew what the plastic stuff was like, but it turns out it's not like anything natural that I can think of.  I need to find a solution before my metre runs out, because I don't want to buy any more - but I do want to keep sewing smart little purses...

Monday, 23 May 2011

Power to the People

Silly me.  I forgot one of the big things we can all do to help stop the UK going nuclear: we can choose nuclear-free electricity for our homes.  This is something that I urgently need to do myself.

It pains me to admit that my boyfriend and I are currently buying our electricity from EDF.  We inherited them at our previous flat, and didn't switch because we spent the whole time there thinking we were just about to move (but ended up being there for over a year).  I wish we had switched, because then the next tenants would have inherited a different (hopefully more eco-friendly) supplier from us - I bet they haven't bothered to switch either.  And for some reason (ease, amid the chaos of moving) we're still using EDF here in the new flat.  Not for much longer, I promise.

EDF stands for Electricit√© De France, and it's owned by the French government.  According to Wikipedia, EDF is the world's biggest utility company.  It's also primarily a nuclear power company.  Look at this excellent table that tells you how much renewable generation each electricity supplier uses.  Note that nuclear is not classed as renewable.  If you click on the "view fuel mix" link for any company, you can see exactly what sorts of generation they use.  EDF is 64.5% nuclear.  Yikes.

Things are complicated slightly by the fact that some of the "green" suppliers use nuclear energy (were they thinking green as in radioactive glow green?).  So Ecotricity actually uses more nuclear generation than Npower.  But then it gets even more complicated because Npower (as part of RWE) is one of the companies planning to build some of the government's new nuclear facilities - and of course Ecotricity uses far more renewable sources than Npower.  Other companies who hope to get in on the nasty new nuclear act, according to this Wikipedia entry which might be a bit out of date, are EDF (of course) and E.ON.

While you're reducing your nuclear power usage, you might as well reduce your fossil fuel usage too.  Good Energy is the only 100% renewable electricity supplier in the UK at the moment.

Of course, we need to cut down on our electricity usage all together - and gas, for that matter, if you have gas supplied to your home (I don't).  There are lots of ways to do that.

I think micro-generation of electricity might be the way forward.  Imagine if we made all our electricity very close to its point of use: not only could we get rid of huge power stations, but we could also pull down the miles upon miles of ugly pylons that march across our countryside.  If you own your home, you could think about putting a mini-turbine or some solar panels on the roof.  (Apparently the free solar panel offers that you might have seen are not necessarily a good deal, though.)

Oh yes, I forgot something else: once you've switched, make sure you let both your old energy supplier and your new one know why you've switched.  I'm sure they think we all care only about prices, so you must tell them that you don't believe nuclear power is the answer.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Did somebody say 'diatribe'?

Ever been to the Lake District?  Nice, wasn't it - even if it did rain quite a lot.  How about Exmoor?  Or the Yorkshire Dales, with their dry stone walls and hardy sheep?  Perhaps the Norfolk Broads are more your style, or the New Forest, full of wandering ponies.

Coniston Water, Lake District National Park.
Photo by Flickr user estoril.
If you've ever enjoyed one of those places, or any of Britain's ten other National Parks, including the new South Downs National Park which stretches from Eastbourne to Winchester, then you'll share my concern about the government's "red tape challenge".  David Cameron and co. apparently feel that we have too many pesky laws getting in the way of businesses making money and "it's time to fight back".  So they're asking us, the public, to evaluate around 20,000 regulations to decide what can be thrown out.  Everything except tax and national security legislation is considered to be potentially unnecessary, and, according to The Guardian, regulations will be presumed guilty until proven innocent - that is, unless a minister makes a strong case for keeping a particular regulation, it will be for the chop.

Why don't we let businesses save money by giving up
on these ugly green signs?  Individuals should have the
freedom to choose their own way out of a burning
building instead of being dictated to by government.
Ah yes, all this red tape has really been holding us back, hasn't it?  Fire safety in the workplace: who needs the government to set standards for something as trivial as that?  Or the silly rules that prevent your boss from sacking you with no notice for no reason - yawn.  All those long-winded equality regulations that are designed to give legal protection against racism, sexism, ageism, discrimination against disabled people... What were previous governments thinking?!  And, erm, that whimsical little piece of legislative folly that makes it illegal to hire out crossbows to small children.  This is red tape gone mad!  After all, if someone wants to make their living selling dangerous weapons to under-17s, why should the government stop them contributing to the economy that way?  [Sarcasm aside, I'm actually quite alarmed to learn that over-17s can buy and hire crossbows so easily - now I'll have to go and comment that they need to add lots more red tape there.]

So, in the name of promoting entrepreneurial vigour and economic vitality (which is to say, in the name of money), all of that's up for review by anyone who wants to weigh in (a quick glance at the comments on a few different categories revealed some very sensible defences of our laws, which is heartening).  Do go and add some comments yourself if, for instance, you like to know that your kilo of unaffordable brown rice is really a kilo and not just something the supermarket randomly slapped a "1kg" label on.  (The Asda Weight Guarantee: did you find it heavier elsewhere?)

What I was planning to write about, before I visited the government's website and discovered there was so very much to be outraged by, was the body of environmental legislation that the government thinks we might be better off without.  Of course I never believed Cameron's promise to lead the "greenest government ever" and I suspected from the off that there'd turn out to be no point at all to Zac Goldsmith.  But still...

The Wildlife and Countryside Act, which could be scrapped by David Cameron's government if no minister makes a strong enough case for keeping it, currently means that nobody can use their rented crossbow on the heron I saw by the reservoir this afternoon without having the courts to answer to.  They can't steal wild birds' nests or eggs, either.  I don't believe the majority of people would want to abandon that protection so that a few could make money selling wild eggs.

Coniston again - if you look at this and see red tape or £££ please
consult your optician/psychiatrist. Photo by Flickr user estoril.

I'm glad there isn't a McDonald's on the banks of Coniston Water, even if it would make money, aren't you?  Right now we don't need to worry too much about the dreaded golden arches suddenly rearing up to loom over Brantwood because the Lake District is a National Park, and that means it's a protected area:

"A protected area is a location which has a clear boundary. It has people and laws that make sure that nature and wildlife are protected and that people can continue to benefit from nature without destroying it.(National Parks website)

National Parks, and rights of access to them and other countryside, could also go, however, if nobody stands up for them in parliament (Caroline, this is your moment - or does it have to be a government minister?).  We seem intent on destroying the oceans, but Marine Nature Reserves are one small way in which we protect precious ecosystems - we should be expanding them, not ditching the idea.  And while I'm not a huge fan of the Climate Change Act, that's only because I don't think it goes far enough, fast enough.

Bees need red tape - and we need bees.
To protect wild animals and plants including endangered species, National Parks, Marine Nature Reserves, and our right to enjoy all those things without having to pay some profiteering corporation for the privilege, and to keep the country at least slightly directed towards saving the planet, we might have to get involved in this ridiculous and embarrassing "red tape challenge".  So, if you have time, please go to the environment page and let the government know that some things are more important than profit margins.  If you run a small business, tell them you're speaking on behalf of your business - they might take more notice.
If you don't have time for that, please at least sign this petition, which will take you about as much time as saying "Egton Moor Peat Bog".