Saturday, 2 June 2012

A cushion that has nothing to do with royalty

Oops! That was an unplanned seven-week blogging break. May was International ME Awareness Month and I had thought of writing something about that - but I guess I was too tired... Perhaps I also rested on my laurels a bit, as the page views kept rolling in despite the absence of anything new to read - largely the result of my embroidered Tova top being one of the winners in Rae's Spring Top Sewalong. Thanks to Rae for running the Sewalong, which must take a lot of work, and thanks also to all the people who voted for my top! I like to think I'm not competitive but I must guiltily admit that winning was quite a thrill. Of course the taking part was fun too, particularly as it caused me to join Flickr. I'm staying away from Pinterest because of the copyright issues (and also because it looks like a massive time-sucking vortex of enjoyable materialistic internet doom), but Flickr seems strong on intellectual property rights because it's made for photographers. It's still a major time-sucker, naturally, especially the favorites (sic) feature - but it seems to have a bit less vorticity than Pinterest.
At some point in the last seven weeks, I made this simple little cushion cover from a top that I bought in the Oxfam shop. Please note that the red, white, and blue colour scheme has nothing to do with the schmubilee. I was able to cut the front of the cushion cover in one piece from the back of the top. The top flap of the cushion back had to be pieced together, but I don't think it looks too bad.
To make it feel a bit more substantial, I lined each piece with some fabric cut from a worn-out flannel sheet, and joined the layers with straight lines of red stitching - is it quilting when there's no batting? (My camera doesn't seem to deal with bright red very well - anyone know what that's about?)
The buttons are from an Ebay seller who seems to travel around Europe finding ancient haberdashery in long-closed shops and factories. (I won't link to her shop because I've been disappointed with some of the items I've bought, and she's quite rude. But if you search for 'vintage buttons' on Ebay, all sorts of treasures will come up.)
I don't feel 100% confident that buying second-hand fabric, or clothing to use as fabric, is entirely ethical. Using things that are unwanted, rather than letting them rot in landfill, is important, of course - but when I buy something second-hand that's nearly new, I wonder if I'm just supporting a culture of over-consumption and disposability. Certainly I'm benefiting from that culture when I find something that I wouldn't buy new for ethical reasons (in the case of this top, it's made of cotton grown non-organically, treated and dyed most probably with polluting substances, and produced without any assurances about fair pay or fair treatment of any of the people in the supply chain). The person who bought the top new was happy enough to discard it, virtually unworn, because they'd paid so little for it. Buying second-hand from charity is obviously different to buying from the original owner, because I'm not actually funding that person's shopping habit, and I'm giving money to a good cause. But I wonder to what extent we relieve our guilt about over-consumption by donating unwise purchases to charity; if we can feel virtuous about donating things we shouldn't have bought in the first place, does that allow us to keep shopping wastefully?

Another side to this is that if I can buy things I want second-hand and therefore avoid (at least in my mind) responsibility for how those things were produced, I don't necessarily have to engage with the major issues of our consumerist society or involve myself in finding solutions. By buying second-hand, am I simply enjoying the fruits of modern consumer capitalism whilst imagining that my conscience is clear? I worry about this less when I buy something that is quite old (like the buttons shown above) and/or has been well-used - but if the previous owner is discarding something just to replace it with a newer model, that's troublesome too. What do you think? Do you buy second-hand for ethical reasons? Does the age of second-hand goods affect how you feel about buying them? How do you think second-hand shopping compares to buying ethically-produced new products?


  1. I think I share most of your thoughts about our consumerist society. I worry a lot about over consumption. Your point about the giving away just to buy more is a very good one! I just organized the clothes section at my daughters bands flea market and it was just amazing the amount of almost new clothes that where donated.

    Being the mom of 3 kids Its easy to see how we get sucked up in this spending cycle. I have gotten to the point where I really try to buy as little as possible new, and ask :do we really need it? when buying anything. I find that turning deliberately away from the high street and mall is making me a happier person.

    Not spending the weekend shopping effectively saves my house from cluttering up, gives me more time with my kids, saves me money and frees up time to make things like this:
    I know you like to make things from old sweaters too - so I would love to have your feedback on this one!
    Have a nice weekend

  2. Oh and the "red problem" Most digital cameras has a color tone setting, much the same thing as on your TV, try setting it for a bit cooler color and It will get a bit better but, reds and yellows are hard to photograph