Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Midsummer

Here in London at least, the weather seems to have pulled its socks up for the summer solstice. Apparently it's not going to last long (there's a severe weather warning in place for later tonight!) so I hope you've managed to enjoy it on this longest day. I didn't have the energy for any special celebration today, but an hour spent sitting on the grass in the park seemed like a luxury after weeks when the ground has been almost too wet to walk on. Hopefully the now-annual monsoon season* is almost over and there'll be more picnic weather in the remaining half of the light part of the year.
I feel that the solstices and equinoxes are holidays we should mark, but so far I haven't worked out quite how. If you're celebrating midsummer (or midwinter, depending on your hemisphere), I'd love to hear about it in the comments. "And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair."** Happy Solstice!

* I think the first one was 2007 - when I happened to be in Gloucestershire at just the wrong moment - and every year since has followed a similar pattern, hasn't it?
** Kahlil Gibran, 'The Prophet' (1923)

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?