Buy Nothing, and how I use it

A lovely reader asked for more information about my local Buy Nothing group after a recent post. So here it comes!

Buy Nothing is an international movement. It isn’t just a thing happening in my neighbourhood. So if you’re reading this and English is the dominant language in your country, it might be happening near you. It happens in other, non-English-speaking parts of the world too–but–BN started in the USA and there are more BN groups in any capital city in Australia than in the entire continent of Africa (based on the www site). I am going out on a limb here to suggest that white folks (I am one) especially, and all folks, living in big cities in highly individualistic countries probably need a sharing and neighbourliness intervention more than folks living in societies and cultures where communalism is a present reality as well as a long tradition.You can go to the Buy Nothing site and find out if it is happening near you–and you can also find out how to set up a group if you want. A lot of thinking has gone into scaffolding this project and it’s there to help you.

Buy Nothing was set up to build community connectedness. It’s about getting neighbours talking to each other. It isn’t primarily designed as a way to reduce waste or give and get free stuff . But since it is part of the gift economy, both those things are also going on. I’ve had a lovely time meeting people–giving away seedlings and meeting keen gardeners. Helping people pick fruit that they have in excess and finding out about their lives and their families. Meeting people I would never otherwise meet. Picking up some random item and learning it is part of a heartbreaking family situation. Gifting things to people who want to set up a new home, encourage their child into healthy habits, or support the aspirations of someone they care about. Sweethearts are everywhere! And–especially during pandemic times–sometimes meeting people completely online who pick up their item from my porch without my ever meeting them in person. Or dropping something to them in quarantine.

For me, Buy Nothing has been entirely on Facebook. Frankly, it’s one of the better things about FB for me. But it has its own app now so that it doesn’t have to be part of a social media experience for those who have managed to stay off social media. However–I hear the app isn’t going so well (in this article setting out the history and complexity of the project). So–research it or try it out!

On BN, you can give things away. You can ask for something you want or need, including someone’s time. Folks post sometimes needing something because they are in covid isolation–and people offer help. Once or twice someone has written asking for food because they are out of cash, and they have received a lot of home made and home grown food.

In Buy Nothing groups, there are some core principles, and one of them is that you ‘give from your abundance’. I think the concept here is that you give what you can, and give it freely. This means I can give away seeds I have saved from my garden in such quantity I won’t need them all. I can propagate more seedlings than I need, knowing that there are lots of gardeners in the neighbourhood. Once I delivered some, found the recipient had just had surgery, and planted them for her while I was there! Sometimes I’ve had the time to offer to meet someone’s need by making the thing they are asking for–cleaning cloths, worm farm insulation blankets, bags for a child’s birthday party. Once someone asked for use of a sewing machine that could make eyelets, and came over and used mine!

The local nature of BN means that I have been able to get to the whole area of my local group readily by bicycle, the entire time I’ve been part of it. In that time, our group has “sprouted” twice–meaning that it reached 1000 members and split into smaller groups, which are also thriving.

Now, BN has its critics and downsides, and in unequal societies, it’s unlikely that anything is going to be 100% sunshine and puppies. However, I’m in a thriving group. I can offer anything–people do not need to take up my offers. So people offer very low value items. Example: I wear orthotics and frequently that means removing the insole of my shoes. These are usually made out of plastic based foams. I’ve given these away in minutes on BN to people who will use them. People post asking for cardboard boxes or offering big boxes for children’s play. Second hand children’s clothing gets put back into circulation. Things that come into our street library that don’t belong (jigsaws) or don’t fit (coffee table size books that slide out when the door opens), get given away on BN.

I use BN to give away a lot of things my parents or friends no longer want or need. This week, an apron. Sometimes it’s a tent or a tool. When a neighbour was propagating fruit trees to increase the amount of fruit grown in our area and build the tree cover, I gave away dozens of small trees for her, ranging from pomegranate, fig and loquat to lilly pilly. She was happy and so were all the gardeners.

On BN the item is going to someone who wants it or needs it. It isn’t being added to the pile of things op shops in our area don’t want or can’t handle. I also use it to give away things I find dumped or on hard rubbish that are clearly no longer wanted but are sometimes new or unused–or I just can’t bear to see something so obviously useful going to landfill. I’ve given away fairy lights, a rug and a pet bed this way. Sometimes the item needs untangling or laundering and I’ll do that, and then give it away. Most dumped items I deal with I triage to rubbish or recycling unless I have a use for them (the classic example in my case being plant pots). I give away big things–the biggest was an exercise machine. I give away small things like tiny sample packs of moisturiser. In the image below–my ginger beer plant. Sourdough starter, kombucha and kefir are travelling around my neighbourhood through BN. I often lend someone a cookbook as well as gifting them sourdough, or a ginger beer plant. I gave away loads of Climate Action Now signs before the election through BN where many people wished they had one and didn’t know how to get one.

I also request items. At one point I needed more second hand denim than I had for a project, and it came from BN members’ worn out jeans. Some had been hoarding them because they distopt want them going to landfill. Perfect. I once made a 5 way trip with my bike trailer picking up jam jars from all over the area for a big batch of olives and jam. When my antique fitbit died, I requested another and got two or three offers. One was unable to be charged and the other is on my wrist!

I’ve received all kinds of things ranging from spatulas (I love those things) to a piece of furniture that is a perfect match for another cupboard in the same room but had a broken leg. I basically try not to express interest in items people put up–I don’t need anything more than I have most of the time, and recognise this as a privilege others do not share. But when items I could use find no taker I’ll claim them. I post saying “I will take this if no one else wants it”. And sometimes explain what I will do with it. For example, I think it is a better use for a sheet to go on a bed, than to be torn up and repurposed. But it is much better that I convert it into a quilt back or a series of climate action patches, than for it to go to landfill. I took two irons from someone once, rehabilitated one (by researching how to clean it online and cleaning/descaling it twice) and gifted it on through BN, cured of the issue the original owner told me it it had. The other is awaiting the same kind of treatment, or a trip to electrical recycling. I also take unwanted haberdashery and use it to populate mending kits, which I then give away.

This last picture is me visiting the local electrical recycling drop point, delivering things from our house and from people on BN who I’d collected lemons and denim from that day. All the others are things I’ve given away, found at random in my pictures gallery… because there are so many to choose from! Wishing you luck if you join BN and I’d be delighted to hear what other folks’ experiences are.


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India Flint at Beautiful Silks

I had a holiday! I went to Allansford to visit and do a workshop with India Flint (above, in indigo).

I find it fascinating how familiar processes can be done so differently by different people. There was a lot of bundling! This workshop had a lot of sewing in it, and some folks made several garments. I didn’t. I had a lot of thoughts about garments. I had some insights about what I wear and why. I felt confronted, as I often do, by my being fascinated by fabrics and processes and colours and shapes… and loving them on other people, but feeling deeply unable to wear them myself. I have breakouts where I wear something uncharacteristic. I used to even have year long challenges where I would work on being less of a dag at work. And now I don’t have a regular job, I’ve noticed I am even less likely to “smarten myself up” (year long challenge there), less likely to wear things that fit, more likely to wear the same things over and over. I am an incorrigible dag.

The dye pot was a pretty glorious affair. I seem to have taken quite a few pictures of it. I see this one has some paws in it!

Over time I’ve realised that skills and processes (like dyeing and pattern cutting and garment redesign) have multiple uses, and I now notice more than ever, that everything I learn cross pollinates somehow and eventually finds its place. So I just went to this workshop confident it will all get figured out in the end and committed to having a good time. And I sure did!

I roamed the streets of Allansford looking for dye prospects on walks, runs and drives. I saw things in the distance and wandered right up to them to check them out. I also tried species I can’t get at home and haven’t had success with, in the past.

I’ve just realised that the thread in the bottom right of this picture, is the thread I was mending with last night! I do love the wild oranges that eucalypts can give. And it is fun to branch out away from the fabrics I most use at home. I also had some good experiments with iron.

India demonstrated some lovely ideas. I always enjoy watching her imagination at work… and then seeing the way that sparks the imaginations of the people in the workshop–whose work is all so individual. I loved hearing people talk about their work and the way they think about the process and about clothing. I also enjoy the landscape that emerges on a shared table of people working with textiles… part of which you can see here!

This was one of my personal highs–this is a print on a discarded pair of woollen long johns. A really GREAT, exciting print! Sadly, it is on fabric that is unlikely to have much life left in it. But I’ll be finding a use for it just the same.

I dyed silks from Beautiful Silks as well as cotton sheets I picked up at the fine op shops of Warrnambool. I tried some clamping and some repeat designs.

As the workshop progressed, the drying lines got wilder and more spectacular. (My project on the left).

These are the fabrics I took home to play with, and a close up print of what I think is E Platypus, featuring what the euc book calls “flattened, strap-like peduncles”. This phrase is a source of great merriment to me (and a select few friends with similar preoccupations)…

And to close, spectacular lichens of beautiful Warrnambool. And so much gratitude to India, Marion, Brenda, and the other fine folks who attended the workshop.


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Trash sewing

I’ve seen the expression “trash sewing” recently, and it makes great sense to me! Here are some raggedy reuse projects from the last while. Above: some folks on my Buy Nothing group asked for a range of things they needed to set up house. Cleaning cloths were on the list. So I offered to make them some. Each of these is a double sided cloth. They are made from the worn out pants and discarded t shirts of one of my friends. Yes, she favours all kinds of glorious prints for her pants!

Of course, there is always just rag. This is my screen printing set-up. A couch made from a very old towel and a pile of ragged flannelette sheets (left)–this is the slightly soft surface where I set down the cloth I am screenprinting onto. Eventually a print will come through onto those sheets and I’ll either wash them or toss them. On the right–a little pile of small rags for cleaning up.

This is my indigo vat. I made it an insulating cover from a very old tarp, with layers of old blanket underneath. There is also a strip of ancient velcro someone gave me in there.

No sewing here, but here are my old seed packets (and any other small zip lock bag); and new seed envelopes I’ve made from calendars. It’s the same principle–using something destined for landfill or recycling, one more time.

And here are some worm farm insulating blankets I made for a friend. The outers are mostly worn out workwear and trousers. The padding is all kinds of discarded warm clothing, from jumpers and flannel nighties to skivvies and tracksuit-type clothing. My indigo vat maintains warmth so much better with this cover–and evidently worms enjoy a more stable temperature too!

I’m really interested by trash sewing. And in particular, how some of it begins with someone needing something, or having a problem (worms dying in summer, for example); and other projects begin with me looking at a particular kind of “waste” textile and wondering whether I can find a way it can be put to use.


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More guerilla gardening

Here I am about to head out to the guerilla garden. And here it is. I planted quite a bit here and then, two spray chalked circles appeared on the ground. What could it mean? It turned out to mean that these two trees went in. And whomever planted them, left almost all of my understorey plantings. Too good!

At this stage I think I’m about a year in. The early survivors are coming along well, and my mulching with the leaves that fall in the nearby car park has helped with the rather invasive weeds this patch is also growing.

I planted some new things here. Creeping boobialla for the win, in this case.

I planted more than once.

I was emboldened by the trees going in.

After a big effort like that, it’s common for public plantings to be left alone for a good while (in which my ground covers might grow enough to be understood by the person tending this patch, for instance).

Here it is some time later! I’ve taken to walking this way and pulling weeds in this spot–I find if I am keeping weeds down then a patch is less likely to be poisoned and therefore my plants are more likely to make it to the point where they will crowd out the weeds.


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Guerilla gardening: My dream of a eucalyptus lined bike path

Last winter I kept trying to keep this strip of trees alive. My friends and I planted some of them 3 years ago. I replaced some with the baby trees my sister gave me, when some were pulled out by the roots. Part of the job of keeping them alive, is to make sure that the weeds around them are managed well enough. This is an area where head high weeds have been the norm for years. I spent a lot of time sheet mulching with cardboard and then piling on gathered fallen leaves.

This first image is “before” can you see the Eucalyptus Leucoxylon in there??? No, I thought not. This might be a good thing, if you are minded to pull it out once sighted. On the other hand, if someone decides to mow this whole area once a year–I’ll lose all the trees. The stake might help, but frankly, sometimes having a stake is a problem, because it is visible during the night when people who are drink and drug affected clearly walk this way and random things happen. Like stakes and anything tied to them getting pulled out for no obvious reason. Maybe I have cause and effect all wrong, but that is how it seems to me in this patch.

So, I roll up with scavenged cardboard and my bike trailer. Then I spread the cardboard out, overlapping it to protect from wind. I’m a bit fascinated by the changing procession of weeds along here. At this point, scabiosa predominated, but there are invasive grasses, convolvulus and such in there too.

And then, leaf collection. I collected a lot from a car park, where eventually a woman came down from the office beside the car park to ask me what I was doing. Picture me, if you can, in my grubby, very much mended gardening jeans, equally scruffy short and sad old purple hat. This woman is up on the first floor answering a phone all day and looking out of a window. She sees this scruffy person with a bike and bike trailer appear, complete with shovel–disappear and then reappear and few times, and then maybe sees me again a day later or a week later. I explained that I was using the leaves for mulch and I was going out on a limb thinking that no one would mind if the car park was cleared of fallen leaves–and if it was weeded and litter was picked up as well. She was highly entertained by the idea of guerilla gardening and we both went back to our tasks!

Here is another tree with mulching part completed… usually about 4 trailer loads of leaves to get all that cardboard covered. Here it is, again, job done.

This was a major labour. There are about 8 trees still going. And those stakes are made from salvaged wood. My partner cuts them for me if I get all the nails out of timber I find in hard rubbish.

And here is another, mulched.

And with a bit more context. Last winter I planted ground covers and saltbush alongside some of these little trees to begin on giving them a weed suppressing understorey.

And then, one day, I rode along this path and saw in the distance that it finally had been mowed! The moment I had feared during the Royal Show–didn’t happen. The timing seemed so random to me! My heart in my mouth, I sped up and saw… that all the little trees were still there! The understorey plants had all been mowed flat. Some eventually came back. But the trees are all alive! Someone else planted an additional tree that was a species destined to be immense–I was worried about it but left it–that one died before the mower came through, and so did a couple of mine.

You may be detecting a few dye specimens here.

And finally–in the shot below you can see that someone else has been trying to make up for the lack of staking on some of these trees. It began with a mask someone adapted to “tie” a tree to a stake. Someone else brought short lengths of hessian string and added them. Maybe it’s the same person. I don’t know! And some one/s have added stakes ranging from tidy ones they must have hammered in, to sticks shoved in the ground and tied on. The E Polyanthemos has had a second stake added in a way I find very puzzling. Never mind. The punch line is: these trees have some friends, and THEY ARE ALIVE. My dream of a tree lined, ususally where stakes I put there have been pulled out bike path lives on.


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Mending as climate action

Dearest readers, as I riffle through my photographs wondering what to share with you, I’m really struck by the combination of nature images, crafty things, and climate action (and, a very hefty set of granddaughter photos!) For me, they are all related. In all honesty, I don’t think individual climate action is important enough to get really agitated about. We are all caught up in a system that makes it virtually impossible to eliminate plastics and fossil fuels from our lives in this country. Taking the actions that I can take as an individual, is a step in the direction of aligning my actions with my values. It is thus a step in the direction of integrity. It is also a self education project, and all forms of education are worthwhile. All actions to limit consumption and reduce carbon footprint are needed. But in the end, community action outside of our own individual households is necessary. We, the people, need to press government and corporations to take action–what they do and don’t do, dwarfs what any of us can accomplish alone.

Every sock whose life I extend is kept from landfill a while longer (if plastic is part of its construction–landfill is its ultimate destination). Plastic is now part of the construction of so many garments that all garment mending is important. And let’s be up front and declare that acrylic, polyester, lycra, nylon, polyamide, and blends that involve any of these fibres–are made from plastic. Socks that are 100% wool or any other natural fibre, can go into the worm farm, compost bin or earth at the end of their lives and return to soil. But if they have 15% nylon content, putting them into any of these places will result in adding microplastics into my garden. Keeping them going respects the hours I put into making them, the love my sweetheart has for them, and the resources and labour (and hence emissions and likely, exploitation) that went into the manufacture of the yarn. And so, I mend.

People ask about hours spent mending as a waste of my time. Because of my views about individual action, I tend to ask myself whether individual actions are a decent use of my time. If guerilla gardening gives me pleasure and exercise–that’s enough for me. If mending can take place in meetings, in front of the TV, and as the closest I come to meditation–then great. But every so often I decide I’m spinning my wheels on some waste management project and just let it go. I see and hear people caught up in guilt about their individual contribution to the climate emergency, and I don’t think it makes sense. Do your best at individual level, and move on! Getting caught up in these feelings doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, if any of us can help it. Our contributions as individuals are just not the main problem.

Authors on the subject of mending and slow fashion, from Orsola de Castro to Aja Barber to India Flint, talk about how the stories and memories and effort embedded in clothes that you make and/or mend yourself, increase your sense of investment and attachment to them, and thus your preparedness to keep wearing and tending to them. That’s certainly what I experience. And I also enjoy my own and other people’s attachment to clothes that are well worn and comfortable and that they want to keep wearing, whether they were expensive or cheap, bought new or second hand, made at home or in a factory.

I’ve spent very many hours on this cardigan of my sweetheart’s–because she loves its soft gloriousness so much. I think when she looks at it she doesn’t really see its current bedraggled state, but more its original glory, the foreign city she bought it in, and of course the comfort and softness of its yarn and the beauty of that lovely blue.

This is a Very Special dress that came home with me from a workshop, discarded after a lot of love and washing from someone else, with some tears in it. My granddaughter loves it even though it won’t fit her quite yet… its time will come, and for me that combination made it worth mending–and this was the kind of repair that really doesn’t take long despite being the apparent reason the dress was discarded.

More hand knit socks that get to live another day. I don’t buy darning thread (well, the blue cardigan was a special case!)–so here I’m using multiple strands of different colours to create what I think is a pleasing effect, rather than trying to match when I really can’t, using what I have.

And so, on it goes. The earth is a beautiful place, and I’m prepared to mend to protect it. And also prepared to do civil disobedience to protect it. And there is no need to choose between the two!


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I’ve done a lot of screen printing in the last while. There have been new batches of patches like these–Extinction Rebellion give these away at mending events for people to use as patches.

I’ve continued to mostly use hand cut stencils, using vintage wallpaper from the Adelaide Remakery.

Patches like these are part of communicating why we are taking action. Here are some rebels who have been in court for nonviolent civil disobedience, on the steps of the Magistrates Court.

XR did a lot of actions asking the Tour Down Under bicycle race to dump SANTOS as its main sponsor. This is the climate emergency equivalent of stopping cigarette sponsorship of sporting competitions.

I must admit I find my clothes line entertaining at times!

This series is for a ride supporting renewables.

Sometimes folks supply fabric especially for the job–sometimes even that is sourced second hand or by donation from someone’s stash. But I silk screen onto secondhand sheets a lot too–using whatever part of the sheet is still useable and using smaller scraps for small patches.

There was a family ride for renewables to coincide with the “Tour Down Under” but… it was cancelled because it was too hot to ride. Just in case you hadn’t given any thought to how the climate emergency will affect sports!

You better believe I scour op shops for suitable colours!

And then there is good old fashioned white sheet… as well as white curtains and random calico offcuts. These things regularly come to me, well past their best and not suitable from their original purpose.

I have also been using absolute rag for cleaning up and for creating a couch for the printing process. And there have been some runs of (second hand) t shirts, with more to come! It is a bit quietly exciting going into an op shop and being told all the clothes over there–are $2. Although it is an example of exactly what the environment does not need, that there are so many t shirts and other textiles going to waste all around–there are some I can put to good use. It’s much better to do this than to buy new t shirts for props and for actions and screen print them. It’s less stressful, as well. And on that sunny note, I’ll put my squeegee down for now!


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Stitch it don’t ditch it September 2022

Photo credit: Fernando Goncalves (photographer to social movements in our city)

I have been trying to think about how long I have stepped away from the blog… and there are some things I might just revisit even though they happened some time back! We have continued with Stitch It Don’t Ditch it in Adelaide, intermittently. here, it is hosted by Extinction Rebellion and we are making the connection between fast fashion, textile waste and the climate emergency. Plus, some of us like mending!

In that first photo, we are gathering, acknowledging the Kaurna people on whose land we are meeting, and hearing from each person in the circle.

This gathering took place in Slow Fashion September; Secondhand September—because we are not the only ones who recognise that fast fashion needs to change and we need to Stitch It Don’t Ditch It!

We know that textiles, and in particular clothing, contribute massively to global pollution and the climate emergency. We mend because we understand that we are implicated in the system of clothes production that produces unfair working conditions globally.  We mend because Australia is a place where change is needed, in order for to the human, climate and environmental impacts of fast fashion to be addressed.

Photo credit: Fernando Goncalves

Here we are with our chair banners. We are sitting outside H & M in the main pedestrian shopping mall in our city. I’ve taken to opening this event by saying something like:

We come to mend and to be mended

We come to mend our clothes

And to be mended by the process of stitching

We come to sew on our buttons

And we come to be part of the global movement that seeks to mend our damaged earth

We come to darn our socks

And we come to be mended by the company of others who want to mend the broken system that pollutes our earth and exploits humanity in the name of fast fashion.

We come to patch the tears in our pants

And we come to mend our broken hearts in the company of other fine and compassionate humans.

Photo credit: Fernando Goncalves.

And here we are mending. There are chats with passersby as well. But mostly companionable mending.


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Makes in the wild

I sometimes try to take photos of our grandchild in things I’ve made. It’s challenging on a few fronts–she is a frisky, energetic person with her own agendas and I don’t want to displace them to get a picture. I don’t usually post pictures of people’s faces. And this person wriggles a lot! These are socks I made with the leftover yarn from a pair I made for my daughter. Yes, mother and daughter matching socks!

Having the ice cream Mum promised, at the local shops. I believe you’ve seen this jumper before. I do love that little hand on my thigh!

Investigating something interesting in the chook pen, in a jumper I knit for my fairy-godless-son when he was much, much younger. He has always been a tall and slim human and I knit the jumper to fit his physique. This 4 year old now wears the same jumper, as a dress. I love that friends I made clothes for have tended some of them so well, and thought of me so sweetly, that they are now being used by my grandchild after 2 or 3 other children. In other cases… they have been worn into shreds, which is so good (except that alpaca jumper where my spinning skills were not really up to the challenge)!

My gardening jeans, out in the garden, where the dandelions are.

And this is a cute little frock. Frocks with long sleeves are good for sun protection and hard to find. This one became a firm favourite despite my doubts! Pygmy possums and banksias, what is not to like?

It’s the fish hat! And here is a bonus eucalypt for your enjoyment.


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The pinny project

I have posted before about my friend: grieving the loss of her parents, and in possession of all of the textiles from their house of many, many years. One thing there were a lot of, were shirts her parents had worn in the little supermarket they ran in a tiny country town. We agreed I would turn some into a pinny–short for pinafore, in this context meaning an apron that generously covers you up as you work.

I created the front with a patchwork of different shirts, pockets and all.

Of course, I added ties and such. On the inside, another pocket (thank you, India Flint); and a lining made from one of her parents’ sheets. This felt like one of the more satisfying projects from this house full of thrifty folks’ textile trove. I hope it lasts well!


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