Category Archives: Sewing

Sewing jeans, and imperfection

So, when my best jeans went through in the knee, I decided it was a sign from the universe–make some new jeans!  I had decided a while back to try the Morgan Jeans from Closet Case Patterns.  I settled on using up some topstitching thread I had from taking up Dad’s jeans (I needed to buy a second reel part way through), some traditional style Japanese cotton bought in Kyoto for the pocket linings and waistband facing, and part of a dead shirt for interfacing.  The denim came from The Drapery (yes, a local bricks and mortar store!) and as they had Closet Case jeans hardware kits, I invested in one of those too. The staff were kind and gave sensible though understated advice, like confirming my sense of which size to make. I like that place and the fine women who run it very much, even though in my heart of hearts I think I should just STAY AWAY and never buy fabric again.  Well.  I’m not going to be free of contradictions anytime soon.

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I made these while I was quite unwell.  Pattern assembly and cutting out took me 4 hours!  However I discovered that the extremely slow pace of my progress did result in some good looking topstitching and a lot of close attention to the pattern, and ill as I was, switching between threads for seams and topstitching did not trouble me like it often would.

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They came together really well.  I have made jeans before (with mixed success) and I have made button fly pants before, so that was a help too. I decided on washing the fabric three times prior to cutting, ten degrees hotter than I usually would–as my most successful previous pairs of jeans shrank to impossibly small after being made, despite pre-shrinking.

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Now, there are some things that I notice I am prone to when I make my own clothes, and I believe other people who sew might be prone to them as well.

It’s easy to notice all the things you did badly when you are the maker.  News flash: while some clothes are made in a factory far, far away by someone you have never met, mistakes do happen and imperfection results.  I have had plenty of purchased clothes that have defects, including some that required mending I could easily accomplish, and some that had a defect that became apparent after one or two washes that was not really capable of mending without wholesale reconstruction.  Needless to say, I’ve had loads of secondhand clothes that require mending as soon as they get to my place. Well, sometimes I make clothes that are imperfect.  And sometimes I do something stupid that requires mending soon after they are completed–in this pair I machine tacked the front pockets closed during making to prevent wiggling, and then managed to rip out the tacking and the top stitching.  Oh, joy.  But you know?  Imperfection is part of life and there is really no reason clothes you make yourself will or should be perfect.

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Then there is the question of fit.  I doubt I am alone in finding that jeans sold in stores don’t fit me all that well.  One fine reason to make your own is skipping the bit where you try on 20 pairs and hate them all, and maybe also notice you don’t like yourself much.  Oh, sexism, you make appearance the measure of a woman in a way my mind refuses to accept but that evidently has a grip on my feelings, and consequently you make self-kindness so challenging to accomplish. Oh, sexism, you make it seem that a woman should care more about how she looks than how healthy she is, and that alone makes me hate and resist you.

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The pairs of jeans I’ve bought over the years new and secondhand often don’t fit all that well, but for some reason they get a pass and my handmade clothing doesn’t. Nothing rational about that.  I measured myself up, selected my size and resisted the urge to make a size larger.  I made just one adjustment, right at centre back just below the waistband, where jeans normally stick out a whole lot, requiring a belt. I have been told by my mother that this is because I have a sway back, whatever that is, and by sales assistants it’s because I have a big butt.  Whatever, this minor adjustment meant these jeans were the right shape for my particular body, three cheers!  They did wrinkle under the seat, which my pants fitting book tells me is due to “thighus giganticus”.  Oh, internalised sexism, that has women talking to one another this way! I don’t like you much. If feeling bad about ourselves could make us better people, more confident sewers, or even slimmer, the world would be a different place.

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I was so happy about the fact these fit me better than any pair I’ve bought in years (that’s the test, right?) that I made another pair, very slowly and over several weeks.  This time, I decided on more ease, provided by making the same adjustment at CB but stitching the main outer seams with 0.5 cm seam allowance rather than the 1.5 cm allowed in the pattern.  They are even better, as I seem to have come home from Japan smaller than usual and returned to my customary more generous size since. I also decided on a different colour of topstitching thread.

And by this time I knew that I’d had a user fail on the hardware kit the first time and noticed another thing: why had I bought this (admittedly lovely and functional) hardware rather than using what I already had?  Still invested in consumption and overlooking the fact I never show my waistband off and I’m the only one who sees these fastenings?  On the second pair I used a hammer-on jeans button from the op shop (more in the pack if I have done a bad job of installing it) and some almost matching buttons for the fly, from stash.  And there we have it, the top end of my regular-wear wardrobe restored!

 

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Silk cot quilt

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Back before March, maybe even last year!  I took out a silk cot quilt kit I bought from Beautiful Silks remnants section and dyed the silk cover.  I’ll be honest with you, Marian (the fabulous proprietor at Beautiful Silks) persuaded me to buy this kit and I didn’t know where it would go.  Then the moment for me to give it to one pregnant friend passed without it being finished.

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I was very happy with how the dyeing turned out.

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I was intimidated by the next steps.  It was just too beautiful.  Silk is just a bit too precious for me to relax about. In about March, still not sure where it would go, I decided to add the silk batting and stitch the quilt edges together.  Then I safety–pinned and tacked the quilt layers together before losing my nerve again.

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Then it emerged that my daughter was expecting!  She wanted to wait until after the third month before being really confident that it would, as she put it, “stick”.  And when that date passed and all was well with the foetus, I started to think about this quilt again.  I didn’t know how to quilt it, and to be honest, I like the patchwork part of making quilts but not the quilting part.  I’ve never made a whole cloth quilt. Finally I decided to stop waiting for it to be perfect and just stitch.

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Suddenly I made my peace with this cone of thread that really wasn’t what I had thought I was buying on some previous mail order, and chose a needle. I finished the stitching after we arrived to visit my daughter, now visibly pregnant and beginning to multiply plans for her life as a parent.  She did rather seem to love it, wonky stitching and all, to judge by all the stroking and patting and cheek-placing–and we’ll have to see how it stands up to the rigours of an actual baby.  Or perhaps it will end up as a new mother’s comforter!

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Drawing down the stash, or, more Boomerang Bags

The stash of fabrics that will never become clothing has dwindled very much in the Boomerang Bags period, my friends–this time, some metres of an open weave black fabric became many handles and a few bags. The little ?indigo? patch featured here appeared on the Guild trading table the other night with a little label about how it had been resist dyed with pegs.  Cute as a button!

This fabric was a gift from a person I used to work with many, many years ago.  It had years of use covering a small table and hanging on the wall, but had been tucked away for some years. Now it will be out in the world again in all its glory.

I had evidently patched together leftovers of my last Boomerang Bags episode, (and not only for linings–lots of these bags have jeans pockets from jeans that are no more, patched together with other scraps into linings).  So there are some bags with a black front and a patchwork back, or vice versa.

And then–the motherlode of wide wale corduroy.  This had a $2 tag on it from the Salvos.  I think I had a long period of wistfully looking back to a specific pair of corduroy pants I had near the end of High School and beyond–I remember them as chocolate brown and with a paperbag waist.  I felt like a sensation in them for some years. Eventually someone told me how bold she thought I was I was to wear them–or perhaps the green pair that replaced them in the early 1980s, with, ahem, secondhand suede winklepickers–on a first date with a mutual friend who was stylish and, well, judgmental. At first I was surprised and delighted, if puzzled, to be judged bold. Then I realised I was really being told that I had worn a very unflattering outfit to a first date, and with a style queen.  Sigh.  As it happens the outfit did not kill the date and we went on to have a relationship in which I received quite some instruction on how to dress!

Anyway–I am entirely unsure how I come to have so much wide wale corduroy in my possession, unless it was a wistful longing for my younger self feeling like a million dollars and able even to consider a corduroy paperbag waist as a style statement. But now it is all gone–all the maroon and two different shades of black of it. I do wish I hadn’t given away those suede winklepickers though!

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Misuyabari: the hidden needle shop of Kyoto

In my attempts to research where I should go in Kyoto, I found an intriguing blog post about visiting a needle shop.  A needle shop?  I was fascinated, sitting at my computer at home and reading about this place.

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There was more than one blog post about this place.  And how hard it was to find.  I attempted the search after a few days in Kyoto in which I had begun to understand the several pedestrian malls in the downtown area and had become, frankly, quite fascinated by the Nishiki Food Markets, which is set on a pedestrian mall.  I walked there every day for about five days in a row at one stage, progressively decoding what some of the things for sale were, trying more of them and always returning to a particular mochi stall. But I digress. In my first few days I discovered that Google Maps is quite helpful in Japan, where the conventions for explaining how to find a place or building are different to those I am familiar with. Google maps made light work of finding the secret needle shop of Kyoto. But it was still amazing to walk down a bustling pedestrian mall, find a walkway down the side of a very pink shop (like a dollar shop really), walk down it, through a doorway, and out into a courtyard.

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Surely there are prosaic, weedy courtyards somewhere in Kyoto.  This wasn’t one of them.

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Nestled into it was a small wooden building dwarfed by its bigger modern surroundings.

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Stepping stones led up to the door of the Misuyabari needle shop.

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It was tiny! Most of the room was taken up by this display of needles, snips, scissors, and all kinds of notions with miniature objects modelled onto them– tiny sculptures, literally on pinheads. (This is the reason for the magnifying glass you see on the counter).

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There was also a selection of sewing boxes and mending kits, all exquisitely crafted.

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In the end I bought one of these small mending kits… I feel sure it will be the perfect gift at some future moment. And a pack of needles, of course. They came with a brochure about the needle shop and the history of needles in Japan.  I spent a lot of time poring over it later with Google translate, which renders Japanese into English in a most poetic way but does allow some insight!

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I feel it isn’t every day that a tourist can have an experience that is part magical mystery tour, part practical implement acquisition, and part whimsical cuteness.  Highly recommended, and especially as you really must visit the food markets nearby!

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Waste and avoiding waste at home 1

I tend to think that people who read this blog are already doing whatever they can think of on this issue.  But I find that there are stages, not always in sequence, in the matter of waste.  I learn new things about what I am using and doing. I find out about strategies that had not occurred to me (like those learned in Japan).  I go back to things I used to do. I establish a different level of comfort or dislodge a piece of entitlement. And sometimes a new conversation opens up at home, at work, or more widely–in the case of Australia, The War on Waste has opened new conversations.

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So my best jeans went through in the knee and I decided to patch a bit more thoughtfully, as they are my best jeans, and I have so many fit for the garden already! Here is the patch on the inside.  I had kept my grandma’s pinking shears for well over a decade even though I couldn’t free them up.  I had one more attempt and shazam!  I have mended jeans and functional pinking shears (the new sewing machine oil did it)! So the patch has pinked edges.

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Here is my stitching grid (yes, an ordinary drawing pencil in pale pink).  Since visiting Japan, I’ve read more about sashiko (sometimes called Japanese folk embroidery–but to summarise, running stitch made into a higher art form) and realised the simpler thing would have been to just trace a grid of lines.  This worked though! Much more attractive than my previous utilitarian approach, in fact I had a confusing conversation with a gentleman who thought I’d done this just for decoration recently. I had to break the news it was actually mending, not distressed denim–but we shared some puzzlement bout distressed denim as we clearly both wear our jeans out.

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This morning, I went for a pre-work walk and took some years’ worth of our dead batteries (including rechargeables) to a recycling station at the Clarence Park Community Centre. They also accept electrical goods and mobile phones for recycling.  Community Centres are just SO GOOD. Our local Food Co-op at Clarence Park Community Centre has an excellent range of foods including eggs, honey, flours, seeds, grains, nuts, driend fruits, pulses. It is run by lovely volunteers, and has been running with a view to reducing waste and keeping food affordable for many, many years.  National list of bulk food co-ops here.

On the way back, a friend stopped on their bike and asked what I was doing in that spot–and they said Goodwood library also take batteries for recycling.  We went on our separate ways and I collected dye leaves on the way home, and they passed me again and stopped to say it had improved their day to see me and remember there are other people who also care for the earth. Aww! (That was the trigger for this post).  So there were hugs and there was love and then off they rode and off I walked.

Needless to say there has been more spring guerilla gardening, and I always pick up rubbish while I’m at it.

We already do lots of the simpler things like refusing straws (I started on that in the 1980s); taking our own bags to the shop, packing fruit and vegetables without extra bags, reusing plastic bags, recycling, composting, worm farming and such.  But we’ve stepped up to seeing if we can bring less plastic into the house, difficult as that is given the way industry and commerce are now arranged.  I’ve been stopping off at Drake’s Foodland Panorama which has a huge bulk section and is on my bus route home from work. I take pre-loved ziplock bags from earlier purchases with me and refill them. It’s not especially cheap  but it’s accessible and involves no new packaging. When coming home from my parents’ house, I’ve been doing the same thing with a Coles that has a smaller bulk section (each Coles I’ve seen a bulk section in has a different selection). But in Adelaide, the bulk place to go apart from your local co-op or Farmer’s Market is the Central Market.  Needless to say the Markets sell fruit, vegetables, pre-made foods and all manner of other foods. No one turns a hair when I buy bread with my own bags and this is expected by many stallholders. (Random picture of a rosella peeping out of a nesting box–look carefully!).

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The Honey Shop at the Market sells all kinds of unpackaged soaps, tea herbs, ingredients for making your own cosmetics and massage oils, plus bulk oils, cleansers (dishes, bathrooms, clothing, you), shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser–and of course honey. They’ve been doing it ever since I first went to the markets in about 1983. There is also the upmarket and relatively expensive Goodies and Grains which has a huge selection. (Random picture of home made sourdough with whole barley rising).

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Then there is the much cheaper Tardis of bulk shopping The House of Health (every time I go there I discover more things I thought were not available in Adelaide–like sourdough starter–as well as more things I don’t understand, like freeze dried vegetable powder).  You have to be prepared to dance in a very small space here but I can get virtually everything we use for breadmaking, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, FODMAP friendly granola making and more.

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Then there’s hankies.  I’m one of those who never went over to using paper tissues.  But now I make my own and share the love.  These were a small amount of double gauze I just could not resist, bought new and sized for smaller friends who have smaller pockets (and smaller noses!) And then there is this stack: an entire fitted cotton bedsheet worn through–soft and lovely for hankies–and gifted to me by a friend. Then I made some more from a vintage paisley green lawn from Joyce’s stash but I gifted them away before taking a photo.  And some others from fine lovely cotton from Beautiful Silks’ remnants section. What have you decided to do to reduce waste at your place lately?

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Box pouch workshop

I had a lot of fun preparing for the box pouch workshop. I dyed lots of fabric and made some samples.

Susan’s beautiful home and relaxed generosity made for a wonderful atmosphere.

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The company was excellent and we were able to make use of the abundance of plants nearby. There were all kinds of dyeing discoveries.

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And there was wonderful dyeing…

And the main room looked as though a balloon full of stitchery had burst in it!  People’s work was beautiful and it was such a pleasure to be in a room of people so knowledgeable about sewing, dyeing, and the environment–each of us in different measures.

The participants made beautiful work and the conversation was fabulous!

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Komebukuro Rice-Bags

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I am still in love with this traditional Japanese style of bag.  Having acquired Japanese fabric scraps in Japan, I made some more, combining recycled clothing (a red linen shirt from the op shop and a maroon sleeveless linen shirt worn very much by me since the 1990s became linings) with fabric I have dyed with indigo as well as all kinds of Japanese fabric scraps.

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I find this design very cunning, and in Japan, I was struck by the different styles that casings tended to take, with drawstrings travelling through casings that were quite separate from the main bag.  In the drawstring constructions I more often have encountered and created, the drawstring passes through a casing in the garment or bag itself.

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And there it is again.  I constantly find myself creating series, and I constantly find myself much more readily making scraps, remnants and recycled fabrics into projects rather than using untouched loveliness in my possession, as if it is too special and valuable to cut, even when it is a gift!  I’ll have to work on that, because of course I want people to use the things I gift them!

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Fabrics in Kyoto

I think regular readers will have worked out that there were some obvious reasons I saw textiles everywhere in Japan–after all, I was seeking them out! I must admit though–and I’ve already explained that my ignorance and lack of language are a limitation–that fabric in Kyoto seemed far more accessible than at home. I was really impressed by the range of scrap fabric and recycled fabric available, and the range of places it was for sale. My friend and I bought scrap packs at a high end Shibori store.  There were packs of scrap fabrics available on street stalls during the evening street parties that came with the Gion festival.  Kimono is a big business in Kyoto and no doubt especially during the Gion festival, when people clearly go out of their way to dress up and dress traditionally, and tourists often do so as well.

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This may be one reason that secondhand kimono are for sale in so many places. The amount of silk made into clothing in Japan (relative to Australia) might also account for the availability of bolt ends of kimono silk and for some of the scraps which seem to have been torn off when a hem was raised, for example. But to my ignorant eyes it also seemed there was a different kind of reverence for beautiful fabric and design. During the Gion festival when community treasures are on display, fabulous garments were among them.

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When the Gion floats were paraded through the streets, they were hung with amazing, and in some cases, ancient, tapestries and carpets, often imported (long ago and from far away).

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Here is another example.

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And another!  It was amazing! I had been watching some of the floats being assembled out on the streets (remember the temperature is 39C or above every day at this stage), visited them on display once complete and seen the Gion Bayashi musicians rehearsing in them. Then we saw them lifted, pulled or wheeled through the streets on one of the two parade days. To see them all was extraordinary–each with a complex history and a heavy freight of symbols.  How hard it must have been to be pulling them through the streets–some of them weighing tonnes and with antique wooden wheels, being kept on track by a wooden chock dextrously applied as the wheels turned, and cornering without steering by use of wet bamboo slats and brute strength.  Sweaty work even for the very committed.

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But wait, there’s more.  I’d researched some things prior to departure and understood Nomura Tailor was not to be missed. The main store was on the big shopping strip of Kyoto (the Rundle Mall of Kyoto for local-to-me readers). It looks small here but there were four, or perhaps five, floors!

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I was entirely unsure whether it was acceptable to take photographs, and found myself in someone’s way no matter where I stood on any floor with a small reprieve on the top floor where haberdashery was for sale. I was utterly embarrassed!

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Here was for sale every kind of cloth. Every colour of linen.  Lots of cute prints (I now understand a little more about the cute aesthetic in Japan, but not a whole lot)! In the image above you can see an entire display of Marimekko. I have never seen so many Liberty prints outside a Liberty store. And so on (remember, this is only what I could recognise). It was overwhelming. I try not to buy new stuff as a general rule–but I really wanted to buy here and could find no way to make a decision about where I would stop if I started. I came back on a second day to see if I had more judgment or perhaps it was less crowded.  I still could not bring myself to buy fabric, overwhelmed by how I would ask for it, not understanding how to initiate a purchase, not wanting to hold up the queue, and in general feeling all heffalump in a very organised and efficient space in which I was unable to grasp the key organisational and efficiency principles. I bought some braid, some Japanese zippers and some sashiko sampler packs. The difference between buying fixed items and negotiating yardage is profound, or at least it felt that way to me on the day!

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The sashiko samplers turned out to be cushion covers but only the shape of the fabric and the pictures with the Japanese instructions inside allowed me to work this out.  I became ill a week or so after returning and did a lot of stitching!

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None of these was the highlight for me. The highlight really was going to a shrine sale the day we left.  We went to the flea market, and it was immense.  It was not a fabric sale–pottery, tools, metal, ready to eat food, brushware, vegetables, pickles… just abut everything!  It was over 40C that day and I inhabited a fantasy that I could look around and come back to things sighted earlier.  Oops! That is one thing I do regret.  Here was every kind of fabric, new and second hand. New garments and second hand garments. Second hand sake bags.

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Sacking, advertising materials on fabric (as far as I could tell). Cheap mass produced stuff. I bought what turned out to be strips from the ends of bolts (lengths?) of white silk kimono fabric. Then there were so many second hand fabrics whose origins I could only guess.

There were plant dyed clothes, and while indigo was prominent some were dyed with nettles, cedar bark or wormwood (that is what I could understand at any rate–)

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There was vintage clothing and fabric in every stage from well preserved to utterly disintegrating and in every stage of being mended from a patch here or there to rags stitched together–the boro tradition.  There were also many stallholders converting scraps of beautiful silk or vintage indigo dyed fabric into small items of loveliness, honouring them by transforming them.

I have read about boro and seen images, and read its history.  But while some of these items spoke of thrift and long wear, some were so ragged and so much mended that I was confronted by a sense of grief and awe for the people whose suffering and resilience created these clothes and cloths. While they now sell for a good deal of money (which does not go to anyone who used them), these items speak of the sheer poverty and difficult lives as well as speaking of the diligence, skill, love and care that must have gone into them.

In the end, I felt as though the flea market was an education in the life of everyday people through textiles. The museums I visited focused on things of high quality and amazing craft and design skill (as museums often do). Yet, this means museums often tell the stories of the wealthy and powerful, even when it is their clothing that is on show. At the flea market, the incredible effort that went into staying warm and covered for so many people who made that wealth possible was on show instead.

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Boomerang Bags–a few more!

Well, I’ve had some weeks of illness in which knitting seemed too much. I know, I know!! But I managed to slowly make more Boomerang bags some days.  I finally cut up a pair of ramie jeans I must have kept for at least 15 years since they  wore right out, in case I’d learn how to make another pair… or something.  I can see why I loved these from the time I bought them second hand in, oh, the late 1980s or early 1990s– but I’ve finally let my longing to reproduce them go and taken the scissors to them.

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They made some nice bags…

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I found yet more bits and pieces to create linings from, including jeans pockets and other leftovers from the last round of bags.

This series of bags all came from a striking border print I had in stash.  Origins lost in the mists of time, but I guarantee I never imagined myself in a square dancing circle skirt made of this!

Then there was this shirt I made many years ago and had years of happy times wearing.  Now that fabulous print gets a new lease on life.

The last of one of Joyce’s fabrics, teamed with jeans that have passed the point of no return for a nice strong base.

Finally, I had quite a score of big prints on cotton canvas one day at the op shop. A black and white panel seemingly designed to hang on a wall and then these red and green prints.

And that is a wrap! But not a single use plastic wrap, haha….

 

 

 

 

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Waste and strategies to avoid it in Japan 1

I sometimes think that travel is at least as much an encounter with your own ignorance and arrogance as it is with another country and its cultures. In Australia, I have heard various things about waste and thrift in Japan from Japanese people as well as from Australians who have travelled to Japan (but weren’t born there).  I’ve heard both about minimalism and about a culture of everything needing to be new and old things being always thrown away.  I’ve read about boro and also about extravagant, amazing silken fabrics. And, as with the culture/s I live in, surely there would be diversity and contradiction? I was interested to see what I could learn about avoiding waste from being in Japan, and to see how recycling was managed there.

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One place where I noticed a very striking difference between Japan and Australia was public bathrooms/toilets. I am not referring to the differences in toilets between these two places, though those are considerable. For those who do not wish to hear anything more on this subject–skip the next two paragraphs!

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In an upscale public toilet (airports, big cultural institutions, department stores) Australia has toilets that while clean and even occasionally stylish, are metaphorically like an old fashioned phone. Though water saving, they often offer half or full flush, and that is all they do, like a phone that merely allows you to make or receive a phone call.  Japan has these too, but they also have the toilet equivalents of the SmartPhone. They play music, may come with a motion sensor and light up, mist water and/or play music as you approach (which made me giggle a lot). Some offer a heated seat with different heats, multiple washing/bidet options and self cleaning.  It’s also routine for Japanese public toilets to have an emergency call button (not so in Australia). Half and full flush, of course. Designed so the lid must be down to flush (which would be capable of ending gender wars on several continents if adopted worldwide–or maybe that’s an Australian thing). And that’s what I figured out without being able to decode all the options (because I couldn’t read the buttons and even our hotel had decided English speakers only needed translation of about 4-6 of about 20 options).

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On the other hand, in less flash places where tourists were less likely (some shrines, supermarkets, smaller or older public institutions) what my place of work calls a “natural posture” toilet, often translated in Japan as “traditional” and called by English speakers a “squat toilet” was the only option, and flush and emergency call were the only options. Much easier to figure out which to choose for the clueless such as myself. I could see from wordless queue exchanges where I was the only foreigner that I was not expected to use the traditional model (whether or not there were choices in the matter). In one museum I saw why Japanese people have reached this view when I saw a European looking woman open the door of a cubicle, startle visibly and hurry out. Also interesting, at a shrine sale where I had to watch the flow of people to even find a toilet, was a small bathroom being used by people of all genders, with gentlemen clearly expecting to use the urinal in mixed company with no evidence of embarrassment, and only the usual polite averting of eyes from people doing private things.  There was no evidence this was embarrassing to women or children, even with a fair sized queue standing by.

Well. How was that for a digression?

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When I go to a public toilet, I hope for a toilet and a place to wash my hands. And this was on offer everywhere we went. What I almost never saw outside of a major airport was a place to dry your hands nor anything to dry them with.  Contrast Australia where there will usually be a paper towel dispenser, electric hand dryer, or both–and in more traditional establishments, eco conscious businesses or people’s homes, a hand towel.  In Japan, none of these was common, no matter how upscale the building or how thick the traffic of tourists. I watched closely hoping to understand what was happening instead. I saw no clues at all, and clearly it was at least as impolite to stare in Japan as in any bathroom at home. Just imagine how much paper and power is being saved in this way, I thought!

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I did wonder if I had seen a clue out in plain view (hot as it was)–many people carried, wore or used a neck towel, at least in the heat wave we experienced.   I believe this might be the tenugui, often made of thin woven material or perhaps terry clothing on one side and plain weave on the other, narrower than an Australian hand towel and longer. People working or playing in the heat might have it draped over or wound around their heads (men and children), hanging dampened around their necks (anyone) or held in their hands. In the picture below, the men are participating in one of the major parades of the Gion festival in 39C heat and you can see these cloths in use. Sometimes I would see a woman pull one out of her handbag or bike basket and dab her face or neck at traffic lights or apply it to a sweaty child. Was this a sign that no one needed anything to dry their hands with because they had something suitable with them? I couldn’t figure it out but I never saw anyone shake their hands or dry them on their clothing either.

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After return to Australia, a Japanese zero waste instagram account I am following linked to some interesting sounding content, so I wandered off to their blog to find all manner of interesting applications of Japanese traditional knowledge and traditions to resolving the question of how to create less waste and use less plastic and there it was, another clue, perhaps.  The post is headed “homemade reusable wet wipes”. I am not sure this is the answer to my personal state of ignorance either, but the wet cloth in a container with a lid in this blog post, carried with you, seems to me an application of the Japanese custom of providing a wet hand towel with a meal. These tiny towels varied from room temperature to chilled, from clean individual white towels in nice restaurants to a shared, coloured cloth like a damp face washer made available to you at a food market stall where you might have been given a tasting of something that you could only eat with your hands, down to a non woven, disposable wet wipe in an individual plastic package in a downmarket eatery. It was usually available in place of the now-ubiquitous paper napkin I would find in a similar context at home. In some contexts–the reusable rather than single use item seems to me less wasteful as well as much nicer and more effective. On the other hand, the single use plastic wrapped kind may be even worse waste-wise than a compostable paper napkin, while both are offered in such a way they cannot really be refused.

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