Thursday, March 24, 2011

Melting snow and melting plastic

I'm struggling with how to write a post about plastic bags and not do any of the following:
1) rant
2) preach
3) spout statistics
or 4) include a scary picture of a dead marine mammal.

So I'll simply give you a picture I took this week of my polluted view of Merrymeeting Bay and challenge you to make whatever change you can in reducing your need for plastic bags.
 I'll write again about reducing and recycling these bags another time, but for today I want to show you a way to reuse your plastic bags.

Back in 2009 I saw Betz White on the cover of Craft Magazine  wearing a rain hat and carrying a tote bag made from fused plastic bags. Betz White is one of my favorite green crafters and has a great eye for design combined with a great ethic of recycling. One of her books is listed in my sidebar.  Then the fused plastic bags thing popped up again here, and I found another blog post from Betz White here, and I knew I had to give it a serious go.  You can find several You tube videos on how to do it, but I think etsy covers the how-to's pretty well   here:

In a nutshell, you smooth out stacks of six or eight layers of plastic (3 or 4 bags, with handles cut off) and put the stacks between two layers of paper. I used parchment paper, but I'm told you can use any kind. With your iron, you will be melting them slowly and gently, moving your iron around in circles.  The bags fuse together nicely and create a bigger, heavier type of material that you can then sew with like fabric.  It's still plastic, but it's stronger and heavier. You can do all sorts of things with it. I decided to make little pouches with zippers. You can see that you can make nifty designs by choosing colors and cutting out shapes

A few hints that others may not mention. 1) go slowly and start with your iron on a medium setting like "silk". If it's too hot it will shrink up too quickly and may make holes. 
2) Do this in a well ventilated space with windows /doors open, fan going, or ideally OUTSIDE.   You are melting plastic, and although I have never smelled a bad smell while doing it, I know it can't be good to breathe this in.

3) I found that if I sorted my plastics by number (2's together, 4's together) I had better luck and the plastic all behaved the same. 

4) Sewing through the fused plastic is very simple and doesn't require any special needle or thread, but you can't really rip out stitches and restitch in the same line, since the holes remain and weaken the seam. 

I've been collecting the yellow newspaper sleeves that come around my Portland Press Herald, and had some nice yellows and oranges.  Then I got some blues from Betsy who gets the Brunswick Times Record, (and New York Times?)... and voila! A whole rainbow.  That one tote bag took me just about an hour to make and used up about 50 of those newspaper bags.  It's strong enough to carry books or groceries. 

Working with the newspaper sleeves inspired me to call the Portland Press Herald (Maine Today) folks and see if they do any kind of recycling program for these bags. A really nice woman named Sharon Leeman explained that there is no "organized" recycling program, but many of the carriers do reuse the bags that customers return to them.  She said that the carriers each buy their own bags so she said it made sense ( $ ) for them to reuse them if they were willing.  She herself donated a empty appliance box at the "depot" where the papers are distributed to collect the returned bags, and encouraged people to take them for reuse or recycling.  Nice job, Sharon! I asked her about the colors and she explained that although the colored plastic costs more, they switch to yellow and orange in the winter to make the papers easier to see in the snow.

So I hope I didn't rant or preach. I plan to leave a very friendly note for my carrier on Sunday asking if he would reuse bags if I gave them back to him. If not, I'll make more of these bags, and look to reduce my plastic use in other ways. I hope you'll try it too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blue Jeans, Baby!

Blue Jeans are something that you can usually find at the barn, and an item that I find hard to resist.  It's usually a ripped or stained pair of jeans that is or isn't close to my size, yet I evaluate each pair by assessing how much clean, usable fabric remains.  I love denim and admit to having a bin of jeans from the barn in my workshop, which holds pockets, whole jeans and holey jeans too.  When my kids get invited to a birthday party, I usually whip up an "art bag" with a set of juicy new markers and a nice sketch pad. Both boys and girls seem to like this gift.

Another Bowdoinham seamstress has found a lovely way to use the jeans from the barn and to warm her family is so many ways.  Pat Gaudreau collects jeans, and has made a double layer patchwork quilt for every grandchild she has (9, and counting).  Pat has used a nice pattern that creates a patchwork pattern and leaves the seams exposed on one side of the quilt which soften and fray when she cuts the seam allowance.  The quilts are nice and heavy and don't require any batting.  Pat has even made a bag with beanbags to accompany her quilt, so the kids can play a bed-sized game of checkers using the quilt as the game board. Pat and I agree that collecting jeans at the barn is the way to go. "I suppose that people could buy the fabric, but that would just be dumb!" Oh, how I agree.  She also notes that her favorite jeans find is a pair of Men's large, which has lots of available fabric for her 6" square blocks. "The backs of the legs are the best- lots of fabric without much wear." Does Pat inspire you like she inspires me?

Christopher showing off his quilt with "checkers"

I dipped into my Blue Jean stash a few weeks ago when I planned a storytime featuring Katy No-Pocket at the Bowdoinham Library.  The classic read-aloud book by Emmy Payne and H.A. Rey tells of a mommy kangaroo who does not have a pocket and goes looking for help, asking others how she might carry her baby.  The happy climax comes when Katy travels to the big city and meets a carpenter with a big ol' denim tool apron.  Katy is thrilled, buys one for herself, and then fills the pockets with her baby (and all sorts of other animal babies) and hops along happily.

Seems I had enough denim parts to build quite a nice kid-sized apron with 7 pockets to hold small stuffed animals.  And enough left-over pockets to make each child a pocket to strap on and take home!  Here is my little friend Lyra who was happy to play the role of Katy after I read the story. Jessie helped her load up the babies and... off she hopped! You can see why I don't tap into the library's budget for story time.  No need.  All I need comes from the barn (including that fabulous roll of green webbing that showed up one lucky Thursday).  By the way, Story time is Tuesday mornings at 10 a.m. One of the highlights of my week with such cutie pies.

And as for jean skirts? I make them the same way I did back in the 70's! Rip the inseam up to the zipper, set in a triangle of new fabric, pin being careful to lay the fabric flat, and hem (or not, if you are a true hippie). I suppose that will need to wait for another post. In the meanwhile... anyone out there have experience with home insulation made from recycled denim? Please post and share your experience. Any other blue jean craftiness is welcomed too.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Night Night, Sleep Tight, don't let the ....

 ...Yup. The bedbug phobia has come to the Barn of Opportunity.  We saw it coming. This scary guy has been warning us, dangling above the bin of clothes in the "gift shop" for a few weeks now. He's telling those of us who pick from the offerings in that bin to launder them and heat the items in the dryer for 20 minutes on high heat as soon as we get them home. As always, we take items from the Barn of Opportunity "at our own risk."  Now it's just in writing on the wall.  There is a lot of info on the web about bedbugs and it didn't take me long to find an article that addressed bed bugs and the thrift shoppers  like me. We are the ones who need to be warned.  Kathy Durgin-Leighton warned me as SOON as she heard about bedbug infestations in neighboring towns, since she knows I love to find clothing and fabric at the barn. Thanks, Kathy.

  I try very hard to NOT use my dryer, EVER, but if I must, I must. For I am not ready to give up the thrill of finding gems in the bin like this dress, which became my Shirley Partridge Halloween costume a few years ago.
  And as for the matching Size 10 gogo boots that magically appeared in the shoe bin that same October to complete the Halloween outfit? Those would have to have been put into a plastic bag and left in a freezer (or snowbank) for 2 weeks to kill any bugs lurking in those pointy toes. My kids found the costume frightening enough without bug infestation.

Besides the dangling mascot over the first floor clothes bin, visitors to the barn this week will notice the removal of the clothes storage bins on the second floor of the barn.  Bed bug prevention measures again. They may return, but for now it is safety first.  I appreciate the safety measures and the chance to both donate and take clothing.  I know I'll risk a lot to experience the joys of the barn. Today's joy? A hand-crocheted doily that had a small pink stain on it. As we speak I'm dying half of it pink and the other half green. Then who knows what I'll make out of it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Composters- stand up and be counted!

David Berry and the rest of the town's Solid Waste Committee are putting the finishing touches on the annual report of the town's recycling program and curbside pickup.  They want to make sure they have an accurate measure of who is composting materials at home.  To that end they ask that you stop by the town office or the barn and fill out a slip of paper that asks one simple question: Do you compost at home?
Too bad the paper is too small to go on in detail about how each of composts at home.  They would read things like "Well, outside I have three static piles and one active pile, and in the winter I focus on my vermiculture composting and have two rotating indoor bins for kitchen waste..."  I can hear my pre-teen saying "T.M.I., Mom, T.M.I."  So it's a simple yes, or no, I guess.  And for your trouble, you are entered into a drawing to win this beautiful composter from Brett Thompson, (The Worm Biz), and F.W.Horch.  Good luck. Drawing will be held on the spring equinox, March 20!  Ahhhh, spring....

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Welcome to the Barn of Opportunity.

I have been dancing around the idea of a blog for so long,  and finally settled on the theme that fuels my muse like no other: the Recycling Barn in my small town of Bowdoinham, Maine.  I go to the barn each week to recycle my mixed paper, my plastics (No. 1-7), my newsprint, Styrofoam and items that I am no longer in love with.  I launch these items and take other things home with me from the barn’s “Gift Shop” or put-and-take area.  For some of us, the "Gift Shop" is the heart and soul of the barn; Open shelving to put your once-loved-but now-not-so-much items, lots of room for books and 3 big bins for clothes, shoes and toys.On each visit to the barn, I try very hard to stick to the simple rule: Drop Off  More Than You Take Home.  Often the rule is broken with the simple justification that I will make something wonderful with what I have found.  In this blog I hope to chronicle that process; what some have called “upcycling” or “repurposing.”  I hope to share with my readers (will there be readers?) the joyous process of finding something discarded and giving it new life.  I am not alone in this quest.  My little village is chock full of people doing the same thing.  I will invite them to share their stuff, too. So there it is, my first post. I dedicate this post to Ramona (pictured above), who was working at the barn one particular day when I was ooohing or aaahhhing over some treasure I had found, overheard my joy and said "Kate, that's why we call this place 'The Barn of Opportunity'!" I hope you will enjoy my posts and join me in the great quest to reduce, reuse, and recycle.