Archive for August 2013

Q & A: Shoe clips

Are you new around here?
Shoe clips are new this summer. They’re my replacement for the popular embellished shoes I made last year. I think that they’re more useful as you can wear them on any of your shoes and it makes the most of the shoes you already own.

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You know, I’ve managed pretty well without shoe clips so far…
Me too… but I’ve realised something: my shopping habit is strongest when there’s some reason to dress up. A party, a wedding, a night out… If I can make my own shoes more fabulous, it helps me resist buying a new pair. That’s good for storage at home, it’s cheaper and much greener than endlessly buying more shoes.
I also think that fabulous shoes tend not to be that comfortable, but with a shoe clip you can glam up your most comfy shoes – ballet pumps, flats, flip flops, wedges or heels.

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Is this a frill too far?
A lot of occasion shoes are already embellished with a pattern, beads or a bow. Your shoes are a blank canvas and they have that brilliant thing where they still fit whatever size you are, which is why glamorous shoes always cheer us up.

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Ok, but I’m not wearing something that rubs…
No way, scout’s honour, I’ve tested them myself. The findings I use have also been used in shoe clips for ages by other makers. They’re very smooth jewellery quality metal (nickel and lead free) so there shouldn’t be any reaction even if you wear them with bare feet. Nevertheless, if anyone didn’t get on with their clips, you can rely on a full refund for any undamaged pair.

Shoe clip blog2

There’s this outfit I want to match…
I’ve got designs in my shop to meet most of our needs, clips that go with posh frocks, denim jeans, or black trousers. If you fancy a colour match or something special – like a coordinated set for a group of bridesmaids – get in touch, I’ll source fabric, check it with you and make up just what you need.

I’ve added shoe clips to my range because I think they’re a brilliant way to stretch the wardrobe you already own, to rock what you’ve got. I’m hoping that even if it’s a new idea, you’ll start to wonder about just how fabulous those shoes at the bottom of your wardrobe could be, next time you go out.

Shoe clip blog1

With thanks to the old worn out shoes from the bottom of my wardrobe, that agreed to be glammed up for the occasion.

A button is born

One of my collections is designed to make the most of our existing wardrobes: upcycled clothes, shoe clips (of which more later), fat quarters and buttons make up the collection. There’s nothing like a new set of buttons for giving life to clothes and this is the story of my how my stoneware buttons come to be.

I’m very lucky to have access to the pottery and kiln at Hive in Shipley. A community kiln is greener – their kiln only goes on when there is enough clay to fill it and all the unused clay gets recycled. It’s also social as there are several experienced potters who use the drop in too. I love making buttons… I love how experimental buttons can be and also the meditative precision needed to smooth the edges, create neat holes and finish them properly.
Yesterday, on my walk down to Hive, I paused to collect kerbside plants as I spotted them.

A collection of wild plants

(They are all very common, but even so I only picked very small amounts from big groups so as not to interfere with their growth and return next year.)

My buttons start as croxton clay so that they can be fired at the higher stoneware temperature – this makes them stronger than earthernware. It’s rolled to a consistent thickness by using wooden guides on either side. Cutting strips, I can cut squares that either become square buttons, or form the basis for cutting circular buttons.

Button blog2

With the batch I created yesterday, I wanted to use the plants as a texture and pattern for the buttons – a traditional technique with gorgeous results. This (slightly blurry, sorry) image is of the Groundsel being gently pressed into a round button:

Button blog3

Here are the first few buttons, using buttercup, shepherd’s purse and groundsel – they still need some work to smooth the edges and don’t have holes yet. The clay takes the print best when wet, but then I have to wait until it’s dried enough to create neat button holes.

Button blog4

This is the full collection waiting to dry enough to put the holes in. The maple leaves look great as statement buttons for a shawl or jacket, but took rather a long time to cut out neatly! I can’t wait until I can put a pale green glaze over them. The groundsel were my favourite for the beauty of the marks they made so I made two sets… and a larger brooch front.

Button blog5

Making holes is a five stage process. To create a neat finish you make an initial hole, slice off the excess clay with a kidney from the back and then remove any loose clay at the front. So that your thread doesn’t get stressed once you’ve sewn it on, I push a paintbrush into the hole for a sloping edge and then neaten it again.

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The previous batch is waiting to be bisque fired (the first firing) and with some of these buttons, I used underglazes for some really strong and vibrant colours. I’ll put a transparent glaze over the top when they are stone fired.

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Finally, here are my first two batches. The ones at the bottom have been glazed and refired already. The white ones at the top are waiting for me to glaze them. I used a vintage lace on some of the second batch, which I’m going to highlight in dark blue and cover the rest of the buttons in white.

Button blog8

The only drawback to a community kiln is that I can’t control when the firings will happen. So while I’ll definitely be taking my first batch to Brighton at the end of the month, the other batches may not be available until Saltaire festival. Whether you’re making do, making new clothes or just can’t resist lovely shiny things, I hope you’ll find good uses for these buttons.

A Year in Life Class

I don’t sell my life drawings, but I love doing it because it keeps my eye sharp and my pencil moving: it makes sure I’m always drawing and observing. Obviously, there’s some nudity involved so look away now if you don’t want to see it. Here are a few examples of what I’ve done this year and a couple of my favourites at the end from the olden days…

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From previous life classes:

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Eco things and ethical decisions

I’m aware that it’s very easy to say “I’m trying to be green and ethical” without giving you any actually useful or reassuring information, so this is a blog on what it means in practice. It’s a bit long, so don’t feel obliged, it’s here if you want to know more.

There was a great blog a couple of years back about how as crafters we can accidentally offer a fig leaf to the unfair big business practices that made people want to buy from us in the first place.
I was very wary of this when I set up and have become ever more wary as I learn about how cotton is grown, fabrics produced and metals mined.
As I always emphasise, I think feeling guilty is pointless and wastes time: we live in this world, it’s hard to avoid exploitation and we should pat ourselves on the back every time we find an alternative. Exploitation is a quick way to make a profit and it works because us customers don’t meet the people being exploited. Anything we do that challenges that set up is for the good.
As a small business, there are some things I can do easily, some things I can work towards and some difficult decisions. Buying organic t-shirts that come with an independently inspected guarantee on working standards was one of the easiest decisions I had to make. Great product, still affordable, job done.

Fabrics

Working with fabrics has meant a variety of solutions because I don’t have the buying power to order bespoke fabric. Organic Fairtrade fabric is the best solution ethically, because it supports that supply chain and enables them to grow, but recycled fabrics are a good back up as they reduce waste, make sure the original production effort is fully used and don’t need transporting across the world:
• I’m sourcing organic Fairtrade fabrics for my larger pieces where people can pay enough to cover the cost
• I’m investing in quilt wadding made from recycled plastic bottles (amazingly, just as soft as the ordinary sort), although it’s a lot more expensive
• For my other projects, I use offcuts, with an assurance from my supplier that they are genuinely post-commercial use – fabrics that have been used by the fashion industry but are left over and would otherwise be thrown into landfill. Some of my best fabrics come from this source and I’m lucky to have a great supplier in “The Shuttle”.
• I don’t waste fabric either: smaller pieces become smaller items and the tiny remnants become stuffing
• I recycle clothing and homewares to create new fabrics for my products: if you have some of my denim or jersey appliqué – I wore that once!
• My ribbons and findings are usually offcuts or recycled but occasionally I have to use new if I can’t find what I need.
Still to go are solutions to cushion stuffings – the recycled bottle option doesn’t seem to be available. I’ve tried using shredded jersey but it looks lumpy and is denser than stuffing. But, I’ll keep looking and trying different things.

Metals

The metal I use on my jewellery is recycled. Having been used once, it’s daft not to reuse it and it means that there’s no need for further pollution and hardship in mining more.
I use aluminium from drinks cans and from the printing industry – that’s been reused twice as I get reused offcuts from a local artist! This is the greenest of my metals as it hasn’t been processed after its first use: it’s just directly reused and then hand cut and made with cold connections needing no power or heat to create.
For my copper and silver jewellery I buy recycled bullion from a supplier in London, this comes as sheets and wires and is still hand cut but needs heating and soldering to create jewellery so it is a little more energy intensive. Occasionally I use fine silver clay, which is all recycled too and also needs heat to finish it.
Still to find is a source of recycled bullion findings – e.g. earring clips, necklace fasteners and so on. So some I can make for myself and others I have to buy new.

Packaging and marketing

One of my compromises has been the plastic covers for my t-shirts. There isn’t a green alternative that has the same performance available yet and I’m not yet big enough to commission from one of the innovative bio-plastics companies (I’ve rung them, they have large minimum orders!). So I make the stiffening from recycled magazines so that the plastic is the only compromise. Protecting t-shirts in plastic has also reduced my energy consumption in re-washing and ironing t-shirts after each fair.
When I post out packages I use as much recycled packing material as possible, which I’m aware is not as pretty, but it’s important to me to keep the values going here too.
My website is hosted by EcoWebHosting, who are UK based and plant trees to “offset” their carbon use. ecowebhosting.co.uk/ecocredentials

Working practices

The biggest element here is my range of products that make use of things that have already been made – good clothing made better, shoe clips rather than new shoes, vintage linens into cushions and quilts and so on, but how I make things is important too.
I’m used to minimising my energy use at home, being a thrifty soul at the best of times, but I’m particularly aware of the power hungry elements of my work and make efforts not to leave them running longer than necessary… my iron, my kettle and my computer. The sewing machine actually uses very little energy – about the same as having the radio on (which I usually do).
My tools such as jewellery tools and screenprinting equipment are just standard. No one is making green alternatives, but I’ll buy second hand where I can. My inks and paints are all water based and marked “eco” and non-toxic: Dylon and Permaset Aqua.
I’ve moved from painted stencils to screen printing partly to reduce my use of spray mount, which is a solvent. The paper I use for leaflets and printing is recycled. Working at home means I only use my car occasionally.

So eco and ethical have different meanings but they often overlap. Eco is minimising my impact on energy use, pollution and biodiversity. Ethical is minimising any negative impact on other people. By combining them in the way I source, make, package and sell my work, I plan to offer a real alternative to the big guys.

As the Cafedirect ad said it recently: “while big is busy growing bigger… small is growing better”. I’m better now than I was when I first set up and as I continue there’ll be more opportunities and more options to learn. I’m finding that a lot of ethical companies were set up a few years ago and are closing down. By keeping up the momentum on change, I want to help fair trading companies that put their neck on the line to find customers.
If you want to know more or have ideas on being green and ethical, do use the comments box below and get in touch x