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

A proud inheritance

As some of you will know, my Nan died recently. She was a great lady and it’s been a time for reflection and remembering here.

nan

Working through her belongings with my mum, we came across this:

sewingbox front

sewing box

It’s my Great Grandmother Clara’s sewing box, which was made by my Great Grandfather Phineus – he’s the P L Griffiths on the front. It’s a physical reminder of how crafting goes back through my family, as it does with many of us.

When I was small, my Nan and Granddad inspired me to create things myself. That approval and confidence was a big part of how I turned out. I found several paintings, a woven picture that Nan had kept where different coloured wools made up a Cumbrian landscape … and of course, the Rice-Krispie-box man still there since I made it at nursery!

There were all the reminders of her crafts too, Nan was an amazing knitter (my sister has picked up that baton, I still can’t knit…), making clothes, intricate dolls and countless charity squares. We found plenty of her embroidery kits too – table linens with flower patterns to embroider. There were so many photos of her in productions where she’d made the costumes too.

embroideries

The funeral was a chance to see my Granddad’s side of the family too. Visits to my Great Auntie Doris and Great Uncle Cyril were such an inspiration to me when I was small. Their house was filled with a huge variety of creative achievements from Welsh love spoons to elaborate embroidery panels. It was everywhere I looked and I’d come away with grandios plans that didn’t quite work out. I still have the doll Doris made me, with a delicate hand stitched face, woollen auburn hair, calico skin and hand made clothes, down to her suede shoes.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Some people may be better at these things than others, but my Nan taught me to have the patience to keep practicing, getting better and making my crafts with love and care. That’s a proud inheritance. Without her inspiration, I might not have had the guts to think I could be good enough. And so I now have this beautiful coloured sewing box. I can’t think of a better way to spur me on to do well than to have that heritage by my side as I create.

Christmas? Sorted.

It’s a tricky time of year. I’m out trying to find that perfect present for people I love who don’t really need anything and I don’t have a whole lot of time to look.
But never fear, for I’ve spent the last few months designing presents that can help – when a smelly candle or a pair of socks just won’t cut the mustard.
In the spirit of being both ‘use’ and ‘ornament’ here’s my Christmas solutions…

Something to buy for a couple that they’ll both like


Think of these aprons as ‘tips for a harmonious christmas’ and see if you can work out which half of the couple would wear each one… Unlike many presents for couples, these are just as fun for men and women and, as well as being amusing, they’re also practical in washable calico with a soft woven material around the neck. Tick a couple you love off your list in one present. *contented sigh*

Something for a kid that isn’t cheap plastic and inexplicably over £50


Monster ponchos are as much dressing up box as they are practical warm outfit. Unlike a sweatshirt, you don’t need to know the child’s exact size and they will last a good while because ponchos still fit as they grow and, in the words of a four year old customer, they’re “AWESOME!” Neither made out of plastic nor by child workers, this is a wholesome and monsterous solution to buying for kids.

Something glamorous and on trend that won’t break the bank


Coat collars are next year’s big thing, they are just starting to appear in the high street but imo none are as varied or as deliciously strokable as my range. The collars are all practical, warm and make any winter coat look glam again and they only cost the same as a boring snoring scarf. What’s not to love?

Something really luxurious for the home


I’ve worked on my ash hedgerow and alium cushion designs for a while to get them just right. With the rich chocolate paint against the pale natural cotton, I think I’ve got it. Beautiful enough to change the look of a sofa or bedroom and in tones that will go with any decor your lucky recipient may have. Treat them to something imaginative that they can’t get anywhere else.

T-shirts with something funny on


I have the perfect present: a t-shirt with “[something funny]” written on it, the ultimate and rather meta funny t-shirt, proving that crafts don’t have to be girly.

For new parents


‘Baby says no’ is the product that makes more people laugh than anything else I’ve done. If you want to celebrate a new arrival and show you understand, you can’t do better than this cheeky little outift.

Something totally different


As far as I know, I’m the only person making watercolour t-shirts. Each one is unique as I fabric paint them freehand just like a watercolour and then let them dry. Customers have called them ‘uplifting’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘special’. A local gallery called them ‘a piece of artwork you can take with you’. They’ve appealed to all ages as we can’t help being cheered up by a sunrise. Maybe this will solve that problem of the person who has everything, because unless they were at Saltaire Festival, they don’t have one of these!

Commissions…

There’s still time if you have a present idea but can’t find it anywhere, I love new challenges and I’ll always put a design to you first so you can see if you like it before you buy… so if you have a neice obsessed with owls or a brother who loves something obscure, I’m here to share your pain and try to help ;-)

A reward for you for being so blinking lovely to your family


Add a new heirloom to your christmas box with one of my garlands, the length adjusts so that they can be hung across a fire place, doorway or feature wall. Matching tree decorations coordinate for treats you can enjoy year after year.
If you want to mark this year, let me know and I can also personalise my christmas decorations with the name of an occasion or a child’s name and the year.

Good luck out there, it’s tough, but I think that designing for both use and ornament creates presents that make your family smile on the day and continue to be used well past New Year xx

Lightwater Valley (and the bustle!)

There were so many nice people at Lightwater Valley, the staff were all lovely and we were very lucky to be surrounded by friendly stall holders. Here’s some pictures of the stand and me in the Victorian costume [massive thanks to Lynsey for that x].
We realised when we got back that I hadn’t got any photos of my other half in his spectacular top hat and cravat :-( Sorry to everyone who wanted to see that :-)

There and back again: adventures with monsters

Making monster hoodies has been quite a journey. If you liked the idea, have a  look at what happened next…

I wanted to see if there was any interest, because they would take a while to make and, boy, there was interest! That was really heartening.

I didn’t want to squander that cheer by making something that didn’t work for young kids though. The resounding answer from parents on Facebook was to make it a zip up hoodie, not buttoned, so that’s what was needed.

Then I looked at what other people have done so I can make mine special. In order to keep things simple, the few hoodies I could find lacked detail and colour. Using my fabric painting would definitely add something new.

So what does monster skin look like? It makes for an interesting Google images search. There are snakes, lizards, crocodiles, imagined dinosaurs and after a lot of ‘research’ (or some might say ‘looking at pictures’) I decided that mottling that had a hint of scales would be most monsterous.

I made samples: first I tried to see what the paints could do worked wet. I think it’s pretty gruesome, like a scale with monster hairs – maybe one for gross-out teens but it looked too grim for my littlest monsters.

 

So I tried a more mottled look, using different sized dots in hand mixed colours as a monster tummy and I reckon this looks a lot cuter!

 

The spines work well and I’d used them before, but again I wanted to bring them alive with colour. Some wax based fabric crayons worked really well to add some orange and lime lowlights, with gold lifting the points and adding some spiny ridging.

I don’t usually get orders before I find out how practical a project is! I use dress patterns but hadn’t used sweatshirt fabric before… then unfortunately the pattern company was late delivering the patterns so I couldn’t start right away.

I set off anyway, using a poncho idea to start without a pattern. I had to use actual geometry to get from the typical measurements for young kids to how big the poncho should be… “Hey kids, maths is useful” ;-)

Here’s the first poncho, I really like it. There are poppers to make optional ‘sleeves’ when you’re outside, a warm hood, spines without stuffing so that you can relax back in them. It’s as much dressing-up box as it is a practical coat. Without anything to go on, the shaping around the neck isn’t perfect, but in future ponchos, I can use my patterns to shape it just right.

 

When the patterns arrived I spent a lot of time trying them out and seeing how long it would take. I’ve decided after much hair pulling that although I can make a good quality garment, it takes soooo long that it makes the hoodies unaffordable. I may get faster next year, or it may just take that long, but my next step was a deep breath and going online…

The bad news is that this has been a longer journey than I planned :-( That’s one of those learning experiences.

But the good news is that I can source good quality hoodies, add the spines, horns, teeth, tails etc requested by my monster-lovin’ customers and get them out in the next two weeks.

These monsters have been a bit, well, monsterous. But that’s the way it is when you’re creating something new and now I know what I’m doing they’re really fun to make! Mixing painting and making in new ways.

So, the future: I’m going to make a batch of ponchos for the craft fairs – they make great gifts because you don’t need to be exact on the size and kids can wear them as they grow (from full length to cape as they grow). I’ll offer hoodies in the Etsy shop and only make them to order. I’ve got monster throws on order, an idea for a monster mitten and I may try monster bags too…

Halloweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!

Pumpkin carved with use or ornament logo

Nope, not Photoshop. A seriously misspent evening and some lino cutters. Astonishingly there were no injuries! Happy Halloween crafty folk x

Glimpsing the bigger picture

When I launched, I said that the Arts and Crafts movement inspired me because they’d been bold enough to think that hand making good designs could change society in small ways.

Maybe because I included something about society in setting up Use or Ornament, maybe because people are starting to talk about it anyway… I’ve found myself having conversations with people about the bigger picture: the impact of our choices in spending the money we have.

This conversation is far older than Use or Ornament: tescopoly, clone towns, ‘not on the high street’ and indeed Etsy itself, all trying to gather people who want a different way of using their money.

But the most revealing thing, and I’ve done it myself, is working out how much of your money goes to giant corporations and how much to independent businesses by scanning through your bank account statement.

I was shocked.  I had real reservations about the practices that these corporations engaged in, whether it was abuses of foreign workers, environmental damage, tax avoidance… we all hear the stories. Yet at the end of each month, I’d given them all my money. I’m trying to change that.

Most of us need to budget but where your budget goes is up to you. I’m excessively proud of a friend of mine who’s gone independent for Christmas – we all buy presents and you get to decide who gets that money.

Our current system is set up to make it easy to give the big corporations our money. So for anyone who looks at what they really spend each month and aims to shift it just slightly, that is more money moving round our local economies.

When people buy from me, some say it was a conscious decision to spend differently. It’s not just my business, all around us are people with skills and a good idea, ready to know you better.

Behind every new business are great neighbours!

All my neighbours have been wonderful while I start up this business. They’ve offered support, great ideas and new custom along the way.

At the Saltaire Festival recently, it was even my neighbours who looked after the stand so I could nip to the loo! I know not everyone is so lucky so I want them to know that I appreciate it.

Yesterday our neighbours’ child Daniel made a great model for my new Halloween design, and thanks to his dad for the gorgeous photos! Have a look at the fun he had with it…

How is it clay if it’s silver?

Silver clay was something I’d never heard of until I started looking at what new crafts I could learn. I found a book on silver clay in my local bookshop and was intrigued.

It is a relatively new invention, taking incredibly finely powdered recycled silver and mixing it with water and a clay binder. It means you can treat it like a clay and then, when dried it loses the water and when fired it loses the binder, leaving behind pure silver. It is purer than normal stirling silver, which has to be ‘cut’ with other metals to make it workable.

It is a very tricky and delicate product to work with though, partly because you are making small intricate things and partly because it’s so brittle until you fire it. A piece needs shaping, sanding, neatening, joining, polishing and some connector added like a bale or ring before it is fired. After firing, it is brushed, polished through seven grades of papers and burnished until it has a suitable shine and finish.

But the things you can do with it! From the simplest project where you mark some clay with a pattern and cut it out, through to lockets, boxes and moving jewellery… all turn out this very pleasing mixture of a familiar silver shine yet more intricacy than we are used to from silver.

Silver seed pod pendant

As a crafter, I find it hard to beat the sense of achievement I get seeing something inherently precious emerge from my work. And as someone still getting used to the medium, it’s hard to match the stress of working delicately and consistently enough to meet the demands of the delicate clay!

My plans have slowed a bit because prices of silver are rising. But I still want to continue exploring natural forms, refining my designs by gathering lots of inspirational objects whenever I’m out: sea shells, seed pods, acorns, twigs, flowers and leaves. I then experiment with them in polymer clay to see how they could be used. The ones that get made in silver look like they should always have been jewellery. I can’t explain it better, they look right.

At the Saltaire Festival

All this weekend I’ll be at the Saltaire Festival.

I love this festival, it’s huge, great fun, there’s food… so it was one of my must-haves to be involved when I set up Use or Ornament. Did I mention food? Mmm. I may be coming home with several stinky French cheeses if this year is anything like previous years.

I’ll be part of the craft fair on the main street just up from Victoria Hall. I’m making plenty of Shipley clock tower t-shirts (in men’s and women’s sizes). They’re causing a small stir on the Etsy shop stats thanks to some kind local blogging and facebook sharing – thanks all! There’ll also be some other goodies using the clock tower design and many more of the delicious new range of coat collars.

PS… Helpful crafters tip this week: the label isn’t kidding when it says that you need a well ventilated area for spray mount, I had to have a little lie down this arvo just because I forgot the open the windows. Let’s only make that mistake once or I won’t have enough brain cells to think up the next range! The pitfalls of hand printing  :-)