The style of my office is eclectic and offbeat. I created a bench of sorts from storage boxes and wanted some cushions for the top that suited the style of the room (funky, rocky, edgy, everything U2 are not) but didn’t break the bank (because cushions of these sort can be crazily expensive).
At the same time I was trying to de-clutter my wardrobe as we headed from summer back to winter. There were a few tee-shirts with either great images or slogans that I didn’t want to throw out, but at the same time really could not be worn anymore.
The two problems led to a beautiful solution: upcycling the tee-shirts to make customised cushions.
Note: I was also updating my husband’s wardrobe who still doesn’t see the problem with wearing tee-shirts with holes in them. I don’t know why men’s tee-shirts are generally cooler than women’s but they just are. I spotted a few in his pile that he could live without and would make awesome cushions – finders, keepers (or more accurately: finders, cut-up-until-no-longer-wearable-as-tee-shirts, keepers)
For this project you will need
Sewing machine, thread, needles, scissors etc
Backing cloth – I upcycled an old sheet and used this
Cushion stuffing. I actually recycled a flat pillow I was going to throw out, but you can buy this in Hickeys or the like very cheaply.
Decide the size of cushion you would like. This will be dictated by the size of the tee-shirt you have; bigger the tee-shirt the bigger the cushion – that is why men’s tee-shirts are so useful. The measurements below are for a finished cushion about 45cm*40cm. I was going for an unfinished look, the beauty of which is that the is that the measurements do not have to be too exact here.
Cut out 3 squares about 45cm*40cm from you backing cloth. I had a piece of cloth that was 137cm*77cm, so I just cut this into six equal parts – waste not, want not. They ended up 47cm*40cm.
Cut out design from tee-shirt. This can be any size so long as it is less than about 40cm*35cm. This will leave enough room for the boarders.
Place the tee-shirt section between two backing sections. Pin in place
Sew around the boarder of the piece of the tee-shirt you want to be seen.
Cut out front facing backing cloth to reveal pattern (love this reveal moment!).
Take third backing square and sew a 1cm double hem around the edge. Don’t worry too much about being perfect – it is meant to look rough. Remember to leave a gap in the bottom corner to add stuffing.
Sales season has started, and, if like me your household budget dictates that you must wait for the Sales to update things like bed linen, then this is a time of rapidly fluctuating emotions.
The excitement of the potential finds as you make your way to the department store nice and early. You have probably being doing recon missions over the previous few weeks, so you know what they had in stock and what might potentially be in the Sale.
The moment of ecstasy when you find the bed sheet that you are looking for in the correct size and colour marked down to €5.
The moment of horror when you realise at there are no pillow cases to match.
You frantically search again, scanning all piles, looking under and behind stands where experienced savvy customers may have hidden gems until they get a chance to come in and purchase them. Hawk-eyed you look at what the other customers have in their hands in case one is holding the elusive treasure unbeknownst to themselves, and might choose to put it down at any stage, giving you a chance to swoop in. In vain you might even try and ask the staff, who look at you like this is your first tour of duty and say ‘everything we have is out’.
What do you do? It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, a crossroads in your story:
Do you leave the bargain sheets behind, because really they are useless without matching pillow cases?
Do you buy the sheets and then search every other branch of the shop for the coveted cases, which takes HOURS and you may not even find them?
Or do you simply buy an extra sheet and make your own pillow cases at some point?
If you chose door number three then here are some helpful instructions:
You will need:
Sewing machine, thread, needles, scissors etc
Sheet from which pillow cases will be made.
In terms of bang-for-your-buck the Single Flat Sheet is the best choice of sheet, because it is usually the cheapest of the set and at 260cm*180cm if will give you 5 pillowcases. The Double and King Flat Sheet will only give 6 pillowcases, there is more waste material and they are usually more expensive than the Single.
Cut a rectangle 170cm*50cm
Hem the short sides top and bottom 0.5cm
On the right side of the fabric fold the top down 20cm and fold the bottom up 75cm. Pin in place. This is the shape of your pillowcase. Now turn inside out to begin sewing.
Hem 1cm down the length on either side. Double hem to add strength.
Let me stress that I am not a bully. I have never intentionally harassed or bullied anyone in my life. On top of that I have received my fair share of hassle for defending someone else by standing up to their bullies. However, I must be truthful and say from the start, that this is an article about a plan that was conceived and executed with the sole purpose of mocking something else; something that has never offended or hurt me in any way, but only because I saw a weakness and pounced. I’m not proud of the initial intention, but there we have it.
The victim was Hotpress Magazine. An innocent publication, of some standing nationally, which covers diverse and interesting topics in the genres of music and politics, and does so in a professional and comprehensive manner. So far so good. What could my problem possibly be?
It’s the name. The name is terrible. Now I know where they were going with it: Hotpress – hot of the press, new and cutting edge, dynamic. And I know how hard it is to come up with a good name for your work (see title of blog). But at the end of the day, it’s an Irish magazine for Irish people, and there is only one thing that Irish people associate with the word hotpress and it is not a Music and Politics Publication, it is the big boiler in your house that heats your water and warms your clothes. Nothing could be less rock’n’roll than a bloody big boiler. I’m sorry but that’s the harsh truth.
So in order to mock this in my own little way, I brought the two of them together- what if my hotpress (the boiler)released a self-titled publication for other hotpresses? What would the headlines be? What would be their specific area of interest? What would be breaking news or cutting edge?
The result: a hotpress door with aspirations of journalism.
Decoupage (and not décolletage which is a very different thing – still fun, but in a different way) is the act of gluing little bits of paper to objects with a glue that turns transparent when dry. I thought this would be an excellent way of making a door which looked a little like a pop magazine cover (and a little like a threatening ransom note – just so Hotpress Magazine know where they stand).
Paint & paintbrush for background colour
Varnish to finish
Space to lay a door down on the ground, and be able to leave it there for a few days
If you have to buy the magazines this could get very expensive – I had my friends and family collect them for a few months and very quickly I had more than enough.
The decoupage glue is really expensive – I used decopatch that cost me e7 for 70g (a tiny pot) but in saying that, I did the whole door for about half a pot, so the stuff really spreads.
It was the cost of the decopatch varnish that pushed me back to B&Q for ordinary varnish. I double checked on the back of the door that clear varnish meant clear – sometimes it can have a slightly yellow hue.
HOURS. Hours and hours and hours; the cutting of the letters, sticking them all on first with blue-tack and then with the glue – hours. I did not do this project start to finish in one sitting as you will read – most of it was done in spurts in front of the telly over a few months.
I started by taking down the door, being careful with hinges and screws as I would need these to put the door back up later.
I drew a rough outline of what I wanted to have on the door – this let me know what letters I would need from the magazines. Mimicking Hotpress Magazine radio ads I decided upon:
From Lovely Lacies to Skid Row: Underpants a gritty reality
Construction Underwear: How to build up your portfolio
Arranged at Birth: Twin Sets on Predeterminism, Partners and Parents
Custodians of the Fun Bags: Bras tell an uplifting tale of life up top
Disappeared Partners: Socks tell a harrowing tale of separation, abandonment and loss
Life in the Barracks: Toilet paper on waiting for deployment to live combat
High Impact: the rise and fall of cheap suspenders
Power behind the throne: Hot Water Tank tells of life in the system
Cleaning up their act: Towelling in today’s political theatre
Airing their laundry in a half-way house: hoodies try to change perceptions
Fresh Starts & Scraping the Slate Clean: Hot pants dish the dirt on festival season
I also needed a political message. The hotpress with its principle role in laundry and household chores is a female dominated space. Despite this being an era where gender roles are often mingled and, as blur would say, boys can be girls and girls can be boys, 80% of household chores are still carried out by women. What could best represent my discomfort and yet resigned acceptance of this fact? A modern version of a Sheela-Na-Gig, that’s what.
Sheela-Na-Gigs are found in Ireland in prominent positions on Medieval Churches and Castles. In a society which is often assumed (perhaps incorrectly) to have been male dominated, these crude carvings of women exposing their vulva remind us that real power is often wielded invisibly. Society is made up of two halves, there have always been two genders, and while outward appearances can suggest the dominance of one, what goes on behind closed doors (or in this case behind 3ft thick stone walls) can reveal a very different reality.
So to represent this I chose a collection of women who in their own way represent this idea of unexpected power.
Jackie Onassis – often assumed to be the weak-willed wife of a cheating president, however this woman continues to have an influence on the decorum of women in the media today
Alien Queen – self-explanatory, while representing the outside influences of powerful women on Irish society
Super Woman – again, in a time when women were told to ‘shut-up and sit down’ this crime busting female was out there doing the business (albeit in scantly underwear)
Queen Elizabeth – despite her role as a mere figure head, she has resounding influence in the society which support her
Sluts – like it or not, these manipulative be-atches can wield incredible power in certain communities
Maggie T – like her or hate her, she was the first and so far only female Prime Minster. You have to respect that.
Kate Middleton – again often seen as the quiet, dutiful wife, but while she hold the baby, she holds the King. I think there is more than meets the eye here.
Mummified Cleopatra – again, a power house in her day, whose legend is still with us
Once I realised how big a space a door really is in decoupage terms, I decided to paint it a background colour to fill in some space and to allow the decoupage really stand out. I choose a new-fangled paint I found on one of my many trips around B&Q that was silver and was meant to look like it was hammered when dry – very rock and roll I thought. Unfortunately it just dries silver. Yes if you look really, really hard you can see the hammered impression, but not if you just walk by the door. But still I liked the silver colour so it stayed.
I started cutting out letters and pictures from the magazines
I stuck them all in place using blue tack, so I could get an impression of how everything looked before committing to it with glue
Put back up the door to live with the draft version for a few days to make sure I liked it.
Days went by, and then weeks. We had a good few visitors over to the house and all commented that while it looked great (what else were they going to say with me standing right there) they found it hard to read. I took the feedback on board and had a little think. I realised that it would be easier to read if there was a break between the different headlines.
I started to move the letters down to give the headlines the break.
Once finished I lived with this for a few days, which again turned into months, then I decided that it was time to tackle the glue.While the vast majority of images and letters were from glossy magazines, some of them were from newspapers and some were laser-ink printed – I was not entirely sure if these would run when I applied the glue …. Only one way to find out.. They were fine (breath sigh of relief).
10. And finally I varnished to seal it all in for years to come.
If you are in rented accommodation please do check in with your landlord before carrying out any work like this.
So the weather this spring was not entirely conducive to gardening. There were one or two days of sunshine where I dutifully weeded the bricked patio area only for the weeds to come back in full force when the rain came. Weeding is a true Sisyphean task and standing by the window listening to suitably sombre music while watching the rain pour down I began to feel like this garden project was never going to see a result.
However the forecast for this last long weekend was promising so last Friday evening after work Dave and I made our way out to B&Q courtesy of Dave’s Mum, thank you Angela, and picked up two rolls of weed control mesh and four bags of bark chip. The bark chip was on special offer so we got four bags for €25 and the mesh was €7.40 a roll.
I wasn’t exactly sure what my plan for the garden was but I had some vague ideas and one of these was to give up on the idea of pretending that the collection of weeds, buttercups and thistles could ever be tamed into anything resembling grass. Even when we have trimmed this right back the stalks are too tough to make sitting on a blanket comfortable. As I want the garden to be a comfy space my idea was to get rid of the weeds and replace it with bark chip. I love idea of creating a fake woodland area and bark chip is cheap which fits in with my very low budget.
I was afraid of seeking out too much advice in case wiser heads would tell me this was a bad idea but I did run it by my Mum and her thinking was that as long as we dug down deep when we were turning over the sod we should be ok. This is a temporary solution as we may not have this house next year but if I owned this garden I would definitely put more planning in to the project.
Saturday morning dawned glorious so we were out early to start. We cleared out some rubbish from the garden, found the corpses of three old Christmas trees and again I cursed Dublin City Council for getting rid of the tree collection point that had been conveniently right around the corner from our house. I had a fork and Dave had the shovel so while I broke the surface and loosened things up he turned over the sods of earth and weeds. Let’s just say we were naïve about how much work this would take and by the time two thirds of the garden was turned over and evened out ready for the mesh and chips we were wrecked. Kneeling on the ground and spreading out the chips was almost too much for us.
When we were done for that day, collapsed too tired to move we each clutched a well- deserved beer ( thank all the gods for the ready availability for GF beer in my area) and surveyed our work.
We still have one third of the garden to deal with and Dave is trying to persuade me to leave a little wilderness area between the trees / giant overgrown shrubs at the back so I am trying to figure out a way to make that work. The next step will be a wee bit of planting, possibly in planters rather than making beds in the garden. It feels good to have made a start as now we are committed to seeing it through rather than leaving it moulder for another year.
We were recently followed by a blog called the Self-Sufficient Snail, and it got me thinking about self-sufficiency and what it means to me.
Like DeValera I consider self-sufficiency to be an admiral goal and something everyone should strive for. Now please do not misinterpret this statement. I am a happy and active member of the twenty-first century. I do not have survivalist tendencies; there is not a steel press in my kitchen ready for Armageddon with canned foods and long life expiry dates, I am not hoarding shot-guns to stave off a zombie attack and I am not secretly building a bunker that can withstand a nuclear attack. I more mean that I identify myself as a fiercely independent person, who relies on their own means and abilities and feels very controlled when others try to do for me what I am capable of doing for myself.
I think it is partly to do with the way I was raised. On the rare occasion that my Grandma or her sisters would read us a bedtime story, the plot usually developed an unusual subtext.
“and the fairy princess met her prince, who was equal to her in every way; just as pretty and clever and ambitious. And after an appropriate amount of time dating, the two moved into a beautiful castle, which both their names were on the deeds of because no marriage vows were to be taken until they were sure they could live happily together (divorce not being an option in those days). And although the prince was fabulously wealthy and happy to provide for the princess, the fairy princess kept up her little job and had her own bank account and contributed equally to the household. Then one day the prince asked her to marry him and be his queen and having already established equality in the relationship she agreed and they lived happily ever after.”
Most of it floated over the heads of me and my sisters as we drifted off to sleep thinking of all the pretty dresses the fairy princess must have, but these were not intended as fairy stories but cautionary tales from hard working women of the inner city who, although for the most part had very happy relationships themselves, had witnessed up close the devastating effect poisonous and abusive relationships could have on women who had no means to escape. They were not going to fall into the trap, and they were determined to do all they could to ensure the future generations of their line did not either.
Although much of their dating advice was largely ignored until we became teenagers, it instilled in us a determination to provide for ourselves, which was backed up by an expectation from our family that we would provide for ourselves. Although that is not to say we were cast adrift at 18. We were told when we got to college that we better get a job or else we wouldn’t have any money for new clothes or going out, and so we all got part time jobs. But in actual fact, I know I was bought coats and boots and jeans and slipped the odd £20 for a special night out, I was certainly not out there on my own as generations before me would have been at that age, but the principle remained strong; if I wanted something I went and got it myself.
It is that principle which I hope I still bring to my life today. Life is expensive and I have discovered I have costly tastes and aspirations, which I have to be creative to obtain. My wedding invitations are an example: is making the invitations yourself the cheapest way? No, sending out a Facebook invite or email from somewhere with free Wi-Fi is the cheapest way because it doesn’t cost you a penny, but I was certainly able to make much higher quality invites than I would have been able to purchase. So it’s not that I saved money, it’s that I brought my skills to the table and was therefore able to spend my money much more wisely.
The same stands for organic food, am I able to totter down to the supermarket and fill my basket to the brim with organic food? Well, yes, maybe, but I won’t be able to pay for them at the checkout. I am however able to get organic hens and feed them organically, I am able to plant seeds and wait for my crops to grow, and then I am able to take the money I save in these areas and buy better quality meats.
This for me is a form of self-sufficiency. Am I self-sufficient the way DeValera would have liked? No. If war came tomorrow could we survive on what food we make in the house? Absolutely not. But does that mean that I am not self-sufficient in the current context, in the environment of our present? I don’t believe that self-sufficiency necessarily means I must follow an isolationist policy. I know what I want, and I know how and where to get it. Yes, I strive to stand on my own two feet, but I also take advantage of all the tools at my disposal. It is not possible for me to interact with society in a normal and happy way if I try and run a farm in the middle of a suburban housing estate, but by doing the little bits that I can do (GIY, crafts and earning money) and taking advantage of all the tools at my disposal (a huge supermarket, quality butchers and craft suppliers), I can achieve roughly the same as what would have been the output of that farm, except I also get happy neighbours, less trouble with animal welfare and branded Kimberly biscuits, a reward in anyone’s book.
So GIYers and Home Crafters – what are your thoughts on self-sufficiency? Are you striving to grow and make all the food and clothing required by your family from your home as the Pioneer Women would have done before us? Or are do you feel your achievements are not compromised by nipping down to Tesco’s during the hungry patch?
During the summer months the late setting sun illuminates our guest room in such a beautiful manner I felt compelled to make a piece that capitalised on its beauty. The interplay between light, shadow and darkness at that time of the dwindling day is so relaxing and therapeutic. To create this interplay I knew I wanted pieces that would protrude from the wall, which would cast shadows back onto the wall.
I decide to take inspiration from the method used to display historical tapestries. Often pieces that survive are pinned in such an arrangement so to leave space for the parts that are missing. Sometimes the arrangement of these surviving pieces can actually be more interesting than the original piece.
Difficulty of Project:
Overall Cost of Project:
Minimal as this project mainly uses things that you have around the house
Duration of Project:
10+ hours (although I did it in short bursts)
Required for Project:
Stencil (you can make this yourself or for a short-cut, I like the ones on Etsy or Ebay, although your local DIY store probably has a selection as well),
Paint (I used old metal paint I had, but so long as it hardens when dry any paint will do and depending on the size of the stencil a small pot will do),
Canvas (or some stiff material),
Dressmakers pins (and hammer)
To start lay your material out on a flat surface and your stencil on top. Stick stencil to material with masking tape so it does not move.
Paint stencil to material. Remove Stencil. Allow paint to dry (I always leave things overnight, but follow the paint guidelines.)
Cut out stencil of the material. Look at the scraps as you do, keep any interesting shaped pieces.
Now we get to the interesting bit; putting it on the wall. You can if you like draw the stencil onto the wall to use as a guide, and then remove the pencil lines afterwards (or keep them depending on how it looks), but this sounded like way too much hard work for my liking, so I decided to wing it. I laid out all my pieces on the floor and made a pattern with them. I then pinned this pattern to the wall.
To pin the pieces, first put the dressmakers pin through the piece, or many pins depending on the size of the piece and how ridged you want the end result to look. I wanted a slightly aged organic look (and I’m a bit lazy) so I used as few pins as possible. Then insert the pin into the wall. If I am honest I used a hammer to gently knock them in because those tiny pins were killing my thumb and a thimble was useless. The hammer sped up the job dramatically, just be careful to only hammer the pin in tiny bit – the aim is to have the piece of material stand proud of the wall. Repeat until all your pieces are on the wall.
Now lie back on the other side of the room and watch the setting sun illuminate your work.
Have you ever wished for a project which relied on the human tendency to get carried away with enthusiasm at the start but then rapidly lose interest? A project which takes a small bit of work to set up put pays huge dividends? A project which saves you money week-to-week, but then has an additional large saving at the end? Then I have the perfect project for you – start a compost bin (and there you were beginning to worry that I was about to pitch you a sub-prime loan investments with guaranteed rates of return).
Now bear with me, I know compost bins don’t sound glamorous but if you are going to look after your garden over a long period of time they are a real necessity – they provide a place to ditch all the green cut-offs and mowed grass, all your organic house hold waste (both of which mean you don’t need to add these to your domestic waste bins which saves money week to week) and after about 2 years (the length of time in which you will have lost interest and then returned to it) it provides nutrient-rich compost which you no longer need to buy at e8 a 50l bag. Plus it has the added bonus of being good to the environment.
Now there are a few myths about compost bins I would like to dispel from the start:
1. Compost bins smell – they don’t. If you use the right mix of ingredients there is no noticeable odour
2. Compost bins attract rats – wrong again. Rats don’t eat vegetation and as there is no meat waste in these compost bins there is nothing to attract any type of creature.
3. Compost bins are big and ugly – not the way I do them!
To start you need to decide how much commitment you are going to give this bin. Early on I decided very little, so little in fact that I didn’t bother to build it (which you can do very easily with some 4x4s or some old pallets) instead I went down to B&Q during a sale and picked one up. I choose a basic plastic model that was little more than 4 sides and a lid that set me back about e40-e50. (The actual one I choose is no longer available – but this is very similar except circular http://www.woodiesdiy.com/Product/ProPlus-Large-Compost-Bin-220-Litre/18407/4.4.6. I chose plastic over timber because the timber one was about e200).
You can get complicated two-bay or three-bay models which allows the different bays to be at different stages of readiness, and there is advice about accelerants and turning with a pitch fork – but to be honest, as a novice this all sounded a bit too much like hard work so I thought I’d master one-bay, let nature take its course and move up from there.
Next step is to pick a good spot in your garden. To work compost bins have to sit on soil – they rely on worms coming up through the ground to eat the rotting waste (lovely image). Once you have chosen a spot, it is a huge amount of work to move it (I say this from experience) so don’t rush and choose wisely – preferably a place that is not in the direct line of sight from a window, or right beside a seating area, but easy to reach from the back door (you will be making frequent trips with rubbish).
Next step, make pretty! Ok, so this step is not required but it is preferable if you can get the bin to blend into the scenery of the garden to stop it being an eye sore. Pop it under an arch with some hanging baskets, plant a few little trees or bushes around it (these can also be a good litmus test on how nutrient rich your compost is – if they flourish it is strong, but if they wilt there is something wrong), or like everything else that comes into my house – paint it! I did ours a colourful yellow on red with ‘Cathy Loves John’ on one side, and ‘John Loves Icecream’ on the other side.
Next step start filling it. I started ours off with the cuttings of the mowed grass and some soil from plant pots that I was empting and some tree leaves I raked up – a good mix to encourage the little wormies.
There is a very elaborate science around the composition of good compost. Some compost makers are like 5 star chefs – they use only the best ingredients, follow a strict process and could sell the stuff to the highest bidder. My compost is more like something you would make in Home Eco class – the ingredients were whatever you could find in the house that morning, the process is something you follow as often as you can remember the guidelines while chatting to mates, and the result is something you could only share with family and close friends. There are experts that will roll their eyes at the rules below, but this is what I do, and it works ok for me.
Rule One: You need a mix. It can’t be all green cuttings, or all leaves, or all household waste – you need a mix to keep the pH balanced. Add layers of soil if possible, so pots that you are empting at the end of the growing season, any beds that you are clearing. This helps to speed up the rotting process.
Rule Two: Most but not all household waste can go in. As a general rule – no meat cooked or raw, no table scraps with sauces left on them (I scrape everything into the sink, give it a rinse, what’s left goes in the compost), no dog waste or cat litter. Apart from that everything else that will rot can be fired in – ripped up cardboard, paper, hair, etc. If in doubt I always chuck it in – the very worst thing that happens is that it does not rot and you pick it out of your compost in two years’ time and throw it in the recycling bin then – no problem.
Controversial Rule Three: Weeds. I throw them in because I am lazy. To some people this would be a death sentence for your compost because these particularly strong plants can survive almost anything and will poison your compost, spreading their seeds wherever you use it. I see their point, but to be honest, something rotting for two years would want to be very strong to survive, and there are weeds in my garden anyway, an extra few won’t hurt it. I might be more sensitive to avoiding adding weeds if I were using the compost in an area that had very few weeds, and I never use this when germinating seeds, but I have used my compost in pots and noticed no weeds growing there, so I think it’s alright to chuck them in.
That’s it – project completed. Continue to fill the bin for the next two years, building it in to your household routine if possible. I bought a small bin for my kitchen that people usually use for bathrooms, because you don’t want this waste building up in your home, and when we wash the dishes the last thing to be done is to bring the little compost bin out to the big compost bin and give the little bin a rinse with water (but no detergents) to keep clean. Once the habit is established, like smoking, it will be hard to quit.
Then comes payday – some early summer or late spring day when you are doing a spot of planting, you go over to your compost bin, open the little door and there is some lovely free rich compost. That is unfortunately quite compacted. And will probably take a shovel to dig out, which is probably too big for the little door, so you end up losing your temper tipping the whole compost bin back a bit to make room for the shovelling, which then takes three grown adults to but back in place. But after that, the feeling is sweet.
Profit/Loss of the Project
e50 for 600l compost bin
Savings over 2 years
Brown Bin Collection
– €4.50 per collection bi-weekly for two years
Compost Purchasing Not taking place
– Average two bags per season @ €8 per 50l
Value of Compost Created
An average of all multi-purpose composts available shows that compost is roughly €1 per litre, and we have the potential to make 600l