Thursday, 25 June 2009

It’s Recycle Week – June 22nd – June 28th 2009

This week is National Recycle Week in the UK and it’s your chance to take a pledge online to change your recycling habits. It is an annual event to kick-start new habits that can help us all to all waste less and recycle more.

This year's theme for Recycle Week is 'let's waste less...' encouraging all of us to try something new in an effort to go greener and cut back on the waste we all produce. From recycling more of everyday items like glass and plastic bottles to reusing carrier bags or composting at home, there are lots of opportunities to promote how we can all reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill.

Make it and Mend it are delighted that the UK are doing so much to embrace recycling, but we want to see this go further. This week we want to ask you do a little lateral thinking before you make your pledge. What can you do that will save you having to send an item for recycling?

WRAP outline three primary targets
• Sending less to landfill
• Reducing carbon emissions
• Increasing economic impact

Which are all good ideas, but we feel that the current recycling guidelines are missing a trick. As it stands suggest that we do the following:
• Donate left-over paint to your local charity. To find your nearest scheme visit
• “Your rubbish is another person’s treasure!” - Contact your local Furniture Re-use Network - they distribute unwanted furniture and household goods to those in need. Or advertise your old furniture using websites like or /
• Avoid food waste - About one third of the food we buy gets thrown away and most of this could have been eaten. To find out useful tips on the storage of food, tantalising recipes and advice on portioning, visit

All these are great points and we wholeheartedly support them as a last resort, but they are about giving your waste to other people to deal with. Where is the encouragement to think twice before you discard something that is old, tired or broken?

This week Make it and Mend it asks you to think when you are making your pledges about how you can reuse these items before you discard them. Before you throw anything away ask yourself some basic questions:
  • Would a coat of paint liven it up and give it a new lease of life?
  • Could you find a spare part online to fix that broken item?
  • Could that item have a new life as something different?
  • Would a set of new buttons or a stitch here and there give life to an old garment?
  • Could I use it in the garden?
Here's an example from Clare F. A couple of weeks ago she had to dispose of an ugly old reproduction pine side table of her mother's. Instead of getting rid of it, she sanded it, primed it and and gave it a couple of coats of paint, using a spare mini sample can that she had left from painting her front door. Now it has a new lease of life as a potting table in the garden.

So when you are throwing things out, spend a few minutes thinking about all the possible alternative uses it might have and see if you can prolong the life of your possessions.

Pledge now to bring back the old style skills that we are rapidly losing and a return to the Make it and Mend it culture. To make your pledge go to Recycle Now

Related Links
The following links will give you more information and inspiration about ways to reuse and recycle your unwanted items:

Recycled Fashion - from vintage fashion to revamping your wardrobe you'll find loads of inspiration here:
Refashion, defashion, upfashion, downfashion - there's no limits!
10 Ways to update your wardrobe without spending a fortune
Bags from old tyres and Debenhams' suit made from plastic bottles
Checking out the Vintage Fashion Fair
Shoes made from London Underground seats
Charity fashion show of restyled clothes
Recycled dress for breast cancer
How to knit with recycled plastic carrier bags
Charity shop clothes on the Oscar's red carpet
Hairy legwarmers made from an old jacket

Ideas and tips - ways to make new things out of old from beds to plastic bags:
Weird and wonderful green plant food

Skip surfing for beginners
Fabulous candle holders from old plastic planters
Rescuing wooden chairs
Turning fence posts into candle sticks
Lessons for our Mothers - Making sandals from old stockings
Get creative with your containers
Old beds into bowers - how to turn unwanted beds into fantastic garden furniture
Top 10 Ideas for Inspired Recycling at Home
How to make fused plastic out of old carrier bags
New life for old sofas
Re-using tin foil to clean your silver
Taking inspiration from the 3rd World

Creative inspiration - how artists and sculptors have used materials that might otherwise have been thrown away to create some fascinating new pieces:

Tim Gentry’s “Pleasure Spheres” and Paul Matosic’s “Landfill
Photography - seeing beauty in industrial waste
MEND - an exhibition in New York using recycled materials
Sculpture from living trees
Art from toilet rolls
Art from the floor-sweepings of China's factories
Sculpture from old shopping trolleys
The Knitted Brain
A Buddhist temple from old beer bottles

…And if all else fails and you really can’t salvage it

Advice on Recycling –

Recycling Nirvana
Top Tips from Which? magazine to ensure your recycling actually gets recycled
Third World Wisdom - what we can learn from others
Start a fixers' collective - a Brooklyn scheme sets a great example
Go to work on an egg - why eggs are highly useful materials for inspired recycling
Tips for sorting recycling
A new lexicon for recycling
Visit the new recycling centre in our store
Help charity by using Jumble Aid
Reduce landfill -try out Virtual Skips

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Bra recycling – ‘bumper crop’ expected

Brighton and Hove City Council is the latest of many UK local authorities to set up a bra recycling scheme. There will be 10 pink painted recycling banks across the city. The first one was launched on The Level in central Brighton last week.

Cityclean, the council’s waste, recycling and street cleansing service, and BCR Global, a national textile recycling company are backing the scheme.

The bras will be transported, along with other clothing, to developing countries including Africa, Pakistan and Eastern Europe, where they will be repaired (if necessary) and sold on, providing business opportunities as well as affordable clothing.

Every bra donated will earn money for local breast cancer charity The Pink Dolphin Appeal, which was first launched in 2003 to raise money for local breast care services. The new breast care unit was opened in Brighton last year.

Councillors from Brighton & Hove showed their support by donating the first batch of unwanted bras. Council environment director Jenny Rowlands said that women in the city were already ‘brilliant’ at recycling clothing through charity shops and the many textile banks around the city.
‘However, many never think of donating their bras. Now we have a great chance to put all that unwanted underwear to good use.’

We are urging women in the city to have a rummage, dig out and donate all their old bras. I’m sure they’ll find the experience really uplifting!”

Spokesperson for BCR Global, Lynne Timms said:
“Residents of Brighton & Hove have an excellent track record for recycling and, if the donations by councillors are anything to go by we’re expecting a bumper crop of bras.”

If there is not an inititative like this near you then don't worry, you can still donate your (washed) bras by posting them direct to BCR Global. There are full details of this on the Breast Talk website .

....and don't forget this week (June 22nd to 28th) is National Recycle Week. More on this to follow!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Weird and wonderful things to nourish your garden

We were having a bit of a "Twitter fest" the other day about the weird and wonderful things that people put on their gardens to feed their plants and it got me thinking about all those old wives' tales that we seem to be losing.

By calling them "old wives' tales" we seem to imbue them with an old world charm and slightly naïve theories. But the truth is, there is a lot of sense spoken by those 'old wives' and perhaps we should be thinking about going back to gardening basics and taking a few lessons from them.

Here are some great homemade fertilisers and fungicides that are ancestors used to swear by:

Coffee grounds It seems that a lot of people use coffee grounds for their plants, but why? The liquid Coffee that we drink is very acid, but the grounds are not. Grounds are great for nitrogen, or "green" source for compost.

Tea – Be it "builder's", green or lapsang souchong – tea is good for our plants. Apparently clematis love nothing better than a drink of cold tea. Putting tea leaves on your roses helps them produce healthier flowers.

Top Tip - keep a small spray bottle handy, filled with brewed tea (no sugar or milk). Use this to water your seedlings. It works like a charm. The baby plants love the tannic acid in the tea. It makes them strong and healthy too!
Eggshells are full of calcium. Placing a few crushed eggshells in the soil near your tomato plants will help prevent blossom-end rot. They can also be added to your compost bin as they contain lime which helps to reduce acidity and they can also be sprinkled around the bottom of plants of keep slugs and snails at bay.

Water from boiling eggs. When boiling eggs the calcium leeches out into the water. This makes a great feed for your plants

Banana skins
For beautiful roses unzip a banana. Bananas are full of potassium which roses love. For the best effect, put an old bananas including peel and all in a blender with water and pour this on the base of the rose bush. You will not believe how well this works.
If you don’t feel like emulsifying your bananas, or you only have the skins left over, you can still use them. Banana skin contains potash and phosphorus and is a great soil feed. Adding banana skins to the soil helps tomato and green pepper plants to thrive. Chop the skins and place several pieces into the hole before planting the seedlings and you’ll have strong trunks and stems on your plants. (Added bonus – they will also they also deter aphids)

Aspirin It appears that Aspirin is not just a wonder drug for humans, but also for plants. In scientific studies it was shown that when aspirin water was sprayed onto the seeds sown directly in the ground, there was 100 percent seed germination, compared to spotty germination in the other trial beds.

Martha McBurney, the master gardener in charge of the demonstration vegetable garden at the University of Rhode Island says that when plants are under stress they “naturally produce salicylic acid, but not fast enough and in sufficient quantities to really help them out in time. So the bugs get them, and diseases get them, and they show even more stress. But if you give them aspirin, it helps boost their immune system, a bit like feeding people Echinacea so they don't get a cold.”

To give your plants a dose of medicine add 1.5 (uncoated) aspirins to 2 gallons of water and spray the plants every 3 weeks. Martha also suggests that you could add 2 tablespoons of yucca extract to help the aspirin stick to the plants.

The down side of this drug approach is that it isn’t strictly speaking organic. Whilst Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is 'derived' from the white willow tree, Salix alba, the production of the drug affects its green status. However there are studies being conducted on plants using pure willow extracts to compared the effects to aspirin.

Also aspirin can be added to a vase of cut flower to keep the blooms fresh longer. Apparently the cutting of flowers is perceived by the plant as a wound, and so it stimulates the production of a substance that not only helps the plant fight off bugs, but also hastens aging or wilting, such as in the case of a cut flower.

Fish Heads. This has to be one of the weirder plant feeds, but one which makes a lot of sense. Fish are fully of allsorts of nutrients that plants love. However you do need to be careful how and when you use them because of potential smell etc.

Most commonly fish heads are buried in the garden near to the target plants sometime in the winter. Firstly dig a hole, put in fish head and then put crushed up aspirin in and mix.

White vinegar. Vinegar can be a bit of an organic wonder feed. It can be used to alter the ph of your soil. For plants that prefer a more acidic soil simply make up a mix of two tablespoonfuls of white vinegar to two pints of water and apply. The mineral-rich vinegar can also be used on species growing under glass by mixing one tablespoon with a gallon of water.

Vinegar is full of minerals that will feed your plants, but you really must be careful how apply it as you could kill your plant by mistake. The acid in the vinegar lowers the ph so much that the plant can no longer take up anything in the roots and they die. However this method is brilliant if you are looking for an organic weedkiller that is safe to use around children and animals.

Cinnamon. Other tips include spreading cinnamon around the base of peony plants to help prevent fungus growth. Or try putting some liquid soap and cinnamon in a spray bottle and use on plants as an organic bug repellent.

Ashes. Wood ash has a high alkaline content and trace amounts of calcium and potassium, which encourage blooms. For acidic soil, sprinkle the ashes in spring around alkaline-loving plants such as clematis, hydrangea, lilac, and roses (but avoid acid-lovers like rhododendrons, blueberries, and azaleas).

Nettles. Not only can nettles be eaten and drunk as a tea, but, by following these steps you can make a tea for you plants as well.
1. Chop down nettles.
2. Place in some netting/old tights to make them easier to handle. You can use the tights to pull the nettles out when the tea is brewed and chuck on your compost.
3. Place in container with a lid, I use an old dustbin. The lid is important as it prevents the mix being diluted and the awful smell escaping.
4. Weigh down the nettles and pour in water to cover them.
5. Leave to brew for about four weeks.
6. Dilute 1:10 and use on your plants.

Epsom Salts. Add Epsom salt as a foolproof feed for tomato plants. Add a tablespoon per foot of tomato plant and your plants will thank you by doubling in size.

Our thanks for some of these ideas go to some of our fellow Twitterers:

• Sarah Clive aka @elementalgrace
• Lindsay McCann aka @fluffywelshee
• Yvonne Becker – @Selena1505
• Chrisana Birdsall – @Craftychris
• @Home4allseasons
• @Zerofee
• Taphophile – @taphophile_au
• Emma JB*JB – @jb_jb

Thanks guys, keep those tips coming - and good gardening to all! (Hilary)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Would you scrap it or save it?

I've read several articles this week celebrating the success of the ‘cash for scrap’ scheme. Apparently more than 60,000 cars have been ordered since its start in late April. But these figures worry me because that means that there are 60,000 serviceable cars that have been sent for scrappage. What happens to them?

You would think that we would be in favour of this, anything to make your money go further and you get a greener car to boot. This offer sounds too good to miss. So why don’t I get it? Could someone please explain the sense in this to me?

I know I am not an economist and could possibly be totally missing the point, but this all seems to be counter-intuitive to me; it just doesn’t make sense. Why are we offering money to people to scrap a car that is still working - in order to buy a new one.

Most people that drive a car of this age are not in a position to buy a new car. Ok the government will put a thousand in the pot and the car manufacturers will put a thousand in the pot, so we will get £2,000 off the price of a new car. Please note that is a new car, not a car that will be new to you. We are talking brand new, and this is where the problem lies. Even with £2,000 off the price of a new car you will still have to find at the very least £3,000 to buy the car. £3,000 that most people can’t afford.

My son drives a car that is ancient; he drives it because that is all he can afford. He wouldn’t be able to find another £3,000 so he would have to borrow…and there we go again. Borrowing what we can’t afford is what got us into this mess in the first place.

And what happened to helping the environment and living a more sustainable life. Seems to be that when money is tight our ethics become somewhat shaky. Because if you think about it what are we doing to the environment by scrapping perfectly serviceable cars? I understand the argument that theoretically new cars are more environmentally friendly to run; however what is the environmental cost of taking serviceable cars away and crushing them up - and reusing them how?

We are not just looking at the cost to the environment between running an old car versus running a new car; the cost is bigger than that. We should be taking into account the cost of scrapping a working car as well, because I am sure you will find that running an older car is probably better in the long run.

What are the carbon emissions in manufacturing a new car against the carbon emissions of keeping an old car going efficiently? Why are the government not forcing the car industry to improve the efficiency of engines through tax breaks reducing the usage of petrol?

If the government really wanted to help us it should be offering that £2,000 to pay for keeping an older car roadworthy for longer, helping to mend and maintain it as greenly as possible, not throwing money at us to encourage us to keeping consuming and wasting perfectly good resources. More to the point the government should not be encouraging us to get loans to buy new cars. It should be focussing on getting the banks to lend on mortgages again and helping people to have a roof over their head.

I understand the argument for spending our way out of a recession, but unfortunately is it exactly that behaviour that got us into this mess.

More to the point we are just talking scrap, not even salvaging or reusing parts. The very term scrap indicates wasting.

I realise that mending cars will not mend the car industry, but there seems to be a conflict between shoring up an industry that allegedly harms the environment and encouraging people to buy cars that they don’t really need. I thought we were meant to be encouraging people to get out of their cars and back on to public transport. What could an injection of money do to our train services? We could probably create work for those being laid off from the car factories.

Is this not the contemporary conflict in a nutshell; throwing out the old to buy the new, which did not need to be made in the first place, to keep an economy going based on borrowing that is not needed. This is not sustainability on any level – it is waste for economic reasons and nothing more.

Calling all Knitters and would be knitters

Join Make it and Mend it's Twitter / Knitter fest and celebrate World Wide Knit in Public day!
Kick off Thursday 4.00pm (GMT)
Make it and Mend it are holding an Twitter/Knitter fest for anybody who is interested in knitting. It is a chance to come together and meet other like minded tweeters to share ideas and inspiration.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a complete novice, a passionate aficionado, or even a wool producer – all are welcome to join us for 2 hours of unadulterated knitting tweets.
What is WWKIP?
For those of you who may have missed the massed hoards of knitters down on the South Bank in London on Saturday. This weekend was World Wide Knit in Public Day (WWKIP).
Started in 2005 by Danielle Landes, WWKIP Day began as a way for knitters to come together and enjoy each other’s company. For many, knitting can be a very solitary experience and Landes decided to rectify this by encouraging people to grab their knitting, get out of their houses and go to a local event where people can meet other like minded people.

WWKiP Day is unique, in that it's the largest knitter-run event in the world. Each local event is put together by a volunteer or a group of volunteers. They each organize an event because they want to, not because they have to.

WWKIP is about showing the general public that ‘not only grannies knit!’. Knitting crosses all ages, classes, cultures and getting together to knit is also about sharing all that knowledge and inspiring each other.

This year the event runs over two weekends. Last weekend was the first and 20th/21st June is the second weekend. So you still have time to grab your needles and join in.

Landes says “WWKiP Day is really about showing the general public that knitting can be a community activity in a very distinct way. In some places there are many different knitting groups that never interact with each other, on WWKiP Day they come together in one place, making them hard to miss.”

Here at Make it and Mend it, we love this idea and have decided it is time to bring it into the digital age. Coming together to share our knitting, doesn’t have to just be a physical coming together, it can be a virtual coming together as well. Everyday our Twitter followers come together to share thoughts, ideas and experiences, for 2 hours on Thursday we want you to join us in our twitter/knitter fest and bring WWKIP online.

“Better living through stitching together”

Monday, 15 June 2009

Waste Not Want Not

Did you know that according to Waste Watch, the volume of waste we produce in the UK in one day is enough to fill Trafalgar Square up to the top of Nelson's Column? When averaged out over a year this equates to 300 million square metres of land, that's the same as covering the pitch at Manchester United Football Club's ground, 28,450 times .

Or that the UK uses over six billion glass bottles and jars each year? It would take you over three and a half thousand years to sing "Six Billion Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall"! We produce and use 20 times more plastic today than we did in the 1950's! An average person throws away 74kg of organic waste each year, which is the same as 1077 banana skins and 900 million items of clothing are sent to landfill each year.

This is pretty shocking stuff and when you realise that on average, each person in the UK throws away seven times their body weight in rubbish every year. It is quite humbling that we are so wasteful, but what shocks me more is not just the amount we throw away, but the quality of what we throw away. Ok, we have schemes for recycling, but that is about plastics, papers and tins etc. If you want to get rid of larger items, what happens to them? Yes there are schemes out there that will relieve you of your items, but this sort of recycling is centred on somebody else doing the work. If you want something recycled you have to give it to somebody else to take away and deal with. More importantly it seems that a lot of people can’t even be bothered to pick up the phone and organise it, a huge amount of perfectly serviceable items are taken to local rubbish tips every day and dumped.

Just think of all that wasted potential sitting on a tip, waiting to simply rot away. So many of these items are perfectly useable, just a little worn and faded or surplus to requirements. This throw away society that we live in means that we think it is acceptable to just dump things that we no longer want and buy something new. And yet all some of these items need is a lick of paint and a little TLC and they could have years of service left in them.

Your local tip is a great place to go bag a bargain. Take a trip and see what you can find. One note of caution though is that some local authorities will allow you to go and buy things from a specially designated site, but others refuse outright on the basis of health and safety, so do double check before you go.

Is it really time to reach for Designer Labels again?

In a recent issue of the Daily Mail, Naomi Greenaway wrote “Last Thursday, just as I was leaving the house for a business appointment, my cleaner arrived - wearing exactly the same dress as I was. A £15 H&M special. She was about to scrub the loo. I was heading off to do an interview.”
Her headline asked “When you find your cleaner wearing the same outfit as you, isn't it time to reach for designer labels again?”

Here at Make it and Mend it, we believe the answer to that is NO! Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that we're anti designer clothing. Far from it. We just believe that there is a time and a place for it. Apart from a cringeworthy display of snobbery, Naomi is encouraging people to spend money that they don’t have. We're in the midst of a recession and many people are out of work and struggling to pay their mortgages and household bills, so clothes are unfortunately way down the list of priorities for most people.

To give her credit, Naomi does apologise for sounding like a snob, but, she argues “I'm done with fashion communism. I don't want to live in a world where everyone wears the same cut-price outfit like Chinese peasants in Chairman Mao jackets.”

Which I think most of us would agree with. We like to be individual, but she does rather destroy this argument when she goes on to say:
“But now everyone from your granny to your cleaner is wearing it, too - and I'd rather go out naked, thanks”.

Not only is she being ageist, classist, but later in the article fattist as well:
“We like our clothes to reflect who we are, but when they're also a reflection of the fat woman on the train, the annoying teenager and the cleaner, it creates an uncomfortable dissonance.”

Putting the debate about snobbery aside, within this diatribe there were a couple grains of importance and truth – she does make a fair point about cheap clothing not being cheap when we buy in the ridiculous bulk that some people do, but I think the most important point is - do we all have to look the same?

Naomi claims that “Unlike good old-fashioned snobbery, where subtlety is key, this inverse snobbery about what you pay for clothes and shoes is constantly rubbed in our faces. It's all about buying cheap and bragging about it. That's all very well, but as thousands of other women and I are discovering, it means running into scores of women dressed the same as you.”

It seems she fears that we are all becoming clones. She maintains the only answer to this is to designer-shop our way out of this, but is this answer? Ok you may be getting a better quality of clothing, but you'll still find others wearing the same as you. You will just become a better 'class' of clone.

We firmly believe that this is not the only answer. There are many ways of maintaining an individual style without becoming a clone.

With a little thought, creativity and possibly the use of a needle, you can create and adapt an amazing individually styled wardrobe. It is not about how much you spend, it is about how you wear it and how you put it together. Gok Wan’s programme on Channel 4 demonstrates this brilliantly. Gok is the champion of the high street chic. But he takes a basic item and fashions it into something that looks original and fabulously expensive; week after week winning the catwalk vote against designer labels at ten times the price.

And people are wising up to this. Sales of sewing machines are rising rapidly. Sewing courses are springing up all over the country. There really is no need to go out looking like a clone or to spend your month’s mortgage on a pair of shoes.

Naomi's article suggests that a desire to go designer shopping is more about a need to be noticed than buying quality.

“Research shows that when women shop, it is not necessarily related to how much money they have to spend but what is going on in their minds,” says KarenPine. Author of Sheconomics . She claims that people shop “to cheer themselves up, when their boyfriends have dumped them, when they are not getting on with their husbands, when they've had a bad day. The thinking is ‘I work damned hard, I deserve a reward'.”

Unfortunately it is these emotional triggers that are exploited to sell unsuitable products that waste our money.

Shopping for unnecessary products taps into our need to be validated by others.
“Ever since I bought the Choo beauties a few months ago, I'd been waiting for the perfect moment to show them off - and relishing the purrs of approval they were bound to garner from my female friends” says Naomi Greenaway.

This says more about her possible lack of self-esteem than it does about the shoes themselves. It is about the Jimmy Choos enabling her to become the envy of her friend.

But horror of horrors:
“ ..when I wore them at dinner last week, no one noticed them, they were so bowled over by my other friend's lumps of canvas and cork which cost less than a bottle of wine.”

Sadly this is something we have all experienced – being upstaged by our friends. Let’s face it. How many of us get to be the princess in the school play? But what it does highlight is that even spending a fortune on a pair of shoes does not mark us out from the crowd, or make us feel ‘different’. We don’t need to spend money to feel good about ourselves.

Pine goes on to say in her book “It soon became obvious to me that most women's financial problems were either the result of, or complicated by, their underlying attitude to money, alongside a variety of personal issues or self-limiting beliefs”.

It's unfortunate that the term “retail therapy” has become common parlance and is frequently used by TV and women's magazines in an upbeat, even sisterly way to make us feel it's ok to carry on shopping, without any thought to paying the bills and what other psychological issues we might be trying to cover up.

It's time we started to redress the balance and highlight the fact that we don’t need to continually spend vast amounts of money on our wardrobes. The occasional splurge is great and picking a up a designer bargain is sheer heaven, but in between times, it should be more about how you wear your clothes rather than how much you spend. Creating something out of nothing and an individual style will give you a far bigger and a longer lasting boost to your ego than a trip to Prada ever will. Especially as there is no nasty after taste when the bill comes in.

My final response to Naomi is that she should think about what is motivating her in her desire to be different and why she feels that she has to spend so much money to validate her existence. Making, styling and altering would make her feel much better about herself than the quick fix shopping trip. My advice, girls, would be - Save the money on the Jimmy Choos and buy a sewing machine!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

"Some enchanting sandals!" - one for the Vintage fans

“These Enchanting Sandals are simply made from old stockings and scraps of silk”

Here at Make it and Mend it, there’s nothing we like better than a bit of creative upcycling and these slippers are absolute corkers! Just right for the vintage fashion fan.

I came across them whilst leafing through some old knitting books that belonged to my grandmother. This cutting from a newspaper was slipped inside the pages and has complete instructions for making a pair of sandals from old silk stockings. Admittedly getting silk stockings is a bit of an issue these days, but I am sure that with a little creativity you could find a reasonable substitute and you could make a great pair of sandals. In fact we will offer a prize for the first person to make a pair and send us the photos. Very much in the wartime "make do and mend" manner.

Instructions – as per 1940s
"These simply-made slippers are as pretty as any we’ve seen. The comfortable built up soles are made of plaited silk stockings and are wonderfully long wearing.

You will need a pair of cork or felt ‘socks’ for the soles [presumably in-soles would do?], some pretty scraps of silk or cotton for the tops – just under ¼ yard of 36 inch material [hope the metric police won't arrest us for using inches!] – and twelve old silk stockings for each slipper. If you have too few yourself perhaps you can beg some from friends!

Plait the stocking together in threes. Only plait the silk leg parts together and cut off the lisle welts and feet. You will need four of these plaits for each slipper. Stitch them together to make one long plait.

Lay the plait, narrow side down, on the sock sole, and secure the plait to outer edge of the sole all round with double oversewing, then coil the plait round and round inside this outer line, until the sole is covered, catching the coils together here and there with matching strong silk.

Cut the strip of fabric for the heel, 17 inches long and 3 inches wide. Make a small dart in the centre of one long edge, ¼ inch wide and 2½ inches long, when sew to shape it for heel. Roll all the edges of the strip and finish with double oversewing. Oversew central part of the long undarted edge round heel part of sole, leaving ends to tie.

For toe sections, cut two strips of material each 6 ½ inches by 3 inches, and roll over all edges and double oversew. Then oversew on 3 inch end of each strip to side of sole, to tie over toes.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Recycling Nirvana?

We often have heated debates at MIAMI Towers about how far we should take our efforts at sustainable living, as some of us only merit a "Could try harder" on our school report. On the other hand there's Anne, who is a black-belt Ninja recycler, so we decided to get her take on 'Recycling Nirvana' so the rest of us will be clear about where we are falling short!:-

Maybe it’s just me, but when you have a jolly good clear out – dispose of those old toys the kids don’t need any more, tear a hole in the garage clutter, find out what lurks at the back of the spare bedroom wordrobe... don’t you feel an enormous sense of release?

I find it feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Cleaning may be therapy but a good clear out is Viagra for the soul.

But, do we deserve to feel that good?

Well the answer is ‘yes’, as long as we don’t approach our recycling willy-nilly:
• We’ve taken the clothes and bric a brac to the charity shop (but kept back several items to be made over and given a new lease of life).
• We've de-nailed some of the best wood from the old garden shed and taken it down to the wood recycling centre (assuming we can't find another use for it at home).
• Our cardboard is flattened and our glass bottles colour-sorted and rinsed (in dirty dishwater).
• We look at everything we might recycle and ask the question – ‘Yes, but is there something better I can do with this?’

Take the picture at the top of the page which shows a fence made from old skis. I find that truly inspiring!

We'll all get a lot better at reducing our recycling if we try to do the following:
• Where we can, we buy loose (not pre-packaged) fruit and veg and use old paper bags we take to the supermarket ourselves, putting them of course into our own carrier bags and not the store's plastic ones.
• The garage still has one or two boxes full of ‘stuff’ but we know what’s there (it’s labelled) and we’ve kept it because we believe we will eventually find a really worthwhile use for it.
• And our recycling bins are ever so tidy. And there’s a lot less recycling in them.

Top tip: Get together with other families in your street and start buying in bulk and then decanting things like flour and oil into your own re-useable containers).

We’ve started a new recycling section in our Make it and Mend it store:

The aim is to group together things that help you get better at recycling, such as containers. Plus some inspiration – including a picture of that ski fence, because I couldn’t resist it.

And we’ve included a great book - Eco Books: Inventive Projects from the Recycling Bin.

>> Visit the new recycling centre in our store

Recycling tip of the week
Spend a little longer on the recycling process. Don’t sort it in a half hour frenzy. Take a little time to consider what you should hold on to and make sure you follow your recycling collectors advice on sortingand cleaning.
Related Links
>> When giving to charity is not really giving
>> A new lexicon for recycling
>> 229,389 tonnes of recycling ends up in landfill
>> Taking inspiration from the 3rd World
>> Our website tips on sorting your recycling

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Quiz: What kind of MP would you make?

1) Your moat needs cleaning - do you
a) Grab those waders and your Marigolds and get stuck in?
b) Ask your gardener to do it for you?
c) Get the taxpayer to pay for it?
d) What do you mean moat ? You haven't got a moat? Doesn't everybody have one?

2) You need a new duck house - do you
a) Pull apart that old Chippendale chest of drawers and refashion it into a chateau for the canards?
b) Pay your local carpenter to knock one up?
c) Get the taxpayer to buy you one?
d) What do you mean you don't have any ducks?

3) Your servant’s quarters need renovating
a) Buy some Farrow and Ball paint and do it yourself
b) Call in the local builder to refurbish them
c) Get the tax payer to employ a team of architects and designers to do it for you
d) What do you mean you don’t have servants? Who answers your door for you?

4) Your second home needs refurbishing – do you
a) Move into your 1st or 3rd home whilst decorating yourself ?
b) Call in Kirstie Allsop to find some lovely ladies to do it for you ?
c) Get a team of designers and decorators to refurbish it for you and then flip your house?
d) What do you mean you only have one house?

5) Your neighbours are very noisy and you need some soundproofing – do you
a) Collect recycled egg boxes from your Farm and glue them to the wall of the house?
b) Telephone the police and demand an ASBO for your neighbours?
c) Get the taxpayer to employ somebody to sound proof your room?
d) Buy a set of earplugs and bottle of whisky?

6) You have a neighbour dispute and you need to demarcate your land – do you
a) Go to your local nursery to buy a lorry load of fence posts and put them in yourself
b) Get the local landscapers to put some up some fencing
c) Get the taxpayer to buy some for you
d) It’s not a problem - your window box doesn’t need fencing

7) You need to present a wreath at a memorial service – do you
a) Whip around your garden and make one?
b) Go to your local florist to buy one?
c) Get the tax payer to buy one worth £500?
d) Dig out your Christmas one and take off the robins and mistletoe?

8) You want some mock Tudor beams on your house – do you
a) Cut up your ancient Tudor sideboard and attach the bits to the wall?
b) Get your local builder to make you some?
c) Get the taxpayer to employ a company to attach some for you?
d) 'Ang about! Mock Tudor beams'd look a bit poncey on a tower block!

Mostly A – you obviously have a bit of cash, but you keep your feet on the ground. You are a practical make it and mender and are happy to have a go at repairing things yourself. But you need to work at getting people to do things for you if you really want to be an MP.

Mostly B – You are working hard on your persona and have good potential to reach Parliament. You are happy to get people to do things for you, but you are a little too sensible with the coffers. You need to work on wasting money a little more.

Mostly C – Well done you are true MP. You lack a grasp of reality which does you proud. You believe your constituents love you and those that don’t are just jealous of your big house that looks like Balmoral.

Mostly D – I am sorry to say, but you will never make an MP – you are obviously far too much of a man or woman of the people to ever be taken seriously in Westminster.

Monday, 8 June 2009

How to be an Urban Homesteader

Someone sent us the link to the website today and we just love it. For a start there's the name. That delightful 'ish' on the end grants absolution to those of us would-be tree-huggers who somehow can't manage to go all the way in embracing The Good Life. Then there's the Welcome photo of Andy and Dave Hamilton, the brothers who established this wonderful guide to urban self-sufficiency. It's the way they are smiling so sweetly while brandishing a fork as if to ward off a Tesco buyer or an advancing flytipper - "One step closer and it's through your throat baby!"

The website is a wonderfully eclectic mix of recipes, tips for living on a budget, a very informative guide to buying your first sheep, and help with growing vegetables and foraging for wild food. They even run courses in foraging - very fortnight in the Bristol area, showing you how to forage, how to identify if a plant is poisonous or edible and lots of facts about wilde foods.

The pair have written a book The Sufficientish Bible. One of our Twitter followers says this is a cracking book - so we are going to get ourselves a copy.

So even if you're a townie, with the Selfsufficientish brothers to guide you, you too can become a foraging, veg-growing, Urban Homesteader. Let us know how you get on - but we advise you not to try the sheep in a one-bedroomed flat...

Friday, 5 June 2009

10 Ideas for Cheap Days and Nights Out

We may be in the midst of a recession, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get out and have some fun. Here are 10 cheap/free outings to get you out and about. From the sublime to the downright ridiculous, we guarantee you will have fun.

1. Go stargazing
One of my favourite pastimes is to take off to the beach or a field with a blanket, a pillow and picnic to go stargazing. How much more romantic can you get, unless of course in my case, you are accompanied by a herd of rampaging children. But even the children love it and will spend hours patiently watching the night sky. It has to be said that there is something quite magical about watching and waiting for a shooting star to wish upon.

One of the best times of the year for a shooting star is July and August. In July we have the Delta Aquarids and August the Perseid Showers. Or for something even more spectacular you could always head up to the far north of Scotland for a potential glimpse of the amazing Aurora Borealis.
2. Go foraging
Unleash your hidden hunter. Get out into the countryside or parks and riverbanks and go looking for your dinner. Alright you probably won’t be able to provide the protein part of your dinner without a visit to the shops, but you could easily find yourself some salad, herbs and fruit to go with it. Along the lanes and towpaths you can find an abundant supply of wild garlic, blackberries, sloes and other delicious morsels.

NB. Two words of warning go to your local library and borrow a book on foraging so that you know that what you are eating is safe. And avoid foraging for mushrooms unless you really know what you are doing! For some top tips on foraging try

3. Go to the theatre
Did you realise that there is a UK government scheme to get young bums on seats? If you are aged between 14 –26, you could get free theatre tickets. In an attempt to encourage young people into the theatres the government and more than 200 venues across the UK are giving away free theatre tickets.
• For more information visit

4. Go to a Gallery
If you enjoy a bit of culture, a cheap night out at a gallery opening should be right up your street. Many galleries host exhibition launches during the evenings. These are great opportunities to see some exciting new work and you may even get some free food and wine thrown in as well.

Several of the larger galleries and museums offer late nights and some have regular themed events. The Tate Galleries have late openings, as do the National Gallery in London and The Victoria and Albert Museum.

For more information go to
The V and A Museum
The Tate
The National Gallery

5. Become a piece of art work
Got an hour to spare and fancy becoming the centre of attention? You could be become even more involved in the art world. Sculptor Anthony Gormley is looking for 2,400 volunteers to stand for an hour on a plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square.
• For your chance to enter visit
6. Watch your favourite TV show being filmed
Fancy being in the audience of the X-Factor? Want to se QI being filmed? Ever thought it would be fun to go and see Top Gear in action? You can, because it is a little known fact that it is very easy to get tickets to be in the audience of TV shows and it doesn’t cost you a penny. All you have to do is go online and register and you will be sent a regular update of tickets that are available.
• For more information go to

7. Go to the cinema on Orange Wednesday
If you are an Orange subscriber you can get 2 tickets for the price of one on Wednesdays at most cinemas in the UK.
However, even if you are not an Orange subscriber you could still get tickets if you buy a free pay as you go SIM card. This will only cost you £5 to top up with credit and will entitle you to 2 for 1 tickets every Wednesday. You will soon earn your money back.
For more information

8. Listen to music
Take a blanket and a picnic and enjoy some afternoon delights. Many parks provide free music in the afternoons and some carry on to the evening.
Go online and check out the free festivals in your area.

For those of you who prefer something a little livelier, Modular records host a completely free party event called ‘Recession’ every first Sunday of the month through the summer.
• For more information visit
9. Learn something new
Many local universities put on free lectures, which the public can attend.
They won’t award you a degree for attending, but you will have the chance to listen to some of the great brains of the country and learn about a variety of fascinating subjects. Some Universities even throw in a free glass of wine.
Visit your local university for more details.

And leaving the best to last
10. Go worm charming
Yes, you read it right – you could go worm charming. This bizarre event started out life as a fund raising event at a school fete in Nantwich, Cheshire. However the event has now grown into an annual event that anybody can enter.
Entrants are given a 3mx3m plot and 30 minutes to charm as many worms from the ground as possible (digging is against the rules). The person who charms the most worms is declared the winner and receives a or a trophy in the shape of a golden rampant worm.
For more information

Thursday, 4 June 2009

When giving to charity is not really giving

I know we at Make it and Mend it have a bit of a tendency to rant about television presenters - but this time our rant is in support of one - Mary Portas. Mary, the retail wizard behind Harvey Nics and the scourge and salvation of small clothing retailers, has turned her attention to charity shops in her latest programme, 'Mary Queen of Charity Shops'.

All you vintage fashion lovers don't have to be sold on the merits of charity shops and many of us get a bit of a warm glow when we take a bagful of goodies round to our local store after a therapeutic declutter session.

However the first of Mary's programmes, broadcast this week, was a revelation. Behind the scenes in a typical store, the army of (usually elderly) helpers has to sort through indescribably horrendous crap to find anything worth selling. People drop off black bin bags with stuff that you would want on the end of a ten foot barge pole in order to confine to a bonfire. Used sanitary towels, nappies, dirty knickers, dead mice, filthy old damaged trainers, smelly socks are all in a day's work for the beleagured charity volunteer to sift through. The percentage of goods able to be put on display in a store (let alone actually sell) is miniscule - under 10% in some areas and the stores have to pay for rubbish to be cleared away. So, in many instances, people's gifts to charity actually end up costing the charity money.

If this behaviour is the norm, then "Charity" is a misnomer. Instead of making a donation, giving a gift, making an offering, all of which imply some sort of good intention or sacrifice, many people are usng charity shops as an alternative to putting out the rubbish. Clearly they are not seriously considering whether the items offered up are saleable - if they believe that the people who buy from charity shops have such low standards it is a very sad indictment of the human race.

My suspicion is that most people don't actually stop to think. Their assumption is that instead of consigning an item to the rubbish, it is worth sending it via the charity shop just in case someone might want it. They don't stop to think of the poor dears who have to empty the binbags (sometimes with rubber gloves and long 'grabbers') but bask in a general feeling of satisfaction, based on their decluttering efforts and an unfounded assumption that someone in the local area will be glad of the filthy detritus they have cast off. As Mary pointed out, the fact that the charities post plastic bags like binbags through the doors, conveys an impression that the items to be put inside are akin to rubbish.

If instead, (as Ms Portas unsuccessfully tried to convince the Orpington locals in episode one) people were to see making a donation to a charity shop as akin to donating money - giving something of instrinsic value that imples some sacrifice, things would be very different.

So all you well-intentioned people, please stop to think before you fill that bag up and dump it on your doorstep or the in the doorway of your local thrift store, and ask yourself if seriously you would expect another human being to see value in the contents. Go back to your wardrobe, have another root around and choose one or two things that you think there is a possibility you might still want to wear yourself (an outfit that looks good, was quite expensive but is just too tight now?) and instead of letting it languish (it will never fit you again and you know that really, don't you!) give it up and let someone else enjoy it. That is charitable giving

Oh and please make sure anything you give is CLEAN!!!!!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Top 10 Vegetables to Grow when space is limited

Vegetable seeds are outselling flowers. UK allotments have a waiting list of 100,000 people. Towns are turning their public spaces into vegetable plots. Garden centre carparks are overflowing. Growing veg has become very fashionable. The credit crunch has got us all longing for the crunch of a fresh grown carrot and everyone is walking around with dirty nails!

But we don't all have the luxury of a sizeable dedicated vegatble plot. That doesn't mean you can't grow vegs: you just need to pick them wisely. We have already written about growing vegetables in containers instead of flowers and recently reviewed a fabulous book Crop in Pots to give you some inspiration about veggie displays as attractive as flowers. Now here are some ideas on which vegetables can be grown when space is at a premium.

1. Herbs. Even if you only have a window-sill you can grow herbs in pots. They're mostly easy to tend and cost a fraction of the exorbitant amounts you pay in the supermarket. Some suggestions for getting started are Rosemary (very easy and hardy), Thyme - lots of varieties and rather decorative, Mint - as this is very invasive it is actually better confining it to a small space ( if you do have a bed to plant it in it's better to put it in a bottomless pot and plant this to be keep it contained), and Sage with its lovely velvety leaves. I have also planted Oregano in a container this year and it's doing brilliantly. One of our readers Eileen Riddiford has just posted on the Make it and Mend it Forum that she buys a pot of basil from the supermarket, so she'll have fresh basil for salads and cooking onboard when she goes sailing. "Then I take the pots home and pot them on to a bigger pot, harden them off and put them outside. Result: three or four huge basil plants in pots." Not sure if this is due to the salty sea air or Eileen's greenfingers as generally supermarket basil is not reknowned for potting on.

2. Potatoes - the received wisdom used to be that you needed a big open plot for these - but they do well in containers too. An increasingly popular method is growing them in old tyres, if you have the space. Otherwise a dustbin or a large plastic container will do. Now you can also buy potato growing sacks and custom potato barrels.

3. Carrots - these are very easy and can be grown happily in pots. If you are growing from seed and have the room, it is a good idea to do so in batches every few weeks so they crop at different times and keep you in supply.

4. Radishes - these are really easy and produce very rapid results from seed - again like carrots you may want to phase the sowing from March to July so you get a continuous supply.

5. Tomatoes - grow-bags make tomato growing very easy - even if the bags are a little ugly (which remonds me - Anne was going to design and give instructions for a grow-bag cover to pretty them up - come on Anne!). You can even grow tomatoes in hanging baskets if you get the tumbling variety - and they look very attractive mixed in with other stuff.

6. Lettuce - try Little Gems or mixed salad leaves. Again if growing from seeds. phase the sowing so you can get a continuous supply over the summer months.

7. Courgettes (zucchini) - grown from seed these re easy to sow as the seeds are large like melon seeds and germinate very quickly. As long as you keep them protected through the frosts, harden them off before planting out, and can give them plenty of sunshine they will be fine. As well as the courgettes themselves you get to enjoy the yellow flowers - which are also delicious tempura style.

6. Dwarf runner beans - compact varieties grow well in pots and also reward you with red and white flowers.

9. Rocket - fast and easy to grow and lovely nutty taste to mix in with salads or serve with cold meats

10. Peppers - you can grow chillis or sweet peppers in pots. These can also look very decorative - the brilliant ed against green leaves. Once grown you can dry chillies and use for ages.

A top tip if you have very limited sapce is to buy and share seeds with friends. You can share the seeds or grow and swap seedlings or just divvy up the vegetables.

Useful resources:
The Royal Horticultural Society great advice on selecting and growing vegetables as well as other plants - and the RHS gadens are a great source of inspiration as a well as a good place to buy plants and seeds
I Grow Veg - we love this blog by a lady who shares her learning as she goes - great advice for the novice including pest control
Buy seeds, containers, tools and helpful books
Incredible edible Todmorden - a village that aims to become self-sufficient in vegetables