2015 Lookback: A Year of Tshirt Reuse

I went into 2015 excited about attempting to go zero waste and making use of existing resources. January 2015 was my first visit to the Really, Really Free Market to find treasures among piles and piles of unwanted tshirts.

Austin Really Really Free Market

I got home that day with a beach bag stuffed full of tshirts in my favorite colors. As I had started earlier with my own worn out shirts, these also gradually were transformed into tshirt yarn. It was a slow process for me because I wasn’t content to cut off and discard hem, seams, or collar, instead painstakingly removing all the stitches to make full use of the fabric. Once I had an assortment of yarn colors that looked like they might be okay together, I braided them and stitched them round following this braided rag rug tutorial. That first one was fairly small, but I was amazed and proud to have made my very own rug.

Braided Rag Rug #1

I quickly moved on to another, slightly larger and with different color scheme. Trying for something even more ambitious, I handstitched it so the thread was (mostly) not visible from the front side. It does look a bit better but was a ton of work. The only reason I might try this again in the future would be to use up all my tiny spools of cheap thread in various colors since they aren’t useful for machine-stitching.

Braided Rag Rug #2

Next up was a twined potholder on a cardboard frame, following the instructions from Bobbie Irwin’s book Twist & Twine from the library. The cardboard frame was a hassle and wasn’t holding up while working on it, so for the second potholder the frame was chopsticks tied to a metal grated tray. Still not perfect, and the pale blue/pink color scheme didn’t provide enough contrast to show off the work I had put into the pattern, but two potholders was plenty.

Twined Potholders #1 and #2

But by this time I was excited enough to have made a purchase of a set of (not new) crochet hooks online. My enthusiasm waned a little when I opened the grossly excessive packaging they were mailed in, but it was already done. After starting off with some practice crochet on a normal length of thread that I had around, a tshirt yarn crochet bowl was the next item on the agenda. It was so cute that I wanted to make more, but most of my tshirt yarn was already cut too thickly to work well for bowls this small.

Small Crochet Bowl

Fortunately, I had a larger crochet hook (Size N) as part of the set and was ready to make the big version. My primary goal was to use up many of the smaller pieces of yarn from the arm and chest sections of the shirts and even collars, sewn together into one continuous yarn and then crocheted so that the seams wouldn’t be visible. This basket might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it works great for storing my fabric yoyos, both completed and in progress.

With these easier crochet experiments complete, it was time to get on with my next rug experiment–the crocheted rag rug. Every tutorial I’ve read says that crocheting in the round is easier for beginners attempting to make rag rugs, but I didn’t believe them. Starting a round and then increasing at the right time is complicated. And I was right! For me at least, making regular turns for a rectangular piece is so much easier than round. This blue beauty is now sitting next to my bed ready to give my feet just a little more cushion in the morning.

Trying to use up some of my plentiful tshirt yarn, I made one final braided rag rug of the year. This is my favorite so far and as you can see from that last picture it’s also the largest. To get an interesting color combination, I used both a couple of standard yarn balls from tshirt bodies and one ball made from various shorter pieces sewn together. This will definitely be my modus operandi for future attempts.

For those of you interested in hopping on the tshirt yarn bandwagon, here are a few tips:

  • Choose 100% cotton tshirts when possible so any random scraps left over can be composted (although almost all shirts have non-compostable polyester stitching).
  • Choose tshirts with a small or no logo. The printed area doesn’t form into yarn like the rest of the shirt, and you’ll have to force it while braiding, crocheting, or twining.
  • Skip the shirts that have a side seam if you have a choice. You want the main body of the shirt to give you as long a continuous smooth yarn as possible.
  • If making a braided rag rug, be very very careful to start stitching in the right direction so the rug will grow away from the sewing machine. I think I got that one wrong every time, ugh!
  • If using a sewing machine, take time to look through the manual and understand as much as possible how it works to prevent any issues. And clean your machine more regularly than I do to keep it in good condition.
  • Don’t be afraid to try again. I learned a lot of things about working with colors from these experiments, and my most recent rag rug is by far my favorite.
  • Crocheting with thick tshirt yarn can be strenuous. Take breaks and don’t expect to do a large project all in one go.
  • If making a round rug, set it down regularly and check for lumps or curling to determine if the next rings need to be tighter or looser respectively. (I’ve so far been too lazy to actually remove any existing stitching to fix it, but that’s probably not a bad idea either.)

All in all, I’ll declare my tshirt reuse plans for 2015 a smashing success! In the future I’d like to try something like Prarie Peasant’s knitted rag rug (I’ve been gifted a knitting set that previously belonged to a relative of my sister’s boyfriend so nothing to buy!) or one of the more complex braided rag rugs that also requires absolutely no sewing. I have a different big project for next year, though, so time to put away all my leftover yarn for when the urge hits again.

Leftover tshirt yarn balls

December 30 Food Haul

I skipped recording Saturday’s haul because it was fairly small to give me a chance to clean out the fridge. But I’m starting 2016 with a two week no-animal-product trial period. Even my husband’s on board, so he came shopping with me to help pick up some supplies for making this trial painfree.

Single stop: Wheatsville Co-op

  • IMG_20151230_160811Acorn squash, 1.98 pounds: $2.95
  • Carrots, 1.48 pounds: $2.21
  • Pomegranate x2: $3.00
  • Cilantro, 1 bunch: $1.79
  • Avocado x1: $1.99
  • Red onion, 0.90 pounds: $1.34
  • Tomatoes, 0.85 pounds: $2.97
  • Garlic, 0.12 pounds: $0.69
  • Jalapeno, 0.06 pounds: $0.09
  • Yellow bell pepper, 0.29 pounds: $0.87
  • 9-grain bread, 1 loaf: $4.99
  • Provolone alternative, 1 oz: $1.19
  • Chocolate hemp milk, 1 quart: $3.99
  • Coconut milk, 1 quart: $2.69
  • Vinaigrette, 12 ounces: $3.79
  • Corn tortillas, 30 count: $1.49
  • Toilet paper x1: $0.79
  • Peanuts, 0.85 pounds: $4.50
  • Green lentils, 1.26 pounds: $3.77
  • Black beans, 1.32 pounds: $3.02
  • French green lentils, 0.74 pounds: $2.21
  • Rainbow quinoa, 0.65 pounds: $4.87
  • Brown rice, 1.55 pounds: $4.32
  • Tofurkey sausage, 4 count: $3.99

Total: $63.58

Whoa, that’s a lot more than I planned to spend, but we’re mostly stocked up for the next couple of weeks now. And my husband has milk, meat, and cheese alternatives to keep him happy. For New Year’s Day, we’ll experience the acorn squash with quinoa which we’ve often seen but never thought to eat. I even got a nice loaf of bread because it’s more wholesome than the bread I know how to make. Here’s hoping all goes well! Then in a couple of weeks, we’ll get to cook and dig into that chicken that’s still sitting in the freezer. Will it taste better after the wait? Or will we get used to the flavors of plant-based food? To be continued!…

The Mostly Not New Minimalist Wallet

Wallets are important. They hold your ID, cash, credit, and any other essentials to be kept on your person all the time. And even if everyone else is inseparable from their phones, it’s my wallet that is the only item that absolutely never gets left behind when I’m out or at work.

So a couple of years ago, I was desparately trying to make do with a wallet that was falling apart even though it had never really suited me. The wallet was fairly slim but included was a zippered coin purse section and keyring that did nothing more for me than wear a more defined outline in my back pocket.

Finally, it was relegated to the trash bin while I was still trying to find a replacement. My husband had a couple of extra wallets, but both were bifolds and thicker than I was accustomed to or willing to put up with. I ended up creating a temporary pocket wallet from a used sheet of paper I didn’t need anymore. It was effective, and the technical documentation suited my style. Unfortunately, as might be guessed, it didn’t last long.

An Etsy seller at the time, that was my next venue when looking for replacements. I had a couple of favorites on my wishlist, and after wearing out more temporary paper wallets and a couple of additional attempts using cardstock (and repeated applications of scotch tape), I finally got a minimalist wallet from Etsy for Christmas.

Minimalist wallet by RaggedEdge

Unfortunately, as soon as I tried to use it, it was a disappointment. Cash didn’t fit in there well or too many cards and yet my main complaint was that it wasn’t minimalist enough. See all that extra area on the sides that just exist for stitching? I had gotten so spoiled by my super slim impromptu wallets that this just wouldn’t cut it for me.

Enter innovation.

Paper obviously wasn’t a suitable material, but there were plenty of other resources available that might work. After careful consideration, a piece of fabric from a pair of retired jeans seemed like the perfect material. The material was slightly stretchy (from before I hopped on the less plastic bandwagon) and denim definitely matched my aesthetic sensibilities.

With a bit of measuring so my cards would be held snuggly in place , a quick cut, and then some hand-stitching to make the seam, it was perfect! This wallet hugs my cards securely with minimal extra bulk, and dollars fit well if folded in thirds so they’re not wider than the cards.

Sure, the edges look a little raggedy in a couple of places and every few months I trim a few bits of fringe that have made their way free. I’ve gotten a few compliments on it regardless. And overall I think this wallet will last for several more years. With the only new part involved being a bit of thread, this makes just one more example of the best solution not being to buy new.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the rubber band, that’s in no way an essential part of the wallet. I just like to keep one on hand to open jars easily, secure a loose container or bag, or to otherwise save my life in a MacGyver situation. One fits just perfectly wrapped twice around my beautiful wallet.

Plastic-Free: The Book

Our December book for the Talk Green to Me book club was Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too. In part this is the story of how one woman saw a picture of a bird whose stomach was filled with plastic and was driven to learn more about the dangers of plastic in the environment and to take action against it. In part it’s a handbook on how to live your own life healthier and to reduce the amount of plastic in your life.

Plastic-Free book in plastic wrap

What’s so bad about Plastic?

For one day, try writing down every plastic item that you see around you. Unless you’re a hermit living a totally secluded life (and reading this blog through the collective unconscious or something), I bet your hand will fall off by the end of the day.

Yes, plastic can be wonderful. It can be incredibly strong given how lightweight it is. It’s an alternative material to cutting down trees. It has made possible many advances in technology and medicine. Unfortunately, it’s also everywhere else–especially in the single use disposables that are often discarded incorrectly and wind up in the ocean or in the stomachs of birds, fish, turtles, and other creatures. If you’ve ever accidentally swallowed chewing gum, yup, that’s plastic in your stomach too.

While many people think of plastic as an inert material that just exists, it’s actually derived from petroleum and may contain additives for coloring, antimicrobial properties, flexibility, and more. And for the consumer there’s generally no way to know exactly what went into making the plastic. Many products these days are labeled “BPA-free”, but there’s no telling what may have replaced it.

For me personally, I got into the less plastic lifestyle while starting my adventures in zero waste. Some plastic containers could be reused but not as long as other materials before they wear out. And they can’t be composted when used up. Plastics stick around forever. Recycling is a necessity for plastic, but knowing the amount of energy and additional chemicals that go into recycling, the best answer for me is to reduce as much as possible.

There are several other issues with plastics, but you’ll discover all that from the book or from Beth Terry’s website myplasticfreelife.com.

A bit of hipster irony

The first time I checked this book out from the library, I thought to myself “this must be the most hipster book ever”. The publisher’s note states:

… most books are full of plastic! So we’ve stripped things down. The jacket is uncoated, the thread is made of cotton, and the boards and spine are exposed. Our printer even managed to find a plastic-free glue to use. With all that in mind, we assure you that if the book’s not 100% free of plastic, it’s as close as can be!

Yet in typical library fashion, here it was completely wrapped in plastic. Yes, I realize this offers a lot of protection for the flimsy paper cover and exposed spine, but it’s irony at its best. Even better, since I had reserved this book via the library hold system, there was a sticker on the side with my name on it ready to be binned as soon as I picked it up. I’m not sure what material that is, but it’s definitely part plastic.

My less plastic lifestyle

The first time I read this book was about a year ago and it has inspired many changes in my lifestyle already. Here are just a few that come to mind.

  • Always use reusable shopping and produce bags
  • Buy groceries from the bulk bins in reusable containers
  • Never microwave plastic containers
  • Switch to plastic-free toiletries — deodorant, shampoo & rinse
  • No microbeads ever
  • Avoid plastic utensils and straws
  • Preparing my own food when possible (no more tv dinners or boxed cookies)
  • Goodbye, gum!
  • Drink only tap water, either out of a glass or a reusable bottle
  • Phase out clothes made from non-natural fabrics
  • Switch to cloth menstrual pads
  • TP without the plastic wrap
  • Always rinse and recycle my used plastic bottles
  • Pick up the occasional plastic bottle by the sidewalk and help it into the recycle bin
  • Found a drop-off for recycling plastic bags instead of trashing them
  • Order smaller meals at restaurants so I don’t need to take a to-go tray

(Of course, I have some freegan-style exceptions. If I discover anything plastic or plastic-wrapped that would otherwise go to waste, it’s fair game for my consumption.)

Some of these were simple changes and some more difficult. And there’s still the occasional failure like when I accidentally got a water with a straw in it at a restaurant last week. But overall, I feel these changes have enriched my life. They gave me the final tipping reason to quit soda, which I’d struggled with for years. My grocery loads are a little lighter now. I’ve learned to cook new foods. These changes have helped me escape a bit from the consumerist lifecycle for a breath of fresh air.

What’s right for you?

Only you know what changes are right for you. Maybe you’re interested in changes that will protect your health, changes that will protect animals in the environment, or changes that will preserve our natural resources. Whatever your reason, this book will show you some of the steps you can take both personally and on a larger scale to work towards your goals.

Or if you’re not ready to make any changes yet, just read it to explore your options. And maybe by July, you’ll be wanting to try a bit of Plastic Free:


December 19 Food Haul

First stop: Wheatsville Co-op

  • IMG_20151219_111945Russett potatoes, 3.56 pounds: $4.59
  • Celery, 0.99 pounds: $0.88
  • Oranges, 1.04 pounds: $1.99
  • Carrots, 1.41 pounds: $2.10
  • Toilet paper x2: $1.38
  • Spaghetti sauce x1: $3.49
  • Tuna, 6 ounces: $0.99
  • Jasmine rice, 1.18 pounds: $3.53
  • Wild rice blend, 0.55 pounds: $3.29
  • Wheat bran, 0.14 pounds: $0.14
  • Milk, half-gallon: $3.99

Total: $26.48

Soup and tuna potato patties, yum.

Next Stop: Downtown Farmers Market

  • IMG_20151219_111115Green onions, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Red cabbage: $2.50
  • Chard, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Brocolli, 1 heads: $3.00

Total: $11.50

Just a quick stop today to beat the rain, but I managed to get another new food today. Chard! Packed with comforting kale leaves.

December 12 Food Haul

More food to nourish the body.

First stop: Wheatsville Co-op

  • IMG_20151212_112400Red potatoes, 1.66 pounds: $1.98
  • Red bell pepper, 0.27 pounds: $0.81
  • Pecans, 1.26 pounds: $6.29
  • Pomegranate x1: $1.99
  • Carrots, 1.53 pounds: $2.28
  • Toilet paper x2: $1.38
  • Corn flakes, 0.46 pounds: $2.43
  • Jasmine rice, 1.26 pounds: $3.77
  • Eggs x12: $3.00
  • American cheese, 0.41 pounds: $2.90

Total: $26.94

The bell pepper feels like a cheat because no one has those at the farmers market anymore and I have no idea where this one came from, but I really wanted to try out a dirty rice recipe and it requires a bell pepper. At least I didn’t buy the box of Zatarain’s.

This is the first time I’ve bought carrots from the Co-op too. It’s difficult to understand how these are only $1.49 a pound there but $3 for a half-pound bundle at the farmers market. Maybe because they don’t have the tops? Or because it’s easier for the farmers to sell in bulk rather than stand around at the market all day. Either way these carrots are just as delicious as any I’ve bought, so it’s likely that I’ll choose the Co-op next week also for my carrot supply. With this price, it’s way easier to pig out on carrots, which can’t possibly be a bad thing.

Next Stop: Downtown Farmers Market

  • IMG_20151212_111134Whole chickens, 6 pounds: $27.00
  • Tomatoes, 1 basket: $5.00
  • Watermelon radish, 1 bunch: $2.75
  • Cauliflower, 1.75 pounds: $3.50
  • Kale, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Brocolli, 2 heads: $6.00
  • Mushrooms, 0.73 pounds: $4.00

Total: $51.25

Don’t worry, I have no plans to eat two whole chickens in a single week. They went straight in the freezer and may last us up to a month. As with the ground beef last week, I don’t want to risk my favorite meat vendors taking a day off over the holidays and leaving me unsatisfied.

Nothing new this week, although this is the first time I’ve bought cauliflower at a farmers market (with the intention of making some of that cauliflower fried rice that looks so appetizing on other blogs).

When starting my local shopping experiment, I never expected to be buying fresh tomatoes in December but with large hoop houses and mild Texas winters I’m in luck. These red beauties are from Engel Farms, who also grow some mouth-watering canary melons in warmer weather.

The Buy-Nothing Personal Holiday

Friday I took a personal holiday. In past occurences, I’ve gone out shopping or even spent most of my day at the mall. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in impulse buys and often the corresponding buyer’s remorse. So this time, and in the spirit of Buy Nothing New, I avoided the shops entirely.

… Um, well, my first stop after leaving home in the morning was to stop at the Co-op and pick up a couple of things I needed for dinner, but come on, potatoes and salad dressing are low-risk items for buyer’s remorse. (At least until I learn to make a salad dressing from scratch that my husband approves of.)

First creek discovered on my exploratory stroll

After taking care of that necessity, I walked over to a park not far from the Co-op. The air was clear and brisk and it was a great day to be alive. Before long I was swinging at the park and particularly enjoying that brief moment hitting the peak each time that’s almost like weightlessness before coming back down. I was there totally enjoying myself for about 40 minutes before I was fidgeting with my phone and promptly slipped off the swing and fell on my butt. That must be what I get for not living in the moment.

Lawn near the LBJ museum fountain
Lunch on the lawn with vibrant green patches of clover

After a bit of wandering through areas both new to me and areas which I vauguely remembered from years past, I sat on the grassy knoll by the LBJ museum and leisurely ate my packed lunch of banana bread, nuts, and a salad. Usually I’m in the middle of a conversation or sitting in front of a glowing screen while eating, so this was quite a reminder of the joy of actually savoring my food and not rushing through it. (Maybe my resolution for the next year should be to not eat in front of a glowing screen.)

I had an agenda for the afternoon, though, which in retrospect did detract from my day. There were two new-to-me libraries I wanted to visit. For some reason, most of the branch libraries in Austin don’t open until 1 PM on Fridays so there wasn’t a huge rush to get there.

Since the libraries open so late, I had a chance to explore the neighborhood around Twin Oaks libary and happened upon a creek. With no major traffic nearby, the clearest sound was the water calmly swishing along. Part of the creek bed was dry, and I walked along for as far as I could, which unfortunately wasn’t that far. They were building a retaining wall along part of it or had possibly widened the creek to handle future floods. So it wasn’t all natural after all, but beautiful nonetheless.

At the libraries, I picked up all the volumes of Oishinbo and happily enjoyed the bus ride home reading the delicious manga about Japanese food.

Discovering in a single day two creeks I had never visited before was pretty amazing. Next time I’ll have to declare a no-book, no-agenda day as well and see how many more wonders I can discover. Better than visiting a mall anyday!


December 5 Food Haul

Another week, another replenishment of the food supply.

First stop: Wheatsville Co-op

  • IMG_20151205_111448Blackberries, 6 oz: $2.99
  • Garlic, 0.14 pounds: $0.81
  • Cheddar cheese, 0.55 pounds: $3.35
  • Ginger root, 0.08 pounds: $0.44
  • Toilet paper x2, $1.38
  • Brown rice, 1.24 pounds: $3.46
  • Oats, 0.67 pounds: $0.80
  • Soy milk, half gallon: $3.59
  • Tofu, 14 ounces: $2.29

Total: $19.22

Lots of single-use packaging today. Tofu is probably one of the least appetizing “foods” to me, but picking it up was my husband’s idea. He’s on board for reducing consumption of animal products but is still big on always having a component of the meal classified as “meat”. However, the blackberries were totally my fault–a binge buy but delicious.

Next Stop: Downtown Farmers Market

  • IMG_20151205_112150Ground beef, 2 pounds: $17.00
  • Green onions, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Carrots, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Watermelon radish, 1 bunch: $2.75
  • Lemon: $1.00
  • Kale, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Mushrooms, 1.09 pounds: $6.00
  • Broccoli, 2 heads: $6.00

Total: $41.75

A lot of my standard purchases. The ground beef is going straight in the freezer and should last us for a while. After all, you don’t want to have to make a mad rush to the supermarket when your favorite vendor misses a week unplanned.

My new-to-me produce item of the month is the watermelon radish. As a special bonus, I’ve also never eaten the lacinto variety of kale. As long as they bear some taste resemblance to their cherry radish and curly kale cousins, all should be delicious.

At the end of shopping, there was a single dollar left in my hand. I had been unsure of whether or not to get some of the $1 lemons that popped up in one of the booths, but the single remaining dollar was a sign and I picked the yellowest most juicy looking one. I’ll freeze the juice in the extra ice tray to have a quick single-serve lemonade whenever.

Final Stop: My backyard

No photo this week, but I only harvested a few small radishes. At least I also washed the leaves this time and packed them with various other goodies for my salad at work tomorrow.

Plus, I finally got around to planting a few other areas with carrot, radish, and lettuce seeds. If this pleasant weather sticks around for a while, it’ll be great to eat truly fresh picked produce.