Friday, 2 November 2018

Free Pattern Friday: Handkerchiefs and on Sewing to Reduce Plastic


Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I normally road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes a women's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those of you who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

However, I'm going on a bit of a tangent with this month's instalment, so apologies if you swung by for a regular review of a free pattern (I flatter myself!). Today I want to write about sewing from a slightly different angle. With all the awesome new sewing patterns, beautiful fabric, labour-saving equipment and eye-wateringly expensive machinery available for sewers/sewists to buy, it's easy to buy into (sorry for the pun) the idea that sewing is like many other activities: a pass-time that will cost you a fair amount of money to participate in. But as skilled sewers, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We have forgotten, or perhaps more accurately, have allowed ourselves to be coaxed away from the belief that sewing is a superpower that can save money and resources, perhaps over time if not immediately. 

The point I'm trying to make is that the 'drop £15 on a lovely new sewing pattern, drop £20 on gorgeous fabric to make it in, sew it up then put it on Instagram' formula isn't the only way to engage in and utilise sewing. Don't get me wrong, as you can tell from this blog and from my own Instagram feed, I LOVE making a fabulous, well-fitting, wearable garment that helps me visually communicate to the world who I am and how I feel. But, increasingly, I am trying to make a conscious effort to do more of the type of sewing that the women from previous generations used to do: the mending, the reworking, the fulfilling needs in the home without necessarily spending money on new materials. 

What I'm interested in thinking about at the moment is ways we can use our sewing skills to provide for ourselves and our families, as well as to have 
a positive environmental impact. And as anyone who has been sewing for more than five minutes will have realised, it's impossible not to accumulate a lot of stuff (fabric, patterns, zips, buttons, threads, blah blah). We already have a lot to work with. I think we need to encourage ourselves to flex our creativity more often to do more than just follow the steps of a sewing pattern, and work out how to turn some of what we have accumulated into some of the things we need in our daily lives (other than clothing). 


So how can we use our sewing skills to save money and resources? SO MANY WAYS. We have serious powers. We can mend ripped seams, replace missing buttons, knock up a fancy dress costume from an old net curtain, make the fabric totes and produce bags that we now take to the supermarket instead of accepting plastic bags, and infinitely more. 

Speaking of plastic. We (hopefully) all know now that not all plastic is recyclable. And recently we've been reading reports that the majority of plastic we think we're sending to be recycled isn't actually recycled anyway. I read a horrendous statistic recently (sorry can't remember the source) that said that people have produced more plastic in the last decade than we did in the WHOLE OF THE 20TH CENTURY, AND that only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. So like many people, I've been looking at my own waste: the amount and types of things my family sends to landfill or to be 'recycled', plastic very much included. I'm focusing on a few products that my family consume and then send to landfill at a time, and am trying to find and/or make alternatives that are more sustainable.

All of which is a long-winded explanation and preamble to say that I've been making hankies. Yonks ago my husband and I got ourselves hooked on buying those multipacks of pocket tissues, with their layers upon layers of non-recyclable plastic. More recently I started buying boxes of tissues to have round the home to reduce the amount of plastic we were throwing away, but I felt that I could go one step better by making old-school, washable handkerchiefs. Now I'm hooked;, it's one of the quickest, cheapest and most satisfying sewing projects I've ever undertaken. It will not surprise you to learn that the process entails simply cutting and hemming a square of fabric, but whilst researching how big to cut my squares, I found this decent Wikihow tutorial if you feel you would like some guidance. 

The first batch I made was from some stripy cotton that lives in my stash and usually gets used for toiling/muslin-making. It has a similar weight and softness to bedsheets, and it's proven perfect for hankie making. The squares I cut were 30cm X 30cm, but I have found them to be slightly too small for an adult woman, so the next couple destined for my own use were 35cm-ish X 35cm-ish pre-hemming. I must admit, having been used to using tissues myself for so long, it took me a while to get used to blowing my nose on fabric, but I've started to find it somewhat luxurious (particularly when I've bothered to iron and fold them into nice squares!).


With my second batch (pictured above), I cast my net a little wider for candidates as I went through my fabric scraps tub. The anchor, spotty and strawberry fabrics are all slightly thicker than the stripy stuff. They aren't quite as nice to use, but are perfectly adequate and will probably soften through repeated laundering. I'd say the thickest weight fabric that is suitable for making handkerchiefs is a light quilting cotton type deal, and a soft bed sheet type affair is ideal. The strawberry fabric hankie is for my daughter, the smaller anchor and the spotty ones are for me, and I also made a couple of anchor hankies for my husband (40cm X 40cm). He has the worst sinuses of anyone I have ever met and gets through a shocking number of tissues per week. I'm hoping that I can convert him. 

Next I plan to try some scraps of cotton lawn. How lovely would a set of Liberty or Cobra corsage cotton lawn hankies be as a Christmas present? I think that would be super fancy. 

What about you? Are you a seasoned hankie-user? Or, like my best friend, can you just not get behind blowing your nose on fabric?! What have you made to replace a disposable/wasteful item you use in you're daily life?

21 comments:

SewRuthie said...

It is a great idea. Everyone had cloth hankies when I was a child but it seems to be a lot less popular these days, so you do any special hemming and mitering?

Heather said...

Love your article. I've been using cloth hankies for years now and several family members have just requested them for Christmas. I'm really glad as it took a while top convert them!

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Hiya! Good idea. In NZ, people are well into beeswax wraps right now to wrap lunches and use as food coverings in the fridge instead of glad wrap. I haven't gone there myself yet although we sell a lot of beeswax for this purpose. I use containers with lids instead.
Also, making bags that roll up into another bag for the handbag so when shopping there's always a bag on hand. Misinformation about the eco friendliness of these bags has been spread - I am pretty sure the use stats are based on one for one plastic bags, but they hold a lot more weight and I've had one for ten years and counting so I think it's crap!

sewthisisme said...

My Dad has always used cloth handkerchiefs and I’ve been using them for the last 5 years or so now and much prefer them to tissues. I also find that when I get a cold and am blowing my nose a lot that my nose doesn’t get all red and sore like it does with even the balm tissues, which is a definite bonus too! My partner and my Mum have both shown an interest in using hankies and I was going to buy them some, but I’ll have to see if I’ve got any suitable fabric and try making them some instead!

Alessa said...

Funny you should post about this now, as I've also been thinking about cloth hankies recently. I had to borrow one off my granny recently, who told me that she has more than she could ever use, since she has her own, and also my gramp's and my great-granny's. Now I'm thinking that it would actually be nice to use those inherited ones...

Megan said...

I'm so glad to see your post on making handkerchiefs (and reducing waste). I've been using cloth hankies for years, as well, and have started using scraps to make new hankies. Old flannel bedsheets (cut into squares) make great hankies, because the flannel is super soft against a sore nose.

Trudy said...

I used to think hankys were gross , old lady things until I actually used one. They are so much nicer to use than tissues and they only get softer with time

Anonymous said...

How do you handle washing them? Do you throw them in with the rest of your laundry? I've considered using hankies because I go through a lot of tissues but wasn't sure how to deal cleaning them...and I think I would need a big pile just for myself :P

Tasha said...

I love the theme of this post, and totally agree about the value of using our sewing skills in practical ways! I think doing so is where the real power comes in, it may not be glamorous but it's how we can really choose for ourselves instead of letting corporations dictate what we buy and use.

My next project in this line is making some produce bags. I have cloth shopping bags, and I've been rinsing and re-using the plastic bags for veggies and bulk foods, but I want to go a step further. I have a few fabrics to try to see which ones I like best ... I'll report when I figure it out!

Catherine said...

I darn socks (well decent wool socks), knit socks, repair and modify items. Turn old towels flannels and t shirts into cleaning rags — knit cotton kitchen cloths - much more eco than kitchen roll...(we still have kitchen roll but use far less of it)..

Packed lunches in boxes and bags not plastic wraps/bags.. even on school trip when then want it light I send it in a cloth bag not w disposable plastic bag. All the things our grandmothers would have done (well depending on your age I suppose!)

reusable drinks bottle etc etc ... it all adds up :)

Jo said...

I have made hankies but haven't for a while. My grandmother always had hankies and I have a few of hers which I have kept because they smell like her perfumed infused handbag! As for sewing stuff. I am more than happy with a wooden chop stick for turning and making pointy corners! Great post. Jo x

Barbara said...

I haven't made hankies because there's no need. I have purchased them by the dozens at estate sales. Some of them are silky and have feature beautiful embroidery. Hopefully they will hold up to the washing and drying for many more years.

Corinna said...

I've always used hankies (I wonder if it's an Australian thing as all my family and my husbands family use hankies) except when someone has a really bad cold and then I prefer to use tissues to throw the yucky ones in the bin and not the wash. Our local, very old-fashioned, department store here in country Australia sells Liberty print hankies and my daughter has been gifted some over the years. They are the best - so soft and so pretty - and I'm supremely jealous so I think I need to make myself some pretty ones as well.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be the negative voice, but I used cloth hankies through my childhood and I hated them. When you have a cold, and are producing vast amounts of snot, they are so quickly soaked, and I just remember wiping my sore raw nose on a soggy and scratchy piece of cloth. Also, I would wantto put them on a hot wash for hygeine, so the eco-benefits would be reduced. Paper tissues are, after all biodegradable.
I already have all the usual things like cloth shopping bags, but what I have started in recent years is using cloth to wrap gifts. For christmas I have a selection of Christmas quilting cotton and lovely ribbon, which my friends and family know my system and give back when unwrapped. For birthdays and other gifts I use nice scarves from the charity shop, or pieces of old duvets with ribbon, I encourage people to use them again for the next gift that they give, hoping to share their use wider.

Ronja said...

I bought hankies years ago. I realized they crumpled up into tiny balls in the wash & I really got frustrated with how small they were. I don't know why I haven't just gone through my stash & started making up nice hankies in a bigger size! My husband often uses a sock in the middle of the night. I often use yesterdays shirt. This will be slightly nicer & I can take them out into public. Here is the real question though. What do you do with it once you've used it? I have a dozen of the garment bags that I use for my breast pads, baby socks, bras, etc. I'm thinking of just putting a stack of hankies in my hubbies car & a garment bag for him to put the used ones in. I am starting to like this idea. Now hack up some flannel & put it through the wash a dozen times.

Zoe said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! Regarding laundering, I've just been chucking them in the regular wash (I was everything at 30 degrees) and they've been fine. I usually give them an iron before using them again though, because A) it feels more luxurious somehow, and B) it makes it clear which are used and which aren't. I don't know why you'd want to put them on a hot wash, unless you were seriously contagious! 30 degrees seems fine for all the muck my kids cake their clothes in each day, so a bit of snot wouldn't be any different I feel.

@Anonymous who disliked using them as a kid, I also disliked using overly wet ones when I was a kid, especially when my nose was sore. But as an adult I can go and get myself a clean/dry one whenever I want! And make them out of suitably soft fabric.

xxx

helenko said...

I bought some hankies 20 years ago for an event where I knew I would be doing a lot of crying. When I cry, well let's just say it's more like flooding and the sinuses get involved and tissues just cannot cope! I have used (and made more) ever since.

Not only are they better for the environment, they are easier on the skin of your nose because they aren't made of wood pulp, no one is ever confronted with a used tissue that one inadvertently dropped, one can wash them, and they can be used in so many cases - such as when one uses the lavatory, one can dry one's hands w/o adding to the paper trash AND use the hankie to open the door with. I learned when studying Japanese several years ago that this is why most Japanese folks carry hankies and that generally public restroom do not have paper towels.

I carry them all the time....and I also am a fan of fabric napkins for home dining as a tangential result of my hankie usage. I made 12 napkins from $1 a yard fabric 20 years ago....and I still have 3 of those in use today. It makes me happy to think that 20 years of paper napkins did NOT go into the trash because of this. :)

Zoe said...

@helenko, thanks so much for your comment, I loved reading it!

xxx

Jessica said...

Zoe! I love this. I've made hankies out of Liberty scraps and I adore them. Perfect weight, very cheerful as you're drowning in hay fever sinuses. I keep a couple on hand, and through a combination of rotating them/their thinness, don't often have the "wet hanky" problem. This post is reminding me I should make some more ;-). I think voile would also work well.

Joomi Lee aka Joo-Mi E said...

This is one of my favorite posts on your blog because it is not only plastic free but also zero waste friendly. I had been thinking about sewing up a bunch of cotton squares for toilet duty and eventually reduce and eliminate my toilet paper purchases. I already use cotton gauze for my nose. It is encouraging to see how many other people have responded positively in the comments section.

Joomi Lee aka Joo-Mi E said...

I am considering a portable bidet to spray off most of the icky stuff before actually wiping myself with a cloth toilet wipe.

By the way, someone made a youtube video of how to make your own reusable waxed cloth food covers.

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