Sunday, 28 February 2010

Fairtrade Fortnight

I've been working with Hopscotch Theatre Company for the past month, performing in a show called "Brand New Andrew and Fair Trade Fred". It's a production which is touring to schools throughout Scotland, spreading the message about fair trade and ethical consumerism. Many young people pester their parents for designer brands, but few of them know that these clothes may have a hidden human cost, often involving exploitation of children the same age as them. It's a really interesting and fun show to perform, as it encourages the audience to rethink their attitudes while also providing an hour of music, comedy and all-round entertainment.

Well, as it's currently Fair Trade Fortnight, there are plenty of events going on around the country. One such event is the Fair Trade Experience, which just took place this weekend in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. We were asked to perform our show there on Friday night to an invited audience of Co-op members and guests, and then did four excerpts over the course of the weekend. It was a fantastic event to be part of, with stalls, activities and displays to entertain people of all ages. I spent a while going round the stalls, and picked up some lovely Mothers' Day presents for my mum, as well as a jar of gooseberry jam from Swaziland for my dad. My mum's presents came mainly from a stall run by Rainbow Turtle, a stockist of fairly traded goods in Paisley. They run a charity which aims to enhance the profile of fair trade by campaigning and educating with different groups and organisations, as well as directly supporting producers in developing countries financially, and stocking their goods in both Paisley and Linlithgow. The stall had all kinds of little gifts - carved wooden tulips, pencils and pens with animal heads, felted purses, bracelets and other jewellery, little bugs made from nutshells and wooden whistles among other things.

There were so many other stalls to choose from though, and so many things which showed true crafting ingenuity. I especially liked some little wire lizards which were made from recycled soft drink cans, and shopping bags created from old remnants of plastics. I was also intrigued by a stall run by Ethics Girls, a group which aims to make it easy for us to choose ethical products. They run an on-line shop, magazine and forum, and are also becoming a co-operative. I've always assumed that fair trade fashion would be really expensive, but I was pleasantly surprised by some of the prices displayed. They couldn't compete with Primark, but I think that's a good thing. Surely it's better to buy fewer, more expensive and better quality pieces of clothing than lots of throwaway fashion that harms the environment and decreases the quality of life for the people who create it.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot recently. I'm a lover of cheap fashion and bargains as much as anyone else, but the guilt factor has been starting to creep in. I was very affected by the BBC Three series "Blood, Sweat and T-shirts", which exposed the conditions in sweat shops overseas. It was shocking to see women separated from their children and men who were unable to live with their families, as they were working such long hours for a wage that gave them no quality of life. This sort of exploitation doesn't just occur in the world of fashion though - the BBC recently screened "Blood, Sweat and Takeaways" which showed similarly appalling conditions for workers in the food manufacturing process. I've been trying to think of ways in which I can become a more ethical consumer, starting with the theme of this year's Fair Trade Fortnight, the Big Swap.

Of course, being an avid crafter, I also started thinking about the materials that I use in my work. The fair trade movement has really started to have an effect in the world of craft, with fair trade yarns becoming more and more popular. Debbie Bliss Eco, Manos del Uruguay, Mirasol, Artesano - these are just some of the yarns that benefit both rural communities and the environment. However, as we say in our show, fair trade things don't just have to come from overseas. Buying from local farmers and shops can be fair trade too, and there are many yarns made by small scale producers and cottage industries in the UK, and a huge number of crafters who sell hand-made gifts and clothing that has a more personal touch.

Personally, I think that the resurgence in handicrafts and self-sufficiency is a great thing. Sometimes it feels like the world, and our local high streets, are being taken over by giant businesses which annihilate the competition. I would love to return to the high streets of my childhood, where you could visit a greengrocer or farm shop and get fresh local produce. Now it's all too easy to go to one supermarket and get your weekly shop there, especially as we all lead such busy lives nowadays. By making and growing our own things, we can reclaim a bit of individuality. Handmade things will often be one-of-a-kind, and are so much more personal than mass-produced items in shops.

It can be hard to choose fairly traded and ecologically friendly things sometimes, especially if you're on a budget. However, crafting can be a way to avoid adding to the profits of big businesses, if you can't afford to buy the more expensive fair trade alternatives. For example, I buy most of my clothes in charity shops, as well as sourcing many of my fabrics and yarns from there. Freecycle can also be great for finding things you need, and offloading unwanted items which would otherwise go to landfill. Recycling and repurposing will help the environment, and perhaps save a little money which could then be spent on fairly traded, organic and eco-friendly goods when you do decide to buy new.

As you can probably tell, I've been quite inspired by my involvement in the Fair Trade Experience. I'm currently developing a pattern for a bag using fairly traded organic cotton sourced by bioRe. I've also put together a list of my favourite fair trade stockists, and crafters who use recycled and repurposed materials. If you can, please consider supporting some of them!

East, People Tree, Monsoon Fair Trade, Traidcraft
Nic's Eco Knits, Maximum Rabbit Designs, Swirlyarts, Lili Draws Pictures, Fizzy Popov

Friday, 12 February 2010

Cheerful orange

I was commissioned to make an orange bag for the Make Room where I'm selling my designs, and I've been struggling to find the time to do it. I did the required charity shop trawl to get fabric a fortnight ago, but my evenings have been filled with housework and exhausted napping on the sofa. Finally, I got a few hours spare to create the bag, and this is the result.

I used an old wool coat to make the main section of the bag, and felted it slightly in the washing machine to make it extra soft and less likely to fray. Then I stitched on the embroidery border from a cotton smock top, and created a flower with a beautiful dip-dyed scarf and a yo-yo in deep orange. I added a polyester satin orange lining, and bamboo handles. I loved the buttons from the coat, so I sewed one of them into the centre of the flower.

It looks like a really easy make, but as I do everything by hand, it actually took a good few frustrating hours. The first lot of handles didn't work, so I had to take them off and add wider ones so that the bag didn't sag. However, I'm very pleased with the result, and hope the recipient will be happy!

Saturday, 6 February 2010


I just finished the most fantastic sweater EVER! I have found my new favourite pattern, and will probably make it again many times. The sweater is Owls by Kate Davies, and has currently been knitted by nearly 2500 Ravelry users. You can't argue with that sort of popularity!

The sweater is knitted from the bottom up, with a fitted look created by waist shaping at the back. Many of those who had already knitted the sweater found the shaping a bit problematic, with a sort of baggy effect forming at the top of the back. I tried to eliminate this by trying the sweater on regularly while I was making it, and adapting the shaping to fit my own measurements. I started off by making the 36" size, and then did less increasing after the waist shaping than recommended in the pattern. I made the body very long, added the sleeves, and then knitted the yoke in the 34" size for a close-fitting look. I can't decide whether or not to add button eyes, so I'm leaving the sweater plain for the moment to see how I feel.

The whole thing took only 4 days to make, but the sleeves knitted up in 2.5 hours each - such a quick project. I used Sirdar Peru, which is a lovely soft blend of wool, acrylic and alpaca - the only downside being that you can't machine wash it. I'm so happy with this project, and I'm just about to start making the child version for the kids!

The Owlet sweaters will have to wait a bit though, as first I have to finish the fair isle 1940's style sweater that I'm working on just now. Here's a sneak peek of some of the patterning...