Living Green? Don’t Be Weird about It

While I rarely involve myself in groupie things, I participate now and then when the reason is right. This particular event was an ad hoc assemblage of women, fabric, and sewing machines churning out shorts and shirts and knitted caps for babies on another continent.

Big groups don't excite me, which is why, like this Utah Juniper, I prefer solitude or small gatherings. Utah Juniper by Steve Henderson Fine Art

At the end of the day, the leader approached me with a black garbage sack full of scraps, the largest of which was half the size of a toilet paper square.

“None of us can use these, but we just can’t bear to throw them away.

“I know you quilt. Maybe you could make a project out of these?”

Easy answer.

“Of course I can.”

I took the bag home and did what 19 other quilters in the room could not do: I threw it away.

I know you’re concerned, but don’t be. My inner green girl was fine: she recognizes a bag of trash when she sees it, and it’s beyond even my obsessive nature to piece a king-sized bedspread with fraying clumps of crumpled cloth French kissed by dust bunnies and entwined with bent straight pins.

Which is not to say that I don’t reduce, reuse, recycle, or, as the generation before me put it, use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. My brother laughs at my “chicken” pie, which consists mainly of meat scraps from the boiled carcass, rounded out with lots of onions (cheap), potatoes (cheap), carrots (cheap), and celery (cheap). The ratio of vegetal matter to meat would make the food pyramid people (oh wait now, it’s a plate this week, isn’t it?) swoon.

My hat of many colors was a joyous compendium of texture and tone. Awakening (study) by Steve Henderson Fine Art

Over Thanksgiving break I embarked on a knitted junk hat, a simple confection of leftover yarn from earlier projects, because when the stash grows beyond two shoeboxes full I feel dissipated and dissolute. So, surrounded by the most important things in my life – my tribe – I knit during the off moments, enjoying sibling squabblry and chaotic serenity.

One yarn – merino wool and cashmere – I bought on vacation years ago; another, camel blended with mohair, returned from a business trip; alpaca spooning with silk evoked memories of a weekend at College Girl’s lair – I unashamedly and unabashedly go for the good stuff, and I wear what I make out of it.

What’s left over goes into the plastic shoe box, and when the lid doesn’t snap shut, I knit chicken pie, but seriously, the yarn pieces need to be more than two feet in length. Enough of neurotic already.

It’s okay, at some point, to call junk what it is – trash – and throw it away. I recognize that many times, it may be another man’s (or quilter’s) treasure, but sometimes, seriously, it’s truly garbage, and the effort of packaging it, storing it, and worrying about what to do with it, outweighs the benefits of stuffing a pillow with it. Despite the wisdom of middle age, I have not found a certifiably constructive use for old toilet paper rolls, and there are only so many long cords to be contained by a cardboard tube.

Whether you're living green or budgeting mean, it's okay, and necessary, to treat yourself to special things. Tea by the Sea by Steve Henderson

We all have a lot of stuff, too much, admittedly, but rather than reprimanding and rebuking one another into a lifestyle of fanatical austerity, why not live in reality? We can use up what we’ve got, pass it on to someone else if we don’t need it (as long as it isn’t a black garbage bag of snippets), purchase what we require, indulge in what we desire (yak yarn!) and be thankful for it all.

So buy things, wisely, for yourself and others, and enjoy them with gratitude – the same way you enjoyed the turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the pie. Eat leftovers, make soup from what’s left after that, bless the kitties on the porch with the giblets.

 I mean, somebody has to eat those things.

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
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5 Responses to Living Green? Don’t Be Weird about It

  1. Excellent! I applaud your good sense. I paint, but I also sew, and I have been trying to go through the stash and separate myself from a lot of it. It is gradually making it’s way across the living room. Not good enough.
    I love the ort hat idea! I keep thinking I have to save up enough to do a jacket or something, but a hat, and the shoe box idea are very sensible. Thank you so much!

  2. Jana Botkin says:

    Thank you for causing me to look up “dissolute” and “dissipated” – when my yarn trunk (cedar lined for wools) and basket (for cottons) are full, that is exactly how I feel. And, only 2 shoe boxes for your stash? You show remarkable restraint!

    Those paper towel tubes are most excellent for stuffing full of vegetable (“vegetal” matter?) bags, which have numerous (re)uses; T.P. tubes are trash. One may recycle if necessary to live guilt-free, but they will also decompose and add acid to your soil if you prefer; or, one could do one’s part for the economy and keep the local garbage company in business! (so many choices. . . sigh.)

    I’ve always believed that the cheap and conservative folks were the core of the green movement, but it has become so trendy to be green that I sometimes pretend as if I am not.

    This is one of your home run posts – circle the bases, Carolyn!

    • Jana — I was inspired early by the shoebox thing when I read an article about a woman who inherited her German grandmother-in-law’s “stash.” Everyone talked about how Grandma knitted copiously throughout her life, and the woman inheriting was thinking, “Man, I’m just going to be flooded with amazing yarn!”

      What she received was a plastic grocery bag of leftover yarn balls — probably enough to make a hat. I was impressed that Grandma must have made many scrap projects, ingeniously and creatively figuring out how to make beautiful new things from the remnants left of her own projects.

      I started with socks — because they’re all pretty much the same size, and it looks funky to have stripes of different yarns incorporated throughout. And if you run out of one before you finish the second sock, it really doesn’t matter, because the two socks share enough similarities to effect a match.

      It’s become a fun game, and some of my most pleasurable socks are the “free” ones made from scraps!

    • Jana — thank you for the lovely compliment. Even with my limited ability to understand any sports game, I do know what a home run is, and I’m a running to make it!

  3. Dianne — I have made a sweater from scraps, but of course I had to go out and buy more yarn so that I could finish it. I’m thinking that I defeated the purpose somewhere, although I like the sweater!

    I, too, sew, and I just finished a nightgown for Toddler with strips of leftover fabric from other projects — some of which were clothes I made for Toddler’s aunts. It’s sort of this Nightie of Many Colors, and it’s one of her, and my favorites.

    The fun about making things from scraps is multi-fold (ooh! pun! pun!) — you’ve already paid for the material for the first project, so subsequent projects are “free,” and you don’t stress about making a mistake, because if you do, you just toss the thing. But I find I’m more willing to experiment to make it work, doing something I wouldn’t otherwise do on a project made from new stuff.

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