Friday, 19 December 2014

a very indie christmas: decorator's notebook

For the next of my indie business posts, I'm mightily happy to introduce another online store with a sustainable ethos at it's heart. Decorators Notebook is run by brother and sister team Joe and Bethan, who stock items for your home which are not only beautiful and unique, but also fairly traded and ethically produced.

From the exquisite kantha quilts to the sisal woven baskets, products are made by artisans across the world who set their own prices, and are subsequently provided with a decent, living wage. Joe and Bethan particularly support women, people with disabilities and ethically marginalised groups; there is a section on the website where you can read about the projects from across the world, and who benefits from sales of different items.

I can't speak highly enough for Decorators Notebook; I think in an age where the high street stocks carbon copy items, manufactured in unknown places by faceless employees, this marvelous online shop is a breath of fresh air. Each product is handmade by artisans with specific skills, meaning that they're not only beautifully and expertly produced, but also totally unique and a complete one-off - and I love, love, LOVE the fact that you can read about where your money is going, and how you're helping to change peoples lives. Shopping with Decorators Notebook means that you can add individual touches to your home, help improve the living conditions of disadvantaged people across the world and limit your impact on the environment in one single transaction - what could be better than that?

(almost) totally free festive foliage extravaganza

If you follow me on Instagram (*points over to the sidebar*), you'll have seen that we've been spending looooads of time in the woods lately, enjoying the cold, crisp days and gathering supplies for decorating. I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to use more of natures goodies for decorating this year, keeping it simple and less...chaotic, and hit the jackpot when I discovered that our local country park had a pile of trimmed Christmas tree branches that were destined for the shredder. We struggled armfuls of them back to the car, mixed with some ferns and other evergreens, and I drove home thoroughly pleased (if a little squashed).

I knew I wanted to do some sort of green-arrangement-thingy (technical term right there, folks), but didn't really know what. Then the lovely people at Funny How Flowers Do That got in touch to direct me towards the video below: (do watch it, it will change your flower-arranging life forever, I promise!)

So simple, but at the same time ABSOLUTE GENIUS. WHY have I never thought of using a sellotape grid to hold everything in place when I arrange my flowers? I grow a lot of cut and wild flowers in the garden in the summer, and always end up having a giant huff when they don't stay where I want them to in the vase. But now, no more - because I have the Sellotape of Control! Ha! Ha ha!

In the end, I decided to just go for it with the greenery, and as the arrangement built up it actually ended up looking a little bit like a miniature Christmas tree. This made me stupidly happy, because our tree is older than Ben, and made of plastic - we wanted a real one, but couldn't justify the cost when we had something that was fit for purpose in the loft. *Gives tree the side-eye.* So now we have the best of both worlds. Fist pump!

The sellotape trick is literally amazing; I'd put branches and twigs in place and then turn round to reach for something else - and when I turned back, they HADN'T MOVED. Once I'd finished, I popped in a few sticks of berries from Wild Damson (amazing, amazing shop in Petersfield that sells all of that rustic-country style stuff I love), stood back and admired it. Nothing moved, nothing fell over and there's plenty of room to hang a few decorations from the branches (once, err, I've finished making them....). I couldn't be more pleased!

The leftover greenery is going to go into jugs and pots, and smaller pieces are going to be tied onto garlands and around jam jars to create simple tealight holders. There will hopefully be a post before Christmas day, but I seem to have more posts than I do days to publish them at the moment!

This is a collaborative post.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

a very indie christmas: riyka

In the second installment of my series on great indie businesses, I'm honoured to feature the wonderful clothes label Riyka. I was contacted by Rebecca, who founded the company with her husband Vedren, and she told me a little bit about their love of great design combined with sustainability, and how that naturally led to the creation of their clothing line.

Working from their East London studio, the duo use jersey, denim and leather offcuts and other recycled materials to create beautful clothing which is a mixture of geometric shapes, simple lines and clean finishes. They believe in environmentally conscious practises, fair wages for all employees, and the garments are all manufactured within the EU - not only that, but the price point is comparible with other high-end retailers such as Toast, People Tree and Lowie, making them a new favourite in the ethical clothing category.

Throughout December, anyone who spends over £100 with Riyka will receive one of their dustbags as a bonus free gift. Usually priced at £10, the dustbags are sewn by Elizabeth, a 27-year-old woman living in Gambia; after her father died when she was thirteen, she went to live with a family friend but when money became an issue, the GETS charity stepped in and sponsored her final two years at school. She was awarded the title of 'Best Seamstress' when she graduated, and is now working towards living independently; every dust bag sold or included with an order of £100 or over not only contributes to Elizabeth's future, but it also makes the perfect (re-usable!) packaging for Christmas gifts.

I'm so pleased to be able to highlight this wonderful company who place sustainable practises so high on their list of priorities, and I hope that you like their clothing as much as I do; personally, I've got my eye on that denim shirt. Check out that collar!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

five top tips for a green 2015

Although we haven't actually had Christmas yet, I'm already thinking about the things I want to see and do next year; places I want us to visit together, books and magazines I want to read, things I want to learn more about; ways to really make the most of our time during the evenings and weekends. One thing I am really intent on, though, is stepping up all of my eco-efforts - we already do all the usual stuff, but I'm really set on looking into gardening and growing more effectively (no more shrivelled courgettes, arrghhhhh) and I want to look into rainwater harvesting, even if it does only end up being a large bin in the back garden!

I know a lot of people are keen to be a bit greener, but aren't really sure where to start, so I thought I'd do a little post on my five top ways to help limit your impact on the planet - and the best thing is, they'll all cost you next to nothing. High five!

1. Get composting
I tried to think of a reason why you wouldn't want to compost, and I just couldn't; by either buying or making a simple composter, you can reduce your daily waste and give your plants a little treat in one easy move. You can compost almost everything from your kitchen that isn't cooked; fruit and vegetable peelings and offcuts, tea bags, cardboard, eggshells.... there's a great guide to what you can and can't put into your bin at Get Composting, which is where we got our compost bin from (it's a beauty, and it got us off to a great start). If you're a bit handy with some chicken wire and a hammer, there are plenty of tutorials online that show you how to make your own - my  own adventures in construction came to a pretty abrupt end when I dropped a paving slab on my foot. Eye-watering.

2. Limit your consumption
This is something I get pretty irate about, especially at this time of year; people buying tonnes and tonnes of stuff that they don't need, just because society has told them to. I've always championed buying second-hand and making things myself, so I was pretty pleased to stumble across Sarah Lazarovic's 'Buyerarchy of Needs' on Pinterest; based on the psychologist Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs', the buyerarchy is a good tool to use when you suddenly decide you need something new. Another good resource to learn about massive, continuous production and consumption is The Story of Stuff - an ace video which tells what our yearning for more, and bigger and more often is really doing to our planet. 

3. Give up plastic bags
When I see people loading their shopping into those flimsy plastic bags at the checkout in the supermarket, it makes me want to run over and smack them - especially when they're only putting a few things into each one. It's really not hard to buy a few of the bags-for-life, which are stronger and last longer, can hold more, and can be recycled when they eventually wear out - if you take them back to the shop, they'll even swap them for brand new ones at no extra cost. If you want to ditch plastic completely, there are so many great reusable bags for sale, and if you're crafty there are some great knitting and crochet patterns for traditional string bags online. If you have basic cutting-and-sewing skills, it's fairly easy to make your own tote-style shopper, and I love this ace tutorial on how to turn an old t-shirt into a reusable shopping bag. Down with plastic! (If you need any more incentive to give up plastic and plastic bags, check out the films over at Journey to Midway. Horrifying.)

4. Change your laundry habits
Until recently I was part of  frugal group on a certain popular social networking site, but I left when I discovered that most people washed their laundry at 60 degrees, and their towels at a whopping 90 degrees. NINETY DEGREES. Holy moly. The easiest way to make your laundry habits more earth-friendly is to simply turn down the temperature on your washing machine; we usually use the eco-cycle which operates at 30 degrees, and then for wool we use the cold wash. Next year, I want to seriously look into making my own washing powder as well; this is something I experimented with over the summer, but I couldn't quite get the mix right - there are absolutely LOADS of recipes on Pinterest, designed for all types of water and all fragrance preferences.

5. Help the bees (and butterflies)
Bees and butterflies are an absolutely essential part of nature; they're largely responsible for pollinating crops and plants, and reports have shown that they're seriously dwindling in numbers. A lot of people don't realise how terrifying this is; put simply, if there are no bees to pollinate our crops, there will have to be alternative manual methods, which will cost more and impact on the environment, and also raise the price of food significantly. Bees are vital, and it's pretty easy to encourage them into your garden; we plant mostly bee-friendly plants and flowers (there are heaps of resources online which list the best things to plant - they LOVE lavender), and we also have a bee-hotel, which provides lone bees with all-important shelter.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3

This is a collaborative post.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

a very indie christmas: tigerlilly quinn

As well as giving handmade gifts, and searching out alternatives to the usual electricals-computers-makeup-clothes options, this year I'm championing a series of great independent businesses which sell everything from beautiful magazines and books to quirky homewares, ethically produced accessories and beautiful organic skincare, Over the next five days, I'm going to be profiling some great little shops which are great destinations if you're looking for gifts with a difference - first up is one of my absolute favourites, Tigerlilly Quinn.

Owned and curated by Fritha, who also runs the popular Tigerlilly Quinn blog, the shop of the same name has a massively impressive range of stock. Find a stocking filler for the little ones amongst the eclectic toys, hunt out a gift for a friend in the jewellery section or treat your home to a Christmas gift with a bright and cheerful wall print. The shop is jam packed with great designers, from the quirky I Am Acrylic to famous accessories names And Smile and Ladybird Likes (if you've never checked out those collar clips, you really should!)

As a special Christmas gift, Fritha has kindly offered a 10% discount to readers of this blog; simply enter the code OWL10 at the checkout to save your pennies.

Friday, 5 December 2014

diy fabric notebook covers

After my post on great DIY gifts, I received an email from the lovely folk at Hobbycraft asking whether I'd like to review one of their craft kits - obviously, I almost gnawed their arm off with enthusiasm, and a week or so later, the kit arrived through the post.

I chose the fabric notebook kit from the Kirstie Allsopp range; I've loved all of the Kirstie Allsopp programmes and find the crafters that appear on there really inspirational. The projects are usually pretty simple, and can be easily adapted to suit your style or home decor - and I was really pleased to see that she'd gone down the same route when designing her craft kits.

When I opened the box, the first thing that struck me was what great quality the contents were; the notebook itself is one of those lovely thick-papered varieties, complete with back pocket for documents and mementos, and the fabric is a really good polycotton. I loved the attention to detail as well; the matching typefaces on all the labels were a lovely touch, and made identifying everything really easy.

The fabric itself, as well as being excellent quality, is printed to the correct size already - so all you need to do is cut out the required pattern and you're away. I thought this was a great touch, because it takes all the guessing and measuring out of the project, and makes it basically foolproof - there's no chance of cutting the fabric too small and then struggling to make it fit, while getting into a sweaty, swearing mess. Not that I've ever done that. Ahem.

The instructions are really clear and easy to follow; a lot of times I've tried to follow a kit and have found myself spending half the time scratching my head and shouting, 'but what are you TALKING about?" while glueing things to my hands. The instructions in the fabric kit were really comprehensive, and for the stitched version there were even little pictures that meant you could work alongside, and check you were getting it right. I also loved the bit at the back which gave pointers on ways to jazz up your finished cover; I added some lengths of lace and a ribbon tie, but armed with a glue gun, you could stick on anything from pompoms and paper shapes to bows and beads,

The kit is really flexible; there are directions for a permanent glued cover, and also for a removeable stitched cover, which can be reused over and over again - this really appealed to the recycler in me, and seemed somehow much nicer to give as gift, because it would obviously last indefinitely. The other bonus is that because the contents of the box are all so nice, it would make a great gift for any crafty friends as a whole kit - I know I'd be pleased to find one of these under the tree!

The kind folk at Hobbycraft sent me the kit to review, but all words and thoughts are my own. I really can't recommend it enough - it's by far the best craft kit I've ever used!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

latest thrifts and #MyCharityChallenge

In my last few posts I mentioned that we're planning on living a bit more simply and sustainably, starting with Christmas this year. I find it baffling that people spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds on credit cards, getting in to debt to buy things that will then be broken (planned obsolescence) or out of favour because it's been upgraded by a newer model (perceived obsolescence) in just a few months. We're giving handmade (mostly by, err, others!), vintage and thrifted gifts, decorating with last years ornaments and bringing nature inside with branches, leaves, berries and fir tree oddments, heading off to our local nature reserve for a festive nature trail, tractor ride and a visit to Santa, baking gingerbread and heading to our local Christmas market in Winchester. Simple, fun and memorable.

Sticking with the theme of thrifted and vintage gifts, the Salvation Army (one of my favourite charity shops!) is running the #MyCharityChallenge, which began by challenging fifteen bloggers to spend £15 in their local charity shop, and then share their findings. I was lucky enough to be involved, and found some great Christmas presents for friends and family, from brand new books to craft supplies for those handmade gifts (which, let's be honest, will probably be ready around New Year....). Long term readers will know from previous posts that I'm the biggest advocate of charity shopping, and every time I visit, I find myself wondering why people don't check there first when buying things - in their research, the Salvation Army found that a whopping TWO THIRDS of people will never buy clothes or gifts from a charity shop at Christmas time. Two thirds! I find it utterly unfathomable, but their loss is my gain....

I'd already cleared out quite a few clothes and toys that the kiddos either didn't use or couldn't fit into anymore; I tend to divide our unwanted things up into a few different piles - some for friends, some for charity shops, and the slightly tattier things (you know, those t-shirts with the permanent chocolate stain, the jeans with the torn knee) go to the textile recycling bin by our local park. I think it's really important to give to charity shops at this time of year, as well as buy from them; so many families can't afford to buy brand new toys or clothes for children, or even clothe themselves, so every little really does help.

I was incredibly pleased with my finds; Daisy is going to be the proud owner of this amazing red cord vintage Ladybird shirt (which I suspect is a boys shirt, but whatever!), and Ben will be introduced to the delights of The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me, which is beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake (ahhhh, childhood!). Although both Mary Berry and Jamie Oliver both look pretty happy to be perched on my table, they're going to be wrapped up and given to my Mum, and the cross-stitch aida will be made into little embroidered hoops like the ones in this post. Quite symbolically, I also found a copy of The Beginners Guide to Changing the World; although I was determined not to buy for myself, this just seemed to leap into my arms by accident. I'm really looking forward to thumbing through it in the evenings, huddled on the sofa with some mulled wine and Christmas biscuits. Lovely!

If you want to join in this Christmas (and I really, really urge you to - you can save money AND make a difference; spending just £19 in a charity shop could provide a family in need with a Christmas box), head to the Tots100 page for more details, and get involved in the great charity shopping Twitter party tonight between 8 and 9pm - follow @tots100 and @sa_shops on Twitter, and check out the #MyCharityChallenge hashtag for tips, questions and answers and photos of lovely thrifts. See you there!

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