Sewing a Christmas Gift: The Naughty & The Nice

I first started my Christmas shopping a week or two ago.  One of the things of my list of Christmas-related things to do was sew a small makeup bag to contain a couple gifts – an eyeshadow palette and a small set of makeup brushes – that I purchased for my boyfriend’s mom.  So, I got started this evening…

Behold.  The straightest seams I have ever sewn to date.

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Isn’t it amazing?

Then, also amazingly, I managed to bend a pin.  I guess you could say, it bent to my will…

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It still got through in any case!  I mean, with much, much effort on my part.

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Then, after that, another little problem came up.  I was trimming the excess from the seams, and I hadn’t realized I was cutting right into a zipper.  The pinking shears quickly become stuck, and I just sat there for a couple minutes, unsure of what to do as I had tried to pry them apart with my hands, and it didn’t work.  After a while, I was like, “NOOOOOO, NOT MY FISKARS!!” and with the jaws of life, I used my hands to force apart those scissors, thus freeing my precious pinking shears.

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I just really love my pinking shears, okay?  Look at those perfectly pinked edges. Hah? Get it? Pinked… and the fabric is pink…

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The finished product.  Luckily, this time I remembered to unzip the zipper so I could have an opening in which to easily turn my bag inside out.  The first time I sewed a makeup bag, I didn’t do that – I spent quite a few minutes trying to get the zipper to unzip without being able to really put on the zip handle, but I eventually got it.

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It fits these small makeup items perfectly!  Because you know, I customized it to fit that way.

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Look! No open holes at the end of the zipper piece!  The first time I sewed my makeup bag, I had a small little gap, which wasn’t that bad, but it still bothered me.  This time, I ensured there was no gap.

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And here’s the naughty part.

I opened the door to my bathroom to find this.  The aftermath.

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I had kept my cat in the bathroom with the door closed so that she wouldn’t attack my sewing equipment and cause trouble while I was working on this project.

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You can see the tip of her tail on the right.

So, that’s another Christmas gift I can cross off my list!  Off to clean up that mess of what was formerly toilet paper now.

What you probably didn’t know about Etsy.com

When I first discovered the wonderful world of Etsy years ago, I thought it was the best thing ever.  To me, it was basically a search engine for all things handmade or handcrafted, with some vintage things thrown into the mix.  This wonderful bubble burst when I realized that not everything is truly, independently and lovingly handmade by some caring individual in their home.  Sure, you get that on Etsy, but there are also the greedy, lying individuals (I didn’t even bother to disguise my distaste here, did I?) who masquerade as independent crafters of handmade goodness, “working” in collaboration with factories overseas to create a multitude of products to sell for the masses, labeled as “handmade.”

So, nowadays, when I browse Etsy in search of something for my home, for a gift, or for myself, I try to investigate and determine whether or not what I am considering purchasing is truly, independently handmade or not.  Although Etsy’s new policy cites that sellers will have to disclose whether or not they’ve partnered up with a manufacturer in 2014, which will hopefully make this process a lot more transparent, you may be wondering how to do that now – seeing as how there’s still a month and a half to go until that happens.

Here are a few ways you can determine the independent credibility of a seller:

Check the opening date of the shop, and compare this to the number of sales that have occurred since that date.  Let’s say, for example, a clothing shop on Etsy opened up about a year ago from the date you’re now browsing their items for sale; if they’ve got about 400 sales or some ridiculous number like that since then, they’re most likely using a manufacturer and not using their own hands and personal time to handcraft these items.

Look at how many duplicate listings they have.  Generally, the more duplicate listings of the exact same items, the more likely it is that they weren’t lovingly handmade.  A truly independent seller, particularly if they care about the quality of their piece, would not necessarily have time to create several copies of one particular style of item, even if it is their full-time job.  In some cases, they’re getting help from partners, friends, or family, but sometimes, you have to compare and scrutinize the amount of listings to the amount of transactions to determine this for yourself.

Determine where the items are coming from.  Listings of items for sale will typically disclose where the item ships from.  This is not to say that if something is from China, you automatically must rule them out, as this is unfair to sellers who may actually be honest, independent workers, but if you consider the item’s location of creation along with the shop’s opening and the amount of listings, it should be pretty easy to determine if the item is truly handcrafted by an independent seller.

These aren’t hard or fast rules, but merely tips on what one ought to look out for if they’re interested in purchasing an item they can feel good about.  If you have any doubts or concerns, contact the seller and ask.

If you’re interested in reading more about Etsy and their changes in policy, try these articles:

No, donating your heaps of old clothes doesn’t make you a minimalist or a hero.

Reading an Op-Ed at the Business of Fashion website, “The Trouble with Second-Hand Clothes,” and NPR’s “The Global Afterlife of Your Donated Clothes” confirms a few recent thoughts I was having about donations and second-hand clothing.  If you haven’t read those articles yet, I highly recommend that you do so if you’re in any way curious about what happens with second-hand or donated clothing.

Many of us have probably donated at least one large hefty-sized bag of clothing, shoes, and accessories at one point in our lives or another.  It may feel like you’re doing a great thing at the time, and it certainly is a lot better than simply throwing away your perfectly good, usable things into the dumpster, but there’s a reality many of us choose to ignore or are not even aware of.  I feel that people often think that they can purchase whatever they want without thinking too much about it due to the wide availability of cheaply produced goods in stores and on-line.  However, one must remember that you ought to still strongly consider the next items you’re going to buy, especially clothing-wise.

Do you “need” it?  Sometimes, the need for possession is often disguised simply as desire.  You want it, but you don’t need it.  You may think you “need” something because some commercial, article, magazine, blogger, or Youtube “guru” told you that this was a “must-have” for any closet or individual, but obviously, you can live without it.  This is something I personally struggle with, as I’m sure most people do.  It would do you well to at least “sleep on” the idea, or wait a few days, before actually purchasing something; this will give you time to mull it over and to see if that initial lust fades.

Are you buying it as a replacement?  If you are, I sincerely hope that the item you’re replacing was not something that you purchased last season or within an otherwise recent time frame and that instead, you were replacing something you bought that was such high quality that it lasted you quite a while before you even had to think of replacing it.  I urge that if you’re buying something to replace something, such as a basic or “essential” in your wardrobe, please opt for high quality, well-made pieces that are versatile and practical for your lifestyle.  Even if the price of the piece is high, you are justified in that you won’t have to continually purchase replacements over and over again, thus wasting more money, consuming more, and creating more waste.  There’s a wise saying, “Poor people can’t afford to buy cheap things.”  It’s absolutely true.

Do you even have room in your allocated wardrobe space for this?  If you’re big on consuming, you most likely have already accumulated quite the collection of clothing, shoes, or accessories.  This implies that you already have something in your wardrobe that is similar and that you may not “need” what you’re wanting to add.

The last question circles back to the ideas of overconsumption, minimalism, and donations.  I feel that most people feel justified in continuing their habits of overconsumption – purchasing several pieces of fast fashion or other low-quality goods – simply because they know charity shops, thrift stores, or consignment shops will most likely accept their rejected goods.  Even though people who donate clothing are not throwing their items away into the trash, they are still effectively using charity or thrift shops as their personal dumpster – something that they think will absorb the excess of their consuming habits.  As stated in the two aforementioned articles, charity organizations often have trouble dealing with the mountains of donations they receive on a regular basis, and these unwanted pieces are often sent overseas or recycled as rags or other things.  It’s an expensive problem on its own, and it’s a cycle that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight – at least, not until the world realizes they need to buy a lot, lot less.

Inexpensive Gift Wrapping Idea

Here are a few goodies I packaged for my wonderful boyfriend as part of a care package.  I love seeing how people inexpensively package gifts for people, especially if it involves reusing things, so I thought I’d share!

Inexpensive Gift Wrapping Idea

For the items in this picture, I:

– Reused a saved pasta jar sauce for homemade pre-mixed hot cocoa (remove the label while soaking it in a bowl of warm water, and remove the sticky residue with a generous amount of acetone or nail polish remover).
– Hand made gift tags cut out myself from brown paper bags from the grocery store, drawn on with sharpies or a fine ink pen
– Used twine to tie on the labels/gift tags (you can also use ribbons!)
– Decorate the boxes and jar with polka-dotted patterned tape (you can find this at Target or any crafts store)

“Conscious consumerism” is still consumerism.

One of the reasons why I started this blog was because I decided I wanted to commit to a lifestyle change for the better – not just for myself, but also for the wellbeing of the environment and the people with whom I share this world.  When I was about five years younger, I explored the realm of sustainably-created, environmentally-friendly goods, but I quickly forgot about this as I became more and more absorbed with the materialistic culture that society has cultivated over decades.  It almost seemed ingrained in my brain – and everyone else’s mind in my generation – that we should spend money and accumulate goods.  With the vast majority of companies opting to take their production of goods overseas, where they typically pay people lower wages, we as a society are becoming quite comfortable with our consumerism habits.  It’s even easier now to experience instant gratification when you’ve got online vendors at your fingertips, with overnight or two-day shipping options available so that you can have what you want as quickly as possible.  Or, you can make it even more instant by personally visiting one of the billions of brick-and-mortar stores that offer a selection of cheaply made goods that you can pick up and take home.

This summer, I moved into a studio.  My boyfriend, who was helping me, commented, “You sure have a lot of stuff for one person!”  It was absolutely true.  Some things, I felt were necessary, such as the sofa, chairs, bed, and lamps, but I felt like the bulk of it was comprised of my closet.  Over the years, I’d dig into my closet every now and then and sort out all the things I no longer wanted or things that I haven’t worn in a long time.  I would make a huge pile, stuff them into one or two (or even three) large bags, and I would donate them.  Then, more recently, I remarked to my boyfriend, after opening my walk-in closet door and revealing the unorganized mess inside, “I can’t seem to make a dent in this closet!  Every time I donate something, I always seem to have the same amount of clothes!”  He said something that was very obvious and made a lot of sense, “You do make a dent.  But you also buy things to replace what you got rid of, so it seems like you didn’t.”  I realized then that I needed to make strict changes with my consuming habits.  Even though I believed I was being more of a conscious consumer because I was choosing to buy goods that were secondhand, vintage, produced by independent sellers, or produced by companies that touted fair trade/fair wages/sustainable/ethical/etc., I was still consuming and accumulating too much.

The bottom line:  Consumerism is consumerism.  Don’t buy too much.  If you’re going to buy something, consider where it came from, who made it, and how long it’s going to last you.