Thursday, December 29, 2011

What you wear on your back.

Clothing is one of those necessities that is rarely ever produced locally and yet is absolutely necessary.  The construction of clothing - which was once an extremely common skill - is now a complicated process that happens 'somewhere else'.  Beyond the ethical concerns in clothing manufacturing ( which range from the types of fabrics used to the the working conditions and treatment of employees)  the factories and mills that mass produce clothing just do NOT exist anywhere near local - and even if they did - WHO would work there? Do you know how to sew? Can you design patterns and piece together clothing? Because if you can you're a rarity in our current society.  The question is - now that we've lost the skills and materials - how do we bring them 'home' again?

Like most things we start small. Begin by making conscious decisions about what you put on your back.  Know where they come from, what type of fabric they are made with, who made them ... and then vote for the world you want to live in with your wallet.  Support the small local businesses, the local designers, and  the organic fabrics. They may cost more than the factory produced items at the big box store but it's likely that the materials and construction are better and the clothing will last longer.

Want to learn a new skill? - pick up a sewing machine at a local thrift store - they are NOT expensive.  Older Elna's are fabulous - I have two - one is over 60 years old the other well over 30 - both are solid machines that just chug along and are very easy to fix and maintain.  Take a beginners course from your local fabric or machine seller - OR do what I did and teach yourself.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Be the Catalyst.

The children's story about the little red hen goes like this.  A little red hen found some grains of wheat, she decided to plant them and asked all around the farm for the other animals to help but everyone refused. So she did the work herself and when the grain was ripe, when it was ready to be ground, and when she was baking it into bread she again asked for help and all of the other animals continued to refuse. However when the bread was baked everyone was ready and willing to reap the benefits of all of her hard work. Ultimately she refused to share the bread and the moral lesson that was to be learned was that if you don't do the work you won't reap the benefits.

I prefer an alternate ending - one where the little red hen shares the bread with everyone and they love it so much that the next time she asks for help they all jump in to volunteer their services - and that as  a result of everyone's hard work the second batch of bread is big enough for everyone to have a fair share.  

I know I am an optimist and that bystander effect is a default behavior in more than just emergency situations (aka inertia).  Grass root changes tend to attract only the most fervent believers while everyone else just stands around watching to see what will result - but I have to hold onto the belief that when the results are proven - when the benefits of change are clearly observed that the hard work of the few will be the necessary catalyst to draw in the observers and affect the bigger and very necessary changes ahead of us. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Kyoto Accord

This week I am embarrassed to be Canadian.   It's a new feeling for me - I've always felt that I belonged to a county whose priorities at least somewhat jived with my own.  Pulling out of the Kyoto accord does not jive with  what I believe to be important.  Admittedly I don't know enough about how the accord was supposed to work - but it always felt to me like at least it was something that made us accountable for our actions and was moving in a direction with at least the majority of the world in sync.

What I am also embarrassed about is my own reaction to the news.  I passed the buck.  Dumped the blame on a government I never elected - and as a result I feel very American.  Obama was elected with a slogan of 'Yes WE can' - it wasn't 'yes I can' because frankly on his own he can only do so much.  He recognized that it would take the American people a lot of sacrifice and hard work to fix things and that was the line he was selling.  Almost 4 years later and the lack of significant changes are all being blamed on the one man when the lack of improvements is actually the result of population apathy. For some reason WE seem to think that we can sit back and make no changes in our own lives and that our governments (whether we voted them in or not) will miraculously make our lives better. REAL life doesn't work that way. REAL life requires that we take responsibility for our actions and inaction's - that we ACT when we want change - and that when we don't really want change we don't act.

So Canada withdrew from the Kyoto accord and that decision says things about my home country that I disagree with. Without belonging to the accord I can still commit to the values and intent that I agree with.  I can still commit to making improvements in my home and work that will reduce the emissions of my own family. I can take action in many small ways and if enough of us do take action we can make the same differences that Canada participating in the Kyoto accord could have.  After all it's the actual emission changes that were important and WE are the ones who have the actual power to make a difference - we just have to choose to use it.

Are you wondering what YOU can actually do to reduce global greenhouse emissions.  Start here - Consume Less (less electricity, less water, less fuel, less packaging), Localize what you do consume (buy local food and locally made products), Drive Less (car share, plan out excursions that require a vehicle, ride a bike or walk), Recycle.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Medieval Guilds

While many of the following would have no place in our modern world the list does give a fairly good idea of how many skills we've lost in our communities.

The names of some of the Medieval London Guilds included the following:
  • Apothecaries
  • Armourers & Brasiers (armour-makers and workers in brass)
  • Bakers
  • Barbers (also surgeons and dentists)
  • Basketmakers
  • Blacksmiths
  • Bowyers (longbow makers)
  • Brewers
  • Broderers (embroiderers)
  • Butchers
  • Carpenters
  • Chandlers (candle makers)
  • Clothworkers
  • Cordwainers (workers in fine leather)
  • Curriers (dressers of tanned leather)
  • Cutlers
  • Dyers
  • Farriers (shoers of horses)
  • Fishmongers
  • Fletchers (arrow makers)
  • Girdlers (girdles and belts as clothing)
  • Goldsmiths
  • Loriners (stirrups and other harness for horses)
  • Masons
  • Mercers (general merchants)
  • Needlemakers
  • Pattenmakers (makers of wooden clog-style footwear)
  • Plaisterers (plasterers)
  • Plumbers
  • Poulters
  • Saddlers
  • Salters
  • Scriveners (writers of court letters and legal documents)
  • Skinners
  • Tallow chandlers (Candle makers)
  • Upholders (upholsterers)
  • Vintners
  • Wax Chandlers ( candle makers)
  • Weavers
  • Wheelwrights
  • Woolmen (winders and packers of wool)

What's in a brush?

Only a short time ago hairbrushes and brushes of all sorts were handmade by local families. Children and parents would sit together around the table sorting bristles and making brushes.

Whatever skills they had, which materials they used, how those materials were processed etc.. have all become information known to only a very few. Those few find work with specialty brush manufacturers in isolated locations. But to find a brush that is locally made is nearly impossible.

Our goal is to make it possible.  To retrieve  lost skills and hand them off to people that are interested in providing the services to their local communities. To that end I have begun researching brush making and welcome any additional information that anyone with better knowledge than I can provide.

The necessary components for a handmade brush (and I am thinking hairbrush here though the varieties are almost infinite) are a handle and bristles.  From information scattered in random places over the internet it seems the handles are usually made from some sort of hardwood or bone. The woods I found range from ebony to satinwood, beechwood or even maple. Bristles for hairbrushes were unanimously Boar - though other animal fibers are used for a variety of other brush types.

In north america finding local hardwood should be fairly simple - a quick google search found me several mills and suppliers within a reasonable distance. If wood is not available then try for horn.

Boar  bristles on the other hand are going to be challenging to procure from anywhere near local.  China and India seem to hold the Bristle supply for the entire planet.  Boar bristles also require some levels of processing (boiling and steaming repeatedly in such a way that the bristles remain straight). Another google search found me a wild boar farm in north america - and though it is by no means as local to me as I would like it  it is at least still on the same continent. A nice conversation with the farmer and he will be giving a boar a quick shave in the spring when they are ready to shed their winter coats.

Techniques for assembling brushes appear to vary depending on the manufacturer.  A famous UK manufacturer sews the bristles through one half of a wooden paddle ( I am thinking that for an 'all natural' brush that horsehair would work well for this) and then attaches the back portion of the paddle. Most manufacturers somehow firmly embed the bristles into their previously drilled holes or into some form of rubbery cushion base.  The bristles are then trimmed according to manufacturer specifications.

Each individual who takes up this trade in their local community will have to come up with their own techniques for making their own quality products and find their own (as local as possible ) materials. Perhaps they should also take up Wild Boar farming ;)

My community wish list

aside from food and green energy which should be obvious ...

Soaps and cleaning agents