Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Loving the Challenge...

Tif's Challenge of the Utmost Kind is having a very positive effect on my life so far... Here is Tif, with her Dottie Angel Challenge - you can read about my response here, and her original challenge here.
Instead of giving you a running commentary on my weekend Vide Greniers finds, I thought I'd let the pictures speak (mostly) for themselves, and go through some answers to questions about the Challenge, plus letting you know how it's going so far...
So, the questions first.
Question 1: Can people still buy me new gifts? Of course, if they want to, but maybe this will free people up when they realise (as my sister already does, for example) that I'm very happy to have hand made, second hand or otherwise 'acquired' gifts from them. If my family wants to track down my Amazon wishlist, for example, they could buy me a second hand version of a book I'm longing for... (hint, hint)...Question 2: Surely you never found an Emma Bridgewater tray in a Vide Grenier in southern France? (OK, I made up that question, but you need to know the truth - I already had the tray and most of its contents - only the watch was new to me this weekend).Question 2 (the real one): Is this about 'being green'? Oddly enough, not particularly. We lead as green a lifestyle as we can anyway, and if I really wanted to have less of an impact on the planet I think there are other things I would change in my life first. Instead, I see this Challenge as a discipline, almost kind of a fast, to give me a chance to re-focus my life and my spending/consumption habits. This has some eco-relevance, but it's almost more spiritual for me. Hmmm, heavy...Question 3: (OK, OK, now I'm making up questions the way John Holmes makes up letters in the Now Show, but it's for a purpose...) What about those exceptions - you haven't said anything about clothes? I buy second hand or am given (as 'hand-me-downs') nearly all of my clothes. I do quite a bit of 'upcycling' of the clothes I'm given and am keen to do more. Last winter I bought some great boots and shoes (new - very unusual for me) and I have fairly new, or long-lasting, undies, so I think I'll be OK by continuing my careful mending policies... Tights are little-needed in southern France - I'll be fine!
Spurious Question 4: Why the exception you made for Fair Trade produce? Most Fairly Traded stuff is hand made anyway, so it comes into Tif's original rules. I also feel passionately about giving fair recompense to producers around the world, and this is a realisitic way of supporting people I will never meet. If I stopped buying FT for a year it would be a negative move, not a positive one. Since food is not part of this challenge, my FT buying habits there won't be affected anyway.
So, how is it going? As I said, I'm finding it incredibly positive so far - thanks Tif!
Successes so far include the discovery that second hand filing cabinets are readily available in France - by checking on the Internet I can see that they frequently come into the Troc Shops, so a bit of patience and popping in every now and then (or checking the local websites) should find me one to sort out our filing problems within the next month or so. If I'd bought one new, it would probably have stood, empty, for a while before I got the time to set it up, so it might as well sit waiting for me, second hand somewhere - I will find it!Another phenomenal success on a more frivolous level is that I found two (two!) red-initialed nighties at the VG this weekend! Elizabethd knows how much I have wanted one of these. I saw one in Brittany for 65 euros - ludicrous! The vendor wanted two euros each for these two...She thought they were family nighties, but did not know who LR was. I think she was a bit bigger than me round the middle, though!Despite that, they do fit, and I might just wear one after a bath as a rather whimsical version of a pair of house pyjamas!
But really, I just wanted to own something(s) this fine...There was another hand-embroidered nighty in the same collection, for the same price...
Very fine work... Love it!
If you turn the embroidery over you can see it is all hand done.And this is another good thing about thrifty shopping - even at the VG prices can be cut! I only discovered this label when I got home - it means that the nighties were in a Braderie, and didn't sell...So, exceptions and failures... I have felt positively freed up not having to make decisions about buying new stuff or visiting my favourite decor shops. I've had more time to do other things... I did go into a big electronics shop and buy something I'd promised I'd get for Ben. It's a desktop hard drive, so that he can download all our important files and photos before we upgrade/replace the computer. To be honest, the upgrade needed is so all-encompassing (only the screen still works properly) that we will probably need to buy a 'new' set. However, we might find this 'new' computer second hand - watch this space. I do predict that this will be the hardest thing to fit within this challenge, this year...The tin and its contents above weren't cheap, in case you were wondering! The vendor knew exactly what she was selling, and gave them to me at a reduced price for buying the lot, but nothing over-generous. I do think I did well, though.
And finally, I've found and photographed the magazine photo which I think inspired me to re-discover all the wonderful vintage things I had packed away around the house! The photo above was on the front of an old magazine which I bought shortly after arriving in France. Don't you think it's inspirational?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The astute reader will have noticed that I'm not speaking French today, but that I've learned a Japanese word from Mami! Kawaii means 'pretty', and Mami used it to describe Cath Kidston, but I made a very pretty Japanese thing this weekend: Yes, reader, I went! The Alterna'town festival was very good. The round table discussions looked rather heavy (the one on taxes, when I went on Saturday morning, was six men getting pretty heated, so I gave that one a miss...) but the conferences seem to have gone well - our neighbour went to most of them and appears to have found them helpful.
I, however, gravitated towards the more hands-on, less linguistic side of things, and discovered this:
A workshop on vegetable dyeing, using indigo. Ahhh - the chance to hand-produce some blue clothes and fabric!
Dominique, our workshop leader, explained how the family of indigo plants is quite a large one, and includes the famous pastel, known in Britain as woad. Ancient Britons used to war-paint their faces with this, and one imagines them looking quite fearsome, but in France pastel was used for more peaceful purposes, and Toulouse became a very rich city in the 16th century as the centre of pastel production. First the Indian indigo trade, and then the introduction of chemical dyes, burst Toulouse's 'pastel bubble' (it really was a financial crash), but now the natural, local dyes are rightly popular again and you can see wonderful pastel-dyed clothes for sale locally. The big centre of production is now in le Gers, not far from us. Follow that link if you like blue - it's a beautiful site (in English)!
Dominique had her indigo (not pastel, I think) heated to 70 degrees in a big pot. Indigo is the only vegetable dye which does not need to boil, and does not need a mordant to hold in the colour. It does, however, need to ferment a bit for the blue colour to be released from the plants, and the pot was pretty stinky!
We had been asked to bring a piece of cloth or a T-shirt. Dominique showed us her own example, using a little cotton bag she'd been given by another stall-holder at the festival, and then advised us on how to devise a dyeing technique suitable for our own pieces.
She advised that I do my secondhand T-shirt using classic African tye-dye, which worked well... Most of the others used the Japanese techniques of shibori - again, do click on the link, because the website I found explains it a lot better than I could!
First, soak your tied-up parcel in water.Then dunk it in the indigo vat...A short dip will produce a soft blue shade, a longer dunk gives stronger colours...
Remove when ready, and watch the magic - it's yellow! No, it's green! But I wanted blue!
The fabric is briefly yellow, and then green for a longer while, because the blue only appears as the pigments become oxygenated in air or water.
They need another rinse in the water, and then they can be unwrapped...We were warned not to make holes as we snipped off the strings. This seemed like very heartfelt advice! In goes some shibori...
And once it's been dunked and rinsed, it's time to unwrap...
The green is still visible as you unroll, but it fades as you go.Kawaii! This one was made by another member of the workshop. It's an amazing technique.
Here is Dominique, in various shades of indigo herself, showing off my T-shirt!
The little bag was dunked twice: once in string to give the stripes, and once as a brief dip to lightly colour the whole fabric.One of the young girls in the workshop saw my T-shirt and said in surprise : 'It's just like you get in the shops, only it's natural!'Having been in Dominique's workshop, I asked permission to take some photos of her stand.The wools are such high quality. It almost makes me wish I could knit!
Almost... Here's one quick photo of the rest of the festival - I liked the Nepalise bunting.So that was a very worthwhile visit to the Alternative Living Festival! I'm ending this post with some photos from a magazine which I've been promising Sarah, from A Beach Cottage, for a while. (She's having a giveaway, folks - do pop over!)Sarah found a window in a skip the other day. It reminded me I'd seen this great window photo...... in a French Beach Cottage!
I hope that gives you some ideas - I love the way it's been set up, myself. Tomorrow, plenty more weekend news...