Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Darning Jeans

This is an article I wrote 2 years ago, not long after I got my new sewing machine:

Darning Jeans

Book Highlight - Decorative Napkin Folding For Beginners

This isn't my thing, but I thought I'd highlight napkin-folding books occasionally. Readers? If you have this book - is it any good?

Learning to work faster

Today I tried a sewing technique that I've read about, but usually discounted, as I didn't actually believe it would help.

It's called chain stitching.

The idea is simple. You have a stack of items to be sewn sitting ready. As soon as you finish the first seam, you grab - without cutting the first item off the machine - the next item and sew it next. Repeat until all items are sewn. Now you have a series of items connected by a chain of threads.

In my case, when I had sewn the last napkin, I cut the chain off the serger, and flipped the whole thing around, and sewed the edges of the opposite side without cutting - it made a ladder of napkins. I cut them apart and then sewed the two adjacent sides, making a new ladder.

I saved 30 percent off the individual napkin sewing time. THIRTY PERCENT. I figured I'd save a few seconds. I had no idea that it would be THAT much better.

I've read that experienced seamsters do it for garment sewing. I'm going to have to try it.

My first napkins that are (ahem) good enough to sell

I made some cute Halloween Napkins. They aren't as eco-friendly as they could be (not made of specialty eco-fabrics), but are lots of fun.

I made 4 12-inch dinner napkins, and 12 9-inch napkins. Anyone having a Halloween party? You could use these as your favors - revelers can take them home and reuse them. Or keep them, or whatever. You can get them at my Etsy store.

How to use cloth napkins, and have them not be a hassle from hell

Using cloth napkins was actually my husband's idea.

At first, I was annoyed. ("Honey, I've got this great idea, but I want YOU to implement it.") He doesn't know how to sew, and I do about 90% of the laundry.

But then I got to thinking. It was a good way for us to cut back on what we send to the landfill, but in my experience, cloth napkins are a hassle.

You have to wash them.
You have to fold them.
You have to iron them.
You have to remember where they are.
You have to pick cat hair off them.
You have to put them away.

I got to thinking about how to make them NOT a hassle (and that's a very big deal in my household).

  1. Folding (as in don't): What if we made them a) square, and b) small enough that they could be stacked flat without folding? I could go with a 6" square (the size of paper napkins when they are still folded). Chris is the only one who actually unfolds his paper napkin, so I asked him what the smallest workable size would be. He agreed that 9" square would do. Check.
  2. Ironing them (nope): I hate ironing. I don't mind it as part of my sewing, but regular ironing? I don't iron. Chris takes his shirts to the cleaners to be pressed (and mostly doesn't wear shirts that require pressing). That got me thinking. Why DO they need to be ironed? Napkins are a utilitarian item used for wiping food off your mouth and fingers (and chest, and lap, and the floor...). So what if they are wrinkly? Check.
  3. Cat hair and organization skills (lack of): My cats LOVE my laundry baskets. What cats don't? I don't care so much if there's a few cat hairs on my jeans, but on napkins? Where I'm going to be wiping my mouth? Turkish Angora fur in my mouth? Not happening. So, how to keep them off the napkins? Easy. Don't put them in laundry baskets where the cats will be. I bought a basket to hold the clean napkins, and a small, cheap black mesh trash basket to hold the soiled napkins. The napkin holder sits on the table, and the "hamper" sits in the corner behind the buffet. Both are too small for our cats to curl up in. Check.
  4. Laundering (No getting around this one): When the napkins in the holder are getting low, I collect the ones in the wastebasket (er, hamper) and take them to the laundry room, and add them to the next mixed-color load. When they are dry, I take them out and make a stack, smoothing them out slightly as I go. I then do NOT leave them in the basket where my kitties will get to them, and put them in the napkin holder, under the remaining clean ones.
  5. Having enough napkins (we need lots): In order for this to work for us, I knew we needed to have a LOT of cloth napkins. Enough for all 4 of us, for at least 2 meals per day, for at least a week. That's 42 napkins. Preferably we'd have more. I knew that if we had just a handful, that we'd use them up, and they'd not migrate back to the napkin holder for quite awhile. For anyone more organized, or even slightly better at housekeeping, having this many might not be needed. Check.

So, just how green ARE cloth napkins?

Are cloth napkins a more green choice for the environment, than paper napkins?

It depends.

Hands down, paper napkins, especially ones that are unbleached and made from recycled fibers, take MUCH less energy to manufacture. Even the white ones don't take much energy (but the bleaching ... eek!). There's really no comparison in energy use because textile manufacturing is pretty energy and water-intensive. And added to the energy consumption of cloth, is regular laundering.

Then there's the landfill issue. Rotting paper napkins produce greenhouse gasses, and contribute to various other landfill problems. Cloth is much less of a environmental load in the landfills. it's there, certainly, but it gets recycled, sent to goodwill, sold in garage sales and the like, and paper napkins never do.

So, which is better?

Well, cloth, but only a little in most cases. There are things you can do to make your napkins more environmentally friendly:

  1. Use recycled cloth. Turn old (and especially torn, unrepairable, or unwearable) clothes into napkins.
  2. Choose environmentally-friendly fabrics. Linen, while more expensive, uses much less water and pesticides than other fabrics.
  3. Go organic with cotton. Cotton uses a lot of pesticides and a lot of water.
  4. Use your cloth napkins until they are downright threadbare. And then use them as rags until they fall apart.
  5. Go wrinkly and don't iron your napkins! Who cares if they are a little wrinkled? You are just going to be getting them dirty again. Special occasions and holidays are one thing, but for everyday use, let 'em wrinkle.
  6. Don't wash them each and every time, if you can help it. Use napkin rings with your family's names on it, and keep using the napkin until it's actually dirty.
  7. Don't wash the napkins in a load by themselves. That's an AMAZING waste of water. (It takes something like 200+ napkins to make a single load). Just throw them in with your other laundry that you'd be doing anyway.
  8. Wash in cold water whenever possible (and that goes for all your laundry, and not just napkins).
  9. Don't overdry your laundry and napkins (it's really fine for your clothes to be ever-so-slightly damp - fold everything anyway. It'll dry by the time you wear it, trust me. Besides, it cuts down on static). Better yet, hang as much stuff dry as possible.
So, have fun with your napkins!

For more reading:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Serger ... wow!

I got one of these:
It's pretty amazing how much faster a serger can sew, versus a traditional sewing machine. I can finish a napkin in about a minute and a half, and it's FAR more professional looking than anything I've made on my sewing machine. Wow. I LOVE it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

There's a learning curve....

I figured out a way to zig-zag the edges with my sewing machine to fake a rolled hem done on a serger, and I think it took me 17 napkins to get one I was happy with.

But... after washing the faked rolled hems look sloppy. They'll last OK, but it's obvious that it's not professional.

So now I'm trying other types of edges until I can get a serger.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010