As I have noted in a previous post, it is impossible to recycle or reuse every bit of packaging that comes into my home. We live in a throw-away, one-use-only society, so almost everything we purchase comes in a container that is destined for the landfill. If you live in an area that has a recycling program, you can send some of it there, but many people do not have access to a good recycling center.  Trying to reuse a portion of what comes into my house is both frugal and green, but since I have no desire to live like a hoarder, there must be limits placed on my stash of materials. So how do I decide what to keep and how many of any certain item?


The answer to this question will vary greatly from household to household. It depends on several factors, but one of the biggest is the matter of storage space. When I began looking at packaging for its recycling potential, I quickly discovered that I needed to have a designated area for my “crafting supplies” or they would take over the house! This grey cabinet in my garage has been given over to holding all my odds and ends.  I use the interesting or sturdy containers that I want to save as storage units for smaller items I want to hold onto. As long as I contain the bulk of my items in this cabinet, I can keep my house uncluttered. When the cabinet becomes too full, I know that it is time to go through and re-evaluate what is being stored. The only things that I do not store here are my fabrics (these are stored with my sewing supplies), my plastic bags, and a few very large pieces of cardboard.

A second factor that plays a part in what I keep and what quantity is determined by my skills or genuine interest in reusing the materials stored. For instance, I know that plastics labeled with a recycle code of 1 can be used like Shrinky Dink, but since I am a little leery of the fumes and really don’t have much need for the kind of things that you can make with that medium, I may only hold onto a single piece of #1 plastic, or if I am short on space, I may part with it altogether. Additionally, though I have worked with cutting glass, I would have to really practice it a great deal to be good at it, so I have to have a project in mind before I start saving the glass.

This brings me to a third factor that I have to weigh when I am sorting things, and that is an honest evaluation of both my time and the final purpose of the thing I want to create. 🙂 Sometimes, I have a wonderful plan in my head for some bit of packaging that I have come across, but I either don’t have the time to produce it, or the end product is not really something I need. Therefore, it’s not worth my limited time and energy. This is often a harder decision to make. If the item I am interested in is small enough to fit in my cabinet, I will often keep it for a time to see if my situation or needs change, but if the item is really bulky and takes up too much space, I generally let it go.

The final decision I make while sorting through my cabinet is how many of an item to keep on hand. Often this decision is dependent on how versatile the item has proved to be in the past, how much space it takes up in my cabinet, and whether or not I already have a project in mind that requires a specific number of that item. Plastic lids in various sizes, shapes, and colors have prove useful for numerous tasks, so I keep several containers of them on hand. But the plastic sleeves in a photo album for the old 3 1/2″ x 5″ photo size is not required as frequently, so I only keep one tucked away on the shelf.  I also have occasions where someone gives me some plastic piece that is an intriguing shape (I may not even know what it is or where it came from!).  On those occasions, I may keep it for a time and see if the memory of it suggests something to me later on.

So what are some the package materials that I tend to save? Plastic lids (both hard and soft); cardboard in various shapes, weights and sizes; aluminum tabs and sheets; old greeting cards; bread clips; long plastic-coated twist ties; interesting containers; protective foam pieces; produce netting; plastic feed sacks; and last but never least, the ubiquitous plastic shopping bags!


“Let all things be done decently and in order.”   1Co 14:40

“For God is not the author of confusion”   1Co 14:33a


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For those of you who are trying to follow this blog and for those who have joined it in the last eight months, I know that my silence has been rather long. The explanation is that I took a long holiday to DE-frag my house! We have known since we moved to this house that our residence would not be permanent and several events of the past year made me think that a permanent home might be in my near future. So, considering that I might need to move all my belongings, I began to go through the process of cleaning, sorting, packing and disposing of things. Several months later, my house is in a state where I can move with a lot less stress! Of course, I have not gone that length of time without recycling and crafting, so (until I have to move everything) I will try to chronicle as much as I can of what I have been doing. Stay tuned. 🙂

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Although I have been unraveling sweaters that I bought on clearance, I had a project earlier this year that required so much yarn that I had to resort to the standard skein. I had a relative getting married, and I purposed to try crocheting a throw -something I have never been brave enough to try before!  In the past, I have always been concerned that I would lose interest in a throw before I had completed it, but, as this seemed to be the best gift option I could come up with, I purchased several jumbo skeins of yarn, grabbed my crochet hook, and set to work.

About half way through my first skein, I began to have problems with the skein falling apart -especially when I needed to move the project to a new location. I remembered seeing something in the craft store that was supposed to help keep the skein together and I remembered thinking that it looked like a glorified produce bag. This, of course, set me to thinking how I could duplicate this for free. Naturally, I went to my stash of net bags and tried to slide one over my skein of yarn. The problem I ran into turned out to be one of sizing.  It was hard to find a bag that fit perfectly. So I set about to make a skein holder that would fit my skein. I put the skein into a tube of netting and then cut the excess plastic away. Then, using a steel hook and some cotton crochet thread, I connected the cut side edges with a row of single crochet. To protect the yarn from being snagged on the tube ends, I covered them in single crochets as well. Then I made two long chains of the thread and laced them through the final row of diamonds at each end of the tube. These would be used to cinch up the ends and keep the skein collected together. I tried the new holder on my skein and was generally pleased with the way it fit. I did decide to shorten the ties at both ends to keep them from getting tangled up in the work. I could then tuck them to the inside of the mesh and they stayed out of the way of my work.

So, how well did this work? It was great! Even though it does not have the same elastic quality of the commercially-sold sleeves, it really did keep the skein together and tangle-free.  As the skein was used, I could tug on the two ends of the sleeve and it would contract in the center and lengthen -exactly what the skein was doing naturally as it diminished! The sleeve made moving the project from place to place much easier.

The biggest pay-off  came in the form of a completed throw! Without having the added problem of untangling the yarn and having to stop and form the end of the skein into a ball, I was able to keep moving on the project and was able to complete it before the wedding and before I ran out of momentum! Yea!

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To start with, let me explain my absence from my blog –I am cleaning my garage!   Great googly-moogly, what a mess! It seems to be the collection point for things that no one knows what else to do with.  I decided that I wanted to get it cleaned out before the weather gets too warm. I think a garage sale is in order for the not-too-distant future.

While the garage clean-up is absorbing my days, my evenings have been filled with unraveling the sweaters that I bought during the sales back in at the end of February. This requires some patience, but the rewards are a lot of great yarn for a fraction of the cost to buy it new. To unravel a sweater, I start at the neck. Most sweaters are knit in four pieces: two sleeves, a front, and a back. After all four of these pieces are completed, they are joined together, and then some sort of collar piece is added to complete the sweater. There is normally a place in the center back of the collar where the yarn has been tied off. The easiest thing to do is to cut through the final row of knitting on the collar and pull out the cut threads until the longer, uncut yarn of the row beneath is found. Once that is found, the unraveling process is easy -just pull on the yarn strand and roll the yarn up into a ball as it is freed from the sweater. However, there are sweaters like the one pictured at right with a much more involved neckline.  Here there is a section of ribbing that has been folded in half and sewn in place, enclosing the raw edges of the body of the sweater. The stitching holding the collar down would have to be ripped out to expose those raw edges in order to unravel this sweater. The collar on a sweater is generally the shortest piece of continuous yarn on a sweater. I save it in a ball by itself and use it in my up-cycled projects to stitch up seams.

Once the collar has been removed, the four sweater sections have to be separated. If the label on the garment did not come off in the collar-removing process, I remove it now. I save this and store it with the yarn balls so that I know the fiber content and wash-care instructions when I decide what I want to do with the yarn later. The seams that join the sections are most often joined with a chain stitch like the one seen in the photo to the right. A loop of yarn is drawn up through the center of the loop just ahead of it. To undo this kind of seam, I look for the side of the fabric where the loops are visible. (The back looks like normal stitching.) I follow the rounded end of the loops  until I find the end of the seam.  Using a seam ripper, I slice through one of the last loops in the row. Then I pull the next two loops in the seam free from each other. In the photo to the left, my seam ripper is in the first freed loop and the one to the right of it is the second freed loop. When those two loops are free, I can pull on the first loop and the whole seam should come out in a matter of seconds. It does not always happen quite as easily as that, but in theory, it should!

After the pieces are separated from one another, most plain sweaters can immediately be unraveled the same way the collar was above. Working from the top of each piece, I cut through the top row of stitching and remove the cut pieces until I find the longer piece of yarn that pulls out in a continuous strand. (Sometimes, the yarn breaks. When that happens, I start a new ball so that I have an idea how long any given strand will be, but that is a personal choice.) If, however, I determined to pull apart a sweater with some additional features (like a zipper, buttons, or embroidery), I will have to remove those first. I consider these features when I determine if a sweater is suitable for unraveling. The sweater pictured at the top of this article had some embroidered accent yarn going through it that I had to sit and pick out before I could unravel the pieces.  I don’t like to do that kind of work, but in this case, I was able to save some really nice yarn (pictured above) that I will be able to use as accent on my up-cycled projects.

Unraveling the sweaters takes some time, but the effort is worth it. Reducing the sweaters back to yarn balls not only makes them available for use, but also means that they take up less space. There are about eight different sweaters represented by the balls of yarn pictured here. The plastic containers are the shoe-box size! One of the saved labels is visible in the lower portion of the upper right-hand container.

Sometimes it seems as if life is like one of the sweaters that I am unraveling.  You lose your job, a loved one dies, and after that “seam” comes lose, your whole life starts to unravel.  But it’s not over yet.  I’m not done with those balls of yarn in the shoe boxes.  I have a plan for them–a plan to make them into something better and more useful to me than they were when I purchased them.  Since I belong to Christ, I know there is Someone in control of what happens in my life and that He has a plan for me as well.  He uses my afflictions to help make me into a better and more useful person in His kingdom and to conform my attitudes and actions to look more like Christ’s. It may not be pleasant when I am going through them, but I trust that He is able to make “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”   Jeremiah 29:11

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I know I have not posted for some time. Sickness, company, holidays, and research have been the reasons. The first three are self-explanatory, but I will shed a little more light on the fourth reason.

Some time ago, I began a project making baby bibs from fused plastic bags, lined with old t-shirt fabric. I had made quite a bit of fused plastic years ago when I was first introduced to the technique, and I had a large stash of sheets in different colors. I had been trying to think of new ideas for frugal baby gifts when the thought struck me that I might be able to make them from fused plastic bags to make them waterproof.

I began by cutting out a bib shape from my fused plastic sheet using a baby bib I already had on hand as a guide. I allowed a little extra space on all sides when I was cutting the shape out because I wanted to attach a t-shirt back. I figured that plastic alone would be scratchy and hot, but adding a t-shirt backing to it would make it more comfortable. I cut a second bib shape from the back of a stained t-shirt in a matching color to my plastic. Then I sewed the two together with a narrow seam along the sides, leaving a space at the bottom of the bib to be able to turn it right side out. Top-stitching along the sides of the bib gave it a finished edge.

With the basic bib shape done, I had a grand time creating all kinds of decorative designs for the fronts. I free-handed different cartoon-like images onto paper, cut the shapes out of appropriate-colored fused plastic, and began to stitch the pieces together. When I had finished decorating the bib, I added a Velcro closure to the back of the neck.

These bibs turned out really cute, and I had several family members who loved them and wanted to learn how to make them. Sadly, though I liked the way they turned out and had really enjoyed making them, I was reticent to give them away as gifts. For some time, I had been reading and hearing more and more about the dangers of plastic to human health and I began to wonder about the safety of this material. I had tried to make the bib so that the baby’s skin would not be in direct contact with the plastic on the bib and I did not think there were any fumes coming from the plastic, but what if the baby put the bib in its mouth or chewed on the plastic? I began to do research on the Internet to see what I could learn.

Plastics are a huge subject and I was overwhelmed by the amount of information that is available. It was not hard to find the information I was looking for regarding the interaction of plastics with our health. The information was not encouraging. Most discouraging was its impact on the next generation, most of whom have been surrounded by plastic since their births. And yes, babies and children are highly impacted in their development. So, cute as they are, the bibs are really not a great project.

All this led me to rethink the types of plastics I use in my home and the things that I make from plastic packaging. Some projects that I have done in the past, I would not do now. Some of them are fine. Some of them will be a judgment call each individual will have to make based on the knowledge they have about the type of plastic involved and its intended use. I have posted a separate page about the future use of plastics on this site.

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Having written in my last post what I look for when I am searching for sweaters to up-cycle, today, I wanted to share a sweater project that I recently finished using a felted wool sweater. Wool sweaters are generally very easy to felt. Most wool (those not mixed with other fibers or preshrunk) will shrink with heat and agitation. Running the sweater through the washer with hot water and drying it on high heat will normally do the trick. Once it has been felted, the sweater can be treated as a solid fabric and cut without fear of it unraveling.

Several years ago, I purchased a couple of inexpensive pillows to go on the couch that is currently in our office/study. They were not high quality–time and use has caused them to pill and become somewhat limp–but they were a wonderful color match for that couch. I had been wanting to rework them for some time, and the winter lull seemed to be the best opportunity. The biggest problem was finding the right color fabric to replace the front sections with. I finally looked into my stash of sweaters and found this brownish-colored one that had only one arm, but was otherwise in good condition. (It took me awhile to figure out what had happened to the other arm, but then I remembered that I had used it to make dryer balls!) It turned out to be a wonderful match for the backing on the pillows and having been a man’s extra-large sweater at one time, it had plenty of fabric in the main body of the sweater to make new fronts for the pillows. And there was a bonus! The sweater had been knitted with cables, so the fabric had huge visual interest, even as a solid color.

The original pillows that I had purchased were designed with zippers that allowed for the outside cover to be separated from an enclosed stuffed square of fabric for ease in washing. The first choice I had to make was whether I wanted to re-make the sweater as a cover for a pillow insert, or simply sew the new front piece to the back square of fabric, add the stuffing directly to the center and sew it closed. As much as it added to the work of the project, I decided to remake the removable cover again. With seam ripper in hand, I separated all the pieces of the old covers. Using the backs from the original pillows as a guide, I cut new fronts from the front and back of the sweater, being careful to match up the centers of the back sections with the center of the main cable of the knitted sweater fabric.

As expected, the hardest part of the project was re-inserting the zippers. Zippers can be difficult to work with anyway, but with one side of the zipper being stitched to a flat fabric and the other side being stitched to a section of bulky sweater, it was even more problematic than normal. My seam ripper got a workout at least two or three more times before I was satisfied with the look of the stitching! With the zipper in place, I had only to stitch the other three sides, clip the corners, and turn it right-side-out.

The original pillow insert was made of a strange synthetic material that reminded me of a dryer sheet. The original stuffing had packed down over time so I opened it up and added stuffing from an old bed pillow I had washed and saved. (For those of you who are reading my blog for the first time, I generally save old pillows because, with normal use, only a section of the fibers have matted down and the rest can be pulled apart and reused.) In this case, it returned these pillow forms to desired fullness without any additional expense. The finished pillows were so nice and plump that both of them would not fit in the rocking chair for the final photo! (The study has such poor natural lighting that I could not photograph them on the couch.) Since this sweater was given to me, this project only cost me time, some electricity, and some thread. 🙂

Since I very often am reminded of a verse of Scripture or a spiritual truth while I am working on a project, it occurred to me to wonder about pillows in the Bible. I looked it up and there are three references to pillows in my translation, one of which spoke of Christ; “And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow…” Mark 4:38. In spite of this verse, we know from His own account that creature comforts were not the goal of His life. He stated in Luke 9:58, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” I was reminded that sometimes followers of Christ are given a pillow; sometimes they are not. Part of the Christian life is learning to trust our heavenly Father’s wisdom, love, and power so much that we are content in Him regardless of our outward circumstances. In the book of Philippians the apostle Paul wrote, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” Philippians 4:11-13. In pursuit of telling others about his Savior, Paul experienced both ends of the spectrum in the realm of physical comfort. The thing that is amazing and challenging about his statement is that he is saying that even when he experienced hardship and deprivation, Christ was more than enough for him in that moment. I pray this learned contentment will characterize my life as well–pillows or not.

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I am in the middle of a couple of fairly heavy work weeks right now and really don’t have much time to blog, but I wanted do a quick posting on gathering sweaters. Since many of my projects involve the use of old sweaters, I thought that I would mention that this is the time of year to get a collection of them. As spring rolls around, many thrift stores are clearancing out their stock of winter clothes. At a recent sale in our area, the sweaters were on sale for a dollar a piece! When you consider how many skeins of yarn go into even an average-sized sweater and how much those skeins cost, this price is a steal! Add to that the fact that store-bought sweaters are very often made of natural fibers that you cannot find in the average craft store, and there is more than enough reason to take some time to scout out the thrift stores in your area and see what you can find. Though people very often give me their old sweaters because they know I can use them, I still look for sweaters to increase my available options on any given project. The sweaters in the above photo represent this year’s additions.

So what do I look for when I am considering the sweaters? First of all, I look for sweaters with nicer-looking yarn that do not have heavy staining and seem to be on clearance because they are no longer in style–not because they are worn out. Then I look for labels that indicate the fiber content and the wash care instructions. I do not generally bother with synthetic fibers. This is my personal choice because I prefer natural ones. Sweaters that have a fiber content like the one to the right will attract my notice, as will anything with a high wool content. As I am considering the fiber content, I am also deciding the suitability of the yarn for the projects that would be suggested by the fiber content. For example, if the fiber content says that a sweater is a wool/nylon blend and the wash-care instructions say machine wash and dry on low, I am going to assume minimal shrinkage and think of unraveling the yarn for use in things like socks. If the color of the sweater is one that I or my family would never wear as a sock and I cannot think of anything I would care to see it made into, I may leave it on the rack.

Holes, such as those seen in the sweater at the left, are allowable depending on the use I intend for the sweater. If the fiber content indicates a wool sweater that will felt, the holes will not normally be a problem to work around as long as they are near the edges. If the sweater is one that I would rather unravel, the decision to purchase or not may rest on how large the hole is, and what kind of hole it is. A hole that is formed by one thread coming loose is a different thing entirely from a gash that has cut through several rows of the fabric!

If the sweater I am considering is one that I intend to unravel, the next thing that I look at is the way the seams on the inside are put together. I look for sweaters that have seams like the one at the right. The seam here is formed by two sections of sweater being stitched together by a single line of stitching. This indicates that the sweater sections were knitted as a single piece and then sewn together. The yarn in each section should be a single, long piece. In contrast, if the seam has been serged together, the sweater was formed by cutting the pieces from a large piece of knitted fabric and then serging them together. A sweater done this way is unsuitable for unraveling because each row of the sweater will come off as a single strand of yarn and you will be left with a pile of yarn cut into pre-measured lengths!  Unless this is your goal, leave the sweater on the rack. 🙂

Finally, consider the size of the yarn in your potential purchase. If the yarn is so small that, when unraveled, it could be put on a spool for your sewing machine, you might want to consider something bulkier! A sweater made from yarn this size will take forever to unravel and few projects will require something this small.

I hope to be able to show some of my sweater projects in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes open for sweater sales in your area!

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