Finished Object: Extra Clean Shopper

 (Afghan Rice, “Extra Clean.”  Who knew they exported rice from a war zone?  This rice is delicious, the longest grain and most fragrant I’ve had in a long time.  Bought from a “Boat Person” running an Afghan grocery.  He told me the rice comes from the southwest region which is relatively peaceful, but I’m not sure we were communicating effectively.)

I see sewing as a political action.  Creative, yes; great fun, yes; keeps me from playing in the street, yes- but also something more than that.  What better way to flip a finger to the establishment than to have the chutzpah to sew your own clothes/hats/handbags/dog pillows according to your own needs and desires?

An island of plastic grows daily in the Pacific OceanTwice the size of the continental United States.  That’s a great deal of plastic.   It doesn’t biodegrade.  Animals eat it an starve to death with full stomachs.  I don’t pretend none of that plastic has my fingerprints all over it.  Like so many environmental issues, reversing or stabilizing this one boils down to one simple idea:

Quit Consuming.  

It’s a hard habit to break, I’m an addict.

For the record, Aussies are fantastic about stopping plastic bag consumption (they’re generally greener than Americans, I think).  It’s normal to see ordinary people out with their bright green grocery bags, eschewing the plastic.  Many of the farmers at the market use compostable cellulose bags or paper.  Target doesn’t automatically give bags anymore, most places charge for them.   I saw this transition taking place, very exciting.  We have some re-usable bags, but they are flimsy, ugly, and don’t easily slip over the handles of the pram or fit in the rack below.

One small, proactive way to consume less- I made a shopping bag.  It’s cute.  It suits my needs.  I used recycled rice bags, tablecloths I’d never use on my table and the off-cuts from some curtains I made a while ago.

Blackspot is an idea I have had festering in my mind for a year or two.  It is basically the idea of an open-source unbranded brand.  A black spot would be given to a captain of a ship when his crew decided to mutiny.  Part of why I sew (a big part) is because I don’t want a pre-packaged “look” or “style” based on what some common denominator want.  I want my money to go to support ethical businesses, farmers and industries as much as possible.  I don’t want to be a part of a machine that on one end exploits workers and on the other end convinces people they won’t be good enough without buying product X.

Everything I wear, everything I carry, and increasingly everything I own reflects this.  Someone recently told me they didn’t have the money to have ethics.  I’m not rolling in money either- as I said before, I don’t believe it is a valid excuse.  Make do with less, pay a real price for goods.  How can it be right for a person to exploit a much poorer person just because that poor person lives a thousand miles away?  Why does not having as much as the other rich people around us make that acceptable?

I see blackspot as a great way to tag the things I make, and a subtle way to show my ideas in public.  Maybe I’ll meet other blackspotters that way.  I won’t run around handing out brochures or anything, and I’m not using it on items for sale (though I could and probably would), but I think my funny little scrawl might start some conversations and plant a few ideas.  It’s always nice to have conversations with like-minded strangers, it makes the world seem a little friendlier.

My sewing machine embroiders dots.  I may start tagging my clothes, too.

I’m a firm believer in taking personal responsibility for how my actions may shape the rest of the world; I see my role as a consumer as a link in a chain, rather than an end.  Someone somewhere had to work to place that item in my hand.  I pay them for their work.  When I am finished with the item, it goes somewhere, it doesn’t disappear.  I know this is simplistic, but rather than constantly tie myself up in thought over matters like the environment and fair trade, I can take small actions and change my habits.  That’s being proactive and positive.

If all that’s a little much, then please enjoy the production notes:

The bottom.  I used up the last of my Rigilene for the bottom.  This time, I boned before seaming.  I didn’t want the bottom to sag.  I started by placing the two long outside pieces just inside the seam allowance.  I used seven shorter pieces of boning as cross braces, and then sandwiched another long piece over the top and stitched it down.  I haven’t tested this extensively yet, but so far so good.

Remember how I enjoy the delicious, cruelty free pork sausages available at the farmer’s market?  I usually buy them, chat with the girls, and leave the meat with them to keep cool while I finish my business.  This way, I can carry them with me in my insulated velcro pocket.  I had visions of fancy accordion pockets with flaps, but realized I was making too much of it.  This is the regular pocket, one half is insulated.

The lining side of the insulation.  I salvaged this from the wreck of a failed lunch bag.  It crackles.

Velcro.  I would have preferred a stripe of white or even pink, but I had the dots on hand so I used them.  I stuck the male dots down on the top of the pocket, gently placed the female ones on top and then stuck it to the lining.  When I peeled it away, the female dots were perfectly placed.  I stitched with a heavy needle, it was gummy and gross by the end.  A little alcohol set it right.

I sewed some of the rice bags together, fused some vinyl over the top, then cut it out.  My bag is about 1″ shorter than the pattern to accommodate the bags.   It needed a little more interfacing, so I used some discarded pieces of curtain I had laying around for interlining.   It gave it the perfect hand.  When I make another one, I think I will sew just the rice bag motifs together before covering in vinyl.

I used two handles, and I used grommets from curtain making which worked well.  I couldn’t find any metal ones big enough.  After a test run, I might just do the one-handled way as the pattern dictates, I think that would keep the bag shut.

I had a serious headache after finishing the lining, pressing synthetics, what a nightmare.   Wool has a wooly-lanolin smell, flax smells clean, cotton smells like humidity, but this table-cloth-lining was revolting.  Someone gave me a whole pile of these things, telling me to use them.

Well, they’re being used!


  1. I hate to disillusion you about Australia, but those 'green' green bags are actually very unfriendly. They take a lot of energy to make and they don't recycle easily. Coles and Woolies used to donate the profits from the bags to Green causes, now they pocket it. I have calico bags, but I do use the plastic bags because they are biodegradable and I use them for wrapping rubbish and for weeds and also for carrying things about. It has all been a con.Never the less, out little island is very green we have hydro power and quite a few plastic bag free towns.Well, after that I'd like to say how fabulous your bag is!!! I love the cool part for sausages.The Black Spot was in Treasure Island!!!

  2. "Someone recently told me they didn't have the money to have ethics." The people who have the best ethics are those with the least money. They re-use EVERYTHING.I use calico shopping bags, and a few of the 'green' ones that other people give me. And even when I go clothes shopping I try to take my own bags rather than getting plastic.

  3. Ah, another reason to hold out against C&W. Don't worry, I doubt I could be any more disillusioned than I already am. :) By little island, you mean Oz?After a rainy test run with the new bag, I have to say it's great. I widened the straps which helped it stay comfortably on my shoulder even when full.I know, L… This particular person had spent a good fifteen minutes going on about $5 t-shirts from Big W, begging me to tell her how they could possibly be so cheap, knowing fully my views on the subject. I tried to put her off several times, and finally gave in and spat "Slavery" between my teeth. Then she smiled, pleased she baited me, and replied with that sentiment. I left it, she's not worth it.

  4. Cute! I love how you re-used the rice bags! It does look a little big, so you'll have to be careful not to overload it. But it also looks durable, so it'll probably your shoulder that gives out before the bag does! :D

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