Saturday, 28 January 2017 00:00

There are so many great camera bags on the market today, but most of them are made out of synthetic materials, and are not recyclable. I have started exploring ways to create camera bags out of organic, compostable, and recyclable materials.

My ultimate bag would be made out of organic cotton and have a waterproof cover that I could put on or take off. All of the materials used would be compostable or recyclable.

I have started working on prototypes of cotton duck that will hold their shape during use and are not too difficult to make at home. I am also creating a plastic cover that can go over the top of the bag.

Take a look at the video below to see some of my early ideas for this.



Monday, 23 January 2017 00:00

I was looking for an eco-friendly bag to protect my camera gear from rain. I was having trouble finding something, so I made my own.

The Problem:
Almost all camera bags are made of nylon or other synthetic fabrics that can't be recycled. There are some great cotton canvas bags made out of natural material. The cotton bags can be waterproofed, but most waterproofing products are toxic, and can't be composted.

My Solution:
Create a bag that uses soft plastic that can be recycled. Sew the bag with cotton thread that can be pulled out of the bag and then composted. The strap is 100% compostable cotton. The hardware on the strap is metal, and can be recycled.

The bag has a waist strap, and the bag is small enough to wear on my hip yet big enough for two DSLR cameras. I wore it in the rain, and it did quite well keeping the rain out.


Tuesday, 27 September 2016 00:00

The Portland Apparel Lab is a cool space in Portland where you can connect with other apparel designers and use industrial sewing machines. Their official launch party is this Friday, September 30. For more information, go to their website at:

Portland Apparel Lab has 2,000 square feet of space, with several rooms, including a design room, a conference room, a materials room, an equipment room, and an entryway. They plan to have the following types of equipment: industrial sewing machines, basic sewing machines, professional iron/ironing table, overlock, coverstitch, lockstitch, snap setter, pattern table, and a small electric cutter. They will also have Optitex fashion design software, Adobe Creative Suite, and large printers for pattern making.

They will have several types of membership levels to accommodate everyone from those just getting started to established businesses who just want to use equipment now and then. To see why I joined Portland Apparel Lab, take a look at my article "What Type of Sewing Machine Do I Need?" Here are some photos I took while they were busy getting their space ready.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016 00:00

There are so many types and brands of sewing machines these days that it is hard to decide what kind to buy. I recently went through a gap in time when I didn't have a sewing machine for a while. I moved several times, and the sewing machine was one of the heavier items, so it went in the donation pile. It took me a few years to decide what to buy again.

I had never really had to decide what machine to buy before because of the way I had previously acquired my machines. When I was a teen, my nom had an old Elna sewing machine that her mother had purchased, so I just used that machine to sew on. Then, my mom offered me a lovely little older white portable Singer machine that my cousin had used. I used that machine until my cousin asked for it back because she wanted to give it to her daughter. I didn't want to give it up because that was my first machine, and it was so elegant and pretty, but I could understand her wanting to give it to her daughter, so I gifted it to her.

My next machine came from a thrift shop. I had just moved to a small town, and went to a local thrift store to see if they had a sewing machine. They had an old portable machine that I think was manufactured by a major department store. It looked in great shape, so I bought it right away, knowing that this was my only option for a machine at the time. It worked great, and I paid only about $20 for it. I used that machine for years until a series of moves made it hard to keep, so I reluctantly gave up another machine that I loved.

This brings me to a couple of years ago, when I set out to find another machine like my last. I didn't find the task quite so easy as I answered ads and went to used sewing machine dealers, only to find machines that were in poor condition or not exactly what I thought would work for me. I started researching modern sewing machines. After going to a couple of stores that sold new machines and newer used machines, I was able to narrow down the options that suited me. I settled on a new Pfaff machine that wasn't quite what I wanted and had a big price tag of $800.

Almost a year later, I wandered into another location of the same company where I had bought my $800 sewing machine, and they asked if I liked my machine. I spouted off the features that I wished I had gotten, and they upgraded me to the $1,000 machine for free because of a sale and special discount they gave me. I now had a machine with the start/stop button and speed control features that I wished I had gotten in the first place. These two features ended up being very useful in some of my projects.

I loved the new snazzy, easy-to-use machine until I started sewing heavy canvas with it. The heavy canvas made the needle deflect and chip the base plate. The thread would then get caught on the sharp jags on the plate, and it wouldn't sew. I realized that because I was sewing many more things than before and trying to start a sewing business, it was necessary to have more than one machine. It would be more efficient to have machines for various purposes.

By that time, I had been given three older machines by different people, all of which needed repairs. My mom had given me the old Elna that I used when I was a teen, a neighbor gave me a hefty old Viking when she heard that I was going to teach classes, and I found an old Brother in the free pile at my apartment complex. I was offered a relatively new Singer, but it was not a quality machine. I decided to pass on all of the cheaply-made modern machines, as many of them seemed to be made in the same factory by one manufacturer, and lacked the quality control or longevity I was looking for.

My new machine was stuck, and I had a project to finish, so I started fixing the other machines. Fixing the old Brother was simple. It just needed a power cord and foot pedal, so I sent an email to find the previous owner, and they then gave me the foot pedal. The old Brother machine was half plastic and half metal. After connecting the pedal, I could see that the machine did run, but it had a clunky feel to it.

Next, I opened up the Viking machine to figure out why it didn't run. I quickly found that the cause was a broken belt, so I ordered one from a local store. I would have to wait for the belt to arrive to see if this machine would be a solution for me.

Lastly, I took apart the Elna, and found it needed two repairs. This machine was in the worst shape of all of them. I called the repair shop and asked for the part, and they said that they were rarely able to get the part. I was quite disappointed, as this machine had sentimental value to me. The Elna remains in the repair pile at home still to this day.

The part for the Viking came, and I found that this machine could handle the several layers of canvas that I needed to sew through quite well. The motor didn't overload and shut off like the new electronic Pfaff motor did when sewing thick layers. It became evident to me that I would probably need a heavy-duty industrial machine for some of my projects.

I can't yet afford to purchase a heavy-duty industrial machine for my projects or my business. Fortunately, a sewing share shop is opening in my town that will have machines like the portable industrial Juki and the table-seated industrial Juki that you see in the photos below. Having the Portland Apparel Lab in town will be a great asset to my sewing business.

As you can see, for me, finding out what type of sewing machine I need has been a process. I started out with some very lovely quilting cotton fabrics, thinking that I would like to make quilts or quilted purses. I then realized that my bag designs would include a lot of heavy materials, and that I would need at least one heavy-duty machine to go along with my newfangled machine. The new machine is my device of choice when sewing almost everything until I get to 4 layers of 9-ounce duck. I use my Viking for the multiple thick layers. My current plan is to have multiple machines, and to have industrial machines that I can borrow the use of from time to time.

If you are looking for a sewing machine, you should perhaps just purchase one that is in a comfortable price range for you, and use it until you know what kind of machine will suit all of your purposes. Once you know what kind of sewing you will be doing, then you can purchase your ultimate machine or set of machines. For me, I got along just fine using the old sturdy metal machines for years, and created some complex projects on those. I would recommend an older, sturdy machine over a cheap, modern machine for your first sewing machine, but this has been my personal experience, and you may find something else that suits you and the type of sewing that you do.

Happy sewing, and please remember to keep it green and skip the synthetic materials, as they are not needed :-)


Monday, 19 September 2016 00:00

Greener Good will be featuring a series of how-to videos. We will have several hosts and feature local crafters who use sustainable products. Here is the first of that series with our host from Chicago, Dame Grant, and the founder of Greener Good, Pandora Patterson.

Edited by Lisa Charles, MPH


Tuesday, 12 July 2016 00:00

I am concerned with the environmental pollution caused by our apparel, so I've started a nonprofit organization to teach environmentally friendly sewing and as a think tank for fashion designers to learn how to design clothing that is compostable. Here is a short video description.