Jan 042009

Organic clothing for children is a hot item these days.  For good reason — cotton pesticides and chemicals added during manufacturing leave potentially harmful residues on fabrics.  These chemical residues often irritate babies’ extra-sensitive skin, and, in the long term, may harm a child’s respiratory and immune development.

For example, formaldehyde is one chemical commonly found in clothing.  Formaldehyde is valuable to manufacturers because it repels mildew and reduces stains and wrinkling during storage and shipping, but it raises health concerns for wearers.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), formaldehyde exposure in amounts greater than 20 parts per million can irritate skin, nose, and eyes and ultimately may lead to asthma and cancer.  The European Union bans the sale of children’s clothing with formaldehyde levels above 30 parts per million.  In contrast, despite acknowledging that formaldehyde is a “probable human carcinogen,” the US government has set no limit for the formaldehyde content of clothing.  In the absence of such limits, formaldehyde can range far above safe levels — one TV report in New Zealand found formaldehyde levels as high as 18,000 parts per million (900 times the WHO’s “safe level”) in Chinese-made clothing.  And the problem isn’t limited to low-priced off-brands: Victoria’s Secret currently faces a class-action lawsuit claiming formaldehyde-treated bras gave wearers serious skin rashes.

Unfortunately, organics can be expensive.  Luckily, there is at least one low-cost alternative:  Many chemical residues wash away after a handful of launderings, so parents can lessen chemical exposure by buying their children’s clothing secondhand.  (Preworn = prewashed.)  Because babies grow so quickly, secondhand baby clothing routinely appears in like-new condition.  It is also much less expensive than new items, and as an added bonus keeps useful items out of landfills.  Overall, a win-win situation.

That is, the situation was win-win….  Under a recent consumer-protection law, selling used children’s clothing and toys will become illegal on February 10.  (Yes, you read that right — selling used clothing and toys will be illegal.)  Barring last-minute regulatory changes, thrift stores and consignment shops must throw away their current stock of secondhand children’s items on that date** and stop offering children’s goods in the future.

The law in question — the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) — was enacted in the wake of recent scares involving lead-tainted children’s products from China.  The CPSIA includes many important changes, such as beefing up the government’s ability to regulate dangerous products.  And obviously no one wants children to be poisoned by lead-tainted products.  In fact, the CPSIA had near-unanimous support in both the House and the Senate.  Unfortunately, the lawmakers do not seem to have noticed that the Act’s requirements are applied in a disturbingly overbroad manner.  Specifically, beginning February 10, nothing intended for use by children under 12 can be sold unless it has undergone expensive testing to certify that it is lead-free.  Many items for children under 3 will require additional testing for plastic-softening chemicals called phthalates.

Large manufacturers can absorb these testing costs, but the rule spells doomsday for home-based crafters and other small businesses.  (Ironically, some of the companies that will be driven out of business produce organic goods and other healthy products; they simply can’t afford the testing to prove it.)  The CPSIA contains no exception for previously-sold products, and a secondhand seller could never afford to test each individual item before resale — hence the dire consequences for the secondhand industry.  Technically, it will be illegal even to donate children’s goods to charity because anything without a testing certificate is deemed “dangerous” under law.  Thus the CPSIA’s unintended consequence is that, even for poor families, the only option may be to buy new goods from large companies.

Worse still, despite these draconian effects, the CPSIA barely addresses the problem of chemicals in fabric.  Lead does appear in a few dyes, and more commonly in appliques, rhinestones, or charms.  One toddler tragically died after ingesting a lead charm off his shoes.  But on the whole, lead is not as widespread or serious a problem as substances like formaldehyde.  And by taking away my access to well-washed secondhand goods, the CPSIA reduces my ability as a parent to fight the chemicals that worry me most!

A few discussions of the CPSIA have popped up around the Blogosphere in the past month — I remember reading posts on The Consumerist and BoingBoing, as well as a handful of parent blogs.  But the early focus was on toymakers, and, while I feel bad for small-business owners, frankly I didn’t care enough about toys to feel compelled to action.  But this clothing issue is a whole different story!  I planned to buy the majority of Wallaby’s baby and toddler clothing secondhand or from small sellers at places like Etsy, but in practical terms those options are now gone.  Turns out, this law affects me as a consumer in ways I never imagined.  And this time, I plan to take action.

Would you like to learn more about the CPSIA, or to take action?  Please see the links below.

Images in this post are baby items that will not survive implementation of the CPSIA.  (Flikr sources for one, two, three, & four.)  I previously coveted the blanket in Image One on Etsy, though of course I had no idea its purchase would condemn Wallaby to certain death!

** Don’t even get me started on throwing away useful items — a topic for another post.  Suffice it to say that most landfills don’t offer ideal conditions for biodegradability, and even food and paper often last years beyond their normal life expectancy.  Thrown-away clothing will serve no purpose other than further clogging our landfills for decades to come.

For More Information

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website summarizing CPSIA regulatory developments

The Handmade Toy Alliance is a wealth of information and advocacy for small businesses

An LA Times article about the CPSIA’s impact on used clothing sales, and California Apparel News on the law’s effect on clothing manufacturers

SafBaby.com, which has called the US “a dumping ground for toxic toys”, believes the CPSIA is not the answer

Excellent summary of how the law affects small businesses at SmartMama; and asmall clothing manufacturer and a small toy manufacturer on the costs of testing

An Etsy discussion forum on current political developments, and lots more seller-based information at National Bankruptcy Day.com

How to Take Action

CoolMomPicks’ “Save Handmade” page

Sample letter to your Senator or Representative, from the Handmade Toy Alliance (plus contact information for specific Senators or Representatives)


Feb 272008

Wedding planning often challenges us to undertake projects we’ve never tried.  Whatever their past career experience, engaged couples suddenly find themselves acting as event planners, stylists, graphic artists, personal shoppers, and many other things all rolled into one.  Sometimes, taking on these new projects leads us to discover latent talents we never knew we had.

And other times?  Well….


Meet our wedding invitations!

Embarrassing as it is to show off a disaster (especially in light of some of the super-fabulous Gocco projects by other Bees), I thought our mistakes might be useful to illustrate a few Gocco tips:

-    Yes, that is a red smudge in the upper-left corner.  TIP: Don’t touch your prints when they’re wet.  They smear really easily!  (On a related note, if you have 4 cats, you might want to put them in another room….)

-    The Gocco has a 3 1/2 x 5 inch print screen.  You can make larger prints if you do multiple runs because, for instance, you can print the top half of a page with one screen and the bottom half of the page with a second screen.  I budgeted two screens for this print — one for the red and blue and the other for the black.  But I totally failed to notice that the black parts on the lanterns were about 4 1/2 inches wide — in other words, larger than the screen size!

We could have printed all the black parts if we’d done a 3rd run for just the lanterns, positioning the screen horizontally to catch all the lantern bits.  But we didn’t have enough screens/bulbs OR enough patience for a 3rd run.  Instead, I wound up going back to fill in each print with black pen.  TIPS: Buy more bulbs and screens than you think you need.  And carefully plan your print runs in light of the Gocco’s size limitations.

-    Yes, the text lines are off-kilter.  Because our paper size was larger than what we were printing, we weren’t able to line up the print so that we could just stick the blank paper in the upper-left corner of the print pad.  The blank paper had to go a bit over the top of the pad, and a bit to the side.  And sometimes the paper didn’t stay where we put it, and other times we didn’t quite succeed in the line-up.

Thank heavens for my PG-11, which has a print registration plate that helps you align multiple print runs.  Rather than guessing where your new print run will land, you can print onto the clear plastic registration plate and see through that to move your previously-printed paper until both print runs are perfectly aligned.  TIPS: Whenever possible, line up your print pad and inked screen in such a way that you can just stick your blank paper into the upper-left corner of the print pad.  It saves much hassle.  And consider a PG-11 if you’re going to do a lot of complicated prints; it really does make a difference.

-    There’s a spot in the “When we exchange marriage vows” line that’s pale because our ink was running out.  It was easy to get into a printing rhythm and forget to check the prints for ink quality.  TIP: Especially when you’re printing a lot of text, be sure to keep an eye on your ink levels.  (And if you do get bare spots, a little black pen again does wonders as fill-in….)

-    I loved this font (Algerian) when we designed the invite on the computer screen.  But once Gocco’d, it didn’t look as good as simpler fonts.  TIP: Stick with un-fussy fonts for best effect. 

I was also very worried about the colors, but luckily they looked MUCH better when mounted on red accent paper and blue pocketfolds.

Stay tuned for the final product!

What wedding-project-creation disasters have you had?  Did you learn anything useful to serve as a warning to others???

Oct 302007

Of my 20+ magazine subscriptions (no comments, please!!), one of my favorite drop-everything-and-read titles is Blueprint, from the Martha Stewart empire.  And Mrs. Strawberry’s recent Blueprint post reminded me of something from the Nov/Dec issue that I’ve been meaning to share with you all:


I love the draping of this skirt and think it would make a beautiful bridesmaid skirt.  Or, really, a beautiful skirt for any special event — holiday parties, rehearsal dinner, you-name-it….  And, believe it or not, it’s extremely easy to make one yourself!

Here are the instructions (from the Blueprint website):

Skirt How-To

1. Buy 2 to 2  1/2 yards of 60-inch wide silk taffeta.

2. Finish the edges by folding them over and securing with iron-on Stitch Witchery ($2 for 20 yards at amazon.com) or by using a sewing machine.

3. Hold one corner of fabric against your left hip, then wrap the fabric twice around your body.

4. Grab a small handful of fabric about 6 inches in from the corner you just wrapped around your body and double-knot it to the corner you’re holding against your hip.

5. Adjust the skirt so the draped portion is in the back.

And that’s it!  You’re done!  (Just promise me you’ll eat when wearing your skirt.  I was shocked that my beloved Blueprint would use such an obviously unhealthy model….)

Sep 172007

This week, I have been playing around with one of the world’s easiest DIY projects.  We may or may not use it in our wedding, but it’s something that easily could be worked into reception decor in many ways….

The project was inspired by something I read a few years ago in dear, departed Budget Living magazine.  According to Budget Living, you can approximate the look of antique mercury glass simply by spraying Krylon Looking Glass paint on the inside of a glass vase.  I tore out the article and have always meant to give it a try, but I was stymied by my complete failure to find Krylon Looking Glass anywhere that sold spray paint.

First I tried the project with ordinary silver spray paint.  The results were nice, but a bit flat.  So, I finally gave up and ordered the real Krylon Looking Glass off the Internet.  All it took was a few coats of the real thing, and I had a beautifully shiny creation!

My ordinary-paint creation is on the right and my Looking Glass vase on the left.  It’s difficult to tell the difference here, particularly given the less-than-stellar photos, but in real life, the plain version is flat silver and the Looking Glass version is shiny and beautiful:


These flowers are fake, of course.  Looking Glass has to be sprayed inside the glass to work properly, so this particular method wouldn’t work with flowers that need water.  However, any other type of spray paint can be sprayed on the outside of the vase.

While I was at the art supply site, I also picked up some Krylon 18K Gold Plate:


Of the four looks I tried, my favorite may be simple white.  This would look especially interesting with ribbed or textured glass, for a Jonathan Adler-like effect:


Simple glass vases in every size and shape go for 50 cents – $2 at my local thrift store.  Cans of basic spray paint sell for as little as 99 cents — the price I paid at Home Depot for the white version.  Even the most ritzy spray paint, like the 12 modern, party-ready colors in Maine Cottage Spray Paint, runs less than $20 per can and would cover lots and lots of glass….  And, not counting drying time, the project takes 10 minutes at the most!

Overall, these painted vases could form the basis for lovely centerpieces, often in the exact colors you desire, and at a truly budget price.

Sep 052007

Like many new bloggers, I am somewhat obsessed with tracking how many people have visited the blog and where they come from.  And one of the most interesting bits of information is the kind of Web searches that lead people here….

Well, my friends, apparently it is Japanese Craft Book Week, because people all over the world have been Googling Japanese zakka books like mad!  In their honor, today I am featuring another zakka book.  This book loosely translates as Zakka: Simple and Modern and is ISBN 4-8347-2507-3.

I basically bought this book on the strength of

the cover image alone.  The colors are so striking:


And in fact there are lots of other attractive bags throughout.  But there are also plenty of other interesting zakka projects in this book.  Here are a few of my favorites:




Top to bottom: Cute bags that tie shut; Fabric roses; Fabric boxes; Book cover.


Jul 312007

It’s been nothing but migraines around here for days and days (I’m a slave to rainy weather), so I’m doing an easy post by sharing another Japanese craft book.  As promised, one of my few books that’s purely cute little zakka.  It’s ISBN 4939459803183:


Love these little pouches.  Wouldn’t the geisha face make a witty tampon pouch, to fit one of the compact travel sizes?:


I chose the book almost entirely for these goldfish!:


Some of my other favorites:



Jun 252007

Secret confession time: I subscribe to over 20 magazines.  (It was extremely dangerous for me to learn that you can get ultra-cheap subscriptions to popular mags through Ebay.)  When I’m done with them, most go to a second reader that I found through Freecycle and then hopefully go on to recycling.  But with that many magazines passing through my hands each month, I’m always interested in creative uses for the magazines themselves.

Enter magazine bowls!  I’m far from the first person to have discovered these bowls.  I learned to make them through a tutorial over on Craftster.  But even that tutorial was inspired by products that have been sold in stores for a long time.  Generally, artists in developing nations use traditional bamboo-weaving techniques with recycled newspapers to create bowls like the spare black-and-white newspaper beauties from Hip & Zen or this more colorful “Confetti” version from The Friends of the Seattle Public Library:




I’m also rather enamored with a confetti paper frame I recently came across in an online store called Zanisa:


A version of these items can be created from magazine pages at home.  It’s a time-consuming process, but quite easy and relaxing to work on while you’re watching TV.  There are four basic steps.

1.  First, gather lots of colorful magazine pages!  You’ll be folding the pages into strips, so you’re really only interested in the strip of color that will end up showing — roughly two inches on the clean (as opposed to torn) edge of the page.  I tend to make my bowls along color lines (browns, reds, black-and-white, etc.), while other people believe the more colors, the better!

2.  Second, fold each page horizontally into roughly equal strips.  I usually fold the strips about 1 1/2” wide.  I use a glue stick to attach the outside edge of the strip so that the strip is compact and easier to work with later in the process.  (This is either a brilliant development on my part or an enormous waste of time and energy; I haven’t been able to figure that one out.)  There’s a lot of variation in this process between different crafters.  Some people roll diagonally, as I believe was described in the original Craftster tutorial linked above.  Others cut their strips to equal widths rather than folding.  I chose my process because I believe that folding horizontally is easiest, and I’m all about the easy.  Here’s what a small stack of finished strips looks like:


3.  When you’ve got dozens of finished strips, start rolling them into a coil.  I usually glue-stick my first 4 or 5 strips for extra stability because you want them to stay in a tight, smooth roll.  (But, again, maybe I just need to justify my purchase of that 12-pack of glue sticks!)  After that, you’ll start in with the Scotch tape.  Use a piece of clear tape to attach each strip to the next in one long “snake.”  Note that, once you have your base started, I find it’s often easiest to make a long snake of 10-12 strips in your lap and then add them to the coil all at once, rather than adding each strip to the coil as you go.  It’s easier to work in a strip than on a round surface.  Meanwhile I keep a rubber band around the coil to ensure it’s tightly rolled even when I’m not working with it.  Your coil will end up looking like a big coaster or trivet:


4.  To make your big coil into a 3-dimensional bowl or pot, place your thumbs into the center of the coil, and pull upward on the sides with your fingers.  The sides will “telescope” upwards until you wind up with a pot shape.  This part is fun!  You can keep sliding the slats around until you find what works best for you.  I often require quite a bit of arranging and rearranging until I find a shape that’s not lopsided but not too boringly perfect….  Sometimes it helps to use an existing pot or bowl as a guide.  This particular magazine bowl is intended as a new home for a fake plant with a broken pot, so I popped the plant inside to be sure it would fit — not something you want to find out afterward!


Once you find the shape you like, pull out your trusty ModPodge and give the pot a few coats to keep it intact and give it strength.  And you’re done!   Here’s my new pot, still held together with its rubber band, waiting for ModPodge.  It’s being kept company by a couple of completed pots destined as a gift for a friend.  The pots make great gifts because they’re natural containers for chocolate or cookies or beauty products, baby gifts, or whatnot….


My favorite part of magazine bowls is always the view from the top: