Saturday, September 22, 2007

Produce Bags

For a long time now, I have been bugged by the plastic produce bags at my local grocery store. It's bad enough that MOST of the produce already comes in a plastic bag. Why did I need to grab a separate bag for each type of produce that didn't come in its own bag? If I put all my veggies in one bag, would the cashier get annoyed or think I was trying to sneak something past her? So each time, I still put separate produce in separate bags. 1 head of garlic, 1 bag. 2 lemons, 1 bag. (Yes, I am trying to eat more locally, but sometimes ya gotta have a lemon!)

The the store started using EVEN BIGGER produce bags! Oh, I guess that gallon-size baggie wasn't big enough for the 1 head of garlic; we need a 6-quart size!

So what if I used no bags? Well, some things would get squashed in the cart, grapes would go all over, etc.

Another blogger (who I would link to if I could remember who it was, sorry), puts a hand-held shopping basket in her cart to hold her veggies. An excellent idea, if you remember to grab one (which I haven't), and if you are organized enough to not set the basket on top of other items that could get squashed (which I'm not).

Then, two weeks ago at the farmer's market, I realized that not only was no one selling reusable bags, every single booth was giving out plastic bags to shoppers. Grrr. I had Nettie, but avoiding plastic bags meant that all my veggies mixed up therein. Not a tragedy, certainly, but annoying.

Finally, my brain kicked into gear - why couldn't I make my own produce bags? Made from lightweight cotton or muslin, they would not add (much) weight when buying items sold by the pound. A drawstring close would keep things inside.

So, after WAY too much thought... here are my produce bags:

The first one - "gallon" size. I traced a standard zip-top food storage bag, adding a little extra at the top for the drawstring casing. Before I started, I realized that using a drawstring would make them hold less than intended. (Next task - learn to sew in a zipper!)

Using 30" of 45-inch-wide fabric, I was able to make a set of 2 "gallon" and 3 "quart" size.

Field tested today at the local farmers' maket. Big bags held four smallish bell peppers and 6 lg tomatoes, respectively, with room to spare. Small bags held a pint of smaller tomatoes (not quite cherries) and a quart of green beans. I had one small size bag left over.

Nettie held everything quite well! (Yes that is a to-be-reused plastic shopping bag at the bottom, just in case.)

You could make these with reused lightweight cotton woven fabric such as dress shirts and sheets. Four yards of drawstring trim was not even close to enough, so I improvised by reusing clean old shoelaces. Other drawstring alternatives could be: cotton yarn, ribbon, bias tape, scrap fabric. Just make sure they are washable unless you enjoy rethreading your drawstrings every time you wash the bags (I don't).

Overall, I'm really happy with how the bags worked. Besides not adding to my plastic problem, the cloth allowed the veggies to "breathe" vs. steaming in their own juices when left in the car for a couple hours afterward. (Bad, I know, but I owed the kids a trip to the park.) I will try to get an actual pattern up here soon, but I'd like to make the zipper improvement first. In the meantime, find a basic drawstring bag pattern and give it a try!

Up next - Field Test #2 - the grocery store. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Reasons to Avoid Plastic Bags

In case you didn't have enough...

Here's a photo that Beth at Fake Plastic Fish snapped from Spirit Air's in-flight magazine:

You can click to read the text. The most shocking thing to me was the headline: "We use 2 million barrels of oil every day to make plastic." I don't know about you, but that sure sounds like a lot to me.

The article also claims that "72% of Americans don't know that plastic comes from oil." Maybe we can get the people from These Come From Trees to make some "These Come From Oil" stickers. lists "Facts and figures regarding the true cost of plastic bags" in terms of both consumption and environmental impact. Be sure to check the "Other Facts" sidebar - tons more info there, including why paper bags and recycling aren't the answer.

Bean Sprouts recently wrote Ten Things You Didn't Know About Plastic. Did you know that "About 100,000 tonnes of plastic bags are thrown away in Britain annually. That's the same weight as 70,000 cars"? I didn't. And that's just Britain! How many cars' worth of plastic bags do we toss out in the US?

If you want to figure that out, you can start by visiting Worldwatch Institute. "Each year, Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags. (Only 0.6 percent of plastic bags are recycled.)" Lots of plastic bag info at that link. In the interest of hope, I liked this point: "If every shopper took just one less bag each month, this could eliminate the waste of hundreds of millions of bags each year."

Back in March, No Impact Man wrote about the effect plastic bags have on wildlife in Plastic Bags Are the Devil.

And there's always this photo:

That's enough reason for me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New pattern: Nettie Bag

The post just prior to this one contains the pattern for the Nettie Bag, designed by me. This is the first knitting pattern I have released on the 'net, so please let me know of any glaring errors or anything that is not clear.

The first photo is the first Nettie I made. It is shorter than the pattern by two pattern rows. The strap is WAY too long - I forgot how cotton can stretch! This bag looks better than the second because it was blocked before sewing.

The second photo is the one I have been complaining about on my other blog. Somehow, 6 inches of garter stitch was just too much to bear (insert eyeroll here). Anyway, this one looks a bit wonky in the photo for a couple reasons: it was never blocked, and I wasn't trying a hard to get a good photo, just any photo. But this one has been field tested at my local farmer's market, and received a compliment from the local raw honey producer. Trust me, it looks better when it is full of ripe tomatoes. And it will hold a lot of them.

Project Profile: Nettie Bag

Nettie Bag by Heather Toll

Easy, Beginner +

Skills needed:
Casting on (any cast-on style is fine)
Garter stitch (all knit stitches)
Yarn over (yo)
Knit two together (k2tog)
Binding off (again, any style)

Finished size:
Approx 15" x 15" unstretched (38 cm x 38 cm)

Color A - Lily Sugar 'n Cream, 2.5 oz. ball, solid color
Color B - Lily Sugar 'n Cream, 2 oz. ball, varigated color (ideally, your colors will coordinate!)
Size 8 US (5 mm) straight needles, at least 14" long
Size 15 US (10 mm) straight needles, at least 14" long
(You could also use circular needles, knitting back and forth.)
The usual suspects - scissors, measuring tape, yarn needle

18 stitches = 4 inches (10 cm) in garter stitch on size 8 (5 mm) needles.

Since this is not a garment, gauge is not as critical as it would be for, say, a sweater. As long as you are pretty close, you will still get a bag in approximately the size given above. For this project, the biggest risk you run by not getting gauge is running out of yarn before you finish, so if you tend to knit loosely, I recommend picking up a second ball of your color A yarn.

Pattern Notes:
This bag is knit in one long piece except for the strap, changing needles sizes and yarns as needed within the length.

The strap is pretty dull, but quite portable. You might want to knit it first or separately, taking it with you and knitting a couple rows when you have a minute to spare.

The Bag:

Side 1:
Using color A and the smaller needles, CO 60.

Continue in garter stitch (gs) until piece measures 2 inches long, or about 14 rows not counting the cast on.

K2tog across, 30 st

Change to color B and larger needles, knit 1 row.

Start net pattern stitch:

1. K1, *yo, k2tog* repeat to last st, k1
2. K all
3. K2 *yo, k2tog* rpt to end row
4. K all

Work pattern for 7 repeats

Change back to color A and smaller needles, k1, yo across row = 60 st

Continue in garter stitch for 4 inches, about 28 rows

K2tog across, 30 st

Side 2:
Change to color B and larger needles, knit 1 row (NOTE: Make sure that when you add back in color B, you do it on the same edge as before.)

Start net pattern stitch:

1. K1, *yo, k2tog* repeat to last st, k1
2. K all
3. K2 *yo, k2tog* rpt to end row
4. K all

Work pattern for 7 repeats

Change back to color A and smaller needles, k1, yo across row = 60 st

Continue in garter stitch for 2 inches, about 14 rows

Bind off, leaving a long tail for sewing up the sides.

Sew in ends.

Block if desired.

When dry, sew up sides of bag using mattress stitch.

The Strap:

At top side seam, pick up 9 stitches.

Knit in garter stitch until strap reaches desired length. Remember, cotton stretches!

Bind off strap and sew BO end to other seam edge, OR graft using Kitchener stitch.

Done! Hit the beach! (Or grocery store! Or farmer's market!)

Strap Variations:

1. Knit a longer strap so you can hang the bag diagonally across your body, messenger style.

2. Knit two short straps on each side so it will hang from the grocery store bagging center.

3. Knit two long narrow straps, picking up the stitches on either side of the side seam as for the regular strap, to make the bag easier to get into when it is on your shoulder.

4. Re-use old belts or flexible webbing as straps instead of knitting them.

Nettie with Strap Variation #2:

© 2007 by Heather Toll. Pattern may be freely distributed with copyright information. Bags made using this pattern must not be for resale.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Winds of Inspiration

Here's a fun two-minute video about wind power. Click here if you can't view it below.

Last month, mom-in-law treated the kids and me to a mini-vacation. While there, we saw our first live wind turbines in Mackinaw City, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. People, they are beautiful. Tall and slim with the blades gracefully rotating. I would definitely have one in my backyard (especially since my backyard is not a major bird/butterfly migration route).

Anyway, Mackinaw City had one or two turbines on the outskirts of town. We also saw the turbines at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. If I have interpreted this article correctly, what we were seeing was one of the largest wind farms in Canada, which will eventually power 40,000 Canadian homes.

If you live in Michigan and purchase electricity from DTE, they are now offering a new program called Green Currents, which allows both residential and business customers to purchase energy from renewable resources such as wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, and geothermal. In fact, this new program will help create a 6,500 acre wind farm in Michigan.

Here's more information on the program, from DTE's press release:

"For as little as $2.50 extra a month, residential customers can purchase a block of renewable energy that's equal to 15-20 percent of a typical home's monthly electric usage. Customers also can choose to match 100 percent of their home's electricity consumption with renewable resources by paying an extra $10 to $15 per month for a typical household.

"Business customers can purchase a 1,000 kilowatt hour block of green energy for an extra $20 a month - or match all of their electricity usage with renewable energy for an additional cost of two cents per kilowatt hour."

DTE's web site also has tips on going green. Guess what number 3 is? "Take your own cloth bag to the grocery store and spare the waste of using store-provided paper or plastic ones."

If you came to this site looking for green energy information, thanks! Please take a look at some of our pattern links to the right to make your own reusable grocery bag. (And remember to reuse the ones you already have!)