Portable Cutlery Set Tutorial

Recently, a video about a sea turtle that had to have a plastic straw removed from its nose went viral on the Internet. So powerful was the suffering of the poor animal in this video that it sparked plastic straw bans in many cities. As much as I appreciated the sentiment behind this move, my personal opinion is that it treats a symptom rather than the underlying disease. For example, to reduce plastic straw use, some restaurants redesigned the lids of their disposable cups — but continued distributing single-use plastic lids that could not be easily recycled. Bans also left many people with disabilities in a tight spot, since they have no options but to use disposable straws. Plastic straw bans don’t help any of the old straws already out there to get recycled instead of going into landfills — and according to this site it takes 100 to 500 years for a plastic straw to decompose. It doesn’t address recycling policies that keep plastics from being properly recycled in the first place. And once the furor raised by the video died down, a lot of people — and more importantly, a lot of companies — went back to single-use plastics without a second thought. As it stands right now, 89% of plastic is not recycled in Canada.

So I asked myself, what can I do? Well, I personally I can stop using plastic straws whenever possible, that’s a given. But in all of the viral-video-fueled excitement for people to buy their own personal reusable straws to use with their takeout food, I think a lot of people forgot about the disposable cutlery that goes hand with those straws. While personal cutlery sets have been available for years (and are especially popular with those who camp), and they’re definitely better than disposable, I think it’s possible to do better. Why? Because these are generally made with new materials.

If you go out to any thrift store you will find that there is lots of perfectly good, used, stainless-steel cutlery that can have a second life as a portable cutlery set. Not only that, it’s generally quite affordable! When I buy vintage kitchenware for my market stall, it often comes with old cutlery thrown in; a lot of people don’t see its value. But all it needs is a recycled travel case to put it in so it can be thrown in a purse, briefcase, backpack, desk drawer, or lunch box.

I made up a bunch of these sets and brought them with me to the 613Christmas this past weekend. However, I think it’s more important to encourage everyone to use them than it is for me to make a profit, so I thought I’d share a tutorial online. It is very basic and can even be hand-sewn if desired. Of course, if you are a master sewer, you can probably make something even nicer, and I encourage you to do so! Experiment! Use even tinier scraps of fabric and quilt them together in incredible designs! Knit a case! Crochet! There’s no limit to the techniques you can use. What’s most important, to me, is that your materials be recycled — not only the cutlery, but also the textiles.

So your first step is to pick your cutlery. If you’re lucky they will all be from the same set, but they really don’t have to be. I recommend the basics of a knife, fork, and spoon, but you can also include a steak knife (although probably not if it’s to be brought to school), reusable chopsticks, and a reusable straw.

Secondly, you’ll need a piece of fabric, preferably recycled. It can come from old clothing, bedding, or draperies, but another good resource (if you don’t sew much yourself) is a friend or family member who sews, who will inevitably have lots of scraps and remnants that they just can’t bear to throw out, but would be happy to see used.

Cut a piece of fabric that, when the fabric is folded in half length-wise, is at least 6″ longer than your longest piece of cutlery. Width-wise, you want it to be twice as wide as the widest piece of cutlery, plus 4″ or so to allow for the depth of the deepest piece. I found that a 30″ x 6″ strip of fabric was adequate to comfortably accommodate every style of cutlery that I tried.

Fold the fabric in half so that it is long and skinny; in the case of our demo, it became 30″ x 3″. Make sure that the wrong side of the fabric faces out. Sew a seam with half of a centimeter of seam allowance around the two longest edges. Alternately, you can serge the edges, which is what I did. (Seams indicated by blue lines in the photo above.)

Turn the tube you have made halfway inside-right, so that the right side of the fabric is visible on the outside. The tube will now be half as long as when you started (15″). Press flat.

On the unfinished end, fold the top layer back about 4″. Sew a seam on the inside layer about 1″ into the fabric, as per the blue line in the photo. Leaving an allowance of about half a centimeter, cut off the excess fabric at the end.

Fold the top layer back so that it lies flat. Fold the two unfinished edges of the top layer inside the tube, and stitch the end of the tube closed as close to the edge as possible (blue line on the right). Making sure to catch the inside layer, sew a second seam parallel to the first, about half a centimeter further in (blue line on the left).

Insert your longest piece of cutlery (usually the knife) into the tube, making sure it goes all the way to the bottom. On the middle of one side of the tube, mark a spot 1″ down from the top of the knife; sew a button on there, making sure to sew it only to one side of the tube. On the other side of the tube, mark a spot 1/2″ from the top of the knife; sew a loop of elastic onto this spot. The length of the elastic will depend on the level of stretch and how big the button is, so it may take a bit of experimentation.

Insert all cutlery pieces in the tube, roll the top closed, and loop the elastic over the button to secure it.

There you have it, your own personal recycled portable cutlery set. Make them for your friends and family this holiday season! They make great stocking stuffers and teacher appreciation gifts. And after many years of hard use, when the cutlery does finally wear out and the bag falls apart, the steel is recyclable and many fabrics are biodegradable. Even if you chose a synthetic fabric, it’s better that it be reused instead of going directly in the trash. Perhaps only the button (depending on the kind you chose) will end up in the garbage at the end of life of your portable cutlery set — and with any luck by then our recycling programs will accept them too.

613Christmas Saturday December 1st

Tomorrow is 613Chrismtas, 613flea’s once-a-year Christmas event, and I couldn’t be more excited to be participating! It’s my biggest market of the year, and even the weather is predicted to cooperate.

I have so much new stuff to bring that I can’t photograph it all. My bins for vintage Pyrex and Tupperware are overflowing, and I have a whole bunch of beautiful Blue Mountain Pottery that are waiting to be shown off. I’m enlisting my husband to help me set up so that I can bring a third table to fit it all (usually I only have two tables and lug it all myself). It means that my booth will look a little different than usual, but that’s so I can bring all of my very best “new” stuff!

There is a change of venue for this market: it’s at the much larger (and better-heated) Carleton University Fieldhouse. I’ll be more or less in the middle, in booth 808.

I’m happy to be able to say that I’ve upgraded my Square card reader for this event, so I’ll be able to take debit cards, Apple Pay, and Google Pay, as well as the usual credit cards and cash. The new machine makes it so easy!

So please pop by and say hi, even if vintage kitchenware isn’t your thing. I’m always excited to meet people who read my blog.

Cleaning Coloured Pyrex

At my last flea market, one of the other vendors (a lovely lady selling the most fabulous knitwear) asked me how I get my Pyrex so clean and shiny. She’d had some issues keeping hers looking its best, and was wondering if I had any tips or tricks. I kind of brushed it off with an, “Oh, I just wash it!” But later I thought about it and realized that I really do have a process that I use. I thought I would share it here so that I can help other collectors.

For the purpose of demonstration, I’ll use the two pieces that came into my possession recently. The top one is a JAJ Pyrex casserole in the Market Garden pattern from 1971. (James A. Jobling’s company produced Pyrex in England from 1921 through 1973, when the patent rights reverted to Corning; after this point, the “Pyrex England” backstamp was used.) The bottom is a rectangular casserole from 1956 by the American Pyrex division in the Snowflake pattern, which is the very first pattern that was ever screen printed onto Pyrex. Given the age and condition of these pieces, I really want to keep the designs intact. Most importantly, when I got them there were no chips or nicks, which is something even the best cleaning can’t fix!

To be honest, these dishes aren’t in the worst condition of the ones that have come into my collection; some good examples of how bad it can get are in my old Cleaning Glass post. As is quite common, the inside of the casseroles were in pretty good shape, since people are most picky about keeping the parts that touch their food in the best shape, but the bottoms were worse off. But do not despair if you see this brown residue on a dish that you want, since it will totally come off with a bit of work!

One of the most important things I can say about cleaning old coloured Pyrex, whether it be solid-colour or screen-printed, is not to put it in the dishwasher. They won’t warp or chip in there — after all, they’re meant for the oven and even the oldest are safe for the microwave if there’s no metallic trim. However, the harsh chemicals and high heat of the dishwasher can fade or even completely erase the beautiful colours over time, so I really would recommend avoiding it! Of course, modern Pyrex and Corningware are dishwasher-safe, so if you’re not sure of the age of a piece, look for the stamp on the bottom that labels it as such.

On the Market Garden piece, the worse part was where food debris had collected in the edge around the rim. This is usually really hard to get out, but I have a technique for that which works for most dishes.

When cleaning coloured Pyrex, one of the things you want to avoid the most is heavy-duty scrubbing. So, no highly abrasive cleaning powders or scouring pads! (Although I’m quite enamoured of Lee Valley’s stainless-steel chain mail scrubber, which is great for cast iron, it would utterly ruin a Pyrex dish.) So your best bet is to fill up a sink with hot water and a generous helping of dish soap, and then let that sit overnight. Yes, the same technique for tackling the roasting pan from the Christmas turkey works with Pyrex, but why wouldn’t it?

When it comes time to scrub the dishes in the soapy water, I like to use the double-sided cleaning sponges with the green scrubber. I find that they’re generally abrasive enough to get rid of stains, yet not abrasive enough to remove designs (unless you scrub for a really long time — always be careful!).

And here you can see my secret weapon: bamboo skewers. They’re perfect for getting into tiny little areas that accumulate grime, but because they’re so breakable it’s really difficult to scratch the finish with them. The wide end of the skewer can even be used to concentrate your effort on areas with a thick layer of baked-on grease; I used them to great effect on my enameled cast-iron pan. As a bonus, they’re not strong enough to go through the enamel on cast-iron either (on which you also don’t want to use anything too abrasive lest you damage the finish).

I was lucky this time in that the Snowflake dish came completely clean with this treatment, even though it looked like it was in the worst shape. So I only had to do the next step on the Market Garden piece: a paste of baking soda and lemon or lime juice. The juice is acidic and the baking soda is slightly abrasive, which makes for a perfect cleaning combination. I left the past on overnight to dry, then added more lemon juice to scrub off the stains the next morning. Then, for a super-shiny finish, I gave it one more good wash in dish soap and water.

Sometimes, with dishes in really rough shape, you have to repeat these steps a few times. One other thing you can try, although only as a last resort, is a sink full of hot water and a single dishwasher detergent packet, left to sit overnight. I only do this when the dishes have resisted every other cleaning method, because the detergent is really harsh and concentrated. But I much prefer using one of the packets instead of giving up altogether! However, this time I didn’t have to resort to such drastic measures.

So here are my cleaning results:

Pristine bottom surfaces.

Edges like new.

And interiors from which you’d be happy to serve any guest.

So next time you see an old Pyrex piece that’s a bit worse for wear, don’t automatically discard it because of the amount of work that’d be involved bringing it up to snuff. It may take a couple of rounds of soaking, but it can look like new again without all that much elbow grease!

Felting with Vintage Tupperware

When I’m at the flea market, one of my most consistent sellers is vintage Tupperware pitchers. I hear so may people exclaim that they remember them fondly from their childhoods, generally filled with Kool-Aid and paired with bell tumblers. I have to admit that they were a consistent part of my childhood as well, even though at our house they were filled instead with juice that came out of a can in the freezer.

However, this past weekend I learned that these days they have an alternate use. One lady came to my booth and was absolutely thrilled to learn that I had one vintage pitcher left because she uses the lid for wet felting. For those not into such things, wet felting is a craft that uses layers of wool roving or yarn, agitated together with hot soapy water until it all sticks together as a single piece of fabric. If you’ve ever accidentally thrown a piece of woolen clothing in the washing machine and had it come out shrunken, stuck together, and unwearable, you’re familiar with the process. However, wet-felting is when it’s done on purpose to create pieces of art. The end results can range from absolutely gorgeous to terribly cute.

What makes these pitchers such great finds for wet felters is the ridged undersides of the vintage lids. (The lady I spoke with told me that the lids of new Tupperware pitchers have been redesigned so that they’re smooth on the bottom.) The ridges are perfect for gently agitating the layers of wool so that they stick together. And the handle makes for an easy grip. Apparently the pitchers are considered to be great finds by this crafting community, not only because they don’t make them that way any more, but also because they’re generally snapped up so fast.

Who knew?

613flea Saturday November 17th

We’re getting down to the Christmas crunch, which means more flea markets for me! This coming Saturday is 613flea at Lansdowne Park. It’s not technically the Christmas market (that’s in two weeks on December 1st), but a lot of vendors will be bringing out their holiday wares because people like to shop early — especially if they’re shipping presents to family, or are planning on traveling themselves. Considering that the local Christmas craft fairs started up the Saturday after Halloween, I don’t really think it’s too early.

Once again, I’ve managed to narrow down my social media pictures to two, and I can’t choose between them. Which do you like best, this one:

Or this one:

I mean, they couldn’t be more different, but I like them both. It’s very hard to be objective when each one holds some pretty happy memories for me.

I’m also really excited this week because I have found some absolutely fabulous new pieces that I’ll be including at my booth. Once again I have warm colours:

Versus cool:

I honestly love them all and would be happy to keep them in my kitchen, but if I kept every piece that I like I wouldn’t have anything for my booth.

Hope to see you there!

Heroes & Villains: Strange Magic Edition

This past Saturday I braved the first snowstorm of the year in order to attend the Heroes & Villains Halloween cosplay party that’s held every year at The Bourbon Room. It’s a whole lot of fun! This year’s theme was “strange magic”, and keeping with the theme the hosts were decked out as the house founders from Harry Potter, the DJ was dressed up as a gorgon, the decor featured dragons and floating candles, and the specialty drinks were straight out of Hogwarts.

Of course I had to get my cosplay on! (As captured poorly here with the selfie feature on my camera.) After all of the effort of making five costumes in time for Ottawa ComicCon (of which I still haven’t posted all of my photos, gotta get on that, really), I just thought I’d reuse something I’d worn before. Then I made the mistake of going to the Audrey’s Costume Castle fire sale the prior weekend, where I found a fabulous wig… And, well, I threw together a fairy godmother costume to go with the theme.

I knew that there would be black lights there, so I used some black-light-reactive face paint for highlights. I didn’t realize until after I got there that parts of the wig would light up too. Not truly visible in these shots are the twinkly fiber optic lights that were tucked under my hair, which showed really well in the low light.

One of the great things about this party is that included with admission is a couple of professional shots taken by the fantastic Richard Dufault of Open Shutter Photo! He got some great shots of the costume in better lighting.

I’m never sure how to pose for these things, but I think they turned out okay! Also, I wish I’d noticed that my necklace was tangled in my wig and hanging funny. Ah, well. It was actually a really comfortable costume and I might actually wear it again. As a bonus, there was no sewing this time!

I based the makeup very loosely on Charisma Star’s tutorial, mainly for the shape of the final layers of paint. I went with a totally different colour scheme and I used different products. I rather liked how it turned out, even if you can’t see that the makeup actually goes all the way down over my shoulders and a bit down my chest. If I’d realized that the wig blocked so much of that area, I wouldn’t have put so much effort into it. Live and learn!

613flea Saturday October 6th

Tomorrow is the next 613flea, and I’ll be there in my usual spot, one row south of the north door. And I’m so excited to show you the “new” things I’ll be bringing this week! (“New” in brackets because I specialize in vintage housewares, after all.)

I have fourteen pieces of green Blue Mountain Pottery that are in like-new condition. Some of them even still have their original stickers and/or tags!

I even have three new-to-me pieces of rarer harvest gold Blue Mountain Pottery.

I liked how that photo turned out so much that I used it as the photo for my social media promotion for this week. Fingers crossed that I can win that prize for best post! So if you’re on Instagram, it would be appreciated if you could drop me a like on that pic.

These Tupperware Wonderlier Bowls are from the 1950’s and 1960’s, but they’re still in beautiful condition.

Not all of my Tupperware is as old as my parents, though! These Modular Mates sized for spaghetti (with portion servers on the inside) are from the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, as are these butter dishes.

My absolute pride and joy this week is this lovely Pyrex divided serving dish. The turquoise-on-white snowflake pattern ran from 1956-1963, and this particular dish has never been used. It’s still new in its box, with all of the paper inserts and packaging included!

Dishes in this kind of shape are like the Holy Grail of Pyrex collecting. Even if this kind of thing isn’t your personal passion, to a serious collector this is like getting a original Star Wars toy in mint-condition packaging, or a trading card of a classic, big-name player that looks like nobody’s ever laid a finger on it. I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled with this find!