Looking out my backdoor: Doing my small part for our planet


Last updated 12/16/2021 at 8:59am

Don’t get excited. This is not a big deal. I might save a tree or two. I won’t be leading parades nor expect anybody to jump on my bandwagon.

Three things linked together in my head and this idea shot out the other end. (Please, do not examine that statement too closely.)

Weather devastations and our dying planet met up with my shrinking income met up with a memory of childhood when I learned to iron clothes beginning with handkerchiefs for the whole family, some embroidered in the corner, some floral, some neckerchief in size, plaid or western print, silently shouted “Dad,” and a pile of whites.

Like I said, not a big deal. But I use a lot of Kleenex. Thinking about that sparked other memories. In my childhood home, we never bought Kleenex or paper towels, things many of us today buy in case lots. We used cloth, washable, reusable, almost forever.

(I hesitate to mention later years when cloth diapers froze dry in the winter on my clothesline. That’s a whole different issue, possibly criminal in one way of looking at it. Disposables are certainly handy, I admit.)

I asked Leo to set up my conference-size project table in my living room while I rummaged through a couple bins in my bodega for scraps of this and that.

I found a lovely length of natural muslin, soft and pliable, perfect for handkerchiefs. Further digging in bins brought forth a few pieces of colored muslin, pieces from blouses already re-purposed.

One idea triggered another. Soon I had fabric pieces in designated piles, ready for projects in the coming days. Certainly I shall have handkerchiefs galore. If I hem up a few more cloth napkins, I can strike paper towels from my grocery list. Count another saved tree.

Since I am using scraps leftover from former projects, I will still have odd sized remainders of fabric. It is almost impossible for me to find filters for my one-cup Melita coffee filter. I can easily whip out a small stack of cone filters, easy to rinse, wash and re-use. One tree, check.

Other pieces will be perfect to make more sachets for my dried lavender. Now I’m on a roll.

Speaking of a roll, rolling around in the back of my mind is an idea for a picture quilt, a farm scene, primitive, reminiscent of Grandma Moses, using minute scraps and embroidery thread.

It takes time to learn a new habit or to relearn an old one. Took me forever to remember to grab my cloth shopping bags. Just like it took months to think ahead to grab a mask (made by meself) when I leave the house. Most of us keep one hanging on the door knob.

Becoming a throw-away society came easily. Every new product to hit the shelves seemed to find immediate acceptance. Maybe I am wrong. But we might just be forced to regroup, to return to some of our old ways, not out of supply issues but out of common sense.

And I might as well pull out the other two bedsheets I’ve not yet cut into because they would each make lovely long sleeved man-style shirts. One is a lilac cotton flannel and the other has a pin-stripe pattern in subtle tans, both yummy against my skin.

If I use that length of multi-orange stripe for new chair cushion covers, those projects should carry me through well into spring when my bucket gardening moves once more into full swing.

I’m excited. I’ll get started stitching handkerchiefs first, just as soon as I finish stitching together the nightgowns I cut from a yellow cotton sateen sheet.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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