Clothing repair

I regularly patch clothes – mostly the knees of J’s jeans, and recently some of J’s socks. I do boro-style patches (like this but less polished) and other forms of visible mending. They never look super awesome, but they are durable. (I’m going to look like a hobo one day, though.)

An earlier knee patch. More recent patches blend in better and have taken less time.
Maybe I should try other styles of patching. This one is particularly pretty 🙂
The height of my patching attempts! I used this pair of underwear to pad ceramics for shipping. Unfortunately, a dish broke and made lots of tiny holes and some medium-size holes all over the butt of the garment. I really like how these fit and they were in good shape besides the holes, so I decided to patch them! I turned them into an under-the-sea scene, with the small holes turned into bubbles and the larger holes turned into fish. I made two jellyfish, a sea urchin, a squid, some seaweed, and 5 other generic fish. The patches are holding up well!

If you aren’t sure how to repair an item, take a look at Make Do and Mend. It is a British WWII booklet on caring for and repairing clothing. It is super detailed! I’m sure everyone could learn a new technique from it.

Imperfect Produce delivery!

We get a produce delivery every other week from Imperfect Produce. You can choose among the available items, which include fresh fruit and veggies, and special items: mushrooms, defective pasta, mill-grade rice (high broken-grain content), dates, and more! They don’t carry dairy, eggs, or meat, but maybe in the future!

It’s rare that we get something truly imperfect. Most of the produce is surplus.

Overnight bus with beds!

Air travel is fast, but frustrating (I dislike the security checks + lack of leg room) and is particularly bad for the environment when traveling short distances. Because of this, I like to take alternative modes of transportation when possible. The train is nice 🙂 but can be slow and doesn’t offer a lot of different departure times; traditional long-distance buses (Megabus, Greyhound, BoltBus) can be just as cramped as planes.

However, there is an alternative! Cabin (previously SleepBus) is a bus service between LA and San Francisco that has beds on board, much like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. The trip is about 7 hours overnight, just about the perfect length for this kind of venture. One-way tickets are $85-$120, so 4-5 times more expensive than other buses and 2 times more expensive than Amtrak for the same trip. Flight costs vary a lot (I just saw $29-$200), but are comparable on average or at the last minute.

I’m eager to try out this service! Until Amtrak has an overnight trip between the Bay Area and LA, this sounds like a great option.

Better phone options

Electronic devices never seem to last very long. The fancier they get, the shorter their usable lifetimes (think smartphones vs flip phones).

Planned obsolescence is a major part of this. It is manifest in such design choices as soldering the battery to the phone case, or putting the battery underneath the motherboard. Doing this makes it really hard to replace the battery. You can’t do it yourself, so you have to pay someone else to do it. The difficulty of the repair makes it more expensive and more likely to break or damage something else in the device. You probably won’t be able to replace the battery more than once.

Next time you’re in the market for a phone, keep these things in mind to get a longer-lasting mobile phone. Basically,

  • if feasible for your needs, get a simple phone
  • consult the iFixit list of phones by repairability (notice that the newest highly repairable phone is from 2016)
  • if you can’t get a highly-repairable phone, at least get one with an easily replaceable battery
  • extend the usable life of your phone by installing other operating systems once your phone no longer gets security updates (you may need advanced technical know-how to do this!).

I probably won’t need to buy a new phone for a long time. I’ve used a cheap candy bar phone for everyday use since 2012 (with a free upgrade to a 3G phone when 2G was being phased out). I use a J cast-off phone (Google Nexus 5) for traveling. In fact, I’ll probably be able to provide for all of my phone needs using old phones of J’s 😛

If I did need a new phone, I’d either: buy a used one that is listed as highly repairable by iFixit, or buy a Fairphone (pending additional research, although the concept alone is extremely appealing).

The Fairphone  is a modular Android phone made with ethically-sourced materials and components (Wiki). It was specifically designed to be easy to repair and upgrade without throwing the whole phone away. The end goal is device longevity. But the Fairphone isn’t perfect.

  • Unfortunately, support for the Fairphone 1 has already ended, only 2-3.5 years (depending on batch) after the device’s release, partly due to poor choice of SoC. This is worse than Apple, which generally supports devices for 5 years. Fairphones are only sold in Europe (although they are unlocked and would presumably work in most countries).
  • Replacement (e.g. battery, screen) and upgrade (e.g. camera) modules are available only from Fairphone, whereas components of other phones are not proprietary and can be bought from various suppliers. Fairphone is such a small company that it could go out of business at any time.
  • Because of the small size of the company and ethical sourcing requirements, the phone is relatively expensive for its specs. The Fairphone 2 was €529 (~$650), which although on par with other high-end smartphones is expensive for, e.g. it’s camera quality, lack of USB-C, etc.
  • The modularity of the phone means that it is a little bulky (11 mm thick).

The Fairphone 3 will be released sometime in 2018. Previous models have only been available in Europe; it is unclear if the Fairphone 3 will be available on other continents. Fairphone is aiming to support the Fairphone 3 longer by, for example, stocking up on repair components that are in high demand. The Fairphone 3 will be a smaller, less fancy smartphone with a correspondingly lower price of ~$500. (It is unclear why Fairphone feels the need to release additional phones at all. Shouldn’t they be making modules to update the Fairphone 1?)

Edit: J says to use to buy used phones. Devices sold on eBay tend to be stolen D:

Sustainable cleaning basics

The majority of the time, I clean things (wipe surfaces, hand-wash dishes, etc.) with a wet dishcloth and soap, if needed. It is rare that I need anything else.

More specialized cleaning tools (in no particular order):

Kamenoko tawashi – Japanese vegetable scrubbing brush, but really good for getting stuck-on food off of pots and pans. Do not use these on Teflon or soft plastic; it is incredibly stiff and will scratch delicate surfaces.

Baking soda – Good for removing stains (apply to surface with some water and let sit for 15 min) and odors, good for scrubbing. Can also use it for deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo.

Salt – Good for removing ground-in dirt, but very abrasive.

Vinegar – Takes off limescale, can be added to baking soda to unclog drains. Can also use as a conditioning hair rinse.

Soap – J and I use Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap. We bought a gallon of it – the biggest size available! – since we anticipate using it for all of our liquid soap needs. We use it for hand-washing dishes, for example.

A scrubby brush, rag, or cloth (sponges not recommended because of low durability and unsustainable materials). Loofah is a good sponge-like sponge substitute.

You might want a toilet brush, although old toothbrushes work fine for cleaning toilets. LifeWithoutPlastic has a plastic-free option.

Plunger – J and I use our plunger to unclog the shower drain (I’m not sure why it gets clogged in the first place, but it happens regularly).

Broom, dust mop, vacuum come in handy occasionally.

Advanced cleaning tips

I don’t know any, ’cause I don’t clean that much. I just google when I need a fancy solution, like what to use to get blood or tomato stains out.

The 47 most effective ways to shrink your carbon footprint that you won’t believe, especially number 7 it’s so cool

I came across a super cool infographic and article (based on this research paper) ranking different actions by environmental impact. You know those things that people always say to do – recycling, washing your clothes in cold water, changing lightbulbs? They don’t do that much 🙁 Too bad, since those are some of the easiest and least controversial changes to make.

Pretty infographic from

The article says that the most effective things you can do (if you live in a developed country) are:

  • Don’t have kids (The study attributes 1/2 of your children’s emissions, 1/4 of your grandchildrens’ emissions, etc. to you)
  • Don’t use a car
  • Don’t fly
  • Buy green energy (This is easy to do!!!)
  • Don’t eat animal products (The study actually specifies no meat, with no mention of other animal products, although dairy in particular has a large carbon footprint.)

Less effective actions include:

  • Recycling
  • Doing laundry with cold water
  • Hanging laundry to dry

There’s a table with a bunch more actions listed. Improving home insulation and producing no food waste are both moderately effective; composting is listed as not very effective, but no carbon footprint reduction estimate is given so maybe they just couldn’t find any data on it.

The less effective actions are obviously more attractive; after all, they don’t require major lifestyle changes. This may be why “textbook and government writers intentionally [promote] low-impact actions,” following a ‘foot-in-the-door’ approach, “a type of positive spillover where encouraging small actions is hoped to lead individuals to take more substantial behaviours later”. It’s unclear if this actually happens, though… Man, behavior modification is hard.


A tool to see the energy profile of your local electrical utility

I found a neat tool from the EPA that shows the energy sources that your local electricity is generated from.

California is looking pretty good! J and I do buy a solar/wind mix, but it’s nice to know that even the average user gets 1/3 renewable.

Our electricity provider, PG&E, has a really nice website. It has plots of our energy usage by hour (wow, such resolution!) and compares our overall usage to similar homes in the area. You can totally see those days when it was too hot to go without air conditioning, ’cause the energy usage goes waaaaay up. It is also really easy to switch to different billing plans (tiered, energy at night is super cheap, etc) and to buy renewable energy. It’s a very fun website 🙂

This was that heat wave day last summer. We used air conditioning that night, as you can see. You can also see when we were cooking brunch (we have an electric stove).


I have a pair of not super high quality socks that were getting major holes in them. (Oddly, the holes were under the ball of my foot…) I didn’t actually intend to repair them – they’re definitely not worth it – but in the end couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. At least I got to practice my darning skills!

Hole on the left sock, darn on the right. The thread that I used was among my maternal grandmother’s crafting supplies. It is specifically meant for darning and matches really well! Wow!

A darn is basically a little patch of woven material. You sew back and forth over a hole, then go back and forth the other direction, running your thread over and under the crosswise threads. See this post for detailed instructions.

The blogger who runs that site seems very into obvious patching and the distressed look. For example, see this patch, where he specifically says to not sew too carefully. You wouldn’t want it to look good or anything. He’s going to look like a hobo one day – and I probably will also…

Making a rag rug

Rag rugs are a great way to reuse clothing that is too worn to wear, repair, or donate. As my mom says, you can always have more rugs! Basically you tear or cut the garments and fabric into strips, then weave, knit, or crochet the strips into a rug. Super easy!

This is a great use for clothes that are too worn to patch and too worn to donate. Any material (cotton, polyester, etc) and any type of cloth (woven, knit) can be used. However, I try to use a single material and type of cloth within a rug. Knits and wovens in particular behave differently.

Cutting up a childhood dress.

There are a ton of rug-making methods:

A woven way

A braided way (you can do the same technique using an n-strand braid)

A knit way (using linen stitch)


This is definitely an accessible craft. For the simplest method (braiding), all you need is rag strips! You should try it!

The finished rug! It is in-front-of-sink-sized. I plan to give it to Sibling A.

For the rug that I made, I used a child’s dress (pink flowered), a robotics t-shirt (turquoise), a scrap of single-knit cloth (pink), an old pajama shirt of Sibling A’s (light blue), and part of a fitted sheet (white with turquoise stripes). It ended up way more themed than expected. I’m used to rag rugs looking more mismatched, which is a nice look, too!