Mary Heath: Adelaidean's blog celebrates sustainability, recycling and DIYs
The success of Netflix’s documentaries Tidying Up With Marie Kondo – propagating the merits of a decluttered house and life, Japanese style and The True Cost that depicts the detrimental effects of cheap clothes production are not coincidental. Globally, consumers are making conscientious efforts to veer towards more sustainable and cleaner lifestyles and are rethinking their consumption patterns - the obsession with fast fashion, glorification of retail therapy, and a lethargic attitude towards recycling and repairing.
Concern over the repercussions of mindless consumption - overflowing landfills, choking of oceans, inhumane labour practices in developing countries – was one of the many reasons that led Adelaidean DIY blogger Mary Heath to start localandbespoke.com. Her blog celebrates the values of upcycling and recycling, encourages readers to refrain from discarding clothes and objects at will, and instead adopt Do It Yourself (DIY) projects including sewing their clothes and using natural dyes for their fabrics.
In conversation with TAL, the 53-year-old discusses how a childhood of self-sustaining practices and embracing the mantra ‘think globally, act locally’ have helped her live a sustainable and creatively fulfilling life.
What prompted you to start the blog, and how does it create awareness about recycling, upcycling, and DIY projects?
My blog is about applying the principle ‘think globally, act locally’ to making. I spin, knit, dye and sew, so there is a fair bit of variety in the posts. There's content about upcycling, craftivism, using local wool, sustainable craft and plant dyeing. The blog documents my experiments with guerrilla gardening in the neighbourhood - an attempt at figuring out living sustainably at all levels of everyday life. To my mind, there are strong connections between dyeing using plants, protecting trees, and making my surroundings greener.
My daughter encouraged me to start a blog to share my experiences with sustainability practices with a wider audience. I was a voracious blog reader at the time, and took her advice seriously and began my blog in 2012.
Do you think adopting practices like upcycling, recycling, and DIYs have become more urgent and crucial?
I think it is human to be creative and collaborative, and DIY and recycling allow us to be that. They can also help us lighten our load on the planet, which has become more relevant than ever. Upcycling and recycling aren’t going to stop climate change, but we need to participate in our own ways to contribute towards a positive change at a global level.
We all need places where we can make a visible difference no matter how small, and educate ourselves about the impact of our choices. For example, guerilla gardening helped me connect with my surroundings better - picking up rubbish and planting native plants. It also made me more aware and respectful of the land (Kaurna) that I am currently living on.
There are numerous interesting and informative tutorials on your blog. How do you come up with these ideas?
The tutorials are triggered by something I am making at the time. Sometimes, they are rooted in a reader's query about a particular craft they saw on my blog, and I use their question to create a step-by-step tutorial. At other times, while participating in events with a specific focus on recycling and repair, I create online tutorials to share my knowledge with those with similar interests.
Were DIYs and recycling an intrinsic part of your childhood? Or did these interests grow organically later in life?
I didn’t think of DIYs or crafts as hobbies but as common habits that everyone practised. Growing up my family didn’t have much money, so we grew our food and foraged for free food by picking blackberries, mushrooms, quandongs, stopping at roadside fruit trees, fishing and catching rabbits.
These activities provided endless fodder to my young, inquisitive mind- How to tell where a quandong in fruit might be, how to catch a yabby, identifying edible mushrooms, or competing with family members to pick the most blackberries. We also made our jam and preserved fruit – admittedly not an exciting but a regular activity in my household.
My mother made clothes and mended old ones, while my father repaired broken objects around the house and created unique things from pieces of metal and wood. For me, this kind of self-reliance was ordinary!
I learned a lot about gardening from my parents, who are great gardeners. When I started planting saltbush, my father would send me hand labelled envelopes of seeds he gathered every time he found promising saltbush!
I learned knitting and garment sewing from books. I love learning from other people and have done workshops on plant dyeing and sewing with India Flint. I am a member of the Handspinners and Weavers Guild where I have attended many seminars on a wide range of skills, and have also taught art yarn spinning and plant dyeing.
The internet is a rich resource that I often turn to when I am wondering about a technique or a dye plant. I now find that different skills and ideas cross-pollinate in my mind - If I can make patchwork quilts, why can’t I create garments that are patchworked together? Or, if I can embroider and mend, couldn’t I make mending look like embellishment?
As someone who has dabbled in recycling and DIYs since childhood, what three important advice would you give someone about to start DIYs?
a) Assume you can figure this out! In the past (and even now in many places) people organised everything they needed in life themselves. You couldn’t buy a new one or get a specialist to do it for you. Making/mending/sewing/repairing, etc. does not require superhuman skills. Anyone can do it, and the trick is to find what you enjoy and work around your limitations—which will change as you learn.
b) It doesn’t have to be perfect to be awesome!
c) You will find many helpful people and resources around you if you look: people with similar interests eager to share their skills, repair cafes, YouTube clips, online tutorials, library books, classes - the list is endless.
Amongst all this, what's your favourite activity?
Mending! It often requires only the most basic skills and materials and therefore doesn’t take much time. Yet, a simple mend can transform a garment from unwearable to a style statement! Learn to mend and keep using your favourite clothes while reducing textile wastage.
What advice would you give to those seriously considering mending/recycling/upcycling/making their clothes and things?
Be kind to yourself the way you would be to anyone else learning a new skill. Often, we expect perfection at our very first attempt and judge ourselves harshly when we fail. Also, there is nothing wrong with starting small. First, learn to sew on a button, and then take your next step and persist.
Visit Mary’s wonderful blog here.
Or, follow her on Instagram.