The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 13, 2016

Why Buy It New When I Can Make It Myself?

There are a lot of things I make myself to avoid products in plastic packaging.  I make my own chocolate syrup, for example, to avoid the kind in the squeeze bottle.  And I’ve made my own cleaning and personal care products for years.  But when it comes to durable goods, I’ve often opted to let someone else make it, relying on the handiwork of artisans on Etsy, for example.  And while it’s great to support small business owners, my Buy Nothing New challenge is not going to allow that, which is cool because all of a sudden, I’ve rediscovered the joy of knitting and the feeling of pride that comes from making things with my own two hands again.

My First Scarf in Years

I used to knit all the time.  In fact, I went through a period of compulsively knitting things for every person I knew.  Why then, did I find myself on Etsy, this past November, searching for the perfect handmade scarf?  I don’t know, but luckily, in the middle of my mad shopping frenzy, I suddenly remembered all the many scarves I had made for other people in the past and decided to break out the knitting needles for myself.


Practicing for my Buy Nothing New challenge, I committed to using only the yarn I still had in my stash instead of buying new yarn.  I discovered that I didn’t have enough of any one color, and instead of mixing yarns and making it longer, I added some buttons scavenged from an old sweater to keep it closed.  Is there a name for a short scarf like this?


Perhaps I would have had enough yarn for a longer scarf if I had scavenged the 100% cotton yarn from that sweater as well.  Well, there’s always next time!


The Felted Checkbook Cover

A few days later, I once again found myself on Etsy, searching for the perfect handmade checkbook cover to replace the toxic vinyl one I was still using.  (Remember how I was on a frantic mission to replace every remaining plastic item in my house?)  My urge to buy got even stronger before the Buy Nothing New challenge because I suddenly had this anxiety that the new year would come and I wouldn’t be able to replace anything else.

And then, once again, an alternative thought kicked in.  “You know Beth, a checkbook cover is just a rectangle of material folded and sewn together.  You could knit a rectangle with the wool yarn you already have, felt it, sew it, and voila!”  So that’s what I did. I used this felting guide to remind me of the steps in the washing machine felting process.  Check out the results! (Sorry, I didn’t take pictures of the process.)



One of the benefits of making things yourself is the surge of happiness you get every time you use the handmade item.  Like little doses of antidepressant throughout the day.

The Fabric Covered Storage Box

And then, in December, I found myself at Ikea of all places.  Honestly, I haven’t been to an Ikea in years!  (I’m always worried about getting lost in there and not being able to find my way out.  Also, impulse shopping.)  I went there for a very specific thing:  a rod for hanging pots and pans in the kitchen.  And I actually left without buying anything else!  But during the excursion, I found myself scanning all of the furniture and storage departments for a container to store blankets in our living room.

I had been looking for the perfect blanket storage bin for many months since we like to have lots of blankets handy for getting cozy while watching Game of Thrones, or whatever show we’re binging on at the moment.  About to give up and leave Ikea, I spotted an empty cardboard box of what looked like the exact right size, and once again, I thought, “Why am I assuming I have to buy something when I can just cover this box with fabric and make it myself?”  So I asked a clerk if I could have it, and she said, “Sure!”


To attach the fabric, I used homemade glue.  I didn’t have flour handy that day, so I used cornstarch instead.


I spread the glue on each side of the box with a fat paintbrush.


The fabric adhered perfectly!


This is some fabric I purchased several years ago without a plan.  I just saw it in a fabric store and fell in love with it.  My friend Mark also made cushion covers for us from this fabric last year.  Using things up!


I lined the bottom, using the same procedure, with fabric from an old tablecloth.


Arya jumped in immediately.  Because, you know, she’s a cat.


And check it out… it fits perfectly under the end table in the living room and looks great!




Next Projects

As I mentioned in my last post, I plan to sew an ironing board cover (gotta relearn how to use the sewing machine), knit some fingerless mittens, and make a bunch of foods that normally come in glass jars from scratch.  (Maybe even vinegar?)  I’ll post those projects as I do them.  This new challenge has me energized and excited again!



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34 Comments on "Why Buy It New When I Can Make It Myself?"

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Love that box, Beth! And all the projects, really. I like that you mention Etsy and supporting small sellers, but that it’s OK to make things on our own – especially if we have the materials on hand!


Hello, Beth!
I would like to thank your for the marvelous ideas you’ve presented in this post. I’m always happy to see people reusing items instead of simply throwing them away. I spares the nature and saves us some money. As a rubbish removal company owner I always advice my customers to take it up and provide them with couple refferal link to read up on the topic. I’ll be sure to provide a link to this post as also.
Thank you for the great content!
Peter Joyce

UM, That short scarf you made is absolutely adorable! If you set up an etsy shop I would definitely buy one!

I absolutely need to share an idea I had that I think is great even if it could end up falling royally. I was looking for 100% wool insoles for my winter boots and I was frustrated by the high shipping prices of any that I found on the internet. Then, I had the wonderful idea of knitting them myself and then felting them. I really hope it will work with the wool yarn I already have here but if not, I will try to find a wool sweater in thrift shops. Wish me luck!

Everything in this post looks absolutely amazing. Congratulations! I particularly love the checkbook cover. You’ve inspired me to think differently about things I need for home.

Hi Beth, Your scarf is called an ascot or more precisely, a buttoned ascot. Congratulations on using something you already had to make something new. It’s been my motto for many years to try to use what I have to make other things. But more in the area of food, natural cosmetics, or decorating items. I discovered MPFL back in 2007. I began to get rid of plastic items but found eventually that for a few items, and for storage of some items, there has been no, or no effective, non-plastic alternative. Also, it became hard for me to back… Read more »

Can also be called a scarflet or neck warmer

I feel the same way about never finding my way out of IKEA! Too funny. I just bought your book today and can’t wait to read it.

Hi Beth,
I recently discovered your site and am learning a lot! I am wondering if there are any alternatives to cornstarch or flour based glue? Despite having 6 (!) cats, we do get the occasional mouse in the house. I’m sure they would find cornstarch and wheat paste utterly delicious. (BTW, they like Fels Naptha bar soap. I found 2 half-eaten bars when I went to make a new batch of laundry liquid.)
Anyway, I really appreciate your work and willingness to share our experiences!

Hi Beth,

Go on making your own stuff it’s so rewarding!!
Your scarf reminded me on this pattern. Maybe a idea for your next one?
Greetings from Holland,

A few years ago when I first started reading your blog I was inspired to get rid of the plastic in my home. If I couldn’t do it immediately I’d at least not buy anything new. I’m like you, make it yourself if you can. I’ve been making all my sweaters, scarfs, socks, and ponchos for awhile now. I make lots of stuff like laundry detergent and ‘Shout’. All kinds of foods that most people don’t think of making, like Ranch Dressing and yogurt. My goal this year, inspired by you… nothing new in 2016.

Fantastic! May your crafting continue to bring you lots of joy! Question – why do you feel you need to get rid of the plastic in your house? I can understand wanting to avoid its contact with food or personal hygiene, but you already owned the checkbook cover. It wasn’t hurting anything. Now you’ve put it in a landfill. Not wanting to be obnoxious, asking honestly.

Oh wow, that scarf looks great! Like cocoricoucuo, I’ve been working with the tshirt yarn. My creations are nowhere near as elegant but it feels so good to have things that I’ve made myself:

Those are some pretty creative crafts. How clever! Waste not; want not; decrease your ecological footprint! It’s win-win-win! :)

Karen @ simplystashless

DIY is always more fun than shopping. :-) Great job on the craftiness.

Beth, making a yoga mat is pretty easy, I have a couple at home I made a few years ago. And a friend showed me her fingerless gloves she made from wool socks just a few days ago! I love the felted check book cover and the cat bed/blanket box! Keep ’em comin’.

It’s so rewarding right? That’s what I love the most, it’s not even the saving money or saving the environment part! I’m currently knitting a bath mat made with old t-shirts and I can’t wait to try it!

Brilliant. Clever idea with your scarf. LOVE the felting idea. Wish I could knit, but if I find an old, tatty wool sweater felting will be on the agenda. Had to laugh at Arya (what is it with cats??). Again, clever idea for covering the box. Scrap vinegar’s very easy to make following ZW Chef’s instructions. I wish I could test the pH to verify acidity, though. FWIW, Bragg’s cider vinegar supposedly contains a mother if you want to go in that direction. Also, El Cerrito Natural Groc. has bulk cider vinegar, and from personal experience (minor “poof” when opening… Read more »

Welcome to my crafty green world :) I have an ongoing mission to use my craft and reclaimed materials stash for projects and things we need before buying materials. My next project is a sweet custom yoga mat bag that is a mash up of two store bought styles I like made with stuff I have from the reclaimed zippers to the hardware and fabric