Monthly Archives: February 2014

An un-Piggy Bank

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I was trying to come up with something for a Valentine’s Day gift. I’m always a fan of handmade items, and I don’t think that gifts should have to cost a heck of a lot to be meaningful or valuable so frugal options present a welcome challenge for me.

That’s when it hit me. My valentine is really into saving money lately, a different jar or container for a different purpose, and so I got it in my head that I would craft him a piggy-bank. I decided I was going to join a pottery class (I have missed working with clay and the prospect of using my class time to make a gift seemed like a dual purpose idea). Then life got in the way, as it always does, and that idea flew by the wayside.

I was shopping at a thrift store and found a really neat piggy bank made of clay with a cork for a nose (and momentarily re-visited the idea in my head of joining a pottery class). Beside this piggy was another neato swine with designs on the outside that reminded me of folk art. I really liked these and stood in front of them for a while but just couldn’t make the purchase, mostly because it seemed too easy (I enjoy the problem solving that comes with trying to make stuff with my hands) and these particular pieces didn’t remind me of my valentine.

apple juice

Then I went grocery shopping. I found this yummy looking (and not so frugal) organic apple juice in what I would deem to be a rather attractive glass jug. Using the jug’s potential as a re-gifted item, I splurged on the juice and drank it down. After removing the label and cleaning up the jug, it was ready for decoration. I wanted it to be opaque so that he couldn’t see how much was inside-keep that a mystery until the fateful day he gets to shake out the treasure and examine his small fortune.

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How to:

1. Find yourself an attractive vessel in which to toss your spare change (coffee tins and glass jars work well if you’re into old-fashioned simplicity).

2. Empty the contents inside if it’s full.

3. Clean it out if there is any food content to me removed. For removing the label, this particular jug was easy because this company only uses two small smears of adhesive to attach the label at each end of the paper. Mason jars that are used for pasta sauces might give you a harder time because they tend to go overboard with the adhesive leaving a sticky mess.

4. For sticky adhesive issues, I read online and found many people recommending products just for that very purpose. I usually just leave them to soak in a hot soapy sink of water, remove the paper label and remove what I can with my fingernails. The I’ll leave them in for a longer hot soak and if I need to, I’ll run a pairing knife blade up and down the jar sides to remove the tougher stuff.

5. I rubbed the outside of the jar with rubbing alcohol to remove any oils that might cause stuff to not stick to the jar (after all glass is a slippery surface).

6. Next I decided to use a decoupage paste (basically a white gluey mixture, in fact, I bet you could just as easily use white glue) to paste on a layer of natural brown tissue paper. I chose a decoupage that was described as “matte” finish because I didn’t want this project to be too shiny. I would have preferred using wall paper paste (popular for paper-mache) but the store I shopped at didn’t sell it.

7. After your first layer dries, paint it, or paste other pictures onto it: perhaps pictures of things to save for or inspiring things that are nice to look at.

8. Put the lid on (or don’t) and for a classic piggy-bank feel, use a flat-head screw driver and hammer to create a gap in the lid for coins to slide through.

In-vesting a little time and effort

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I have worked in the forestry industry for years and part of the garb that I am required to wear is this vest.

These vests (or similar products) are pretty standard issue for other industries as well. They are often red, with lots of reflective striping to make you highly visible so you are easy to spot by machine operators and other workers in the field. They are covered in pockets for your convenience. For a general purpose vest, I think it meets my expectations, but as an option for professionals who will don this garb for 50 hrs a week, for their entire career, I think some improvements could be made.

Note-the picture above shows the vest empty; however, when loaded for a day of work, they can weigh anywhere from 25-35 lbs. From what I understand, the most important aspect of this vest, is that it is “high-vis”. Some companies will allow you to wear simple, lightweight safety stripes instead or a vest similar to what you see crosswalk crossing guards or road construction workers wearing for this purpose. This cruiser vest though, attempts to fulfill the high-vis requirement while also doubling as a gear cache.

I have been wearing vests like this for almost 10 years now and I have found them to be lacking in a few areas.

My main complaints are as follows:

  • With so many pockets (convenience of choice) to choose from, there seems to be a place for everything; but this also means I am carrying the weight of everything I need for the day on my shoulders/neck, opting to fill every pocket with something, with little overall support (inconvenience of neck and shoulder pain).

*it is important to note that there is a frame you can purchase at extra cost, to insert into the vest (like the frame of a hiking bag) complete with straps and clips to secure the load; however, I find that this is simply adding extra materials to a product that already has a surplus of material. These vests get hot and feel bulky while full of tools and gear, the last thing I want to do is add more bulk, especially in warmer seasons.

  • A second complaint about this rear pocket is that you cannot see it. Considering it gets such frequent use, this pocket’s main inconvenience for me is that I waste time rooting around in it pulling out things until I finally have the thing I was searching for in my hand. I have watched others do the same. It’s painful to watch someone trying to reach for a roll of ribbon in a certain colour (who carries up to 5 different varieties or more daily) reach in and pull out the wrong roll, repeatedly (or a can of paint, or bug spray, or a notebook, or a field guide to tree diseases, or a water bottle… you get the point, it’s inefficient).
  • The vests appear to be designed for broad shoulders. I can’t help but think that this is simply because the industries these are used in have , in the past, been male-dominated and so as women have gradually populated the industry on a larger scale, the manufacturers of these products have scaled down the bulky square vest to a smaller size which is still ill-fitted for smaller frames.

So after multiple seasons of neck pain and tight sore muscles in my shoulders and back, and many moments day-dreaming about tweaking the design, I finally put a little time and effort into making myself a custom product that feels better on my body and doesn’t have a surplus of material to overheat me during warm seasons. I can’t say that what I ended up with is the best version possible, or would please everybody, but I was feeling rather utilitarian at the time and I don’t really care how I look in the woods so I kept it simple. I would definitely make some alterations if I were to be making this available to others. For me, this was a matter of necessity, and it needed to be done quickly.

In the pictures above, I have not yet added the high-vis striping to replace the deteriorated stuff, but after a trip to a fabric store,  I bought some reflective striping for a couple bucks per meter and had plenty to re-stripe the old vest pockets. The belt now has stripes and the front and back of the vest are decked out in new high-vis stripes.

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How I did it:

I should give thanks to my employer for the donation of this retired vest (at no cost to this frugal gal), usually ranging in price from $100-200 depending on if you choose to get the extra support frame inside.

Based on years of planting trees, I decided that the best place for me to carry the bulk of the weight daily, would be my hips, where I have grown used to carrying up to 50lbs of soil/seedlings.  I decided a belt option with a wide clip would suit for the larger pockets to carry that weight. Vinyl strapping for belt about $1.50 per meter and another $1.50 for the clip.

I would be left with a vest meant to carry only those instruments meant for navigation which I would be consulting frequently (map, compass, GPS, pens, markers, pencils and clinometer).

I sliced and diced the vest until the most useful pockets were available for re-attaching to the new belt. The remove the back pocket and enjoy a pocket free, flat-backed vest instead.

So there you have it, an inconveniently bulky one-piece vest converted into a functional two piece option that allows better weight distribution for a happier neck and back. Plus, the vest feels pretty awesome, I liken it to Batman’s utility belt, and it cost under $10 to make.

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This is the pile of unwanted, surplus material that I shed in the process.

I’ve seen a few eye brows furrow at the sight of this two-piece ensemble. I attribute that to my leaving the mid-section open. I’m sure if I extended a little material down around my waist, that my colleagues wouldn’t really notice the difference.

So there you have it: If you have something that could use some tweaking, take a risk and alter it to suit your needs.