Terrariums – my other passion

Just a short digression into my latest hobby – creating Terrariums.

I love gardening and plants in general (I used to be a professional botanist in a earlier life), but I have been very taken with terrariums recently. Perhaps it is because this last winter was so long and rainy, that I couldn’t get out into my real garden so I had to find a way to garden indoors. In any case, I believe plants are good for the air quality in homes that are closed off from the outside, like ours are during long Canadian winters. Gardening is good for my mental health too.

The middle picture in my “inspiration” collage of the orchid terrarium got me from just thinking about terrariums to actually making one – isn’t it gorgeous?

I have been trying to find Lady Slipper orchids to create my own, but they are really hard to find. (If anyone knows where to find them on Vancouver Island or Vancouver / Lower mainland, please let me know).

I started looking out for apothecary jars and other suitable glassware in TS, and found lots! For a few dollars one can find all sorts of lidded glass containers, and turn them into terrariums with a few small plants from your local nursery. Here are 2 I made from lovely “Apple and pear” glass containers:

One thing I learned fast is that you have to use plants that come in 2 inch pots – anything else has a root ball that is just too deep. Take note of the height of the glassware – it is the limiting factor.  The plants at the rear of the photo proved to be too big for my jar -it is a good idea to measure your jar before shopping for plants.

If the jar is sealed, SMALL  tropical plants, mosses and ferns are suitable choices. Sealed jars have high humidity, so the main problem you will find is that plants die because they don’t like their “feet wet”- they cannot tolerate soil that is too wet as it literally drowns the roots.

Rot and mould set in pretty quickly so one has to be very careful not to over-water. Misting your terrarium is miles better than watering. In fact, if your soil is damp, don’t add any more water – what  water there is will be recycled by the plants, and you will hardly ever have to water at all. If there is a lot of condensation on the inside of the container, remove the lid for a few hour to let it dry out.

Unsealed terrariums created with succulents and cacti are also great – that is next on my list of projects to do. Even if the jar /container is not sealed, it still acts as a hot house, so be careful of placing terrariums in direct sunlight or the plants will literally “cook” in the heat.

There are a lot of great sites with instructions regarding creating terrariums on the internet. This is a great project for children and can be a great opportunity to introduce them to recycling.

Here is my quick “how to”:

1. Find a suitable clear glass jar (Thrift stores are great for this). None of these cost more than a few dollars. Cookie jars, storage containers and large Mason Jars work just great!  To start with, select jars you can get your hand into. Wash and dry  them well to get rid of any possible substances that may kill your plants.

2. Place a 1/2 inch layer of washed pebbles on the bottom of the container for drainage:

3. Pat the pebbles down, then add a 1/2 inch of sand (if you use sea sand from a beach, wash it well first to get rid of the salt). Pat it down well. I like to see the well-defined layers…

4. Add about 1/4 inch of potting soil (very sparing if using cacti/succulents) – once you add your plants, you will add more soil.  Arrange  your plants in an attractive display outside the jar first, then remove them from their pots GENTLY. Place them in the jar, with some taller plants towards the middle and smaller ones around the outside. I like to use variegated plants to add interest. Miniature African Violets are great for adding a pop of colour.

5. Fill up the spaces between the plats with soil sparingly! It is a pain if you get soil all over the plants, so use a paper or plastic funnel to direct the soil to where it is needed.  Pat the soil down with fingertips.

6. Clean the inside of the glass again.

Here the large terrarium is in situ in my sunroom. I kind of spread mine around the house, but they look great clustered together like in the picture above.

Tammy has totally piqued my interest in tangerine..nothing says SPRING like tangerine!

Have a great day,



What makes a thrift store great?

It’s no secret that I am a Thrift Store enthusiast… I call them “the shop you go to, to get something you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it”. A bit long-winded I know.. I never use one word when 10 will do the job!

My Thrift Store “addiction” is a bit of a running joke in our household. It is no secret that I can’t get through a week without at least one visit. My answer to every ,”Oh, that’s nice. Where did you get it?”  is so often “The Thrift Store” that friends and kids have stopped asking. Now it’s more like “Which Thrift Store did you get  THAT from?” …or in the husbands version, “..that JUNK from”  😉

The funny thing (ironic funny not ha ha funny) is that lately when I have dragged him to a TS for some recreational retail therapy, he has found so many great bargains, now he suggests we go “Thrifting“. The fact is, what I spend in a TS in a month, is what most people spend  just on the taxes on their purchases in a mall. Thrifting makes me happy. I only shop in a mall when I am in a bad mood already! I don’t HAVE to shop thrift stores, I just chose to reuse, recycle and save $$$ – and redirect the dollars I save to more important things like..oh…my kid’s secondary education and paying down my mortgage.

Lately I have started “rating ” TS (Thrift Stores) in my own mind. I started to think about what makes a TS  really great?  Some just “check all the boxes” and draw the people in in droves, yet others are dormant and like ghost towns with nary a customer in sight.

I live near Nanaimo, and frequent the SOS TS in Parksville, BC …fondly known locally as “Our Big Box store“. That place is always humming with activity, and finding parking within a block radius is sometimes a problem. It just has such a positive energy, and evidently has a huge turnover. I was in the elevator with an elderly couple recently, and they commented on my cart FULL of awesome deals – typical – everyone talks to each other there. I laughed,  “I get such great stuff here!”, and they chuckled,” So do we, we love this place”. I overheard a woman telling a friend that she drives from Port Alberni (70 Kms away, over a mountain pass) once a week just to shop there. Many people like it so much that they specify in their wills that SOS inherits their estate (it may, however,  be because they support the programs SOS sponsors). The only downside is that it closes at 4:00 pm so working people can often not get there during working hours….but I understand..it is mostly staffed by volunteers,and they have their own lives to get home to.

On the other hand, there is another store within 10 km’s of SOS that is pretty much deserted every time I have been there. When I was there last, a harassed young lady was packing boxes of goods. She had been hired to box goods, ready for someone to haul them to SOS. People had donated the salable goods to them to support their cause, but their prices are so ridiculously high that most seasoned TS shoppers would not go there more than once. The inventory has hardly changed in the year I have been going there. It is crammed to the ceilings with great, overpriced stuff that , quite frankly, has passed it’s “best before” date because the place doesn’t smell so fragrant . This gives “Thrift Store” a new meaning…they prefer to STORE the donations they are given, than sell them for a reasonable price. Then they have to spend hard cash to hire someone to box it and haul it away – a nett loss. I’m no businesswoman, but that just seems a little cockeyed to me.

What are the most important criteria for a great TS  in your opinion? Accessibility? Prices? Shopping hours? Odour control? Inventory changing often? Management? Percentage of profits to charity? The cause or programs it supports? Other?

Let me know what you think,


Rising clothing prices

I have read/heard recently that clothing is going to be very much more expensive soon due to the rise in cotton prices. I guessing that , as clothing manufacturers jack their prices up,  sewing and clothing construction skills will become much more important than they have been in the last 20 years. My concern is that many young people have grown up not learning skills that my generation did, simply because it was cheaper and easier to buy clothing than to make it.

I don’t even make ALL of my own clothes as I used to before I emigrated to Canada – finding what I need at thrift stores, and making slight adjustments is quicker and less expensive …in fact I can get high quality articles there that I would not normally be able to afford like brand labels  Mex and Jones New York etc. The point , however, is that I wear “classic’ designs more suited to my “age and stage” that have made their way to the thrift store. Modern trendy styles that more fashionable people are looking for are usually in short supply.

I thought if I shared some patterns of modern, fashionable designs that employ simple techniques, it could help young people who are more fashion conscious to either make clothes from scratch, or re-purpose vintage items to make them look more trendy.  With all the bad news out of Japan recently, it looks like the recession is going to deepen, not get better anytime soon. Most of your very high fashion pieces for this season will be out of fashion next year, so they don’t have to be made to last forever like they did in Victorian times! Using easy shortcuts that are not as complicated as “traditional” techniques,  saves time and money.

Over the next little while I will share some thoughts about the following:

1. creating fashionable designs from clothing where the difficult parts are already done (like collars, cuffs and buttons). My aim is to design patterns that are quick and easy to create, so you get maximum impact for minimum effort and cost. I hope to motivate people to reuse and recycle the cotton and wool fabric we already have – tossing high fashion clothing after one season is such a waste of the earth’s resources, IMHO (in my humble opinion).

2. sourcing and availability of fabrics/notions/ etc. If you are a sewer, you have probably noticed (as I have) that the variety /choices in sewing notions has narrowed and quite  hard to find (not to mention expensive). It may just be that I live in a small town on an island?  Perhaps it  because not as many people were sewing, and large chain stores have a stranglehold on the market, squeezing little companies and local “Mom and Pop” shops out.

3. I’m wondering if there is a need for online forums for sewing co-operatives and swap meets – I think there are probably lots of the older retired persons who have skills or stores of notions and fabrics they would swap for dog walking or something a young person could do.

I’d welcome feedback and any tips you may like to share.


“Getting my stone back”

Welcome to my musings about fashion and home decor DIY. I may occasionally stray  into comments about learning disabilities (especially ADHD), which is my other, professional, interest …er .. passion, but I’ll try to keep those to a minimum. (I can hear my kids laughing out loud at this point).

My aim with this blog is to post ideas on how one can create clothing and decor items by recycling found materials. I have sewed for 40 odd years, so I have a few tips on how to save time and money that I’d love to share. Please feel free to add your own!

I try to avoid using overly complex sewing techniques that may discourage people from attempting a project. Basically, to master this skill, you just need to start sewing, learn by trial and error, and not be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake – that’s what fabric rippers are for! (In South Africa we call them “quick unpicks”… Mine is never far from my hand when I am sewing.)

It makes sense (to me at least) to start sewing with a $1 remnant, rather than pay $15 a meter for fabric and feel awful IF you mess up – it happens! The nice part is that if I am trying some new craft or technique, I can make a mistake and not be “held back” by the fear of it costing “an arm and a leg”. Often my “mistakes” turn out to be pretty great unique designs.  I will also try to post free patterns so you can make my designs yourself . If you use them, I’d love to see pictures of the end product, and get both positive and critical feedback.

My inspiration is my uber talented late Mum, Joyce Jay (just call me “JJ”), whose design talent and technical sewing  skill I can only try to emulate. I get my kicks from sewing for my 21-year-old daughter (and sometimes her friends), who keeps me up to on the straight and narrow with the latest fashion trends.

Mum’s favourite saying was a variation of the old adage  “to kill two birds with one stone” – meaning of course to be efficient and get the best return on one’s effort , money or time. (My apologies to bird lovers everywhere )   When she felt she had done VERY well, she would always add – with a twinkle-, “and I got my stone back !”  That is how I regard  upcycling/recycling/re-purposing ; it achieves more than one useful outcome at once.

I love to design and create unique clothes and home decor stuff, and am MUCH more motivated to reuse and recycle unique vintage pieces and fabrics I get from thrift stores,  than to buy new. I may as well admit it – I am a thrift store junkie. I get such a rush of adrenalin from finding cool things, and then again when I make something useful or unique with it.

I hardly ever shop at a mall – somehow the “sameness” of it all just bores me to tears, but somehow I can never drive past a thrift store. … the “Favourite Locations” on my GPS system is populated by all the thrift stores in a 50 Km radius. Somehow my car just turns towards them and stops of its own accord! I’m still trying to work out whether I craft things because I feel I have to justify my “thrifting” addiction, or if I go to these stores for supplies to be able to fund my crafting addiction!  I even have a private “rating system” for Thrift Stores in my head…do you too?

I am really starting to seeing lots of ties between my ADD need for novelty and stimulation and my thrifting addiction.  (I think there is a thesis in there somewhere..?)

I really am starting to mix my metaphors here, so I’ll say, “Hamba gahle” till next time.

Hope you enjoy yourself, and stop by often.