Old Clothes Quilts (& some Gee’s Bend)

Note from Reena: While clothes can make the man, it is also true that unusable clothes can make memorable art.

For centuries, art from recycled clothing — braided rugs, hooked rugs and patchwork quilts — were made by anonymous artists, in traditional patterns. They used the old clothing because new materials were both expensive and hard to find. While many of us continue to repeat these same patterns and techniques, many artists are also creating personally signed, functional art with recycled clothing because old clothes are easy to find and inexpensive (or free). Environmentalists are happy to see us reuse fabrics, too. In 2013, USA reported that Americans pitch 11.1 million tons of textiles that clog our landfills each year.

Because exhibits by textile artists are infrequent, I try to keep up with what’s happening by scanning the, web and discovered a comprehensive article about contemporary eco textile art by New York based writer, Keiren Fox. He writes, researches and publishes a blog, Inspiration Green started in 2008. He gave us permission to reprint this lavishly illustrated article that also comes with DIY suggestions for smaller projects, listed at the end.

American Gothic

American Gothic
Made from Old Clothes

Detail of American Gothic
Close up of above
Made from old clothes…

Old Clothes Quilt

Old Clothes Quilt

Detail of an Old Clothes Flag
Detail of an Old Clothes Flag – The man can quilt!
Orca on Coffee Sack
Luke Haynes also quilts on coffee sacks…


Luke says he has been influenced by Gee’s Bend Quilters.

Gee’s Bend is a small rural community southwest of Selma, Alabama. The community was formally the site of cotton plantations, primarily in the hands of Joseph Gee and his relative Mark Pettway, who bought the Gee estate in 1850. After the Civil War, the freed slaves took the name Pettway, became tenant farmers for the Pettway family, and founded an all-black community nearly isolated from the surrounding world.

The town’s women developed a distinctive, bold, and sophisticated quilting style based on traditional American and African-American quilts, but with a geometric simplicity reminiscent of Amish quilts and modern art. The women of Gee’s Bend passed their skills and aesthetic down through at least six generations to the present. Please visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Quilts_of_Gee’s_Bend to learn more.

Gee's Bend Quilt

Gee’s Bend Quilt

Gee's Bend Corduroy Quilt

Gee’s Bend Corduroy Quilt

Gee's Bend Quilts

Gee’s Bend Quilts

Gee's Bend Quilts

Gee’s Bend Quilts

Gee's Bend Quilts

Gee’s Bend Quilts

Gee's Bend Quilt

Gee’s Bend Quilts

Work Clothes Quilt - Gee's Bend

Work Clothes Quilt – Gee’s Bend
By Loretta Pettway Bennett

Detail of a Gee's Bend Quilt

Detail of a Gee’s Bend Quilt
Flickr: Stiching Hands www.flickr.com

Seascape made from retired blue jeans

Seascape made from retired blue jeans
by Tom Deninger
Rivets, tabs and labels turn into sand and pebbles;
pockets and frays become waves and sea foam.

There are many artists out there who will take your old clothes and make a personalized quilt for you…

Passage Quilts By Sherri Lynne Wood

Passage Quilts
By Sherri Lynne Wood
Beautiful work…

Alix Joyal of Mamaka Mills

Alix Joyal of Mamaka Mills, creates one of a kind custom quilts and throws on the Seacoast of NH using recycled and repurposed textiles and fabrics. www.mamakamills.blogspot.com – www.etsy.com $150-$650

Recycled Clothing Quilt By Sara of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Recycled Clothing Quilt
By Sara of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Men's Shirt Quilt

Men’s Shirt Quilt
Ocheltree Design $1800.

Alix Joyal of Mamaka Mills

Alix Joyal of Mamaka Mills, creates one of a kind custom quilts and throws on the Seacoast of NH using recycled and repurposed textiles and fabrics. www.mamakamills.blogspot.com – www.etsy.com $150-$650

Men's Shirt Quilt

Men’s Shirt Quilt

Close up of Moondance By Naomi Wanjiku

Close up of Moondance
By Naomi Wanjiku

patrick nolan galaxy

Patrick Nolan ‘Galaxy’
An avid recycler who lives in a recycled 105 year old former general store in Foristell, MO. Possibly a source for all those buttons. E-mail via www.foundryartcentre.org

Patrick Nolan 'Galaxy' close up.

Patrick Nolan ‘Galaxy’ close up.
Recycled fabric, buttons, jewelry. E-mail via www.foundryartcentre.org

Very Cool Men’s Tie Quilt

Quilted Trash

Quilted Trash
8th Graders at Carson Middle School
Use a quilting template but glue on cut outs.

More ideas for your old clothes:

      Old baby clothes quilt.

Make grocery shopping bags.

Make gift bags or simply wrap a present and use ribbon to close.

Make winter accessories. Make a scarf hat and mittens from old sweaters.

Add hidden pockets to jackets.

Make doll clothes or stuffed animals.

Make bean bag chairs, filled with all those horrible peanuts.

Make a dog bed. Make dog clothes.

Donate to charity. Use as rags. Find a textile recycling center.

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Amy’s Way

When she was young, Amy Faust took weekly trips with her dad to the recycling station in Rochester, New York; she enjoyed playing with rocks and began collecting them.

Years later, when she majored in metalsmithing at SUNY, she still loved looking at rocks. In class, she learned traditional techniques to set precious stones and occasionally used interesting local pebbles instead of gemstones.

Amy Faust at work in her studio.

Amy Faust at work in her studio.

After graduating in 1984, she moved to Martha’s Vineyard where she worked in a jewelry shop doing repairs and replacing missing stones. On her own time, she began developing new jewelry designs that incorporated pebbles and glass bits discovered on the beach and eventually sold them at a county fair in 1985 and 1986.

“I’ve always liked taking something that exists and transforming it,” she said.

Moving to San Francisco, she focused on developing her ideas. She used only recycled sterling silver in her work and, instead of using pre-cut gemstones, she opted to cut “stones” in sizes needed for her pieces from discarded glass. She used bits of stained glass gleaned from scrap bins in glass studios, curved sections of vintage Coke bottles from flea markets, 100-year-old mason jars discovered at antique shows in the Midwest, and beach pebbles she collected from the California coast.

Amy Faust enjoys working with urban artifacts. She can transform vintage mason jars into earrings (above) and Coca Cola bottles into bracelets.

Amy Faust enjoys working with urban artifacts. She can transform vintage mason jars into earrings (above) and Coca-Cola bottles into bracelets (below).

Recently Faust acquired some old traffic lights from an artist who had collected them from a bus depot’s trash cans; the lights had been replaced with more energy efficient LED bulbs.

Faust also makes all the chains and closures used in her jewelry by hand to ensure that they complement the “stones” proportionally and better reflect her style than ones found in jewelry catalogues. She also hand fabricates the silver to provide subtle textures for her deceptively simple and straightforward designs.

Amy Faust’s intricate necklace (above)  consists of hand frosted and cut Mother of Pearl and beach pebbles. Each of her necklaces is hand set in 100% recycled sterling silver. She roller prints the silver for black and coral red glass ovals and pale turquoise ceramic roundels mixed with Mother of Pearl and beach pebbles. Each necklace is hand set in 100% recycled sterling silver which she roller prints for additional texture. She also fabricated the clasp.

Amy Faust’s intricate necklace (above) consists of hand frosted and cut Mother of Pearl and beach pebbles. Each of her necklaces is hand set in 100% recycled sterling silver. She roller prints the silver for black and coral red glass ovals and pale turquoise ceramic roundels mixed with Mother of Pearl and beach pebbles. Each necklace is hand set in 100% recycled sterling silver which she roller prints for additional texture. She also fabricated the clasp.

Visit Eco-Artware.com to see additional jewelry by Amy Faust: Vintage Elements Necklace, Sterllng Silver Hoop Earrings, and the Santa Monica Necklace.

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Parachuting Down the Aisle

Note from Reena: Like everyone else, I’ve been reading about expensive celebrity weddings (try to miss them!). I wonder what some of the serial brides, the ones who have been married one or more times previously, do with their wedding dresses. Do they save them as heirlooms for their children? Both my siblings circumvented ultra-formal weddings, and the brides opted for elegant off-the-rack street-length dresses they could use for years to come.

My sister-in-law, Caroline, who had great taste in clothing, died before her daughter got married. When clearing out Carolline’s home, my niece sent me some of her lightweight sweaters and jackets; I wore one of my inherited jackets (not my best color) to her large, formal wedding. “It was nice to see that again,” my niece said, while Caroline’s friends beamed to see this this outward symbol of her memory included in our celebration.

I think that designs with memory enhance our lives, and brides’ admonition to wear “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” is more than a reminder to wear these good luck charms. It both makes sense and adds additional meaning to an already momentous day.

In the spirit of celebrating memorable weddings, we reprint a blog, originally published on June 13, 2011.

Years ago, in a local museum in small city in northern England, I saw a wedding dress made from a WWll parachute — but there was no story to go with it. I was intrigued, and since then I’ve been on the lookout for parachute wedding dresses, and their stories.

My persistence was rewarded this spring when the Smithsonian received one for its collection. This wedding dress had a real story — it was made from a nylon parachute that saved Maj. Claude Hensinger’s life.

The future groom, a B-29 pilot, and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Japan in August 1944 when the plane’s engine caught fire. He bailed out over China, along with the rest of the crew, and survived the night by using the parachute as both a pillow and blanket. The next morning, they reassembled and eventually returned to base.

Parachute Wedding Dress

Ruth Hensinger's wedding dress made from a recycled nylon parachute that saved her husband's life in WWll. The gown is not currently on display at the Smithsonian.

Maj. Hensinger kept the parachute and, after proposing to Ruth in 1947, suggested that she make a wedding dress from it. She decided to create a gown similar to one in Gone With The Wind and hired a seamstress to make the bodice and veil while she made the skirt. She pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back as she walked down the aisle in Pennsylvania.

The couple’s daughter and daughter-in-law have also worn the dress for their weddings.
But that’s not the only WWII parachute that has walked down the aisle several times. This might be my favorite story of recycling material — and lives.

Lilly Friedman had always dreamed of being married in a white gown, and she shared this wish with her fiancé, Ludwig. Not such an unusual request — until you discover that the year was 1946, and Lilly and Ludwig were both survivors of Nazi concentration camps, then languishing in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp waiting to emigrate.

Wedding portrait of Lilly Lax and Ludwig Friedman

Wedding portrait of Lilly Lax and Ludwig Friedman.

As it happens, Ludwig was working in a food distribution center and traded some of his rations (coffee beans and cigarettes) with a former German pilot in exchange for his old parachute. The camp’s seamstress fashioned a dress for the bride and a shirt for the groom from the material in two weeks. The wedding was held in a nearby town, in a damaged synagogue that the DPs had renovated with whatever materials they could find. Four hundred people marched 15 miles in the snow from the camp to attend the nuptials.

Lilly’s sister and cousins were subsequently married in the gown. Nobody knows how many have worn it over the years.
“I stopped counting after 17,” Lilly said.

Lilly Friedman and her gown

Lilly Friedman and her gown displayed in a museum in Bergen-Belsen in 2007 before she donated it to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Her gown is now displayed in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

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A Can-Do House: A New Twist to Aluminum Siding

Note: A version of this article first appeared on our site in the 2004 Summer issue of The Recycling Rag.

Got a few thousand soda and beer cans you’ve been waiting to recycle? Architect Richard Van Os Keuls of Silver Spring, Maryland, who died in November 2013, showed us what can be done with them.

Van Os Keuls lived in a 1953 brick tract house and built a 230-square-foot addition on the back in 2000. The nearly finished plywood and insulation board structure was covered with building paper, waiting to be sided or otherwise finished. He found bricks too expensive, and didn’t want the usual siding alternatives.

Van Os Keuls house exterior

After some thought and consideration, Van Os Keuls decided to try a new medium no architect and none of his clients had used before — flattened aluminum soda and beer cans. His goal wasn’t to be “artsy” or make a “green” statement — he simply wanted an inexpensive way to cover the side of his house.

Years before, Van Os Keuls had seen a truck run over a discarded soda can and suspected it would make a wonderful aluminum shingle. He began stashing a few discarded cans away to explore this notion later.

0504tincansVan Os Keuls soon discovered that readying and applying thousands of cans is a labor-intensive process. He prepared the cans in small batches — three to twelve at a time – washing each one to avoid attracting ants, then smashing it, twice. Wearing heavy-soled construction boots, he stomped each one and then further flattened it with a sledge hammer. Hammering rounds the corners so the cans can’t cut anybody who leans up against the wall.

When Van Os Keuls had collected and processed a varied assortment of aluminum “shingles,” he put up 30 to 40 at a time. Each can, secured with a long aluminum nail, overlapped the previous one. He never put up two cans of the same color together. When the project was completed in 2004, he had used about 22,00 cans.

At first Van Os Keuls was going to put all the cans up and then paint them. However, he found that he liked the play of sunlight on the colors. He began collecting beer, juice and soda cans from other countries and began buying cases of soda for the color of the can: Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda (chartreuse cans) and cheap grape soda, for example. “I have never bought something and thrown out the content,” he said.


Maryland doesn’t have a deposit-return on cans like some states, so cans find their way into recycling bins and then into county dump recycling facilities. Van Os Keuls first tried to collect soda cans by getting them from the local neighborhood dump, but was cited twice and fined for theft of city property and for transporting stolen goods. He had to count on donations, finding cans that didn’t make it into people’s bins, as well as buying brands and flavors whose colors he liked.

Van Os Keuls learned more about his “shingles” as he went along: They are not noisy when it rains. Although aluminum generally attracts a chalky oxidation, the printer’s ink on the cans has slowed down this process and the cans grew paler than when he first put them in place.


Van Os Keuls’ home is one-of-a-kind. He would have used the technique commercially if the tasks of can-washing and -flattening could have been mechanized. He made some preliminary experiments to accomplish this but never completed the new system.

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Chakaia Booker’s Art: Where the Rubber Meets the Road, Part 2

One of the surprising success stories in the world of recycling is that of discarded tires. Of the 303.2 million scrap tires generated in 2007 – that’s one for every person living in the United States – nearly 90 percent by weight were recycled, according to the most recent figures from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

More than half of all reclaimed tires in the U.S. are used to fuel factories. They can also be used to treat wastewater, or made into asphalt, playground equipment, carpet padding, shoes — and more tires.

In the hands of Chakaia Booker, they can also become remarkable sculptures. A preferred medium for this New York-based artist, she deconstructs used tires then cuts, shapes and folds them into massive and highly textured shapes with supports made from steel, wood and other materials, which are hidden from view.

Booker’s work first attracted international notice in 2000, when a 12.5′ x 21′ wall relief of shredded and rewoven automobile tires, inner tubes and cow milking pods titled “It’s So Hard to Be Green” was part of the Whitney Biennial. Since then her sculptures have become part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Akron Museum of Art and NASA, among others. She has participated in both group and solo exhibitions in museums and sculpture gardens throughout the US, Japan and the Netherlands. She has received the Pollock-Krasner Grant in 2002 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005.

It's So Hard to be Green by Chakaia Booker

It’s So Hard to be Green by Chakaia Booker.

Detail: It's So Hard to be Green by Chakaia Booker

Detail: It’s So Hard to be Green by Chakaia Booker.

Working with tires requires special skills. “It takes a lot of body work,” she said when describing how she must first cut through the tires, which each weigh 15 to 20 lbs — and she goes through 1000s of them in her studio, an old laundry facility in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “The tires com from streets and landfills, from cars, vans and trucks.”

Many of her sculptures are exhibited out of doors. Recently, four of her sculptures have been displayed in the median of a major highway, New York Avenue, outside the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC from March 8, 2012-April, 2014. This unique installation is the result of the museum’s partnership with several public and private agencies to produce and maintain the exhibit for the enjoyment of both drivers and pedestrians. It is the museum’s second exhibit on this median which is the only public art space in the city featuring installations of contemporary works by women. Images from the Booker exhibit on New York Avenue are below.

Booker, is also known for her creative wardrobe and wants her appearance to also be a work of art. She often wears a giant headpiece made from multicolored yarn layered into an oblong mound, colorful fabric or tire rubber that covers all her head but the shape of her face. She said, “When I get up each day, I begin with myself, as far as sculpting myself.” Her sense of unconventional style began early, and goes back to her childhood when she learned to sew and ignored the rules.

Photo of Chakaia Booker by Nelson Tejada.

Photo of Chakaia Booker by Nelson Tejada.

Her online bio is not up-to-date. But you can learn more by watching videos, such as this short talk given in 2008.

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Behind the Scenes: Lost and Found Art Supply Chain

Note from Reena: As a tribute to artists who transform cast-off products into vibrant designs, sometimes enriched with dings and markings of their previous lives, and who often go to great lengths to locate and transport these materials to their studios, we reprint a behind-the-scenes blog we wrote about them in 2011.

Artists who work with found materials recognize the creative potential in discarded materials and transform them into intriguing objects for us to enjoy or use. But finding those materials is not like going to the store to buy a tube of paint. By definition, the supply of found objects depends on the vagaries of nature, both human and environmental.

Like farmers, who despite their best planning and hard work are always at the mercy of the weather, artists recycling or repurposing materials depend on the original owners to throw the objects away in the first place.  Because, here at Eco-Artware we work with designers who create multiples of their original work; we see these market forces at work every day.

Cuff links made with Washington, D.C. Trolley Tokens

Cuff links made with Washington, D.C. Trolley Tokens. Streetcars carried people throughout the city between 1862-1962. They scaled back with the popularity of the automobile and the city eventually switched to buses and a metro system.

For example, old subway and trolley tokens are plentiful when they are discontinued and transit systems first introduce new ones. Once the obsolete ones are snapped up by collectors, the supply dwindles because no more tokens are issued. For instance, we carry cuff links made from Washington, DC trolley tokens which the designers purchased from the D.C. Department of Transportation. But, unlike the Department of Transportation in other cities, they did not purchase old ones from the commuters so the city had no more to sell. Now the designers hunt them from private sources and our supply is uncertain–we just waited for eight months to get a few more pairs in stock.

Boris Bally's Pentatray handmade from a speed limit traffic-sign.

Boris Bally's Pentatray handmade from a speed limit traffic-sign.

Boris Bally's Speed Limit Transit Chair

Boris Bally's Speed Limit Transit Chair.

In the case of Boris Bally’s popular traffic-sign home furnishings, he can only make as many chairs and trays as there are retired signs. If a highway department decides to keep its Speed Limit signs up a little bit longer, Boris has to make them out of, say, directional signs until the Speed Limit signs are finally available to him.

Expandable bracelet made from ostrich shells by Namibian Bushmen with a black accent bead.

Expandable bracelet made from ostrich shells by Namibian Bushmen with a black accent bead.

And now the long arm of the law of supply and demand is reaching into ostrich farms. Namibian farmers used to donate shells from hatched ostrich eggs to local Bushmen (members of the San tribe) who have made jewelry with them for thousands of years.  Their donations provided bushmen with a livelihood and helped them preserve their culture and way of life.

San women making beads from ostrich shells using traditional techniques

San women making beads from ostrich shells using traditional techniques.

Now most farmers have found other uses for the shells and no longer donate them to the bushmen. Until they can find another source of income, missionaries are donating food to these tribes while helping them acquire new skills and adjust to changing times. However, there is a limited supply and we carry their bracelets when available.

Artists who rely on the discards of others face a continuing challenge to collect materials. That’s what makes these objects so dear to us. They are the expression of the artist’s creativity with what’s available. All we need is the long view and patience.

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Holiday Decorating Made Easy and Cheap

By Emily LaMarque

Note from Reena: Emily LaMarque is an interior designer who writes a lively and personal blog, “modern. chic. inspired,” which covers a wide range of topics related to interior design. She gave us permission to reprint her Nov. 27, 2013, blog in which she points out that we can decorate for the holidays with style by easily repurposing elements we can find in our home and garden to save time, money, and materials.

Fact: I might be a designer, but labor-intensive DIY projects, especially around the holidays, make me crazy! It’s not that I don’t have the inspiration or creative ideas, it’s simply because I live in the real world and lack the time, especially now that the holiday season is in full swing. You with me? It’s OK, I’m at peace with it, because I have some simple solutions to decorate using things you probably already have, in your home or yard. Best part is, you don’t have to hoard one more freakish looking elf or bushy strand of garland in your attic. The neat freak in me approves of this big time!

Christmas chandelier

Most of us have extra ornaments and ribbon laying around. Just tie them together, hang from your favorite chandelier, add a strand of beads and voila! Even if you just have the ornaments, you can achieve a similar look by dangling them directly from a lighting fixture. Easy, simple, magical!

Vase and latern filled with ornaments

Still have ‘mas bling? You can easily fill a hurricane vase or lantern with extra ornaments as well.

Alternative Christmas tree

Put those extra Christmas lights to use and fill an empty wall space with an alternative Christmas tree

Mantle with glass candlesticks

I love how the Christmas lights elegantly illuminate these gorgeous glass candlesticks and trees. Candlesticks should have a reason to come out and play when you’re not entertaining, and here they take center stage on the mantle while the lights add that special sparkle and glow that captures their unique facets and texture. Simple and elegant!

And speaking of glass, here are some great natural displays for your home. All you need is a glass container and some outdoor inspiration. If you’re already indulging in holiday treats (guilty as charged) a neighborhood walk does wonders for both the mind and body! So let’s bring a little nature home….

Empty jars used for decorative pine branches

If you prefer a little pop of holiday cheer, here are some colorful natural accents from frenchlarkspur.blogspot.com.au. If you have some empty bottles (vintage a plus!) a few winter berry sprigs go a long way. I love the clever idea of blending red and golden apples with a handful of pine cones too. Seasonal and simple, yet refined!

Bottles and basket used for holiday decorations

Whether you prefer a more glam look to your holiday season, or au naturel, the inspiration is endless. The less time and money spent on these types of projects equals less clutter in your attic, but best of all, it means more quality time with family … which is what the season is all about! I’ll cheers to that!

Emily LaMarque is founder and principal designer of Emily LaMarque Design Studio, a boutique interior design firm based in West Hollywood, California.

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What’s In Your Wine

Note from Reena: It’s difficult to figure out what is in your wine besides grape juice, and not just because labels provide limited information. Most people who work in wine shops don’t have this data, either. Sulfites are the only potential allergen required to be disclosed on labels in the U.S — but only if the wine will be sold across state lines; imported wines vary from country to country. That may change soon, as growing public interest fuels a push for wine labels to become more informative. Until they help us out up front, the following article, reprinted with permission from certified nutritionist Carol Chuang, can help us understand what to look for (beside the price tag) to find wines with fewer additives and great taste to accompany our healthy meals.

Wine bottles

What’s In Your Wine

By Carol Chuang, MS, CNS, CMTA, FDN

Many people love wine. For those who enjoy this beverage, it may be deemed as one of life’s great pleasures. Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest known production of wine, made by fermenting grapes, took place possibly as early as 6,000 BC.

Most of us have heard that red wine contains a chemical called resveratrol which has cardio protective benefits. We also know that drinking too much can cause cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholism. However, the topic of this article is not about how alcohol affects your health. It is about what you may not know that exists inside your bottle of wine.

No matter whether you are drinking a $200 bottle of French wine or merely a Two-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s, has it ever occurred to you that you may be ingesting pesticides, heavy metals, and a whole sleuth of additives? If you are already trying to stay healthy by buying grass-fed meats and organic fruits and vegetables, why would you not worry about what you drink on a regular basis, or several times a week?

Man examining wine bottle

In the following, we will look at some shocking information about what may be present in your wine and how to pick wine that does not contain these unsavory ingredients.

9 Out Of 10 French Wines Contain Pesticides

The wine trade journal, Decanter, reports a recent study of more than 300 French wines that only 10% of those tested were clean of any traces of pesticides and fungicides. Although all of the individual pesticide residues appeared at levels below limits set by the French environmental agency, some samples turned up with as many as 9 separate pesticides!

In France, vineyards represent just 3% of agricultural land but the wine industry accounts for 80% of fungicide use. The most worrying part is that even though individual molecules were below threshold levels of toxicity, there is a lack of research into the long-term accumulation effect and how the molecules may interact with each other – which means, a pesticide mix may be more toxic than the sum of its parts.

Another survey by Pesticide Action Network Europe found similar results. All the conventional wines included in the analysis contained pesticides, with one containing 10 different pesticides!

What about American wines? Unfortunately, there is hardly any study of this sort for domestically produced wines; but like in France, conventional viticulture in the U.S. tends to be fairly pesticide-intensive too.

Additionally, don’t forget that grapes are on the Dirty Dozen list, being one of the top 12 produce with the most pesticide residue. Winemakers generally do not wash the grapes before pulping them, so all the pesticides found on the average grape will likely end up inside your wine glass.

Heavy Metals Found in Wine

Heavy metals are widely dispersed in the environment. The presence of heavy metals in our food chain poses immense problems to health. These metals accumulate in our organs and overtime promote oxidative damage in cells, a key part of chronic inflammation which may lead to cancer and many other degenerative diseases.

In 2008, a study by Kingston University in London analyzed wines from 15 countries throughout Europe, South America, and the Middle East. It found that many wines contain heavy metals up to 200 times the amount considered safe. The metal ions that accounted for most of the contamination were vanadium, copper, and manganese. But four other metals with above safety levels were zinc, nickel, chromium, and lead.

THQ, or Target Hazard Quotient, is a risk assessment system developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designed to determine the safe levels of frequent, long-term exposure to various chemicals and compounds. A THQ value of 1 is considered safe. Values over 1 indicate a health risk.

The study found that typical wines have THQs ranging from 50 to 200 per glass, but some wines had THQs exceeding 300. To provide some perspective, seafood considered dangerous usually falls between a THQ of 1 and 5.

The worst wines were from Hungary and Slovakia which had THQs exceeding 350. Wines from France, Austria, Spain, Germany, and Portugal registered THQs over 100. Wines from Italy, Brazil, and Argentina showed safe metal levels.

What about U.S. wines? Again, there is hardly any data available concerning the contamination of domestic wines.

However, a 2011 Consumer Report which tested 88 samples of apple juice and grape juice purchased in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut found that 10% of those samples had total arsenic levels exceeding federal drinking-water standards of 10 parts per billion (ppb) and 25% had lead levels higher than the 5 ppb limit for bottled water set by the Food and Drug Administration. If heavy metals like arsenic and lead were to be found in apple juice and grape juice, you would have to expect some will probably find their way to the wine too.

Hidden Additives And Allergens In Wine

Most people who are not involved in winemaking may not be aware that the production of wine actually involves a great amount of additives. In the old days, the original intention of using additives was to stabilize the wine and to make it last longer. But nowadays, winemaking is as sophisticated as food processing, whereby a whole arsenal of synthetic chemicals are utilized to correct and manipulate the products of mother nature in good and bad years. Such performance enhancers can improve body and mouth feel, take away the greenness of a wine, mask defects, deepen color, and add flavors.

Warning label on wine bottleAmerican wine producers are not required to list additives in their wines – the only exception issulfites when the level exceeds 10 ppm in the finished wine. Sulfites are used to kill unwanted bacteria and yeasts and help preserve and protect the wine from oxidation. All wines contain at least some levels of sulfites, which occur naturally during winemaking. In spite of that, conventional wines often have artificial sulfites added to them. Most wine has about 150 ppm of sulfites, some as high as 350 ppm.

People with sulfite sensitivity are more likely to be triggered by the high levels of artificial sulfites. Symptoms range from headaches, runny nose, hives, to closing down of the airway, which can become life-threatening.

Other potential allergens in wine include:

Histamines and tannins. Histamines come from grape skins and tannins from grape stems, seeds, and skins. For people who are sensitive, they may produce bad headaches or aggravate seasonal allergies.

Wheat and gluten. The wine itself is gluten-free but the paste of flour and water that is used to seal new oak barrels may be problematic for people who are extremely gluten sensitive.

Egg whites, casein (from milk), and isinglass (a fish derivative). These are fining agents mixed into wine during production, then removed by filtration or sedimentation. Depending on the person’s sensitivity, each of these substances can potentially unleash severe allergies.

Yeast. It is a fungus added to ferment the sugars in wine, turning them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. People who suffer from candidiasis, colitis, or Crohn’s disease should stay away from drinking wine.

Reading Organic Wine Labels

Now that you know what may have gone into the wine that you drink, and if you do enjoy a glass of wine regularly, you should be concerned about the long-term effects of ingesting various toxins. The good news is there are healthier alternatives. That is why many have switched to organic wines. The following explains how to buy organic wines and what the different wine labels mean.

“Made with Organic Grapes” – The wine contains at least 70% organically grown ingredients (the rest is not organic). A vineyard cannot label its grapes organic until it has completed three growing seasons without using chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Sulfites may be added, but it may not go above 100 ppm.

Organic wine bottle label“Organic Wine” – The wine contains at least 95% organically grown ingredients (the rest is not organic). No sulfites are added, but the wine can contain naturally occurring sulfites, usually in amounts ranging from 6 to 40 ppm. The bottle bears the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) organic seal.

“100% Organic Wine” – The wine contains 100% organically grown ingredients. Only organically produced aids can be used. No sulfites are added, but the wine can contain naturally occurring sulfites, usually in amounts ranging from 6 to 40 ppm. The bottle bears the USDA organic seal.

Jack Rabbit Hill wine label“Biodynamic Wine” – This is the best organic wine you can get. Not only is it 100% organic, the vineyard also takes sustainability well beyond shunning pesticides and chemicals. Unlike organic farming, which often simply replaces synthetic fertilizers and herbicides with naturally-derived products, biodynamic farmers build soil fertility and manage pests by encouraging biodiversity among crops and by using specially prepared farm-generated outputs like composted animal manures, plants, and minerals. They also aim to conserve natural resources such as water and soil.

Modern biodynamic farming is based on agricultural principles proposed by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924, as a reaction to the declining soil fertility and crop quality due to the adoption of industrial farming techniques like monoculture and synthetic fertilizers. A vineyard cannot legally refer to its farming practices or products as biodynamic without meeting the USDA organic requirements and being certified by the non-profit Demeter Association.

Once the vineyard is certified as biodynamic, its grapes are considered biodynamic. However, the wine cannot be labeled as biodynamic unless it goes through Demeter’s secondary verification program for processed agricultural products. To ensure you are purchasing a biodynamic wine, look for the statement saying that both the vineyard and the wine have been Demeter-certified. Beware that many vineyards may claim to practice biodynamic farming but they have no Demeter certification.

“Natural Wine” – These vineyards cannot back up their eco-friendly claims with federal laws or certification programs. They are usually smaller operations that cannot afford the high cost of achieving organic and biodynamic certifications. Nevertheless, many natural winemakers practice sustainability and process their wine with as little intervention as possible, avoiding additives like sugar, sulfites, and acidifiers, as well as technological manipulations such as spinning cones to remove alcohol and micro-oxygenation to accelerate aging. Check with the vineyard to learn about its natural practices before making your purchase decision.

“Vegan Wine” – Most winemakers use ingredients derived rom animals such as egg whites, caseins, or gelatin from fish bladders or cow and pig hooves to remove solid impurities like grape skins and yeast from the fermentation process. With vegan wines, winemakers usually process the wine manually or use minerals like bentonite or kaolin instead.

“Vin Biologique” – Organic wine from Europe.


Where To Buy Organic And Biodynamic Wine

The obvious places to shop for organic wine are health food stores, speciality markets, and gourmet shops. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s both carry a number of organic wines.

Bear in mind that in the world of organic wine there are some fantastic, high quality organic and biodynamic wines being made by passionate organic winemakers. Some are proud to communicate their organic values by labeling their wine organic. Yet, many more do not label their wine organic because they want to compete in the broader wine market purely on taste and without being pigeonholed. For this very reason these unlabeled organic wines will not show up in the organic section.

Demeter Certified BiodynamicTherefore, it is always worthwhile to do some research to find out which vineyards practice such eco-friendly methods. You will be amazed by the growing selection from both the old and new worlds.

The following are the 79 members of Demeter USA (updated in July 2013): http://www.demeter-usa.org/downloads/Demeter-Winery-Vineyard-List.pdf

The following are 529 natural and biodynamic wine producers from all over the world. The list was compiled by Fork & Bottle and last updated in Sept. 2009: http://www.forkandbottle.com/wine/biodynamic_producers.htm


© Carol Chuang 2013

Carol Chuang has an MS degree in Nutrition from Huntington College of Health Sciences. She decided to study nutrition because, as a layman, “I was confused about all the contradictory information out there about what to eat,” she said. She wanted to find out for herself and now counsels individuals, writes a monthly nutrition newsletter and conducts seminars about nutrition and wellness. Visit her website for more information.

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Beyond Store Bought: Eco-Chic Gift Wrap

I belong to a group of conservers — environmentalists who hate throwing anything out. An artist friend is known to ask her husband to stop the car when she sees interesting trash on the side of the road. “Art supplies,” she explains.

When I realized that most gift wrap bought in stores was eco-unfriendly, I started exploring ways to wrap gifts in ways that looked good while leaving a light footprint. It was a great way to use up some of the paper and cloth supplies I couldn’t throw away.

Overall, it’s not so easy being green. We’ve all got our own long checklists of things we could (or wish) do: use solar panels, drive a Chevrolet Volt, grow an organic garden, for instance. These are big moves. But something as seemingly inconsequential as gift wrap can have a large impact on the world around us while adding pleasure to the gift-giving experiences for both parties.

Christmas morning

A familiar scene for many — Christmas morning after presents have been unwrapped.

For instance:

  • The U.S. generates an extra 5 million tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – 80 percent is wrapping paper and shopping bags.
  • If every American family wrapped three gifts in re-used materials, we’d save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  • If every American family reused two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.

And, remember, our landfills are getting full. The Los Angeles Sanitation District closed the Puente Hills Landfill, the largest in the nation on Oct. 31 — it had been operating since 1960. According to our research, the average expected life of landfills in Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts is 20 years.

Expanding your wrap repertoire is easy. It doesn’t take much time to do and you can save money on supplies. Here are some ideas.

Gifts wrapped in a wrapping cloth, shirt, scarf, a pillow case, gift bags and a towel.

Gifts wrapped in a wrapping cloth, shirt, scarf, a pillow case, gift bags and a towel.

Use cloth wrap, which can be reused — scarves, towels, pillow cases, shopping bags. Use traditional Japanese and Korean wrapping techniques or just fold the cloth and tie it with ribbon.

Gifts wrapped in Trader Joe's shopping bags, two different scraps of wrapping paper plus bands of scrap papers and old maps.

Gifts wrapped in Trader Joe’s shopping bags, two different scraps of wrapping paper plus bands of scrap papers and old maps.

Reuse last year’s wrapping paper. If wrinkled, press lightly with a cool iron. If one piece of paper doesn’t cover the package, cover one side and use another piece of paper in a different pattern for the opposite side. Or, use paper bags. If they don’t have a good design on the outside, turn them inside out.

Combine used materials if one source won't cover by itself.

Combine used materials if one source won’t cover by itself.

If you want to see additional examples for ideas and inspiration, check out our Eco-Gift Wrap Pinterest Board, which has over 1,000 examples of gift wrap for your reference and convenience.

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New Exhibit says ENOUGH Violence

It seems that we hear news about new murderous attacks with guns daily. In fact, one in 20 U.S. students is directly impacted by violence — either as a victim or an offender.

To grapple with the problem, Pittsburgh’s Society for Contemporary Craft developed a new exhibit, ENOUGH Violence: Artists Speak Out. Through 48 contemporary works by 14 artists from the U.S., Italy and Scotland, it explores how violence affects our lives and asks what we can do to combat it.

The artists, who work in clay, metals, fabric, photography, and found objects, focus on issues of violent crimes, gang violence, war, terrorism, and domestic abuse. Selecting crafts to explore a serious social problem is an unusual idea because most people associate these media with decorative and functional objects. The artists’ reaction to gun crimes expressed in these media provides us unusual and fresh ways to see the problem.

Loaded Menorah, 2013 by Boris Bally.

Loaded Menorah, 2013 by Boris Bally. 12″ wide by 37.5″ long x 11″ tall. Materials: altered hand-guns, gun barrels and silver.

This exhibit contains works by two artists who work with found materials. It contains three pieces by Rhode Island metalsmith Boris Bally, who has been interested in anti-violence art since the early 1990s. In 1997 he curated a show at Carnegie Mellon University that challenged artists to create sculptures out of decommissioned handguns obtained from buyback programs.

“Loaded Menorah” is made entirely of disabled weapons. In it, nine revolver barrels rising from a tangle of weapons have mouths finished in light polished silver cups to receive the Chanukah candles.

“I am reminded of the famous picture of George Harris sticking carnations into gun barrels during a 1967 anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon,” he said.

Brave lll: Necklace, 2013 by Boris Bally.

Brave lll: Necklace, 2013 by Boris Bally. 17″ x 15″ x 1.75″ 100 handgun triggers (steel) mounted on stainless cord. Silver. Gold.

Brave 4: Breast Plate, 2013 by Boris Bally.

Brave 4: Breast Plate, 2013 by Boris Bally. 26″ x 11.5″ x 2″ Gun-triggers, gun-bolts and gun-barrels (steel) and brass shells, mounted on stainless cord. Silver.

Minnesota fiber artist Beth Barron says her work is a monument to the human spirit and a “wish for wholeness.” She created “Implosion” from Band-Aids found in parks, playgrounds and sidewalks. For her, the found Band-Aids become an enigmatic metaphor: Do they represent pain or healing?

Implosion 1, 20009 by Beth Barron.

Implosion 1, 20009 by Beth Barron. 52″ diameter. Hand stitched found band-aids.

While working she said she has time to contemplate how we heal ourselves “…after personal or social devastation, whether our healed scars protect us in some new stronger way, and how fragile or resilient we will be once we have been wounded.”

It took about a year to complete “Implosion.” Barron hand-sewed each Band-Aid to a ground cloth, stiffened on the back with matte acrylic paint “to keep the knots from being untied.” She sometimes spent 10 hours a day working, although she sometimes skipped days before getting back to it.

The exhibit also includes a physical space in The Society’s Drop-In Studio for visitors to create their own personal talisman to take with them. A public Tumblr collection allows people to tell their own stories about their experiences with violence and participate in suggestions for creating a solution.

Visit the Society for Contemporary Craft’s website for more information about the exhibit, which closes March 22, 2014.

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