Back to work this week and getting the workshop going to deal with orders made over summer.
We had a great break: Deb did 2600km across the Nullarbor on her pushbike! Tim was 2km up a mountain in New Zealand. Kind of revved-up for the new year yet still falling asleep very early!
Summer was also about catching up on home projects like the third wooden handle on our trusted cast-iron fry pan. It’s been a mainstay of the kitchen for 30+ years, now that’s durability. Also so much less annoying without the loose burnt handle No2 that we put off fixing for way too many months!
We’ll be shutting down production over summer from mid December to the end of January. The online store will remain open but will have a notice saying items ordered in this period won’t be produced until February, most shipping late that month.
It’s been a tough year so we’ll be restoring ourselves with rest, adventures and reorganization. Expect some usethings revitalisation in the new year!
So if your summer projects include a few usethings, best get to ordering now, February is a long way off!
We’ve hit a snag which will slow down drying rack orders being dispatched.
The cord we use is out of stock in Australia, so it will be a three or four weeks before we get supply from the UK and can start shipping again. Normally we can get a new 200m roll in less than a week so I got slack in stock control.
Apologies for the delay, this effects drying rack orders between #6945 to #6976 and any new orders four weeks from today 28th Sept.
Sadly we have had to increase our shipping charges today. We held off for some time but recent problems with carriers have forced change. The worst part of regional small business is dealing with couriers. The big firms like Toll and Fastway have lost, damaged or stolen items, most others won’t carry our long parcels. We have found a great small company Westberg to cover our Victorian deliveries, nice to deal with people rather than clunky web portals!
We are easing off for the year with the last of our current orders shipping tomorrow. New orders will be filled, just a bit slower than usual. We’ll get back up to full speed by mid January.
Thanks to all our customers, new and returning, for another great year at usethings. We’ve been busy just keeping up but plan to re-energise usethings in the new year with some new design — web and product.
We hope you all have a restful and or adventurous break.
This turning off-cut made a quick repair for a melted pot lid handle. New life for this twenty year old pot which is a favorite for cooking rice because of its great seal. Many more meals out to come of this — another twenty years! Now with a bit more time there are a few other handles that need attention…
Apologies for the delay and thanks for your patience. It took us a while to get the sleeves that cover the rods to protect clothes from tannin. We get these extruded and have to do at least a kilometer of them to make the setup worthwhile.
We’ve just delivered a counter for the foyer of the Castlemaine Library and Phee Broadway Theater. The design includes a hydraulically raised half with shelf for theater ticket sales, locking internal section and a deep fronted lower counter for wheelchair access. The whole thing is on industrial wheels for mobility, flexibility is the key with the split level allowing it to serve as a table.
We used Hoop Pine bending ply for the curves with a lime wash finish to work with the foyer colours, and the top is 40mm thick laminated bamboo. This was a commission for the Friends of Castlemaine Library.
Visible mending is a quiet, global protest movement that’s happening at a grass-roots level, challenging the way we consume clothing. “We don’t need to throw our clothes away, and we’re wearing our mends as a badge of honour,” says Jane Milburn, a visible mender and author .
Mending and repurposing clothes is also a wonderful way to extend the life of garments that hold special emotional connections for us. You get moth [holes], you get rips, and instead of just throwing them away I mend them, which makes them individual. They are statements of resourcefulness, care and sustainability.
Historically, visible mending was a sign of poverty – if you had to patch and repair your clothing, then you couldn’t afford to buy new garments or fabrics. But since the mid-1970s, many have embraced the aesthetic of distressed clothing, firstly via the punk styles created by Vivienne Westwood and later via grunge in the 1990s – helped by industrial techniques for stonewashing denim.
In the punk and grunge movements, ripped threads were loud sartorial protests against society and a lack of opportunities for young people. Today, buying cheap new clothes that are ripped, stained and have frayed seams is commonplace among younger consumers of fashion.
The visible mending movement is also a response to distressed fast fashion. “Do it yourself, but don’t buy stuff that’s already ripped,” says Milburn. She describes the trend of buying new, distressed clothing as, “an obscene statement of our abundance and excess”.
Part of the attraction of visible mending is that Sashiko, a form of Japanese folk embroidery that is the main technique used by the movement, is simple to learn, says Melbourne-based visible mender Gaye Naismith.
Sashiko embroidery uses running stitch, which is the universal stitch: you can find it in every culture and anyone can do it. It uses Sashiko embroidery thread, which is not stranded like English embroidery thread; rather it’s a bit more like butcher’s string but a little thicker.
The thread, she says, was traditionally indigo and cream but now comes in lots of colours. “It’s rough and ready, but you can make something really pretty from it.”
Visible mending also aims to reconnect people with vanishing life skills that were once ubiquitous. Darning, for instance, was once considered a vital skill to keep knitted and woven clothing wearable and stop further damage. It consists of anchoring yarn in the fabric on the edge of the hole, carrying it across the gap and then anchoring it on the other side, usually with a running stitch or two, until threads criss-cross the hole.
Darning holes in a garment with thread in contrasting shades can create beautiful patterns and pops of colour, especially in cardigans and socks. Visible menders such as Naismith hold workshops for people to re-learn and refine techniques such as this.
Patching your clothes with meaningful textiles also allows you to wear your memories, says Naismith, who runs visible mending parties where people bring their sewing projects, and share cake and ideas. The groups can also help to combat loneliness and be a form of self-care. “Most people find it very relaxing and satisfying because sewing by hand forces you to slow things down,” says Naismith.
The visible mending community is thriving online, with local social networking groups such as “Friends of the Up-Cycled Cloth Collective, Australia and New Zealand” and international ones such as “A Mend and Made Do Life”, which has more than 14,800 members.
There are countless Pinterest, Instagram and visible mending blogs that can provide aesthetic inspiration for your projects, and more than a thousand tutorials online that demonstrate repairing techniques.
At the conclusion of her 2013 London fashion show Westwood, the grand doyenne of punk, made an impassioned plea to consumers to protest the excesses of her industry: “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.”
Her call has inspired visible menders, who are once again placing our clothing at the centre of a protest movement. Visible mending, says Naismith, is “a bit punk”. “People are doing it as a reaction to the whole fashion industry’s excesses of production.” Forty years later, it seems that punk’s not dead; it’s just patching itself up.
Here’s a photo of delivering a repaired Alien stool — an old usethings product sold locally about 9 years ago. First broken one we’ve come across. Delivery by bike, a 25+ year-old steel frame that has had numerous parts renewed in its long life.
The Alien is an efficient use of materials: very little waste from the plantation hoop pine ply (E0), 12 stools from one sheet of ply.
This all just feels right.
I’m going to call it dis-entitlement. As a middle class white person I’m entitled to a car, new stuff, affluence, energy to burn, wealth, power… but to choose not to partake due to the impacts of these things feels like winding back some seriously wrong stuff.
Giving up on entitlement is the sticking point in progress, but hey it’s not so bad out here. Living with less but life is good!
We love photo’s of our stuff installed, just got these from Jenny in NSW.
This isn’t an order, it’s a thank you. In November we ordered two coat racks for our beach house JEST at Blueys Beach in NSW, which is now finished. I ordered them unfinished as I thought I’d paint them white. But when they arrived the builder phoned me in Sydney to say how beautiful the wood was and that it would be a shame to paint them. He oiled them and hung them on the walls of the third bedroom where we haven’t installed any wardrobes. They look sensational! They really make the room feel so relaxed and beachy ! Already I’ve had friends and family asking where I found them, so I hope you get a few more orders from Sydney.
It’s great when people take the time to respond to the things we make — one of the best things about being a maker is knowing that our stuff is appreciated in someones home.
The bungalow up-cycle project is a 1950’s cream brick home in Melbourne’s North with a self contained granny-flat that had been built only 4 meters from the back of the house in the 1970s; disconnecting the home from the generous garden and leaving both buildings feeling hemmed in. Rather than demolishing the granny-flat, we kept the entire footprint of both buildings and consolidated them to create one large, unified, ecologically sustainable home.
We’ve worked with Brave New Eco over the years — it’s so nice to connect with a business that has a similar ethos and the team at Brave New Eco are doing great things: thanks for the beautiful photos. If you are after a great interior in Melbourne give them a call.
Our darning mushrooms are always a generous size compared to what is commonly available but this custom order is a monster 95mm diameter. Must be some big holes to mend!
We make small items from production off-cuts to get the most out of the timber we use. This one is made from recycled and plantation timber and neatly justifies all the small bits of beautiful timber I tend to keep around the workshop for years!
We’ve just added SSL to our site as a security upgrade from HTTP to HTTPS. Our online purchasing has always been via PayPal so all good from the security perspective but now you can have confidence with all your interactions on usethings.com.au
We made this 14 peg years ago and recently got this beautifully shot and styled photo from the customer with a request for another 14 peg.
12 peg 2m coat racks are the longest we can ship Australia-wide but for Central Victorian locals we can do 3m or over in a single length, depending on the stock we have at the time. The long lengths look great in a big room.
Recovering: It’s been a bad few months for us with the death of my mother and the end of a grey winter sickness in our home. Orders are way behind: I was just catching up when I went down with fevers last week, our daughter had been off school for two weeks.
Today is mild and I’m on my feet — I will get a bunch of stuff made up and packed for shipping tomorrow. I will catch up with all orders soon.
With no back-up staff and little lee-way for when things go wrong in a big way, we realise we are skating on thin ice — despite the excitement and sense of achievement in creating a small business.
Our only buffer has been the patience of our customers. It has been very heartening in these dark times to have a total stranger say “no worries, whenever you get to it” when we respond to their late order inquiry.
So, thank you to our customers who have supported us through this time. One great part of small business is connecting in small ways with people who get what we offer. This allows us to share value in the community; it is these transactions in care that ultimately sustain us.
Denim jeans – whether ripped, straight, flared, vintage or raw – are one of the world’s most-loved garments. But from fibre to wardrobe, they have a considerable ecological footprint.
Given the diversity of cotton growing enterprises and clothing producers around the world, tracking the environmental impact of a pair of cotton jeans is no simple feat.
But as a denim-wearer you can make more sustainable choices by buying responsibly, extending your jeans’ life with gentle washing and choosing to repair, not replace.
In this guide we’re looking at the key stages of jeans’ life cycle: cotton cultivation; spinning and dyeing; manufacturing, distribution and retailing; and what happens after you get them home.
Let’s begin with the cotton crop, in which water and pesticide use are prominent environmental issues.
Cotton is a thirsty crop, using 3% of the world’s irrigation water on 2.2% of global arable land. However, better management can reduce water wastage and improve efficiency.
Like humans, insects and bugs are attracted to the pillowy white fluff that is actually the fruit of cotton. Traditional cotton farming is chemically intensive, but genetically altered cotton varieties and innovations in integrated pest management have almost halved insecticide use (from 25% to 14% of global insecticide sales) since the 1990s.
However, organic producers in developing countries can charge a premium for their crops and aren’t reliant on synthetic insecticides and pesticides. If you want to buy organic cotton jeans, you can check for brands accredited by the Global Organic Textile Standard.
To improve cotton cultivation standards globally, the not-for-profit organisation Better Cotton Initiative was established in 2005 to promote more sustainable cotton growing, with better practices across water use, land and pest management and social indicators. Major fashion retailers like Levis Strauss & Co., H&M, The Gap, Kathmandu and Burberry are focusing on sourcing Better Cotton, organic, or recycled cotton for their clothing.
Spinning, dyeing and manufacturing
The process of spinning fibre into yarn, yarn into cloth, and manufacturing cloth into clothes represents some 70% of the total energy consumption of creating a pair of jeans.
The iconic indigo colour and the broken-in look of denim are the result of chemically intensive and high water use treatment processes that can take a toll on workers’ health and safety and impact the environment.
Leading denim brands are actively promoting techniques that limit the chemical and water intensity of wet processing, like enzyme finishing, laser etching and ozone treatments.
It may come as a surprise, but a large part of the environmental impact of a pair of jeans occurs after you buy them – how you launder and care for your jeans, and for how long, can be crucial in minimising denim’s ecological footprint. Throw-away fashion is a huge problem: a survey of 1,500 British women found the majority of garments (not just jeans) are worn as few as seven times.
You can minimise your jeans’ footprint simply by washing and drying them less often. We often launder far more often than needed, and overwashing may be more from habit than actual dirtiness of garments. In a 2012 study, participants wore the same pair of jeans unwashed for three months with no ill effects. Any smells or stains were simply managed through airing or spot cleaning.
Jeans have a patina of use that factories work hard to simulate – but you can develop your own patina through wear over a lifetime.
New business models promote a circular approach to consumption: you can rent your jeans from Mud jeans, and at the end of your jeans’ life, Mud will collect them for reuse or recycling.
Easy steps for buying greener
If buying new, purchase from retailers actively sourcing responsibly grown cotton. Check for standards and certifications like Better Cotton or the Global Organic Textile Standard.
Look for retailers that promote environmentally friendly processes, such as enzyme-washed denim or waterless denim. You can dig into your denim retailer’s sustainability statements on their website to see if they have signed up to initiatives to tackle hazardous chemicals, such as Zero Discharge of Hazardous Waste, or if they have their own scheme in place.
Remember that the most sustainable pair of jeans is the pair you already own. Care for your jeans by laundering them lightly and less often, using a cold wash cycle and line drying. Freshen them up between washes by hanging them in the sun or in a steamy bathroom.
We are very pleased to see a program on waste with broad appeal — ABS’s War on Waste with Craig Reucassel. We watched the episode on plastic bags and packaging last night, it certainly got the kids fired up. #waronwasteau
Dealing with waste has been a long experiment for usethings as a manufacturer, working with our own production and admin waste, and taking plastics out or our packaging is one of our successes.
Our drying rack kit is shipped in recycled card held together with jute string. Like the drying rack itself this is an old mode that predates current solutions, which in packaging is plastic tape, bubble wrap, cling film and shrink wrap. One customer told us she’s still using the packaging string in her garden!
Reducing our single-use plastics is a project for our business and daily life, usethings is that kind of blend for us: a vision for the future and experiments to forge that path.
We can see the pride and skill packaging used to have, it’s quite an art to make an efficient and safe package with string, knots and card — like all crafts it is one honed through repetition, having done thousands of these packages, we can see the shopkeepers of the past must have been packaging ninjas! Japanese still respect and honour this craft.
We improved our coat rack packaging last year by substituting plastic packaging tape for a paper tape and it works well, although the tape is much more expensive. We still hack up boxes sourced from neighbors and around town to package the coat racks and gum boot stands, it gets quite creative at times solving these puzzles. Box corrugated cardboard is recycled content already so it gets two goes around, and hopefully is recycled by our customers.
We can do this at our hands-on small scale because it matters to us, but there are plenty of bigger companies who manage it too, the packaging of our Opinel knives is brilliant… now we are really geeking-out on cool packaging!
Our coat rack can help reduce your environmental impact. From research for our drying rack we realised the impacts of washing and drying clothes: there is water, detergents and energy use of course, and now recently discovered is that the micro fibers shed during washing are ending up in our oceans. Do we need to wash so often? With a coat rack you can hang items between wears to air. This reduced washing will also increase the life of the clothes, a win all-round!
Our recycled timber wall mounted coat racks are inspired by the Shaker pegs that lined the four walls of their meeting rooms. They hung up coats, hats, bags, lamps, brooms, even chairs— all tidied away by this simple storage device. Tidy yes, but did you know environmentally positive too?
We’ve just reduced the price of the longer coat racks. The price-per-peg goes up slightly the longer the rack, as a decent long back-board is harder to come by than a shorter one. This pricing makes the shorter racks better value and uses up offcuts — part of our waste minimisation strategy.
The pricing for the popular 6 peg / 1m was $96 and is now $95, our 12 peg / 2m has gone from $233 to $199 (+ GST).
In reducing the per-peg rate of increase we hope this will encourage more people to get the maximum size rack for their wall, we always think the longer coat racks look great on a wall and offer more storage.
We finally have a timber solution and have switched our online store drying rack to in-stock so they are now available to order again.
Apologies for the slow resolution of this. Our material selection ideals caused us to persist in a search for plantation sugar gum — our preferred sustainable timber. With no success in finding a supplier we will switch to using recycled timber for the end-frames and standard hardwood dowel for the rods — our growing waiting list required a solution. The recycled end-frame hardwood source is a reliable existing supplier so we expect to be able to maintain stock.
We’ve just switched to a new server that will communicate with Paypal for payment confirmation. Apologies to those who have ordered and not received the confirmation in the past few months, a bit disconcerting when shopping online. We did get the payment details direct from Paypal so manually switched each order to “processing”. It was a bit clunky but worked.
Everything seems to be functioning from our end but please let us know if there find any problems with the site or our online store.
Our flat rate shipping makes it affordable to buy our products in remote areas of Australia. We get orders from stations and communities in far flung places. This rack was ordered with extra wide spacing for Akubra hats — it’s got our imagination going, would love to see it in use!
We’ve begun works at the popular Castlemaine Cafe Saffs in late December and over the Christmas closure. First was the counter area with a new counter top in hoop pine ply. Also rationalising behind the counter with storage, work surface and shelf. Plus a bit of painting and patching. Deb brings her catering experience into the design of these spaces with functional flow and storage-at-hand on top of the aesthetic.
Many discussions where had about future possibilities and we hope to partner with Saffs in updating their spaces.
We’ve gone flat out and just cleared all our pre-Christmas orders. There are still 10 days left and with no backlog we can now get stuff made up straight away and dispatched, so if you are in the Eastern States and you order in the next few days there is a good chance we can get a useful thing to you before Christmas.
In January we’ll be on the go-slow, holidaying and getting sorted for the new year. Our showroom in Castlemaine will be closed. We’ll still process online orders when we are here but they’ll probably take longer than usual.
We wish all our usethings friends a relaxed and restful time.
Drying racks are out of stock temporarily: the usual problem sourcing material. Sugar Gum is a great sustainable timber but hard to get at times. Send us a message via our contact page and we’ll ad you to the waiting list so that we can notify you when we are ready to ship again.
Back online today (yay) and also emails are coming through so apologies if you contacted us or where trying to order in the last five days.
We can only assume the site had a short holiday on a hard drive somewhere in the world: floral shirts and cocktails on the beach, or the virtual equivalent.
Still possibly some funy-business with shipping seems like the split between courier items in Australia and postals items (Australia + the rest of the world) is no longer functioning… shouldn’t have updated it but will get to the bottom of the new system soon.
Old friends of usethings will know we’ve talked about the Shaker design ethic and how it is one of our influences. The long lengths of coat racks that line the walls of Shaker meeting rooms were the inspiration for our coat rack design.
Actually the Shaker aesthetic is important in all our design.
Well we’ve just made a sale of a coat rack to a customer in Massachusetts USA. This state had several Shaker communities and I’d say the aesthetic resonance of Shaker architecture is still present there. But strangely no one is selling coat racks, which lead Kate to usethings.
It is for a Cape Cod house—original Shaker territory! […] Thanks again and kudos for your wonderful business. I thought I’d be able to find one of these in Massachusetts since you see them often in the charming New England old houses, but, go figure, I found you in Australia! You should advertise in local magazines there—you’d sell a ton.
Thanks Kate. This could be seen as quite an achievement, sending a coat rack to the home of beautiful coat racks!
Is usethings going global? — we sent another 12 peg coat rack to Singapore last month.
In March, 15,000 people attended the Lost Trades Fair in the country town of Kyneton, Victoria. Eighty rare trades were on show, including fletchers, bladesmiths, coopers and milliners.
Common household items, such as knives and furniture, were on sale. These were hand-made and very high quality. But the point of the fair was really to see the trades in action, with items handmade in front of attendees.
The event’s organiser, chairmaker Glen Rundell, was struck by the level of interest from the public. He took this to be an encouraging sign that handmade and bespoke trades would not be lost. Instead, they would find a new path as part of a growing enthusiasm for “maker” culture.
Maker culture broadly refers to people applying practical skills to develop new technology products, often involving electronics and robotics, but also incorporating more traditional DIY techniques like woodwork. It is a growing global movement.
Changing nature of work
Maker culture’s appeal is clearly partly due its community engagement and anti-consumption ethos. But it also seems to be a response to conditions of work in the knowledge economy that prevent many workers from experiencing the satisfaction of a job well done.
One of the problems with work today is that companies do not value quality-driven work.
Contemporary work is characterised by short-term appointments and flexible workers with transferable skills. According to sociologist Richard Sennett, in contemporary businesses, teamwork is the ethic that governs, with “superficial co-operativeness” taking the place of ongoing commitment to a task.
In many instances, individual performance becomes obscured, devalued, or even ignored. This can kill motivation. As behavioural economist Dan Ariely has noted:
Ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding the work in front of their eyes.
With most contracts on a short-term basis, the quality of the result produced becomes less important. There is no guarantee that a manager or supervisor will be in place long enough to notice, let alone reward, the efforts of devoted employees. This lends work a surreal quality and renders it less fulfilling.
Author Matthew Crawford suggests that despite the “proliferation of contrived metrics they must meet”, office workers often feel that their jobs lack:
… objective standards of the sort provided by, for example, a carpenter’s level.
In a recent study of Australian workers, I found that some participants were disengaged from work because they felt their efforts did not matter. For instance, a project manager in financial services described her work:
Well, it’s just not real, is it? The whole stock exchange is not real. It’s money filtering into numbered accounts you know, with digit 38451 … it’s not rewarding on a humanitarian level.
In addition, she felt little motivation to try to achieve results for her current employer:
Staying at the one place doesn’t show flexibility; that you can adapt … I don’t know whether people are that interested in loyalty now, they’re interested in people who can get things done fast, efficiently.
Two former IT professionals in Melbourne have recently opened a community makers workshop, Splinter & Callous. It offers members the chance to:
… be more than a consumer, be a creator.
The workshop provides space and equipment, and is staffed by experienced mentors in wood- and metal-work. The target market is office workers looking for a chance to get “hands-on”.
Small household items are mostly what is being made. Some of the products include furniture, bookshelves, bike stands, potplant holders and beer caddies. The makers keep the finished products.
One of the workshop’s founders, in his former job:
… felt he was missing out on something by working in an office all day. Spending long hours working on abstract projects with no tangible outcomes, he developed a longing to do something hands-on.
The workshop emphasises the wellbeing of office workers. This is a new direction for the Maker Movement, which has focused on encouraging innovation through events like Maker Faires. Initiatives like Repair Cafes stress sustainability and promote the sharing of skills.
The Splinter & Callous workshop encompasses these aims but adds a particular focus on providing a source of fulfilment that workers in the knowledge economy often lack.
This desire to create something tangible is used in a recent advertising campaign for Victoria Bitter, with the satisfaction of a job well done being linked to a well-deserved drink when a job is completed.
Advertisements like this tap into an ethic of craftsmanship. Sennett has defined craftsmanship as “quality-driven work”, not limited to manual trades. Craftsmanship involves becoming highly skilled at a particular task and producing an excellent result. It refers to:
… an enduring human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake.
Unable to produce high-quality, meaningful results in their paid work, people are increasingly looking to satisfy this need in their leisure time.
Every now and then we get a beautiful commission. Clients from Musk in Victoria where after a coat stand and hadn’t been happy with anything they’d seen. We got chatting and offered to design one for them. It had to be stable and interesting but they where pretty open to how we resolved that brief.
The Musk Coat Stand is the result. This is a steam bent and laminated hardwood stand with a five kilo solid stainless steel bracket for strength and stability. This design allows the curves to sweep up and float.
It is rare to have this kind of commission and clients with the vision to support new design. We are thankful for the opportunity to see this piece from concept to reality and are very happy with the result.
In an effort to reduce our single use plastic we’ve got rid of packing tape and started using a kraft paper tape. This is the really nice stuff picture framers use. We already recycle cardboard boxes to pack our coat racks. This one is an awkward pack of 7, 5, and 4 peg racks. It’s a bit tricky without the flexibility of plastic packing tape but it will hold well to get these racks safely to their owner.
This packaging is now on par with our drying rack packaging as far as minimal environmental impact.
We found a small amount of 42 x 19mm sugar gum to use for the end frames but still no luck with the bigger stuff we need to make the rods from.
So we’ve decided to use commercial dowel for the rods, this is Vic Ash and fine for the task. The reason we stopped using it years ago is the PEFC certification is not very strong as an environmental credential. Otherwise its strength is fine and the colour is similar.
So if you don’t mind this go to our store and place your order, people from the wait-list will get their orders filled first.
I’ve just started making up the end frames today so should be dispatching orders by early next week.
A big order of 5 peg coat racks going off to Pinetree Lodge on Lord Howe Island. We recently did another big order for Clear Mountain Lodge & Spa in Queensland. Nice for the turnover but they keep clearing out our stock of recycled backboards!
The branching of a millet stalk makes it ideal for a broom. No plastic fibre can give this density of finer fibres at the end; branching out of the stem; with good stiffness for sweeping. Millet is a strong and durable fibre and doesn’t leave plastic particles as it degrades with abrasion; millet particles will just decompose. Add to this millet is a renewable material and there your have it: the perfect broom.
Branching is mathematically cool, we could get into the Fibonacci sequence: this pattern of branching provides the best physical accommodation for the number of branches, while maximising sun exposure. Now there is good design!
We get these great brooms from the Tumut Broom Factory who have been making the perfect broom the traditional way since 1946. And could keep going forever. Now that is sustainability, or resilience because we’ll always need to sweep.
See more here millet broom, or drop by usethings store and pick one up.
We’ve stocked Opinel knives for a few years now, we love the simplicity and, of course, good steel.
Opinel have recently updated their kitchen knife wooden handle designs with simplified, finer lines. I actually liked the old bread knife handle for it’s heft but these new handles, though finer, are long enough to get good purchase when cutting real bread. I suspect the finer handle may even be better for smaller hands.
The blade remains the same: ours at home is still dangerously sharp after more than a year of daily bread cutting, and real bread at that, from our friends at Redbeard Bakery.
I’ve come to the realisation that as a maker and a small business we tend not to carry much stock so the things we make are more like a repertoire: the designs are resolved along with the supply, production, and distribution so we make things up on demand. Making it up as we go along kind of covers a lot about usethings!
We do keep stock of materials so this is possible, and we can run this fine line as most off our suppliers are responsive — the just-in-time method! Though there is the occasional hiccup but we still manage to beat the times of major retailers, and our clients are patient when we contact them personally to let them know what is going on. Good things come out of this scale of business.
So we don’t have container loads of stuff and our showroom is not your usual retail experience. This does free us from the cycle of stocking and moving heaps of high turnover stuff; the mode of retail being one brief step on the road to landfill.
The occasional supply breakdown can push us out to four or five weeks but this is rare; like the recent case of a manufacturer changing their local agent which held up drying rack dispatches while we waited for cord. Mostly we get stuff done within a week and have occasionally pulled off a next day delivery.
Stocking in this way also accounts for the many items we produce from a few basic materials: plantation hoop pine plywood, plantation sugar gum, and recycled hardwood. These materials pass our test for a renewable or recycled material and are also native species, some quite local, so a few ticks there. Also ticks for reducing our waste by designing around production off-cuts.
Repertoire feels kind of right for our range of designs: the word has a sense of art — and there is also the drama when it unravels a bit!
Selling a lot of our darning mushrooms at the moment. One thing about repetition — if you pay attention there are things to learn. After making these for years I just came up with a new process for finishing the underside. This last one was the best I’ve made.
Finally got around to making this installation guide for our coat racks. This clip shows how to install on a stud wall.
There is also detail on timber plugs to cover the screw heads: how to setup for them, finish them, and how to get them out if anything goes wrong.
Our racks can also be installed on a masonry wall: a similar process but requiring masonry plugs to be set in the wall to screw into. Contact us if you’d like more information on this and we can supply suitable masonry plugs to match our screws.
Here’s the latest All-ply table for clients in Castlemaine. Designed for the kids to draw on; the furniture linoleum will easily handle extreme conditions (kids + furniture).
This one is 1800 x 600mm and features an open shelf underneath, and idea we will continue to develop.
I feel fortunate and happy to be living with one of your beautiful tables. Your tables have been in my mind since I first came into usethings a couple of years ago. Your thoughtful design and skilled craftmanship bring a refined warmth and purpose into our home. The girls sit down at the table many times a day to draw and create. Thank you.
Every time we make an All-ply table the design and construction becomes crisper. It’s something about the lightness of touch and accuracy in the build, that gets better each time. It’s quite satisfying when everything goes right, sort of feels in-control. It’s nice as a designer to watch a design evolve like this: the first ten you make the idea is only just coming into the world, after that it keeps maturing. I guess this is what craftsmanship is about.
If you are having problems with the shipping part of our checkout just email and we can process your order.
We are in the process of reseting our online store for customer location based shipping rates. This will incorporate an Australia Post calculator for local and international deliveries of small items. The big stuff will still go by courier and will need a quotation for international deliveries.
This new system will also calculate and handle GST.
This project is kind of complex so until now we’ve just included the average shipping cost and GST in each item’s price. The objective is to offer international shipping on small items as we’ve limited our distribution to Australia up till now.
Part of this is to enable products from our new business Climb Design to be handled by usethings online store, you won’t see them from this site but we’ll be using usethings e-commerce capacity via a back door.
It will take some time to set this up and pricing will be changing. If there are any problems during this time contact us and we’ll sort it out: transactions can easily be revised or reversed. Any feedback will be appreciated as there is only so much testing we can do from this end.
We are down at our favourite bakery RedBeard again. February is their time-out / maintenance period, and usehtings is assisting with a rejig and freshen up. Great to see how the major refit we did a couple of years ago is standing up.
Part of this years work was designing and making a fly screen door for the high-traffic doorway to the courtyard. It’s got to be tough (25mm recycled hardwood frame) and handle being bumped open by staff with their hands full. The angle bracing strengthens the frame and covers the high impact areas of the door to help the extra tough fly wire withstand heavy usage (especially with those who insist on pushing on the wire!). We spent some time today tuning the door closer to get the right swing that will help staff get in and out. As designers we can’t help going back to first principles then following through to make it right. This door is a shift from the symmetry of wooden screen doors that is based on traditional mortise & tennon perpendicular joins. Not many doors are made like that anymore so the contemporary joining methods can now escape the gravity of the past. There you go, more than you wanted to know about a design leap on a simple door in country bakery — who care’s about these small things? We do!
Drop by and check out the great bread and food when RedBeard re-open this weekend and you’ll see Deb’s improvements in display and lighting among the many tweaks that make this a lovely space.
Drop by our showroom in Castlemaine to see our workstool. This design is the result of a years long research and prototyping process aimed at addressing the effects on our bodies of seated work. We explain more in the article “how to sit”.
We’ve got one in the store now so try it out and we’ll explain the design and reasoning behind the workstool. Seated work can be good for your body and posture with the workstool. Forget ergonomic chairs, this is the answer.
During January and February we’ll be away at various times so our showroom — usethings store in Castlemaine opening times will be erratic. We will be in town mostly so can open by appointment any day, call on 0405 564 206 to see if we are around and make a time.
We will be filling orders from our online store through this period but may take a little longer to respond.
We hope all usethings friends have a great holiday.
usethings friends will know how seldom we introduce a new product. It’s our selection criteria, there aren’t many things out there that meet our expectations.
We are excited today to receive our first order of hand made millet brooms from the Tumut Broom Factory, who have been making brooms in Australia since 1946. We love continuity of production and the retention of skills in these fantastic brooms made from renewable materials.
We’ve got a 7-tie woolshed broom for outdoors and a lighter 6-tie for home. Also some neat little hand-whisks.
Drop by our store in Templeton St to have a look at a real broom.
Just found out our shopping cart hasn’t been working in the mobile version of our website (thanks Cathy). The whole mobile thing was all very exciting a couple of years ago when we set it up. We used a third party service that re-rendered our desktop site and it kind of worked but struggled with tricky stuff in our online store. We thought it made us look hip with the technology thing, and we almost where!
So apologies if you’ve been frustrated trying to purchase from our mobile website. We’ve switched it off so you can navigate our base site which functions OK even if the scaling is a pain. We’ll look into getting a responsive design soon.
The fun part of being a designer-maker: prototyping. This is a test of the jig and cold laminating hardwood. Timber is amazing in what it can do, here thin strips are glued together and clamped in a jig to form a curved piece that is part of a new design. Experience building ships and boats helps when playing with bending timber. We are lucky to have clients that support this project; after the original request we sent drawings and they liked the design so now we’re making up a prototype. This first test is a proof of concept. All good so far, we’ll incorporate the learning from this process and adjust the design, there are usually some changes once you get to full scale—drawings and 3D modelling is only the beginning of the resolution and rendering of the idea into the real world.
We made up some special bamboo cutting boards for a long table meal featuring local food at The Village in Edinburgh Gardens, Fitzroy Melbourne recently. They where used to serve the lamb and impressed people at the meal so we thought we’d offer them up as a product; a handy compliment to our large round cutting board.
They are 8 x 10 inches, about 200 x 260mm (18mm thick) and made from laminated bamboo, a rapidly renewable material that has the perfect density for cutting boards. Lamination also makes them stable when regularly wet in washing.
As with many of our designs they are available, even though not listed on our online store yet, just email or call to order: firstname.lastname@example.org. Their price will be $30 including delivery in Australia or $22 from our Castlemaine store.
It started to feel like a bit of usethings history looking back over the last 10 years.
This is a the fun bit—mucking around with design ideas, lots of failures, lots of silly things that seemed great in the middle of the night. Some not even destined for products but just our own needs, like this lamp made from a fantastic bulb half-reflector, a gift from our friends at Bluebottle; a quick solution for the kids home-work desk.
Will post more there while in a reflective mood. Also check out out other social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Google + if any of these are your mode. And you can follow this blog or subscribe to our email newsletter.
We are pleased to see our electricity provider ranked best in this green power guide from the Total Environment Centre and Greenpeace. Have a look at: greenelectricityguide.org.au
We think Powershop are cool because of their position on the RET, and the neat energy usage graphing they supply, shows when your peak usage during the day. You can use this to EMS yourself — EMS is an Environmental Management System that can be made to the international standard ISO14001, all very formal and audited, but the principle is: find you biggest environment impact and set a program to reduce it.
In Victoria with our brown coal energy generation, electricity will be the biggest impact for most households and businesses. Graphing of usage is a big help in working out which appliance is using the most electricity. The Powershop graphs use the capability of the smart meter to give hour by hour readings.
Environmentally savvy Australian carpet company Above Left recently redirected over 3000 square meters of carpet tile away from landfill with their rEcover program, which is designed to deal with carpet waste from office re-fits. This is a Product Stewardship program that they also apply to other makers products, i.e. taking back all brands of carpet not just their own. See more here.
Tim Preston of usethings developed the Product Stewardship scheme for Above Left as consultant in environmental programs and environmental verification (eco-lables). This Product Stewardship scheme enables EcoSoft tiles to achieve the highest level environmental label ECS level4 which is recognised within the GreenStar building rating system.
Above Left sell the innovative EcoSoft carpet tile (see image) that has recycled PET felt backing instead of the usual PVC or bitchumen backing. Above Left realise the value of environmental programs and have been a pleasure to work for and we are excited by the environmental performance of EcoSoft; not just its innovative backing but in the manufacturers committed approach to addressing the environmental impacts of carpet production.
We recently completed a commissioned bed-base featuring Blackwood and recycled timbers. The bed was designed with the clients and has a neat base setup that gives it a floating look; handy for a big bed as it doesn’t overcrowd the room. The wing shelves attach to the base which further minimises the impact on floorspace. It’s designed in three parts which made it easier to move to to where it sits so well in this beautifully crafted home not far from Castlemaine.
We do commissioned works but it often takes a while as we fit it in around orders for our regular products. Some commissions we design then outsource the making, so talk to us if you ideas for your own useful thing.
Green Lifestyle Awards where announced last night in Sydney. Our clothes drying rack got a highly commended in the home product category. See the other awards here.
Pleased to see David Holmgren was inducted into the hall of fame, if you ever have a chance to hear him speak he has a powerful and inspiring holistic perspective on how we can live sustainably — very real analysis of the problems and practical solutions for living, from home to city scale.
We’ve just got in a couple of new pieces from local maker Greg Stirling. A Windsor carver chair and another cricket table. Beautiful structures both, and the chair is surprisingly comfortable — upholstery looks inviting but we are into firm seats after our research on sitting and the body. The long design heritage / evolution of the Windsor chair means it works well for healthy and comfortable sitting. Come and sit in one at our Castlemaine store.
We use recycled building timbers for our coat rack, usually Vic Ash or Messmate, but we take any sound hardwood and reveal its beauty by machining it for the coat racks. Here are some of the colours and features in a recent batch of orders. These have been oiled and are photographed in shaded daylight; colour is a tricky thing on a screen. The colours range from light straw to salmon to brown, and features apart from grain are usually sap veins and nail holes. All back boards are machined and sanded smooth. The pegs are commercial Vic Ash but also vary in colour… timber is a live stuff, thats why we love it and extend its useful life by recycling.
Since Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair of 1925 the formula for comfortable seating has been known: create a right-angle, open it up a tad, and tip it backward, so that the seat places the bottom lower than the knees. Your weight is thrown back into the angle and your thighs lock your back firmly into the backrest.
Too few armchairs and fewer couches have adopted this simple template, which keeps you comfortable for hours, even though it’s been argued that all chairs are bad for you. You’re much likelier to find Breuer’s reliable comfy formula in somebody’s car than in his or her home. Instead, even in an age of ergonomics, fashion has generated an endless supply of sleek flat-bottomed chairs and couches that you slip out of.
If you don’t have a resented example at home, open your junk mail. An IKEA catalogue will do. Check out Stockholm, Skogaby, Karlstad and Ekerö (before going to sofa-bed hybrids such as Nockeby, Hagalund, Moheda, Knopparp, Friheten). IKEA is far from the worst, because at least it produces Poäng and the exemplary Villstad, which follow the tilted formula for comfort.
If it were only a pain in the back, the perverse box-configurations of contemporary seating furniture might not be so bad. But in my mind, the snazzy designs that now flood the market have a negative effect on contentment, which in turn has a powerful influence on lifestyle and hence patterns of consumption.
We normally speak of the ecological impact of furniture in relation to materials and assembly: are the components recycled or reusable and how much energy or sacrifice of animals is needed for their manufacture? But furniture has a much greater impact on global emissions if you consider that it also conditions the way we lead our lives.
It is difficult to calibrate and prove but I begin with the assumption that the energy that we consume in goods and services (especially services of mobility) is inversely proportional to our contentment as individuals. If we lead a rich domestic and imaginary life, we are less inclined to dissatisfaction, and to make up for it by restless or greedy patterns of consumerism and travel, with their terrible environmental consequences.
To lessen our dependence on travel for psychological wellbeing requires other things to fill the void: conversation, reading, music, walking and so on. Having a poetic relationship with your immediate surroundings is one of the elements that makes for contentment and hence sustainability.
It seems unlikely that the character of our interiors would not have an effect on our contentedness. Just think of bald apartments, digs and hotel rooms that you’ve stayed in, where no item resonates with anything in your experience. The prospect of reading a book in the room seems unappealing. You have to get out.
The argument is not that an evocative interior will magically make you immune from travel temptation. You ought to be dissuaded from travel by ecological arguments. But as you absorb the pointed cue that environmentalists have told you for decades, you might well look around for aspects of your domestic life that make it easier to follow.
What will make you more contented? What atmospheric appointments make our domestic environments a haven that we want to repair to rather that a place to escape from?
In some categories, such as chairs and couches, furniture has a direct impact on our comfort. But all pieces of furniture, even shelves or wardrobes, are capable of either contributing to our contentment or not. The difference is not necessarily how well the pieces serve us physically – though that is important – but how their function serves us imaginatively, to the point that we relish contemplating their presence.
The stylish chairs and couches with flat or near flat bottoms are uncomfortable for the same reason that they don’t reward contemplation. Their form aspires to abstraction. They figuratively and metaphorically throw you off. They don’t tell stories and aren’t the repository of long traditions. The abstract language of form may have an ancestry in modernist design but the geometric exclusivity that it aspires to refuses to be a vessel for associations or narrative.
Furniture that gives you a toehold on its history and function acts like company: you have a historical interlocutor in the room who reminds you of the growth of conversation, etiquette, dedicated rooms, electric lighting, erotic ritual, reading, gastronomy, music and storage.
The quality and date of the furniture are less important than the imagination that you bring to it. Furniture from an expensive shop may have no greater enticements to rapture than furniture from an op shop. But nor is new furniture excluded, just as second-hand furniture is not necessarily more resonant just by its vintage.
The key criterion in identifying what makes furniture yield contentment is poetic. Is the furniture suggestive? Does it propose a symbolic life or does it recede semantically behind its own formalism, like Schiavello’s Kayt Lounge?
The link between furniture and contentment, and then contentment and sustainability, is the subject of my new book, Instruments of contentment: furniture and poetic sustainability, available as a free download from Craft Victoria.
Furniture is only one category of craft and design that yields contentment by poetic means. The long tradition of craft has generated any number of counterparts in tableware, ceramic, glass and metal that provide similar cues to aesthetic wonder. Any jug or glass or platter can potentially resonate with ancient pitchers, goblets or chargers.
By pondering their design, construction and function, you’re poetically brought into contact with beliefs, rituals and mores that are also explicated, say, by the formidable collection of decorative arts in the National Gallery of Victoria.
Arguably, however, furniture plays a key role in the management of your life and mobile assets: it keeps your shirts and papers in place as much as your bottom, allowing you to organise your spaces by your ideal domestic vision.
Without contact and sympathetic insight into this realm – a world that is either inflected and reassuring or abstract and desolate – sustainability will be harder to reach in our daily lives and impossible to achieve for the planet.
Another project with our friends at bluebottle; they used our updated Work-stool and Aliens in this recent interior:
bluebottle is a Melbourne based design company with expertise in combining light and form in inventive ways. The bluebottle team is accomplished in managing all aspects of a project to achieve an excellent outcome. Company members work across various art forms as creative consultants, designers, project managers and lecturers.
Drawing upon their experience bluebottle have aligned and extended their skills to create a number of portable buildings for specific artistic purposes, such as ANAM Quartetthaus, Art Unit and the Melbourne Festival Hub (in progress). The varied yet specific requirements of much of their work calls for a highly skilled, self sufficient and versatile team.
bluebottle strives to invent new formats across all domains, creating exciting outcomes that challenge and excite. Their work can be seen in theatres, galleries, museums, found architectural spaces and architecture, through disciplines such as music, dance and visual art.
Earlier this year we made the tables for the great debate, and in the past made Aliens for Melbourne festival Hub, coat racks for ANAM offices, and special lit coatracks for Quartet House .
We love bluebottle, their support of our design and their belief in us have helped to resolve products and push them to new levels.
We’ve just signed the Castlemaine Divestment Action pledge, a charter focusing action on investment in carbon intensive industries.
We have recently changed our electricity supplier to Powershop, the only retailer that doesn’t want the RET reduced or scrapped. For many years we’ve chosen banks based on their ethical position and currently bank with MECU. Supper is with Australian Ethical and has been for over 20 years.
We take every opportunity to investigate the products we stock, materials we use, and equipment we buy, from the perspective of environmental, waste, climate and labour/social impacts.
These are the decisions that are within our control and how we can individually contribute to change for the better, all for the small effort in changing service providers.
Link to PDF: Divestment For more info contact: 0459 472 558
The last rays of a beautiful day in Castlemaine. Thanks to all those who dropped by for drinks or sent messages. It was a lovely gathering: chilled Champaign, good conversation with our friends in the beautiful garden at No 8, even the kids found a ball and disappeared to play street soccer.
We’ve recently up-dated our Work-stool and written more on the design and ergonomics of sitting, see our how to sit page. The new version features a fine stainless steel leg brace to ensure the Work-stools long life. In our how to sit page we better describe and illustrate the design of this stool and how it applies to a healthy and strong posture in seated work.
This winter I left the office to sit by the fire on a couch to work. After a couple of weeks I really noticed the instability in my back, which has been in a very bad way in the past. In addressing back issues, thinking through the design from a body conscious perspective, and trailing versions of the Work-stool / office set-ups over the last few years, we have arrived at a design that enables me to sit for long periods of computer work and has even strengthened my core and back. It does involve a little physical work and awareness to sit well but our Work-stool assists in this and the benefits are well worth it.
The Work-stool will be made to order in the early stages so email for details and time-line. The price from our Castlemaine store will be $420, we are yet to work out distribution or agents further afield.
usethings turns ten this August; we’ll be celebrating our mile-stone this week with a sale and a small event at our Castlemaine store.
The beginning is never really a clear cut date as the idea of our business formed from many tributaries over time but August is when we registered the business name in 2004 and started discovering the shape of usethings.
After graduating from RMIT in Industrial Design we moved our new family to Castlemaine and decided the combination of our skills and experience would make a great business.
A NEIS course got us going in the first year and it’s been a continual learning and growing process since.
The first website was a PDF file we managed to publish at our domain — after trying to figure out the server controls for ages. Now it’s a sophisticated site with e-commerce and the power of WordPress and is looking great.
Our initial product was the drying rack and with ad-hoc hard-copy advertising we got it out there; some good word of mouth helped. Slowly we grew our product range and got a better online presence. The early days where order by email contact and we miss the little chats with each customer but the ease and security of online purchasing is better for all.
In 2011 we opened our Castlemaine store, began to launch new products, and stock select useful things from other makers. The store is a great way to express our business and the many conversations there has helped our ideas coalesce. It’s worth all the hard work when people get what we are on about; it’s still a great feeling when they take one of our useful things home.
As a way to thank our customers and followers from these past ten years we are having a 10% sale on everything this week from Sunday 24th to Sunday the 31st. We’ll post out a discount coupon for online store purchases to our mailing list, so just sign on here anytime this week, or come in to our Castlemaine store next Friday 29th and Saturday 30th.
Simon in Melbourne installed a couple of our racks; he had a hard time fixing to a hard plastered masonry wall which is pretty tricky. Simon sent us this great image.
“ …I put them up on the weekend – look great, extremely happy with outcome but had to use some additional fixings as the hard plastered masonry walls I mounted them on were pretty ‘random’ as a substrate! I was supplied with 5 plugs and ended up doing four fixing on each one (half went into mortar that was as good as flour). Tried to find equivalent plugs but no joy. Was just wondering whether you could shoot me through 4 more timber plugs?”
New images for our darning mushroom, get those repairs done now while the winter inspiration is there! Hand turned in Castlemaine and made from plantation Sugar-gum. Features a needle store in the hollow handle.