How to Be Self-reliant, Eco-smart, and Financially Savvy in 2010

BlogHer Original Post

Why pay a tailor to sew a loose button back on, when it's cheaper to just buy a new top at Forever 21? That's the sort of decision would-be fashionistas make these days, ignoring the fact that cheap fashion looks, well, cheap.

So how does a frugal girl afford to look good? By sewing her own buttons, of course. And how does she eat well on the cheap? By making her own fluffy pancakes.

That's the idea behind How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew, a fun girly DIY book by Erin Bried, a senior staff writer at Self magazine. This book's got how-to instructions for more than 100 projects, ranging from very specific beauty tips like "How to Wear Red Lipstick," to financial challenges like "How to Start a Rainy Day Fund," to more nebulous, lifetime goals like "How to Make Friends."

I, of course, wanted to start off with the booze-related goals. But "How to Make Dandelion Wine" had this little crazy bit hidden near the end of the instructions: "Set it in a dark closet for about 6 weeks." What?! I thought "How to Brew Your Own Beer" would be better -- but that one still required a 2-week wait. Lacking patience, I started with the very first how-to in the book: "How to Make Blueberry Pancakes."

Of course, I didn't have blueberries on hand. Those fruits haven't been in season for months! Thus, when I read step 1 of the instructions -- "If you've got the blueberries, chances are you've also got everything else you need to make these tasty flapjacks for two" -- I knew I was in trouble. No, I didn't have an egg in the house. Nor milk, canola oil, sugar, or flour. I did, however, have salt -- and some old, clumpy baking powder!

So I went shopping -- and started substituting. Soy milk stood in for cow's milk, fair trade organic olive oil from Alter Eco for canola oil, and raspberries that happened to come in my ParadiseO delivery for blueberries.

The results: Ugly! But edible nonetheless. It appears my organic raspberries were just too big, creating lumps twice as thick as the actual pancakes. Also, I apparently didn't take the appeal to stick to medium heat in Step 5 -- "No matter how hungry you are, resist turning up the flame or you'll have burned pancakes with raw insides" -- seriously enough.

After that culinary disaster, I gave the pancakes a second try -- with lowered heat. Except by this time, I was out of eggs again. Thus, I made vegan pancakes -- by which I mean I didn't even bother trying to substitute the egg. I simply ignored the part in the instructions requiring an egg.

I know, I clearly don't have the cooking knowledge to start improvising. Yet strangely, the pancakes turned out better-looking and yummier! Also, oddly, smaller!

lonely pancake

I think this had more to do with lowered heat than anything else -- and had I beaten in an egg, my pancakes would have been fluffier. But my accidentally vegan pancake adventure only made be bolder -- because as you may have guessed, my tendency to not have needed materials on hand wasn't cooking-specific. My second learning experience, for example, was "How to Iron a Shirt." The first words of Step 1 were "Set your ironing board...." No, I do not own an ironing board. And no, this lack did not deter me.

I made do with a well-folded flat sheet, and my shirt turned out spiffy! Which leads me to believe that even with simple how-tos, some simple improvisation and experimentation doesn't hurt (neither does owning an ironing board, but moving on...). And of course, there were times when my lack of materials seemed much more a blessing than an challenge. Take "How to Chase a Snake Out of Your Garden" or "How to Rid Your House of Mice." Yay me -- Snake-free garden and mouse-free apartment! I handily handled "How to Swaddle a Newborn Baby" with similar exuberance.

Erin wrote How to Sew a Button after interviewing a bunch of grandmothers who lived through the depression era -- and learned to prize their skills over their possessions. And many of these skills have to do with living green and saving green -- fixing instead of buying new, planning a week's menu instead of relying on take out (and disposable containers), growing a veggie garden instead of spending a fortune at Whole Foods or opting for pesticide-sprayed conventional crap. Some tips aren't the greenest -- i.e. a recipe that calls for Crisco -- but eco-substitutions can easily be made. I certainly made them, my vegan pancakes being a case in point, though perhaps not the yummiest example.

One thing I wished How to Sew a Button had more of: Diagrams and illustrations. Despite the detailed instructions, I still can't quite wrap my mind around how to make a crazy quilt or how to fold a fitted sheet. Luckily, Erin does provide demo videos for some of these how-tos! She also writes a blog.

Want to be more self-reliant, eco-minded, and economically smart in the new year? How to Sew a Button is available for $15.

Related links:

>> Don't think my pancakes look tasty? I don't blame you. Check out the better-looking pancakes made by Rechelle of My Sister's Farmhouse, who actually followed How to Sew a Button's instructions more closely, to get a more purist sense of the book.

>> Malena Lott at Book End Babes has an interview with author Erin Bried.

>> Outblush gives How to Sew a Button a rave review:

Reading it is like having a sweet, sassy granny over your shoulder, guiding your hands as you learn to fillet a fish on your own or sew a button on a shirt. It's all stuff you need to know, plus a few fun things, like how to make the perfect martini or hot toddy, or how to waltz (Awww).

BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel also blogs at greenLAgirl.com.

Top image via howtosewabutton.com. Lonely pancake photo by Siel

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