Green Fail

In an effort to try to be more green, I decided to ban paper towels from our house.  Jethro has this stunningly annoying habit of ripping off about five of them at a time, just to dry his hands even though there’s a perfectly good clean hand towel within arms’ reach.  Which I hate.  Hate, hate, HATE. (Sad part is, he’s an environmental scientist.  He KNOWS better.)  But I’m just as bad, using them instead of towels to clean off counters, dry messes and kill bugs.  (After I’ve yelled and flailed about it and then convinced Jethro to step on it for me.  I don’t do well with bugs.)

But now, no more paper towels in the Mess household!  We will use cloth napkins for everything!  They’re washable!  They’re eco-friendly!  We’ll be a green couple and finally trendy!  It’ll be epic and life-changing!  Pretty soon, we’ll be driving a Prius and churning our own butter!

Or not.  I’ve learned a couple of things in my journey to be green…mostly that I’m pretty terrible at it.

I decided instead of buying pre-made cloth napkins, I could make my own out of birdseye cloth, the same thing they make cloth diapers out of.  I bought about 6 yards at Joann’s, measured about the size of a typical paper towel (10″x10″) and set to cuttin’.

And here’s where I ran into some trouble.  The thing is, birdseye unravels like a mofo.  And therefore, I’d need to serge the edges to keep it from fraying.  Only problem is, I don’t have a serger.  And a quick check on Craigslist shows they run about $300 bucks used.  (Yes, I attempted to buy a serger rather than use paper towels.  When it comes to DIY projects I have a problem.) 

Try as I might, I could not convince Jethro that we’d save thousands of dollars if he’d just let me buy a serger.  So I decided to go ahead and just hem the damn things.  All 75 or so of them.  And here’s where I hit another snag – I sort of suck at sewing.  Well, not the actual sewing part, but the preparing the machine.  The bobbin specifically. 

It used to be that I was a sewing whiz.  My required production lab class for my theatre degree was in the costume shop and the one time I did summer rep and didn’t get a part, I spent 8 hours a day for two months in the costume shop.  It used to be that you could give me a pattern, and I could go to town.  (Ask Beylit about the evil yellow dress.)  Even now I’m pretty good with a sewing machine, it just takes me a few minutes to get back in the groove.  However, the one thing that I cannot for the life of me ever get right is loading the bobbin.  I don’t know if I was drunk that day in costuming class or what, but I SUCK at loading the bobbin.  I ALWAYS get it so that the thread gunks up under the needle plate.  I don’t know why or how and I’m sure I could fix it if I Google it, but I always jack it up.  And this time was no different, I got through about four cloth napkins when I had to replace the bobbin and then the swearing and cussing at the machine started.

Jethro listened to me for about ten minutes and then suggested that I just leave the napkins as is.  I warned him that they would fray, but apparently vacuuming up little white bits of thread is preferable to listening to me cuss and sigh at the sewing machine while he was busy trying to watch Extreme Ice Truck Fish Logging.

So!  I put our lovely cloth napkins in a pretty bowl on the counter.  A galvanized steel pail with a bow on it that held our programs in the wedding would now hold our dirty cloths before they went to the wash.  I had lemon juice on hand to use in conjunction with our phosphate-free detergent for super whitening power.  We were set.  Commence with the greening of our lives.

Of course, there were issues.

For one thing, I refuse to use cloth for super yucky messes.  Maggie doesn’t have incidents very often, but I need to keep a roll on hand in case she does.  Washing a dog poop napkin is right up there with reuseable sanitary napkins – not gonna happen.  (Sidenote: When I had my tonsils out, it was my “moon time.”  Since I couldn’t wear tampons in surgery, they gave me giant mesh underwear and the largest cloth pad I’d ever seen in my life.  My best friend, who was there at the time, laughed so hard he nearly peed himself.)

I also discovered that I need to hide the paper towels from Jethro.  Even with pretty white towels on hand to dry his mitts, he’ll still rip off 6 foot of paper towels instead.  Rather than stab him, I hide the roll in the closet.

Another snag we ran into was forgetting that our very well-behaved dog IS a dog.  The steel bucket was previously on the floor, but after an evening of arriving home to discover dirty napkins strewn all over the floor, we moved it out of her reach.  (Lord help us when we have children.)

But these were all minor blips.  Other than that, things went fine.  We were on our way to being more eco-conscious.  Yay for us.

That is, until this.

You see this?  THIS is what happens when you wash a load of unhemmed birdseye cloth napkins.  The fraying starts getting worse until they just can’t take it anymore and the threads begin to mate in an orgy of woven ecstasy.

All that work, $30 worth of fabric and I end up with a giant wad of eco-friendly sh*t.

If I’m looking on the bright side, I can use this to attach to our mop handle and dust with.

If I’m looking on the other side….G*DDAMMIT.

I think I’ll just buy these on Etsy like I was going to.  Once again, DIY has let me down.  And still I can’t give it up.

Any paper towel alternative advice?  Any eco-friendly fails?  Discuss.

31 comments on “Green Fail

  1. Erin
    June 30, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Oh man, this made me pee my pants. I made my husband let me register for cloth napkins. We used them for about two weeks, until we had to wash them. And then. He didn’t want to use them anymore unless they were ironed a.k.a. I ironed them. !!!! And I never got to it. So instead, we use paper napkins. But our little green hearts still beat strong, because we use those paper napkins over and over again until they’re too yucky to touch your face. Which always backfires, because now he leaves his dirty paper napkins on the table when he clears the dishes at our in-laws. Out of green habits.
    I think it’s time to try the cloth napkins again.

    • Morgan
      June 30, 2011 at 10:19 am #

      Ironing napkins? Martha would be proud. I can’t even imagine doing that…

      • kindofamess
        June 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

        Seems to me like the one who wants nice ironed napkins needs to be the one who irons said napkins….well, maybe in a perfect world.
        In my world, I’d iron them, but only once and I’d call Jethro “Princess” every time he used one…then we’d go back to paper too.

    • Kyla
      July 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

      We line dry our cloth napkins and they end up fairly wrinkle-free (which is good, since we don’t own an iron!). I just have to make sure to flatten them out when they come out of the washing machine and then hang them so there’s only one crease (from where it hangs on the rack) and it’s along a line we’ll use to fold them anyway.
      I also agree that the one who wants ironed things should be the one to iron them! That’s why I make our bed alone every day & my partner does the dishes as soon as we’re done eating (rather than wait until I get around to it, probably the next day).

  2. Meghan
    June 30, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    I just cut up old, stained t shirts. Double eco-friendly. Not pretty but they do the trick.

  3. Kristin
    June 30, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    I just went out and bought a pack of 20 wash-clothes for $2 at Walmart (yes, I know getting them at Walmart sort of negates any do-gooderness about them, but still), and so I really don’t mind using them for anything and everything. I also tear up old t-shirts, but I’ve noticed they don’t stay together quite as well as the wash-cloths, so those are mostly for cleaning really gross things and then tossing out.

  4. Maggie
    June 30, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    This is hilarious!! We just stopped buying paper towels (which we also used as napkins) a few months ago. I got all fired up and DIY-y and decided to whip up some homemade napkins. I originally wanted to make plenty (like 60), since we only do laundry twice a month (it’s expensive!). So I cut up some old sheets, went to town, and… ran out of steam after 4 napkins. I also broke my only machine needle, but that’s another story. I did grit my teeth and hem all four sides, because I have DEFINITELY experienced the unhemmed “orgy of woven ecstasy” (rotflol – the way you describe things cracks me up!).

    So we started using them. Except that… we’re afraid to get them dirty. We eat lots of Indian food, and turmeric is a bitch to get out. The first few days, I was washing them by hand and hanging them on the line, but that seemed like an awful lot of extra work. We started “forgetting” to put them on the dinner table. Now I don’t even bother getting them out of the cupboard, unless we have company. Our idea of eco-friendly is apparently to lick our fingers or hold our hands out to the side awkwardly until we can race to the sink to wash off sloppy joe’s fallout. 😉

    Btw, this warms my costume design major’s heart: “My required production lab class for my theatre degree was in the costume shop”

    • kindofamess
      June 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

      Ohhhh, I knew I liked you. Costumers are awesome. Although I was seam ripper girl for the first semester I was in there. My sewing skills were nil, so they were like, “Need somethign taken apart? Give it to Alyssa!”

  5. Lauren
    June 30, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    “a giant wad of eco-friendly sh*t” is the reason I read this blog. Just FYI. Still laughing.

    Also, I’m with @Meghan on the t-shirts- they don’t fray, don’t leave a lint residue, and you can throw them out when they get gross.

    • Lauren
      June 30, 2011 at 9:23 am #

      Well, that and “the threads begin to mate in an orgy of woven ecstasy.”

      • kindofamess
        June 30, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

        Seriously, I CANNOT PULL THEM APART. It is tangled up in such a tight ball that I’d have to cut them to get them free. It’s like they merged into a whole new being….

  6. Ceej
    June 30, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Roll the edges and sew them, rather than Serging? Fray-check? Different material? We way heart cloth dishtowels in our kitchen, though we do keep a roll of paper towels on-hand. Buying them at this point (unless you’ve got appropriately absorbent material waiting to be cut up) seems way easier and more cost-effective than another DIY try, though if you do muster up the energy again and succeed I will be BEYOND IMPRESSED. Because I never would. One attempt and I’m topped out. Every time.

  7. Ceej
    June 30, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Also: shop towels from auto repair places are SUPER durable and way cheaper than kitchen-specific versions.
    Also also: I have a Janome sewing machine and it’s specifically made to not get all bobbinfuriating. I also have bobbin issues, and no matter what stupid sh*t I do to my machine, it never gets jammed under the feed plate. I did mangle a needle once, but that wasn’t the bobbin’s fault. In case you’re ever looking for a replacement.

    • Beylit
      June 30, 2011 at 9:33 am #

      Janome are sewing machines of total win! When my poor little Singer finally bites the dust I am going to convince my husband that I NEED a Janome.

    • kindofamess
      June 30, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

      We did have shop towels for a while and I LOVED them. I might just get those for the yuck messes…

      Also, I’m jealous of your Janome.

  8. Beylit
    June 30, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    You had to bring up that damned yellow dress didn’t you? Are you trying to give me nightmares? I swear I needed therapy after that dress. Sure it was a pain for you but then you divorced it and got to happily make little swing tack loops for belts while I had to turn the stupid thing inside out and reset the sleeves for the 5th time. Gah!! *shakes angry fist in the air*

    I am better. I swear.

    Since I still sew on a regular basis bobbins never pose an issue for me. My serger on the other hand…well lets just say I am about as on friendly terms with it as I am with that damned yellow dress. When we moved from Nac, some helpful individual moved my serger for me, and in the process placed their big fat meaty paw on the front and scrolled every single tension dial all the way up. I have since then been unable to reset the tension correctly, which makes threading impossible. Well threading was always impossible, but now after the twenty minutes of cursing and flailing to get the thread in right, I get maybe 2″ along and the thread snaps from the wrong tension. Also the blade hasn’t worked in years. I turned it off one day to do some serging on something I didn’t want to accidentally slice in half, and the blade never turned back on. At this point I think it would be cheaper (and less frustrating) to buy a new serger rather than take it to a repair shop to have someone fix it for me.

    But I applaud you for trying to be green. The thought has not really even passed our minds. We are too busy trying to make our lives more healthy to stop and think about being better for the environment. I can barely figure out how to reduce the amount of processed foods in our kitchen let alone think about what is the better green alternative. Although for the most part all we use paper towels for is when the cat decides to make a statement about how much she hates whatever it was we did that she hates, for the husbands mini painting exploits, and on Tuesday’s for game night (because that is 6 large men eating tacos in my living room and my carpet is still new).

    • kindofamess
      June 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

      I was gonna tell about the yellow dress, but I think that counts as a crafty FAIL and needs its own post….

      Lord, we don’t even need to talk about trying to eat healthy. That is an ongoing struggle that does not compare to this one. Godspeed.

  9. Chris C.
    June 30, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Do you maybe have lint and stuff stuck in your machine and that’s why the bobbin’s all wonky? I have a Janome machine, and when my bobbin goes wonky, that’s almost always the issue.

    As for eco-friendly alternatives to paper towels, we use those reusable cloths from Trader Joes. They’re sort of thick and fuzzy, so they’re super-absorbent, and they’re cheap enough that I don’t worry too much about getting them messy. We also use IKEA dish towels. Since you can buy, like, 5 of them for 2 bucks, you can have a lot on hand so you don’t have to wash them constantly. And they’re bleach-able. And someone else mentioned shop towels. Those are great, too. I use those for cleaning up athletic-gear messes. I swear no one in the world is as good at getting bike grease all over absolutely everything as I am!

    • kindofamess
      June 30, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

      I don’t think it’s lint, but honestly it’s like my car. I can make it do what’s supposed to do, but I can’t tell you how it does it….

      And I’m SUPER jealous about Trader Joe’s, I want one in Dallas! It’s coming by the end of this year, but not soon enough. But we do have an IKEA, which is a perfect excuse for me to go there and wander and wonder at its nordic beauty…

  10. Morgan
    June 30, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    I cut up old sheets and jeans to use as both rags and napkins. Anything really dirty (furniture stain, drywall mud) gets tossed, and anything gently dirty (used as dinner napkins, dust) gets left in the laundry room until there’s enough to both doing a load. I think we have something like 6 sheets and endless jeans worth of cloth. They fray a little in the wash, but don’t seem to unravel too much.

    We also have 6 embroidered-by-me nice cloth napkins that we use for company. (I do use papertowels for some things. Like for draining bacon grease and drying raw meat. I have limits of what I want sitting around in my basement for weeks. Gross.)

  11. ddayporter
    June 30, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    hahahah aww man. well, you tried! I have been eyeing those cloths from etsy too.. you could justify getting them because you are testing them out for your readers! 🙂

    • kindofamess
      June 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm #


      I wonder if that could work for shoes and makeup?

  12. Heather
    June 30, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    I use old kitchen wash cloths and towels that got too ugly for every day use. I actually prefer them to paper towels because they’re more durable.

  13. Jason Heiser
    June 30, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    now to do the analysis on whether it really is greener to use cloth. paper towels are pretty quick to decompose, and there’s no use of water, detergents, or the useless slaughter of lemons to wash them. of course the flip side is the production that goes into making them.

    We went through the same type of analysis when choosing cloth or disposable diapers. it turns out that it’s pretty much a wash on which is more eco friendly (no pun intended).

    My recommendation for Jethro is to get the paper towels that are perforated into those mini paper towels. Those are less wasteful for us (now if Viva paper towels would make them!)

    • Nina
      June 30, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

      Yep exactly – after reading the book ‘The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from The Union of Concerned Scientists’ I learned that something being re-usable isn’t necessarily better because of the energy, water and cleaners that often go into making it reusable. Since then we just use paper towels, but the “choose-a-size’ kind that let you rip off very small pieces at a time.

      • kindofamess
        June 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

        But what about the the “smug” and “justification for drinking the free bottled water at work” factors in the equation? Why do y’all have to go and be all realistic and practical and grown-up about this?

        And we DO have the mini-sheet sizes. These are no match for Princess Paper Waster. Massive wads of paper he uses, MASSIVE…

        But I’m gonna have to check out that book, Nina. I get emails from the Union of Concerned Scientists and they are AWESOME. Which reminds me, I need to donate to them again…

  14. Meg Mooney
    June 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Oh hun. Just buy cloth diapers or crappy dishtowels from the dollar store. It’ll be okay.

    • kindofamess
      June 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

      And NOT make things more complicated than they need to be with DIY products?

      It’s like you don’t even KNOW me….

      • ElfPuddle
        June 30, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

        Buy them and then try to DIY them pretty?
        That would be complicated but you couldn’t screw them up too badly. They may end up ugly, but you could use them. At least, I don’t think you could make them un-useful. Could you?

  15. cindy savage
    June 30, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    Ok first – just mail me that pile of fraying cloth. I have a serger, I can make it better. For real.

    Second – we (crafty master sewers, for shame) BOUGHT cloth napkins at World Market for maybe $1 or $2 each, and also have some we registered for at our wedding. Really, kinda not worth the time spent hemming when you can buy them for less than the cost of the fabric would be.

    We have a bit of a two-tiered system: paper towels for gross stuff, like raw meat cleanup, things that will permanently stain, anything that needs to be cleaned off of our always super dirty floor. Cloth for everything else. And we don’t wash them every time we use them – unless you have a very messy meal, treat them like hand towels, and only wash them as often as is actually needed. We just throw them in whenever we wash our towels, and we have enough of them that we don’t run out between towel washes unless we have a dinner party.

  16. Zan
    July 5, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    We don’t use paper towels except for dog vomit, cat vomit and other icky animal related substances. Except for manure. Cowboy comes home with so much of that business all over his business that our washing machine itself needs a good cleaning every month. Jebus.

    We just have a stack of dishcloths and I toss them in with our regular wash whenever they get dirty. I’ve also found excellent deals on cloth napkins, the real ones – hems and all -, at thrift stores. If you don’t care about all your stuff matching it is a good way to go. Tho I did make our own cloth napkins when we lived in Canada, and yeah, I hemmed about twelve of them and wanted to lose my mind.

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