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Recycling & Upcycling the Kenyan Way

After Jess’ account earlier this week of thrifting the American way, here’s a brief update on the Kenyan way.

Living in Kenya provides a whole different perspective on the consumption society.  Recycling and reinvention of items are the matter of the day especially since new goods are generally very expensive.

Shopping in the piles of clothing
Shopping in the piles of clothing

The solution for the average person here is to shop for used goods.  From toys, to shoes, to furniture, clothing, etc., basically everything you can find in a thrift shop in the Western World.  It is that world where most of the items here come from.  Kenya is among the largest recipients of used goods, especially clothing and cars.  I am sure that we all have seen containers placed in certain parts of large cities in Europe and the USA inviting us to throw in our unwanted clothes, shoes and even other items.  Most of what we would throw into these containers finds its way to Africa – and most often to Kenya.   The charities, who collect clothes in the containers sell the goods (=funds raised for the charity) to an intermediary, who then sorts and sells the goods to vendors here in East Africa.  The goods are packed in large bundles, which then find their way to the Mitumba (which literally translates into Bundle) markets across Kenya.  At a Mitumba market, the average person can pick up a nice outfit for a decent price.  Depending on the quality of the item, you can get a shirt for 10 Kenyan Shillings (US$ 0,11), or spend as much as 1000 Kenyan Shillings (US$ 11).  The latter items would be rather upmarket and brands of high recognition.

Impressions of Toi Market - A Mitumba Market in Nairobi
Impressions of Toi Market – A Mitumba Market in Nairobi

As a crafter the Mitumba market is ideal place for me to find nice fabrics and materials to upcycle and use in my creations.  For those who know my Etsy shop, you can immediately find a combination of traditional East African materials with upcycled materials.  The yoga mat carriers as well as the pencil rolls are a perfect example. My personal love for jeans as well as colourful kikoy is reflected  in those items.

Yoga Mat Carrier
Yoga Mat Carrier
Kikoy & Jeans Pencil Rolls
Kikoy & Jeans Pencil Rolls

The ziezo Designs bunting baby dolls were born on the Mitumba Market by seeing a pile of wonderful wool jumpers, some felted, others not.  The felted wool was the perfect material to make lovely soft baby dolls children across the world would enjoy.

African Baby Bunting Dolls
African Baby Bunting Dolls

On my most recent trip to the market I picked up some lovely flower fabrics in the form of a skirt, some pillow cases and a dress.  I have plans to create a fabric bunting with these great fabrics, a different take on my traditional bandanna buntings like these:

Reusable Bandanna Party Bunting
Reusable Bandanna Party Bunting

Keep your eyes on the ziezo Etsy shop!  Soon there will be more upcycled products made with the donations that started in the Western world, which were then commercially passed on to those shopping at the Mitumba markets.  It might actually be made out of something that you donated!

Interested in learning a little more about living in Kenya?  Visit my personal blog “ziezo – Crafting and Living in Kenya

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New Designs for Spring by broodbaby


 With the Arrival of Spring, New Designs Break Ground

When I first met my husband we quickly made scavenging the local flea markets a favorite past time.  He’d routinely select some item from a vendor’s cache and ask me what I saw.  I’d respond shoe form, wrench, or whatever else the item happened to be.  “No,” he’d say.  “That’s what it is.  I want to know what it could be.”  Such a simple statement that became the cornerstone of my point of view in all my ensuing design challenges.

We live a pretty earth friendly life.  My husband spends a good part of the year chopping the wood we use to heat our home through the New England winters.  I manage the kitchen; cooking and baking our breads, snacks, meals with an emphatic keeping to organic and local ingredients.  We know our farmers.  We are fanatic recyclers.  We drive a hybrid.  So, it should come as no surprise that when I started my fiber and textile business my materials would continue in the vein in which we live our life.  The fabrics and yarn I work with are all organic, natural, fair trade, recycled, and/or re-purposed.  With a steady eye on quality of both my designs and my materials, my constant challenge is to eek out the best of possibilities from my cottons or woolens.  What shape will my collected treasures take next in their recycled evolution?

Quite honestly, I can’t even recall how I first started working with sweaters, but somehow I started collecting beautiful wool, cashmere, fair isle, aran—exquisite sweaters that for some reason or another were being discarded.  Sifting through thrift shops and rummage sales became a favorite activity.  And my husband’s first questions that he posed during our courtship became a constant echo.  What’s next?  What’s next?  And then one day designs started falling from mind’s eye to my pencil and paper to my cutting table.  Cashmere bunnies, and fair isle elephants all started to take shape.  Pigs and starfish and puppy dogs began to fill the studio.  My little gallery now hosts a community of little friends to join the community of our littlest treasures:  our kids.
Cashmere Bunny4

This incredibly soft Cashmere Bunny satisfies her sweet tooth with Cupcakes, which are also made with bits and pieces of recycled sweaters.



A gentle elephant springs to life with cheery thanks to a wool fair isle sweater.


sweaters getting ready

Everything starts with the washing and felting of the sweaters and very frequently some design detail in them–be it a placket or a seam–will inspire the Sweet Critter that it will become.

Jess Wrobel:  A lifelong creative type, my studio is filled with an enormity of wonders from the fiber world from which I create my knitwear and pattern designs and textile art pieces.  With my husband as my cohort, we reclaim, repurpose, and salvage old pieces into new functional home decor and furniture works.    I teach, and write, and enjoy meeting everyone in person at artisan shows. Please visit <>  or follow me on <>  to learn more.

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Artist Hand Series: Seamstress Jade

Today I  bring you a photo by Jade Steckly from Little Lily Bamboo on Etsy in our Artist Hand series. In this photo you can see  Jade doing the top stitching on one of her cute hooded towels for babies. Jade also makes sets of baby wipes from natural bamboo fabric.

From Jade’s Etsyshop profile:

My name is Jade. I live with my husband Daniel, and four daughters in northern British Columbia, Canada. Little Lily Bamboo was born out of a need for a soft, durable baby washcloths, and quickly became more than a hobby for me.
As I sew each towel, I imagine where in the world it will end up. Will it be the first towel wrapped around a precious newborn? Will it keep a toddler warm and dry on the beach?
Each towel is made with love and sent from our home to yours with care.

Inspired by my girls, Little Lily products are a natural, gentle way to care for the most precious people in your life!


I am sure your little cowgirl or cowboy would love to have one of these on the ranch. Please check out Jade’s finished products today. If you are looking for a cute baby shower gift for a friend why not check out this NaturalKid’s shop?



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Artist Hand Series: Rebecca the Needlefelter’s Hands

Rebecca Varon aka Nushkie has been a Natural Kids Team member from the early beginnings of the artisan group. Recently she shared a  tutorial on this blog on how to make a simple dove with wool roving. So maybe that’s why her hands may look a bit familiar to you?

Rebecca makes the most beautiful wool sculptures, everything from simple wool angles to hang in your window to very complimented needle felted pictures. Her work is enjoyed in Waldorf/Steiner kindergartens in Germany, Norway, France, Scotland, Australia and throughout the United States. If I recall correctly,  she was invited to Japan last year for a show. She is one artist on this team who is gaining world fame! We love and admire her so much.

Please stop by her Etsyshop and check out her beautiful creations today. Maybe you can still find a last minute gift for somebody special? An angel for Christmas how perfect a gift would that make!

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Artist Hands Series: Wood Toy Maker Beccijo

It’s about high time to “shake hands” with one of the leaders of the NaturalKids Team on Etsy.  Too bad it can only be a virtual handshake. But seriously, we all could learn a lot from this artist. She is a homeschooling mom of 4, owner of a brand new brick-and-mortar store, plus manager of her virtual store The Enchanted Cupboard on Etsy. Nobody knows how she does it. Is it magic? Some people suspect she has more than two hands but in the pictures you can see she is a regular gal who just works really really hard.

Beccijo writes:

In the photo I am working on my Autumn Forest Playset as seen here: . This is one of my favorite things to paint as I love to use my blending colors skill. I love the Waldorf style of following the seasons and using it in creative play. I have in the past 2 years been following the season in my toy series, Landscape Play! I enjoy getting to have my creative time each day that is just for me after my household has gone off to bed. I try to keep one day a week to create something new, it keeps me fresh.

Yes,  totally agree with that statement. It is so much fun to create new things for your Etsyshop. We all like to have bestsellers but what keeps the artist excited about creating is making NEW items.

Don’t forget to visit Beccijo’s shop and see the finished products in their glory! Hurry, it’s not too late to get something for your kid’s Christmas stocking…

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Artist Hands Series: Doll Maker Julie

Julie, aka FeeVertelaine,  lives in Canada. Julie is yet another great doll maker on the NaturalKids team on Etsy.  I think one fascinating fact about doll makers is, that each doll maker has so many different types of skills. Besides the obvious craft of sewing, most doll makers know how to knit, crochet, embroider, and make wigs for dolls using all kinds of different techniques. In the Artist Hands pictures from today you can see Julie knitting a small hat for one of her dolls. I have great admiration for people who knit since I am not very good at it. My dad used to refer to me as the “slow-motion knitter” as compared to my mother who could knit as fast as a machine.

Good thing I learned how to sew or my dolls would probably have to go out in the nude…Not so with Julie’s dolls. They have wonderful knitted hats and coats with lots of great detail on them. When her hands are not knitting or making dolls – during the warm summer months – Julie works as a landscaper/gardener. Can you tell how hard these hands work all the time?  Maybe you saw Julie’s  recent post on herbal teas?


The second picture shows Julie’s hands attaching some hair to a doll’s head. I know this job too well. About this time of year, the doll makers hands get pretty calloused. Too often I will forget to wear a thimble – unlike Julie – who is obviously much smarter than me…

In order to see one of Julie’s finished dolls or other cool toys please visit her Etsyshop here. If you are lucky one of her dolls may be available for sale at this moment. They go really fast though – so snatch it up quickly!


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Artist Hands Series: Ariana’s Hands

Ariana is a needle felt artist who recently joined the NaturalKids team on Etsy. Since I hardly know her I asked for some help with my post for today. I hope you enjoy the write-up she sent me as much as I do. I certainly was intrigued what her hands are busy doing when they are not using a felting needle…
Looks like besides creating art,  her hands are busy packing moving, and if not that writing,  drawing, translating and and and. Sweet! I can totally appreciate that! But for more info keep reading…
32 years-old, married to a wonderful man, Chef Grant Macdonald – he keeps us happy and well-fed! SAHM/WAHM to our 2 lovely children (Alina is 5, Finnlagh is 3). Grew up in New York, but lived in Montreal for 11 years, then Vancouver and now we are moving to Austin, TX at the end of the month. Graduated from McGill University (Montreal) with a BA in English Literature and Political Science. After that I moved to England where I completed my MA in 20th Century Literature at the University of Leeds. How I loved it there!!
By profession, I am a writer, editor and translator. I started Blue Pencil Communications ( to help filter in and manage contract and freelance work.
My Etsy shop opened back in May and I only began needle felting this past spring, so relatively new to having a shop. I am really enjoying building the business so far. My website for Niko & Nonnie is and my blog can be found at
Hmm, what else? I love sewing by hand, drawing, reading, taking photographs, beading, writing poetry, walking everywhere and anywhere possible on foot, eating Indian food, the colour purple, Valencia oranges, lottery tickets… We have a menagerie of pets at all times in our house – we love animals dearly!
My husband and I have only ever lived in big cities so trying to be as green as possible and lead a natural lifestyle can be a bit challenging at times. I guess this is why I drink tea and watch so many of those programs about people relocating to the country and living “peaceful” lives … lol.

Ulla Seckler  is a dollmaker who was born and raised in Germany. She lives in beautiful Colorado with her husband and two kids. You can find her Notes by a German Dollmaker on her blog where she shares some great German recipes, pictures of her sweet dolls, and life lessons learned.  Don’t forget to stop by her Etsyshop and take a peek at her wonderful doll creations.

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Artist Hands Series: Daria’s Hands

Daria makes Waldorf style dolls like me. She also writes posts for the NaturalKids Team on this blog,  right here. Maybe you have read her recent post about the importance of doll play. When asked for an image of her hands she sent me a picture of her hands sewing a button on a doll sweater.  Unfortunately the photo was a tad too small, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it bigger. Still I love it so much I wanted to include it in this post.

All of Daria’s dolls are dressed perfectly. She takes great pride in each little detail. I so want a grey sweater like the one she is finishing for a doll  in this picture. It looks warm and comfy and oh so cuddly – just like her dolls…I wish the sweaters came in my size.

Besides her beautiful dolls, Daria makes a whole range of  items for infants. When I was pregnant with my first child I looked desperately for a sleep sack. They sell these in everywhere in my home country in Germany, but they are impossible to find where I live now in the US. Sleeping sacks are perfect for little babies because you don’t have to worry about your child getting cold toesies or suffocating under a heavy blanket. Baby stays warm and you can get rest not worrying… Luckily my family from Germany mailed me a number of sleep sacks. You do need at least two of them in case one gets wet! But since Daria is right here in the US you don’t need a relative in Europe. You can order one of those cool sleeping bags made of organic fibers – right here in the US. Daria’s shop NobbyOrganics is stocked with wonderful organic  sleep sacks, blankets, and of course her sweet dolls. If you are looking to buy a cool gift for the next baby shower, don’t forget to check out her shop first! You can rest assured that each detail is perfect!

In this picture Daria is doing a blanket stitch around an elephant applique.

Ulla Seckler  is a dollmaker who was born and raised in Germany. She lives in beautiful Colorado with her husband and two kids. You can find her Notes by a German Dollmaker on her blog where she shares some great German recipes, pictures of her sweet dolls, and life lessons learned.  Don’t forget to stop by her Etsyshop and take a peek at her wonderful doll creations.

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Artist Hands Series: Farida’s Hands

Today’s Artist Hands Feature was sent in by my friend Farida. Farida makes storytelling dolls that are out of this world when it comes to fine detail on her embroidery work. So make sure to check out her shop Alkelda on Etsy. Her little people are amazing!

This is what Farida said on the subject of her skilled hands:

1. The callouses obtained from playing guitar help buffer the
inevitable jabs of needlework.
2. I slammed my left thumb in a car door right before a musical
storytelling gig. Fortunately, one does not need the left thumb for
guitar. The Show Went On, and so did I. It took 9 months for a new
thumb nail to grow.
3. I learned to embroider with an embroidery book on my lap. I made
dolls for friends and family, and it was only when friends started to
ask for paid custom orders that I started to entertain the thought of
opening an online shop.
4. Favorite embroidery stitch: the twisted lattice-band, which is a
double-herringbone stitch interlaced with a contrasting thread (see
photo of Mrs. Claus).


Ulla Seckler  is a dollmaker who was born and raised in Germany. She lives in beautiful Colorado with her husband and two kids. You can find her Notes by a German Dollmaker on her blog where she shares some great German recipes, pictures of her sweet dolls, and life lessons learned.  Don’t forget to stop by her Etsyshop and take a peek at her wonderful doll creations.

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Artist Hands Series: Kelley’s Hands

I discovered the art of needle felting in 2007 when my husband gave me a kit for Christmas. It’s a wonderful craft but you need lots of patience for it. I know a person on the NaturalKids team who seems to have oodles of patience: Kelley. Kelley lives on Christmas Tree farm and her shop is named LittleElfsToyshop. Perfect name for a toyshop where you will find the best stockingstuffers and little surprises ever.

This is what Kelley said to me when asked about her hands:”

I  just adore working with wool, it is so soft and I can make just about anything my mind can imagine. It’s fun to wad the wool into balls and start felting, sometimes even I am surprised at what I find I can make with it. Today I decided to make a little robin. ^_^

I am not going to show the picture of the finished work. You can find Kelley’s wonderful creations at LittleElfsToyshop on Etsy.