Ecofrugal hobbies

Hobbies are more than just a device to pass time. Having hobbies we enjoy help mental health, can build community with other hobbyists and can create some outright gorgeous things. Here I have compiled a list of some of my favorite ecofrugal hobbies to inspire you!

By necessity, my hobbies have always had to be frugal. For me, that meant I leaned towards detail and time instead of supplies. I was not allowed to just waste 10 sheets of paper drawing large, undetailed sketches, even as a kid. Every square inch of the paper had to be drawn on before I could have another. A habit, I must admit, that still follows me today.

For most of these suggestions, the key to all of them is that they take a lot of skill and patience to practice and are labor-intensive. Meaning that while initial supplied may set you back a little financially, those same supplies will last you years. You will find no pre-packaged DIY craft kit individually wrapped in plastic on this list!

I will add to mention, that these are suggestions for hobbyists. Or someone who pulls out their supplies once in a while to relax and enjoy themselves. Pros are a different matter entirely, of course. 😉

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Painting or drawing

Practicing leaves on new, swanky cotton paper

I have been drawing on and off since I could hold a pencil. As I grow older I find the time less frequently, but I have loved trying my hand at a watercolor project or two during the summer holidays.

To get started with drawing, you don’t need more than a sketchbook, a pencil, and an eraser. Some leveling up might require additional softness/hardness of pencils and better paper. But if you take your time and make sure to use as much of your sketch paper as possible, you will find it lasts a long time. If you want to get into digital drawing/painting, all you really need is a tablet and a computer, and you’re good to go! I’ve had my inexpensive Bamboo tablet for well over 10 years now, and it still does the job for a hobbyist like me.

On the other hand, watercolors were something I had always wanted to learn, but never been very good at. I love, love, love botanical watercolor illustrations, and like how portable a box of watercolor pans are. Again, you really only need a small set of watercolors, brushes, water, and watercolor paper. I like Windsor & Newton, which is what I can access to the most readily, but there are a lot of good suppliers out there. With practice, you can pull out thousands of colors with just a few basic pigments, so no need to get mad and buy 100s of different colors. The only thing is that it does need to be watercolor paper, as the thinner paper will warp and distort from the water and not be fun at all to work with. I recently made the (pricey) upgrade from paper pulp watercolor paper to cotton watercolor paper and the difference has been… let’s say massive. But there is no need to start there if you’re just seeing if you enjoy it!

As with most things, start with beginner range equipment and upgrade as you use things up if you’re enjoying yourself. For tutorials, I like the style of Shayda Campbell’s videos, though I aspire to the incredible realism of Maria Raczynska‘s flowers.

Weaving, card weaving, rigid heddle weaving

A medieval silk brocade piece (card woven) based on patterns from Anne Neuper’s Modelbuch. This piece is less than an inch wide and took hours to weave even a single inch! Music, audiobooks, or podcasts while you work is highly recommended.

This might seem an odd one in the mix, but I actually did card weaving (AKA tablet weaving) for several years and still have the tools to do so (here is a how to video). Once I got up to speed, I mainly did late iron age and early medieval reconstructions, as that was the area me any my reenactor friends were focused on.

Weaving is great if you are not that good at freehand or loose crafts (or, like me, balk at having to get accurate with grids and rulers for picture-perfect embroidery), but want great details. Once a card weaving loom is set up and you know your pattern, it’s all in the technique. The pattern will show up all on its own!

If you do want to get beyond handmade cards out of cardboard or an old deck of cards, my absolute favorite is Ampstrike on Etsy, who just makes the most gorgeous, well-polished cards that do not shred your threads.

Buying thread, especially in different colors, can cost you a pretty penny to get set up. But a spool of thread will last you ages as a hobbyist. This was my favorite hobby as a student because labor is the biggest part. Compared to the hours sat weaving, the cost of the materials quickly diminished to nothing. When I wanted finer thread for more detailed work, my favorite supplier was The Handweaver’s Studio and Gallery in London, but there are lots of independent artists dying yarn to sell too, like this green and lilac yarn. How gorgeous would it be to make anything from that!

And then you can decorate your clothes with the results! Card weaving is ridiculously sturdy and can be used for shoulder straps or belts with no problem. If you have space for, you know, a proper weaving loom, you can even sew clothes or make shawls and blankets out of your work. You can’t get more opposite to fast fashion than that!

Once I’ve set up my loom, I find weaving exceptionally meditative. You just get lost in the predictable, repetitive back and forth of the shuttle.

Sewing, knitting, crocheting, and darning

Crocheted hat for a friend’s baby. Cat for scale.

This is a bit of a different category for me, as supplies for these hobbies can be pricey and you do have to keep buying more as you go. But on the other hand, the skill to actually make pieces of clothing or textiles for the house that you may need is decidedly ecofrugal! A well-knitted pair of mittens or socks also make excellent gifts, especially for us here in cold climates. And let’s not forget that a good crafter can make masks for herself and her friends in these strange plague times.

But my favorite thing about learning how to construct clothes (I am by no means a tailor, but I am learning), is learning how garments and fabrics are built. This makes me much better at darning, mending, repairing and even altering my clothes!

Every winter, you’ll see me upload at least one picture of me darning socks to my Instagram account. It is the quintessential winter past-time for me, and there are always projects in the darning pile to work on while watching a movie or having friends over.

You also appreciate your clothes a whole lot more if you’ve experienced first-hand just how long it takes to make them. And as an additional ecofrugal bonus, your clothes can have years added to their life when they’re well mended and taken care of. If you want to keep your budget even lower, you can shop second-hand stores for supplies and repurpose them into shopping bags, unpaper towels, and so much more!

A way I keep things as ecofrugal as possible when I craft, is to stick to natural fibers like linen, cotton, and wool. They breathe, can be composted, and don’t spew plastic microfibers into the ocean.

Gardening, cooking or preserving

Jars and jars of plum compote from a dumpster find, some kept and most given to friends for the winter.

I lump these all together because they are so interlinked. Especially gardening and preserving. I would not shell out the money for expensive fresh fruit only to make jam out of it that I can buy for a fraction of the cost at the shop.

But if I’ve grown the fruit myself or found it while dumpster diving? You can make sure I will do my best to make it last. Like when I found double-digit kilos of fresh, gorgeous plums. There was no way I was going to be able to eat them all in time, even if I gave some to all my friends. Or when cabbage is in season and we load up on those good bacteria from sauerkraut.

Gardening is something I am still very much a beginner at (Angela is waaaaay ahead of me, her garden is gorgeous!), and have just had the luck to start practicing. If you don’t have the space for a garden right now, there might be a community garden you can join nearby. Check Facebook or search online with your area + community garden. I’ve been surprised at how many have popped up over the years! Community gardens are also fantastic learning places for new gardeners, as you will often find more seasoned gardeners happy to share their experiences. Some even run workshops on different gardening techniques and can give you a great sense of community.

But if you do have the space for a garden, I do recommend trying no dig. It is far less labor-intensive and better for the land! And make sure you add perennials both for biodiversity and for encouragement when the annuals just don’t want to cooperate!

And while it is true that fancy, gourmet cooking can be very pricy, it is also true that we all have to eat. Staple ingredients (more veg, less meat) can feed you very well with some knowledge (and herbs/spices/flavor!). I have been loving Samin Nosrat and her Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat book, and Netflix series. She is super relatable, fun, and diverse.

Other suggestions

Those are some of my absolute favorite ecofrugal hobbies at the moment. But I would love to hear what kind of suggestions you have in the comments below! Let’s make a library of fun, frugal and sustainable hobbies to keep us healthy, happy and ecofrugal!

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2 thoughts on “Ecofrugal hobbies

  1. I revisited Watercolour painting last year after not doing it since childhood. I was frustrated at the difference between what I wanted to paint and my results!! But I agree it is a fun hobby and initial supplies don’t have to be expensive. I have no skill for drawing with a pencil sadly (really – I’m very very bad at it!)

    Last winter I learnt how to make soap, and I enjoy it. No more palm oil in soap for me! Sorry, I think I may have said this already in a previous comment…

    1. That’s amazing. I came from the other direction, I could do pencil sketches, but was really, really bad at colors. So watercolors were a great practice!

      I make (organic, palm-oil free) soap for our household and friends too! I think it is so much fun and definitely want to make more often than we can actually use it up, lol.

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