Snail's pace

You may recall that back in April, my dear friend Lizzie sent me some fabric, all packaged up in a parcel tied with string. I dithered for a while about how to use the fabric, but in the end I decided to use a small amount of it to make a wallet (pocketbook). I chose a wallet because it’s an everyday object and so I would get to enjoy the fabric all the time.

I had all the bits I needed for the project, including the metal closure and I set to.. in July. All went well to begin with but then I started having problems with my sewing machine – I just couldn’t get the tension right. I sewed one seam about six times and unpicked it each time. I fiddled with the bobbin and the top tension, I rethreaded the machine, adjusted the feeder dog, applied oil in all the appropriate places, changed the needle and still I couldn’t get it right. In exasperation I put my sewing to one side and and decided that I would have to get the machine serviced.

And then I had some inspiration – I looked at the needles and discovered that the eyes were misaligned. In fact all of the needles in that particular packet were affected. So, I bought some new needles from a trustworthy manufacturer and, hey presto, the tension was fine. However, my enthusiasm was severely affected and I just couldn’t get back to this particular project. And so it remained like this for months:

Last week, however, I pulled myself together and got started again. Of course some of the pieces had become separated from the rest of the project, and it took me an hour or so to locate them. Then I got to a point in the instructions that I didn’t understand. Fortunately, the designer was on hand via the British Bag Makers group on Facebook to sort me out. So, all-in-all, it’s been a bit of a struggle. Nevertheless, I’ve soldiered on and finally completed this (far from perfect) Accordi-Anna Wallet by Lisa Lam (you can find Lisa’s designs on her web site here):

It’s the first of two sewing projects I was determined to finish before I start a scrappy thing I have in mind. Hopefully I will get the second one completed in the next week too. Do you have any stalled projects at the moment?

Green dogs

Having a dog is not necessarily an environmentally friendly choice. They consume resources and they produce waste. However, I know that my dogs are good for my mental and physical health, plus both are rescues and, therefore, they were ‘going spare’ so to speak. So, with various issues about feeding, entertaining, maintaining doggy health and dealing with waste in mind, over the past few years I have been making changes to try to reduce my dogs’ environmental pawprints, and I think that I have finally achieved the best I’m going to. If you have dogs (or cats), I think it’s worth doing a bit of an environmental audit and seeing where you can make improvements; perhaps my experience and conclusions will be helpful.

Food

This, surprisingly, has been the final thing that I’ve got sorted to my satisfaction. I have been through a variety of foods, up until recently mainly relying on tinned organic meat (i.e. not a complete diet) combined with organic complete dog biscuits. However, both these products were made in Germany and the biscuits came in a plastic sack. I decided to make a concerted effort, therefore, to seek out some food produced closer to home and plastic free. Some extensive searches led me to Naturaw, which is raw food made from high-welfare meat, available in a variety of flavours and it comes packed in home-compostable cartons made from sugar cane waste. The packaging does include wool insulation that’s plastic-covered, but you simply collect this and when you have eight pieces, you send it back and get £5 off your next order. The dogs absolutely love this food (we’ve fed them a partially raw diet for ages, getting minced offal and trim from an organic butcher) and it’s produced in the UK. It’s worth knowing that the company also sells cat food, so if you are looking to get away from those environmentally disastrous pouches, this might be the answer. I also found Clydach Farm, who sell British-produced complete dry dog food packed in paper sacks, so I’ve bought some of this too, although we’re currently using up the last of the old stuff from Germany.

Both companies I am buying from support British farming and do not use plastics in their packaging (apart from the returnable stuff that gets reused). I am able to home compost all the cartons and sacks so I’m taking full responsibility for dealing with the waste… and it’s adding fertility to my garden.

Snacks

I gave up buying dog biscuits years ago and now make my own: flour, fat, medicinal charcoal powder and water are the only ingredients. Simply rub the fat into the flour, add the charcoal and mix, then add enough water to make a dough. Roll it out, cut it into biscuits and bake in the oven. I usually cook mine when I have the oven on for something else, so don’t even use any extra electricity and the only plastic involved is the bag the charcoal came in.

Dental health

We’ve given up the dental chews and moved over to crunchy carrot sticks. The carrots usually come in bunches from the local organic farm, so there is absolutely no packaging and very few chew miles.

Equipment

All dogs need collars and leads and ours each have a harness, Daisy also has waterproof overalls and Sam has a waxed jacket. Other than that there are beds and towels and crates. I think the important thing to remember here is that dogs don’t care whether their lead matches their collar or whether they are colour-coordinated with your outfit. With this in mind, we keep our purchases to a minimum, so Daisy is still wearing the collar she arrived with and using Max’s old lead and Sam has had the same collar and lead for the past 10 years. Daisy’s overalls were bought new for her last year, but they should last a good long time and can be repaired; Sam’s waxed cotton coat (with warm lining added by me using a bit of scrap fleece) belonged to a dog we had many years ago. Beds are washable and generally made from scraps or are secondhand.

Entertainment

Sam loves a ball – Daisy is indifferent, so we have a few balls. We buy good quality robust balls (not tennis balls) and these last for years. Sam is a strong chewer, so she needs toys that she can really get her teeth into – recently both she and Daisy have been enjoying pieces of antler that we’ve had for a few years (originally bought because Max was allergic to bones) and in her life she has had a couple of Kong chew toys that have lasted ages.

Poo

Although this is probably the issue that most people don’t want to think about, it is one that I resolved a long time ago. Basically my approach is to collect the poo in paper and, if necessary, transport it home in a much re-used plastic bag. Once back home, poo and paper go into a compost bin with a lid that can be secured and a tap at the bottom, so that excess moisture can be drained off. To this we add more paper to ensure that there is plenty of fibre and cold wood ash to increase the pH because poo is acidic. The bin is gradually filled and, after a few months, the contents are transferred to a second bin along with other partly composted material, where it all remains (with a secure lid on) for about a year. Once fully composted, the resultant material (which does not smell) is buried… for example in the bottom of the trench dug for climbing beans each year. We do not use this compost as top-dressing on the vegetable plot, just in case.

There are other approaches – you can buy a dog waste composter that can be buried in the ground, and which releases the nutrients directly into the earth. This was not a viable option for us because we have very shallow soil overlying shale and so digging a pit would have required machinery, plus the soil water is often at the surface, so it would have created surface contamination… our system is contained and controllable. You could burn the waste, but this isn’t very environmentally friendly, or you can simply bin (or even flush it) it and let it be somebody else’s problem – a solution that I was not prepared to accept.

Handling dog waste is necessary for all dog owners – unless you are irresponsible and don’t clean up after them – and care is required. Anyone with health issues needs to be very cautious. Our system requires more than one handling, but with care (gloves, face mask, washing hands, face body and clothes afterwards etc) you can reduce exposure and end up with a useful resource. I personally do not advocate the use of degradable plastic bags – these simply break down into small fragments in the environment and cause additional plastic pollution. If you are not prepared to take responsibility for all aspects of your dog’s life, you shouldn’t have a dog.

So, there you have it – I’ve tried to address all make improvements as far as possible gradually over the years and I think we are all happy with the results.

Swooning over a new bag

Some time ago Sam destroyed one of my bags… a particularly useful little backpack that I had taken on many excursions. Rather than dash out and buy a replacement, I bought a pattern for something similar (the Lucy Backpack by Swoon ) and then I procrastinated. First I couldn’t decide what sort of fabric to use and then I read the pattern through, thought it sounded rather complicated, and put it aside for when I had a clearer head. And so it sat unattempted waiting for inspiration, which finally arrived in the form of need.

My recent trip to London was due to coincide with some damp weather, so the handbag I have been using recently, which is not waterproof, was not really suitable. In addition, a small backpack is ideal for carrying a bottle of water and other essentials for a trip involving a train journey. Of course, I left it until the last minute, but some time spent cutting and then a couple of evenings sewing were enough.

I was in such a rush that I didn’t take any photographs of the process, but the bag came together well, the instructions were good and I only made one mistake – accidentally doing some top-stitching through an extra layer, so that the pocket was sewn shut. My mistake was easy to resolve. I slightly modified the pattern, using a piece of ribbon for the drawstring rather than making it from scratch, and making use of a salvaged slider (from an old waterproof jacket) to secure the drawstring closed.

Earlier in the year I had bought some African waxed cotton remnants, so I decided to use some of this fabric for the outer, The lining /straps were more problematic, but I rummaged through the pile of old fabric I have squirreled away (all bought at least 20 years ago) and found some lovely wool suiting that I thought would be robust enough for what I wanted. I already had the hardware that I needed and there was a suitable zip in my store of random zips (I have no idea where they all came from, but were probably given to me). The interfacing and foam to provide structure do have to be new for this sort of project, but I had already bought those in preparation, so I didn’t have to go shopping.

I would certainly recommend the pattern and will be making it again very soon… watch this space.

London – fabric and friendship

I don’t visit the capital very often, but with Mr Snail in Reading (25 minutes away from London on the train) at the moment, it seems like an ideal opportunity to make a few trips in and do some of the things on my ‘list’ (not a real list – it’s just in my head).

The week before last I travelled down to Reading on Thursday so that, whilst Mr Snail was at work on Friday, I could go into London. I had two purposes: meeting up with a friend who I haven’t seen for over 20 years and visiting Berwick Street. I’m not sure whether you know the significance of this location, but I felt that it was important to go there without Mr Snail so as not to bore him to tears. You see, Berwick Street is known for its fabric shops.

Lovely Japanese waves

In the end I only had just over an hour to spend in Berwick Street and I could have spent the whole time in just one or two shops… one specialising in silks was full of such delicious fabric that I felt as if I needed a lie down before I could proceed. If I’d had more time I would have looked round, had a coffee to gather my thoughts and then gone back to make my purchases. However, in the limited time available I decided to visit as many shops as possible to get a flavour and so that I’d be better able to plan future visits. Finally, I only bought a length of Japanese cotton (in an indigo shade that the picture doesn’t do justice to) with which to make a dress, but I left with lots to think about for future makes.

After Berwick Street, there was a quick underground ride to Great Portland Street, where it turned out that neither me nor my friend have changed too much since we were in our 30s and so recognising each other was no problem. We went to Honey and Co, a lovely middle eastern restaurant that I can highly recommend… although you’ll need to book if you want to eat there because it’s very popular. There are some friends who you just feel comfortable with no matter how long it is since you saw each other, and so it was… the conversation flowed as we shared mezze, sipped orange blossom iced tea and then tucked into the most amazing feta & honey cheesecake on a kadaif pastry base. There are no photographs – we were far too busy eating and catching up on each other’s lives.

After lunch she took me on a quick tour of BBC Broadcasting House, where she works and I was lucky enough to be taken down into the newsroom – an extraordinary place full of people and technology collecting information from around the world. We criticise our state broadcaster sometimes, but the sheer scale of their news operation is something to be marvelled at, plus it was interesting to see the place for real rather than just on the television screen. A stroll up to Regent’s Park and a stop for tea and then it was back on the underground to return to Paddington to catch my train back to Reading. We agreed not to leave it another 20 years before our next get-together.

Not alone

The other day I went to visit an old friend. Her husband died a little while ago and, prior to his final illness and associated times in hospital, they had never been apart. They loved each other deeply, they built up a business together, they stuck with each other through some very black times, they shared their successes, they were pretty much self-contained. Their business was based around their home, so neither of them was ever there alone.

Now that he’s gone, she is bereft – she hates being in the house on her own, but there is no choice. She does have friends who she made through the business and her friends (me included) do go and see her. There are people around her on the site still working (the business continues) and living and they pop in throughout the day, but she still feels isolated, especially now that she is ill herself and her mobility is poor.

We do our best – we go and visit, we drink tea and do the washing up. We tell her stories and try to cheer her up, but it’s very hard and she sees no positives. There is only so much we can do.

This set me thinking about how important it is to be part of a community. And then I reread a lovely e-mail that I received from Patricia’s partner, who wrote…

…Pat was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 45, and there were many times when her health didn’t allow her to spend energy on the outside world.  Over the years forming connections and friendships online was a real lifeline for her…

and once again, I thought about the value of being part of a supportive community, but also the fact that our friends can be scattered far and wide and they are still our friends.

Last Friday I met up with a dear friend who I haven’t seen for 20 years. We found each other via social media after a bit of a gap in communications. How lovely it was to share a meal and catch up face-to-face… how lovely to have the opportunity to renew a connection.

So, lets celebrate all our friends – near and far – whether we sit in the same room, chat via the computer or send letters. And let’s learn to value our own company too, so that when we can’t be with the love of our life, we can still find joy.

-oOo-

By-the-way, based on a suggestion from Patricia’s partner, I have made a donation to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society in Patricia’s memory. If any of you feel moved to mark her passing this way, donations to any charity supporting those afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis would be appropriate. If you do this, please let me know so I can pass on the information.

ScrapHappy November 2019

This month’s scrappy creation is a continuation of last month’s. I am progressing through the balls of left-over 4-ply yarn, and have gone from these 25 squares:

IMGP7515

October’s squares

To these 120:

IMGP7612 (2)

Lots more over the past month

As you can see, there are now some brighter colours, so the final blanket should be quite vibrant. I will almost certainly have to buy the black yarn to edge all the squares with, but it will be a mostly scrappy project. For the time being, however, I still have some coloured yarn in my basket to keep me going:

IMGP7611

More scraps to use

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate,  Tall Tales from Chiconia. On the fifteenth of every month lots of other folks often publish a ScrapHappy post, do check them out:

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan (me)Karen,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki and Sue

If you fancy joining, contact Kate and she’ll add you to the list. It would be lovely to see more non-sewing posts, but any use of scraps is welcome.

Wipe-able

When Daisy came to live with us we were told that she was aggressive towards small dogs, that she was incontinent and would require daily medication and that she didn’t like men… but that she travelled well. It turned out, after a bit of experience with her, that none of these things was true. We think that all her problems were associated with stress, and now she’s happy and settled, they have gone away. Except she gets sick in the car.

She’s fine for journeys of up to half an hour, but after that, showing absolutely no signs of stress – no hair loss, no drooling, no trembling – she vomits. Even if we don’t feed her for hours before the journey, she still vomits. We go prepared – spare bedding and towels, plus a big plastic bag to store the soiled stuff – but there’s quite a lot of washing to do at the end of it all.

So, this week I decided to make a waterproof bed for her travel crate – something that could be wiped easily. It will still need to be combined with a small absorbent towel, but it will significantly reduce the volume of washing. I knew that I had enough secondhand materials to achieve this – waterproof fabric for the outer and woolly pads for the inside. First, I removed the wool padding from some WoolCool insulation (more details about this in this post). It is made in relatively long narrow strips, so needed to be cut and stitched together to obtain the right size pad for inside the cushion. I stitched the pieces together with wool yarn so that if there is any felting, the yarn will bond securely to the pads. I could have deliberately felted the whole thing together, but since to bed will sit flat in the crate with relatively little disturbance, I decided that this was unnecessary. In total I stitched three layers on top of each other, with none of the joins aligned in the different layers

The outer was made from a waterproof tablecloth that I bought secondhand. I really like the design and plan to make a bag using some of it, but it’s huge, so there was plenty for a dog bed. I cut out a piece the right size, stitched it into an envelope and inserted the pad before sewing it up.

Then daisy checked it out in the crate to make sure I had done a good job:

On Wednesday, we trialled it on a journey lasting an hour and a quarter. It worked well up to a point, but there was some over-spill, if you’ll excuse the image that conjures. So, phase two has involved the construction of a barrier to enhance containment. I made a long strip of fabric, stitched the corners to give them some support and then mitred the bottom part at each corner, so that 10 cm of the fabric would lie flat under the cushion, whilst 15 cm would stand upright. A few metal pegs to hold everything in place, and we are ready for the next trial run.

If I was making it for someone else, I would use a double layer of the fabric for the upright part, so that the back wasn’t showing from the outside. However, for my own purposes, and because its not designed to be decorative, merely functional, I’m happy to leave it as it is. Hopefully, no further modifications will be required.

The only new material used in this project was sewing thread – not a bad creation from unwanted items.

PS

Once more I am in tears about Patricia. A friend of hers sent me this link via Facebook. It is worth reading.

What a wonderful and kind woman the world has lost.

Patricia Collins

I’m very sorry to tell you that Patricia Collins has died.

Patricia, as you may recall, wrote a number of guest posts for me and regularly commented, joining in with our discussions of everything from recycling to charity knitting. She had mentioned to me that she wasn’t well, but I had no idea how ill she was. In fact, Patricia was the person I wrote a letter to last Thursday whilst I sat in the pub with Sam… sadly she never received it… and now I wish I’d sent her an email instead.

The last gift that Patricia sent me

I never met Patricia. She found my blog via a mutual friend, but I now have no idea who that was. She first contacted me towards the end of 2017 and I wrote about her getting in touch here. What a kind person she was: she loved the interaction on the blog, but was concerned about the pressure it put on me to write and respond, so she offered guest blog posts to help things along. I never had to edit what she had written – it always fitted so easily into The Snail of Happiness ethos. In addition, she sent me little gifts and we communicated via email and she inspired me. If I hadn’t written a post for a while she would always drop me a line to check that I was ok and write encouraging words.

I will miss those emails SO much. I will miss my friend who I never met. And I will mourn the fact that we never had the chance to chat over tea and cake and talk about yarn and dogs and saving the planet.

Goodbye, Patricia, and thank you for being such a lovely person

-oOo-

You can read Patricia’s posts here, here, here, here, here and this one, which is a combined one from the two of us.

Watching the world

Four times a year Daisy goes to have her hair done. She’s a very woolly spaniel and without grooming, she gets matted and this causes skin problems, not to mention discomfort. When she first came to us the fur on her ears was very tangled and the only way to deal with the problem was to have them clipped – it was impossible to get through the mats even with a specialist ‘rake’, and attempting to do so caused her pain. So, every 12 weeks or so I take her to Vicky, the groomer at the vets, and she is transformed from a woolly bear:

Woolly

To a sleek, shiny spaniel:

Smooth

Whilst Daisy is being washed and clipped, Sam and I have an hour to spend. Since, it is often raining, we have got into the habit of going to a dog-friendly pub. I buy a coffee and Sam has complimentary dog biscuits, It’s a rather nice building, with big windows that have wide, low sills – just perfect for a small dog to settle down on and watch the world go by:

Sam is happy to be entertained this way for an hour, and she usually gets some fuss from other customers, but I try to take something to occupy my time. One or two of you have received a letter that I have written in this very spot, and another one of you will be the lucky recipient of this my latest epistle. In fact, from the perspective of letters, I could do with weekly trips to catch up!

Sometimes it’s good to have time out like this… and you will notice there was a letter involved, so I’m getting over my writer’s block – hurrah!

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