Upside down

Human beings are creatures of habit. We can get set in our ways, always following the same pattern and not considering other possibilities. And this, I realised, was how I had been with my knitting. For the past 40 years I’ve started at the bottom and worked up… because that’s how you knit… isn’t it? And then Jude at Red Apple Yarn introduced me to the idea of starting at the top and working down. She was knitting a pattern called Breathing Space and it looked lovely; I’ve bought a copy of it to make myself with some Eden Cottage Yarns ‘Milburn’:

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my next new project

But first I decided to have a go at Poison Oak (not the most promising name, I have to say) with a combination of Cambrian Wool (in Slate) and Little Grey Sheep Stein Fine wool (in Moonlighting). I love the fact that you start at the top and that it’s knitted in the round, so there will be very little finishing required. I’ve just started work on the first sleeve. The wool is gorgeous and the fit is great… what’s not to love?

In addition, both these patterns are for asymmetric sweaters, which I think are great for those of us who have real body shapes. Again, this is an approach I’ve never considered before. It’s good to climb out of my knitting rut.

So have you tried any new ways of doing anything recently?

Within or without?

Where does happiness come from?

Do you make your own or does it arrive as a gift from others?

These days I’m a relatively happy person. But then I’m lucky – a roof over my head, a partner to share life’s ups and downs, enough food on the table and no financial worries. It’s a good start and it means I don’t wake up every day fretting about the practicalities of life. But after that, I think it’s probably more about attitude than anything else. We all know that waking up feeling cross or sad or scared (for whatever reason) sets the tone for the whole day, whilst starting out feeling positive generally results in a much better day.

So, with my positive hat on (ooh – perhaps I should make one), here are some (simple)things that have made me happy recently…

Gosh, I realize now that my ‘happy’ certainly originates close to home: eggs from our hens and things made from them (ice cream and French toast), a spot of mending, some (British wool) knitting and a jar of honey from some friends’ bees. The preserved fruit that went with the French toast came from further afield, but I did bottle it myself… only the maple syrup was not a product (at least in part) of my own work.

Clearly what makes me happy is domesticity. How about you?

 

 

 

ScrapHappy April 2018 #2

Yesterday’s ScrapHappy was very practical, but I’ve also been more frivolous with the scrappy activity.

You may recall my participation in The Sisterhood of the Travelling Sketchbook last year, for which my contribution was (unsurprisingly) crochet. Before I settled on what to include I did one or two trials and these have been sitting around ever since. One of was an African Flowers motif, just the right size to sit on a greetings card. So, a card base, a scrap of handmade paper and a bit of stitching and I had created this:IMGP5257It’s made me think that I should make lots more pieces of crochet specifically for greetings cards.

My second scrap yarn creation was rather unplanned. On Thursday evening I arrived at Knit Night to discover that, whilst I had taken my knitting, I had completely forgotten the pattern. Since I was at a critical point with respect to shaping, I couldn’t make any progress. However, I had promised to take along a couple of roll-up armadillo patterns for two of our new members to see (I think they thought I was joking that such patterns were available). Anyway, there was general enthusiasm about either knitting or crocheting an armadillo and everybody seemed to want one. So, I rooted about in the scrap pile in the stock room and found some lovely soft alpaca yarn, borrowed a crochet hook from the shop and started work on a little crochet armadillo. I had made the body and head by the time I went home. At home I finished off the tail, ears and limbs and dug out a small ball of wool from an old unravelled cardigan (you don’t get more scrappy than that) and made the shell. Yesterday I delivered him to Jude in Red Apple Yarn… his new home (at least until Jude’s grandson spots him):

I’m rather pleased with how this little alpacadillo turned out, with his lovely floppy ears – scraps can be used to produce some delightful things.

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate, who provides links to other (mostly sewing) ScrapHappy bloggers at Tall Tales from Chiconia on the fifteenth of every month… do check them out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ScrapHappy April 2018 #1

Whilst I haven’t been blogging recently, I have been busy with other projects… several of which have involved scraps, so this is only the first of a couple of ScrapHappy posts this month.

Mr Snail spends most of his life wearing jeans, and he has a sort of hierarchy, from relatively new to ancient and only suitable for gardening/practical conservation work. I used to refuse to mend them, but my discovery of boro mending and my determination to keep as much stuff out of landfill as possible has encouraged me, in recent years, to regard the continued life of these jeans as a personal challenge.

Boro makes use of scraps of fabric behind the tear or hole to reinforce the garment and then lots of running stitches which form a visible mend and which rely on the additional fabric to act as a foundation. If the hole is big, or of you what to make a feature of it, it’s fine for the reinforcing fabric to show through. And it is this fabric that has been the destination of a variety of scraps. I’ve used several sorts of fabric, including some cotton jersey and we’ll see what works best.

First I repaired the seat of a pair of work jeans. The knees of these jeans had been patched with waterproof fabric (salvaged from a raincoat that the dog ate) a while ago and that has lasted well, but both sides of the seat area had split, so I used some scraps of checked cotton drill, edged using my overlocker, to repair these.

Next I moved on to some ‘everyday’ jeans. One knee of these had been mended twice previously, but the other knee was close to tearing and, again, the seat was worn through on one side… perhaps Mr Snail has been doing too much sitting down recently! This very odd pair of jeans is significantly darker on the inside than the outside – you’d never guess those were the same mends, would you?

All the fabric was small off-cuts from previous projects that otherwise could have been considered to be waste (too small even for dusters, which I made a few more of from some of Mr Snail’s old pyjamas last week).

Watch out for more scrappy activity soon!

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate, who provides links to other (mostly sewing) ScrapHappy bloggers at Tall Tales from Chiconia on the fifteenth of every month… do check them out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not hot and not cross

I have been considering sweet dough buns for a while – ever since Christmas when I came across a River Cottage recipe for an enriched dough. I couldn’t make it at the time because it called for six eggs and the hens were on strike. With the longer days, eggs are no longer a problem – all four of our ladies are  laying:

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plenty of eggs (if somewhat muddy)

When I returned to the recipe, however, I felt that it was a bit too rich, so I looked for a different version and found a recipe for sweet dough by Ruby Tandoh (a Great British Bake Off finalist a couple of years ago) that looked ideal, although it only uses two eggs. I like the idea of Hot Cross Buns – soft dough with a sticky top and lovely spices. However, in general I find them rather disappointing and, to be honest, I’m not particularly keen on dried fruit. So, inspired by one of Mr Snail’s favourite flavour combinations, I made chocolate orange buns by adding the zest of two oranges and a heap of dark chocolate chips:

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not a raisin in sight!

But I couldn’t leave it there… I mean I’d only used the zest of the oranges, so I really needed to do something with the juice. The answer was clearly orange icing. So, I present to you, chocolate orange iced buns, the perfect spring (or any other season) bread product:

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not hot, not cross

Delicious with a cup of coffee.

 

 

The good soap dish guide

Over the past few years I’ve become a convert to soap – the solid bars, not the liquid. Using it can help significantly cut down on our use of plastic (soap is often sold wrapped in paper or in cardboard boxes and even completely unpackaged) plus it cuts down the unnecessary transportation of water (a large proportion of what’s in all those bottles of shampoo and liquid soap). In addition, it’s easy to find small soap producers who source their ingredients ethically and who do not use palm oil in any of its many forms. A number of people have told me that they cannot use soap at all, but I encourage you to give it a go. I used to find soaps very harsh on my sensitive skin, but these days there are so many options and so many good soap-makers who select their ingredients very carefully that you might be surprised. For example, goats milk soap is very gentle (I use one that also contains Calendula, which is great for sensitive skin) and the Castile soaps form a lotion rather than a lather and therefore have moisturising properties.

The one issue with bar soap, however, is that it does need to be treated with care so that it doesn’t become a soggy mess between uses. Simply keeping your soap in a bowl by the sink or worse still in the shower will just result in you ending up with a bowl of gloop. There are many different solutions – some better than others – so I thought it might be useful to share some examples for those of you considering using soap. The key issue is drainage – you soap will remain in the form of a solid bar and will last much longer if it can dry out between uses, so all soap dishes should be freely draining.

 

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coconut ‘flower’

None of my soap dishes are plastic. The first one I bought was made from a coconut shell on three little dowel legs, with a dozen holes drilled in the bottom. This is a beautiful dish, but there are a couple of issues with it. First of all, it’s round and with only having three legs it overbalances when I put a large new oblong bar in it. However, as you can see, it is the ideal shape for the solid shampoo I use, which comes in round cakes. The second issue is that the holes in the bottom do get clogged up and require cleaning out every few weeks to avoid this simply becoming a coconut shell bowl. Still, a little bit of hot water sorts out that problem. This dish has been in use for several years now and is still going strong.

 

In my search for soap dishes that were suitable for the soap that I normally use, I ordered two types from the company that soap comes from (The All Natural Soap Company). The first is a ridged wooden block, which allows free drainage even when it has got a bit soapy:

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ridged wooden block

This is the perfect size for the bars that I use and I have a couple of these beside the bath. The ridges get clogged after some weeks of use, but a quick scrub with a nail brush and some warm water returns them to a serviceable state.

 

Both the above dishes do dribble a bit, so they need to be placed on a non-permeable surface – sitting them on a small tray or saucer would be ideal, although I simply keep mine on the end of the bath.

I also have a wooden ladder-style soap holder that sits beside the kitchen sink. The soap here is the bar used most frequently and the chances of it becoming soggy are very high, so I chose this design with that in mind.

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kitchen sink soap

I have to keep it in a rectangular dish that needs to be washed out frequently, and this is probably the design that I am least happy with. As you can see, it’s rather suffered from getting wet so frequently, although the soap does stay quite dry.

 

If I had a suitable place to put it, though, my choice would always be a magnetic soap holder. These magic contraptions allow your soap to dry out completely and, as a result, last as long as possible. This is mine above the bathroom sink:

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my favourite

This holder comes with a metal disk with a wavy edge that you embed in the soap so that the magnet in the wall-mounted piece can hold the soap. Of course you need a suitable location to site these, preferably over the sink so that any drips (there won’t be many) are easily wiped away. This is my absolute favourite soap holder.

You’ll notice that none of my soap holders/dishes are made of breakable materials. That’s because the ceramic one I had got knocked into the sink and smashed. After that I decided I needed to stick to something less fragile.

 

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not plastic – honestly

Of course, you also need something to carry your soap in when you are away from home. I have two plastic soap boxes that I have owned for decades. These function perfectly adequately, although I have to be careful to drain them and leave the lids off as much as possible to allow the soap to dry. However, the lovely folks at All Natural Soap recently asked if I would test out a new soap box for them – they have been looking for a non-plastic version for sometime. When it arrived I was surprised that it did seem to be plastic, but apparently it’s made from natural materials and is biodegradable (they are testing this out currently by burying one in their compost heap and one in the soil). It’s not much different from standard boxes, although it does have some slight ridges in the bottom to help keep the soap dry – if they were deeper they would do the job better. Interestingly I trialled this and found that my soap did not form a soggy mess as long as I drained it well before closing the box, even when left shut for a week… I wonder if it ‘breathes’ a little. They are not yet available on the web site, but it’s nice to know there are non-plastic options out there and I’d certainly recommend this one when it becomes available.

 

So, that’s a quick tour of my soap holders. Do you have a favourite design at home? Do you use bars of soap?

 

Minding the shop

Sandwiches… check; knitting… check; mittens… check; shawl… check; woolly socks… check; thermal undies… check; keys… check.  It’s an odd combination of things to need for work, but I think that covers the most important stuff. And so, yesterday, I set off for my day in charge of Red Apple Yarn.

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a woolly tribute in the shop window

The loss of our friend Pauline has left a hole in our little knitting community. Whilst Red Apple Yarn is owned and run by Jude, it was Pauline who looked after the shop when help was required. Minding the shop this week was already in her diary and no one expected that she would no longer be with us to do it. The Knit Nighters, however, were determined to fill the hole and so we volunteered our services to keep the shop open this week so that Jude didn’t have to close up for her holiday… and yesterday was my day.

I should explain that Red Apple Yarn lives in the old Post Office in Lampeter and it still has many of the original features – wooden doors and window frames, the old counter (now L-shaped rather than running across the room), the wooden panelling and, most importantly when you’re sitting in there all day, a very high ceiling. It’s very difficult to keep warm, and the big, heavy outer door needs to be propped open otherwise no one would dare venture in, but it makes for a chilly work place… hence all the warm clothing.

Despite the temperature, I loved my day there. I settled down to knit and talk about wool. I found chatting to the gents whilst the ladies browsed  a good ploy. Of course a wool shop on a rainy Thursday is not the busiest place in the world*, so I had time to make use of the huge swift that Jude has in the shop and wind a couple of skeins that were too big for my antique one (skeins must have expanded in the last 100 years!). I cast on for my new top-down jumper and drank a lot of tea. I failed to locate the gift vouchers and a specific colour of yarn, but on the whole I think I had happy customers. In addition, I didn’t break the till – which I was slightly intimidated by. So, I’m hoping that I’ll get the chance to help out again in the future… it is a very happy place for me!

-oOo-

* Apparently, however, Sainsbury’s was heaving as people stocked up for the Easter weekend, when no food is available in the UK**

** No, really… we may all starve

Toasty toes

Finally, they are finished…

It has been a bit of a labour of love, including frogging most of the foot of the second one when I realised that I had miscounted my decreases. I won’t be rushing to make another pair from this rather challenging pattern, but they were most welcome today, when I spent the day in a rather chilly place… more about that tomorrow…

 

 

Hanging out to dry

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snap!

There are some things in life that you don’t buy very often… not because they don’t get used, but simply because they don’t wear out very quickly. A particular example is clothes pegs (pins). It’s probably 20 years since I bought any new ones and at the time the problem of plastic waste did not occupy my mind, although I can remember cursing about my old plastic pegs breaking. I think I looked for wooden ones, but couldn’t easily find any and so bought a (plastic) basket of (plastic) pegs from Woolworths. The basket has long since disintegrated and I made a felt peg bag some years ago. Recently, however, there has been an outbreak of exploding pegs. The plastic is finally breaking down and I’ve been cut several times as a peg snaps whilst being squeezed to open it. Some pegs have even snapped whilst in place on the washing line – leading to even more cursing and some essential re-washing.

My very old wooden pegs (given to me by my mum about 30 years ago) are still going strong, although they probably need soaking in something to get them clean, as I think things may have started growing on them. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them. So, a purchase was required. In this case I did not need to do any research because I knew exactly what I wanted. Years ago I read about a company in Scotland that was selling a product called K-pegs – strong metal pegs capable of holding washing on the line in the windiest of conditions. A little bit of hunting around and I found the company (Exquisite Scotland) and placed my order. They arrived a few days later and I have been very impressed. I’ve already tested them out in windy conditions and to secure a heavy mat and I’ve had no failures. There’s no plastic and they are easy to keep clean, so I think I am on to a winner…. and will probably never have to buy another peg again in my life. Oh, and wonderfully they arrived in re-used packaging… a company after my own heart.

My laundry issues did not stop there, however. I also have some plastic ‘smalls’ driers. I really like these because it means that when the inevitable rain comes, all those little things on the washing line can be brought in quickly and with minimum effort. Like the pegs, though, these elderly plastic items were starting to disintegrate. One was thrown out a few years ago and the remaining ones have started losing pegs and arms:

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gradually deteriorating

Replacing these took a little more research, but I found that several metal options are available. In the end I chose a version that does have plastic cables to suspend it, but that is mostly metal. The pegs are good and strong and, although the hook does not grip the washing line, the new K-pegs can be used to secure it.

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lots of pegs

So, I’m now all set for many years of hanging the washing on the line – no matter how windy it is.

Holidaying Hens

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doing their thing at home

Keeping livestock, even on a small scale involves lots of responsibility. When you go away, there are kennels in which to house your dogs and there are catteries for your kitties, but henneries (chickeneries?) are few and far between. Big farms may have staff or helpers, but back gardens do not. In years gone by our neighbours – previous chicken owners themselves – would pop round and care for our four ladies. However, now they are in their nineties (the neighbours not the hens) we think it’s a bit much to ask. So, some dear friends who also keep chickens have taken on the job.

The problem is that said friends live a half hour’s drive away, so calling round twice a day to let chickens out and put them to bed is not an option. And so, every time we go away, so do the chickens. First, they get stuffed into cardboard boxes and then transported by car to their holiday home. Fortunately our friends have a two-part run with two houses, so their flock and ours are kept separate (we don’t want any squabbles). They always continue laying whilst they are away, although the space is more restricted than at home, so they are clearly happy with their alternative accommodation.

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holidaying hens

And there are interesting neighbours to shout at…

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brown hens next door

We have considered installing automatic doors on the coop that have light sensors so that they open in the morning and close at night, which would mean that we could (in theory) leave them unattended for a few days. We are not, however, very comfortable with this idea. Taking care of animals comes with responsibility to attend to their needs and protect them, and leaving them unwatched would mean that we couldn’t be certain of their welfare. So, for now, they go on holidays and we are very grateful to have good friends who will help us out this way.

 

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