93 not out

Before Christmas Mr Snail decided that he’d like to learn to sew his own clothes. It all started when a kit arrived with the pattern and all the bits and bobs required to make a pair of boxer shorts. I’d ordered it because I fancied having a go and the pattern looked good (and had got good reviews). I opened the parcel and there was a little box, with the fateful words “A beginner’s sewing kit…” on the outside. “Ooh,” said Mr Snail “could I make these?”. Well, I really couldn’t say no, because a quick glance at the pattern suggested that they were quite straightforward.

Practice

The main issue was that Mr Snail had never used a sewing machine before, but he was convinced that it couldn’t be very different from playing race cars on his PS4 (which has foot pedals and a steering wheel). I did point out that if he makes a mistake in a video game, no one gets hurt, but that sewing your own finger is extremely painful. Nevertheless, he was sure that he would be fine… and so I gave him some scraps and let him play with my Bernina. Apparently, it turns out, a sewing machine is a lot more scary than a video game and nowhere near as enjoyable. So, we had a rethink…

Fortunately, my family owns a Singer 99K… we’ve had it from new (1927ish) and at least three generations of us have learned to sew using it. So, Sister of Snail dropped it off and, after some oiling and fiddling, we got it running ok (although it wasn’t as smooth as last time I used it, about 25 years ago). It really is much more difficult to sew your own finger with this machine, as you have to put all the effort in yourself, so Mr Snail was much happier.

I guided him through the cutting and construction, and he was able to make his own boxer shorts. A rather impressive first project in my opinion.

Anyway, I was a bit unhappy with the way the machine was running, so we decided to get it serviced. I was pretty sure that the tension spring needed replacing and the presence of an experienced Singer servicing/repair shop just down the road from the flat in Reading seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. On its return, this lovely old machine is running like a dream and Mr Snail has been able to complete a second project using it (which I’m sure he’ll blog about soon).

I’m so happy that our 93-year-old machine is still going strong, and still being used to produce garments. My mum says she thinks it was originally bought by my great auntie Dolly, who was a dancer and used it to make her costumes. I just wish I had some pictures of her wearing some of the things she made. Let’s hope it’s still going strong in another 93 years.

Mend It Monday #1

“If it’s not worth mending, it’s not worth buying” … so says my friend Sarah, and I have to agree.

We all know that over-consumption is destroying our world, and that a major way to combat this is to buy items that last, to value them and to repair them. With that in mind, I have decided to embark on a series of blog posts dedicated to mending. I’m not guaranteeing that I will manage to post every Monday, but I will do my best to share my mends on a regular basis… feel free to join me.

So, here is number 1…

I knit my own socks and having taken hours to make a pair, I’m determined to give them as long a life as possible, so a sock darn is an easy win. This took me about 30 minutes and will extend the life of this sock by several years – now that’s a good investment of time.

ScrapHappy February 2020

You may recall that at the end of my January ScrapHappy adventure I was left with a selection of zips, toggles, elastic, plastic sliders, velcro, cords, pockets and waterproof fabric…

… and a headache.

Well, the headache went quite quickly, but the materials remained and I had a plan for some of them… I wanted to make Mr Snail a small, waterproof backpack using a pattern that I first used last year.

For this scrappy project, I made use of the following scraps: a zip, two toggles, a slider, a piece of elastic and pieces of Gore-tex fabric from the old waterproof jackets, plus some old seconds wool suiting fabric that had some marks on it. I did have to use four new D-rings, two metal sliders, stiffening and interfacing to complete the project, but the bulk of it is scrappy.

You can see from some of the pictures that I didn’t worry about existing seams in the fabric – they were all flat and I thought that it showed off the re-purposed nature of the materials. In fact, now it is complete, I think it looks anything but scrappy!

-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, Sue and Sunny

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.

Bags of Gratitude

Towards the end of last year I had a health scare and there was real chance that I might be seriously ill. There were trips to the gp, blood tests, a scan and then an appointment on Christmas eve with a consultant at the the hospital, who took a biopsy. In the end I was fine and there was nothing seriously wrong, but I had several very stressful weeks during which I hardly slept or ate… and, you may have noticed, did no blogging. Fortunately three very dear friends helped me get through it – without their support, love and reminders to eat (apparently it’s fine to have chocolate for breakfast in such circumstances), I’m not sure how I (and Mr Snail) would have coped.

The consultant reassured me, but it wasn’t until the results of the biopsy came through and I knew all really was well, that I was able to relax once more and my creativity (which had all but deserted me for the duration) returned with abundance.

So, how do you thank such good friends? I know they would have been there for me no matter what, but I wanted to demonstrate to them how grateful I am. I looked for presents to buy, but in the end I decided that I really wanted to make them each a gift… they all either knit or crochet, so I settled on my other main interest at the mo

I don’t normally name names, but I would, publicly, like to thank Sarah, Kt and Joëlle for their friendship… I love you ladies and I hope you like your bags.

A Bonus ScrapHappy

Usually ScrapHappy posts appear around the 15th of the month, but this month you get an extra one, as there has been lots of scrappy activity Chez Snail recently.

Nearly 25 years ago I had to go to Canada to do some work. Fortunately I did manage a bit of time off and one of my excursions was to the Royal BC Museum. I loved the collections, but was saddened not to be able to share my visit with Mr Snail. I did, however, buy him a gift of a t-shirt featuring “First People’s Art”. He loved that t-shirt… in fact he loved it to bits… literally. Over the years it got tattier and tattier, until it was only good for wearing in bed, and then finally it had so many holes that it was unwearable. But he still loved it.

So, I put it to one side knowing that I would be inspired to make use of it at some point, and eventually I decided how to salvage the motif of concentric circles on the front. The fabric had worn so thin and completely split in places, so I knew that I would meed to mount it on something fairly sturdy, and then along came a sweatshirt that was just right for the job. I knew that it would be easiest to work on if I could temporarily glue the pieces to the sweatshirt and spray-baste seemed the answer. Off I went to the local quilting shop, where they didn’t have any. Living in a rural area, there isn’t much choice of places to buy such things, so I could either wait for the shop to get some in stock (they said they might have some later that week or the week after) or I could order online. Except those aren’t the only choices… when I searched for spray-baste online, I discovered various recipes to make my own, which is what I did. It’s basically flour and water with added alcohol, and it worked a treat.

Anyway, I carefully cut out the pieces, although I had to discard one of the circles because it was just too fragmented. Then I marked the centre of the front of the sweatshirt and spray-basted the pieces onto the sweatshirt, allowed them to dry and stitched them in place. Where there were splits, I zig-zagged along them in black thread, which meant that these repairs were hardly noticeable

A quick hand wash so that the floury marks disappeared and to get rid of the stiffness and smell of rubbing alcohol, and Mr Snail had his beloved design back.

I still have a straight section of border from around the bottom of the t-shirt and that will, no doubt, see the light of day in a future scrappy project.

-oOo-

Look out for more ScrapHappiness on the 15th and check out these contributors: 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, Sue and Sunny

Puttin’ on the Ritz

When Mr Snail asked me where I would like to go to celebrate my birthday this year, my reply was unequivocal: The Ritz. I wanted to go to the Palm Court for afternoon tea… and so, Mr Snail made it happen…

I decided that a new dress was in order for the special event. Had I seen the video below before now, I could have been inspired by the dancers’ outfits (and oh, those hats!), but in fact I decided to go with something simple in a silk and wool mix. The pattern isfrom a company called The Assembly Line – it’s the second of their patterns that I’ve made (the first was my recent pinafore dress) and it was really lovely to do. One of the things that I like about these patterns is the finished edges and neatness of the final garment.

Anyway, the fabric was beautiful to work with – it’s black with little blue palm trees (none of the photos really do it justice), which I considered very appropriate for the location. Initially I planned to line the whole dress, and I had cut out and partially stitched the lining, but at the last minute I changed my mind, and I’m glad I did because it would have made it far too warm. I did adjust the pattern to fit me and Mimi was invaluable for this.

Teamed with boots, it was a comfortable and classy outfit for our day out, which also included visiting the Tutankhamun Exhibition, Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh, at the Saatchi Gallery. I think that Mr Snail and I were probably the best-dressed visitors to the gallery. And then there were tiny sandwiches and champagne and cake… a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ as the cakes for all of us celebrating were brought out, and my own very special cake… one of my best ever birthdays!

The music was rather more genteel than that featured below, but the quartet providing the background to our afternoon tea did finish with ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’.

ScrapHappy January 2020

I have decided, this year, to make a concerted effort to use some of the interesting materials that I have been accumulating for the past few years. You know (or, perhaps you don’t), the sort of thing that you think “I won’t throw that away,  it’s bound to come in useful sometime”. Well, 2020 is going to be the “Year of Useful” and ScrapHappy posts should prompt me to do something with all this useful scrap at least once every month.

January started with a special make from new materials (more of that in a future post), but last Saturday afternoon the rain poured down and I decided to use the time to do some dismantling. As I have mentioned before, Sam is the destroyer of zips, metal rivets and other fastenings. Over the years she has severely chewed a variety of cushions, bags, hats and coats. Her most annoying bout of destruction involved two Gortex jackets. I was determined that these would not go to waste and I have salvaged a bit of fabric from them in the past to make waterproof patches for the knees of Mr Snail’s gardening jeans, as well as some Velcro and fastenings but mostly they have been squirreled away awaiting inspiration. Said inspiration arrived in the form of bag-making… all I needed to do was salvage all the bits.

I got out my scissors and stitch-ripper and set to. I discovered that there was also another old more traditional waterproof coat with the two Gortex ones, so I had three sources of “scrap”. I started by removing all the cords (some elasticated and some not) and associated toggles and sliders. Then I found a piece of coated wire in the brim of one of the hoods so I took that out. There were several pieces of Velcro which I unstitched, as well as a couple of zips that Sam had missed on one of the jackets.

IMGP7718

Extracted Hardware

Next I spotted that some pockets with zips that were still intact and wondered if they could be used on some of my bags, so those came off as whole as possible.

IMGP7719

Pockets

Finally I started removing sections of fabric, both mesh lining and Gortex, including cutting a sleeve to make a hood for Daisy (she gets very wet ears in the rain).

And then I started to feel unwell. One of the jackets was completely dismantled, one partially and the non-Gortex one had just had the cords removed. I drank a cup of tea, watched the TV for a bit and then started to cook dinner, at which point I announced to Mr Snail that I felt sick and needed to go and lie down. After more than 12 hours in bed and only having consumed water and red bush tea, I was feeling better and wondering what had happened.

In fact, I think that I was poisoned: having spent more than 2 hours handling the Gortex and breathing in fibres (it certainly made me sneeze), I wonder whether whatever it is coated with got into my system. It certainly felt like a reaction to something toxic. From now on I will limit my contact with it and I plan to do some research to find out whether I’m right. So, do be careful with your scraps, they might just give as good as they get!

Anyway, the bits and pieces are now being incorporated into bags that will have little contact with the skin and I hope to show you the results next month.

-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, Sue and Sunny

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.

Modifying Mimi

Over the summer, I bought Mimi, a tailor’s dummy, to aid me in my dressmaking activities. In my younger days when I made a lot of my own clothes, my dear friend Mrs Robinson (although she wasn’t Mrs Robinson then) lived just up the road and we’d help each other out with dress fittings and adjustments. On one memorable occasion, we adjusted a dress that she was making to wear for a wedding three times before the big day (it had a fitted bodice that really needed to fit) as she seemed to expand and contract somewhat unpredictably (or maybe it was my fitting skills). Anyway, we are still very good friends, but she lives a couple of hundred miles away now, so help with dress-making is something more of a challenge.

Mimi in a shawl

But the arrival of Mimi means that I can make clothes – even fitted ones – without help. So, my first project using her has been one that allowed me to test out how useful she is… and whether I got my dimensions right. I chose to make an apron dress using a pattern from The Assembly Line. I bought some wool/linen double gauze fabric from Merchant and Mills for this project… never again (the fabric not the vendor). It’s lovely soft drapy fabric, but the loose weave and double layer means that it moves unpredictably as it is being sewn, so requires very careful pinning and stitching otherwise pattern pieces don’t align and it doesn’t hang properly – something that was essential with the particular pattern I had chosen.

The pattern itself, however, was clear and easy to follow, with the pattern pieces printed on thick paper, making them very robust. I ground to a halt at the point when I had fitted the dress to Mimi, but needed to see whether it worked on me. For quite a while Mimi wore the garment and I kept forgetting to try it on when I was getting dressed in the morning. Eventually I set aside some time and made the effort to get undressed again during the day. I’m glad that I took the time to do this because it turned out that the straps were much too short (they were only pinned in place, so this was easily remedied). When I considered it, I realised that, whilst Mimi had been set up to be the right distance around, she actually has a chest rather than a bust and she doesn’t stick out at the front much. I actually knew about this issue but it had slipped my mind. The resolution is easy – put Mimi in a bra* and stuff it so that It’s the right size. This done, the fitting went very smoothly and I’m happy with my new pinafore dress.

The process has given me confidence to make garments that require more shaping and, therefore, more careful fitting and I have already ordered another Assembly Line pattern.

-oOo-

* Good grief, I can’t believe I’m showing you my underwear AGAIN!

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.

%d bloggers like this: