Making memories

It’s all too easy to get into a rut.

Mr Snail has been working away from home for 11 months now (with the prospect of at least six more to come) and so we are used to the routine. The trouble is that “the routine” has got so routine that we’ve rather stopped doing anything novel. Last week I decided, therefore, that we ought to climb out of our rut.

Mr Snail gets home any time from about 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, but the traffic usually means that it’s later than this, sometimes much later. It does, however, mean that there is time to do something in the evening. Having checked the weather forecast, I discovered that it was supposed to be a beautiful evening, so at about 6:30 we got in the car and drove the 15 minutes to New Quay, where we had (plastic-free) fish and chips on the quay from a great place called The Lime Crab… actually it’s quite posh, so Mr Snail had mackerel goujons and chips with tartare sauce and I had tempura prawns and chips with sweet chilli sauce. And then, we went on a sunset boat ride to see dolphins. I don’t have any pictures of the dolphins (we saw several), but there were other gems that I did manage to photograph.

The company who run the trips have a lobsterpot on the reef, which you can see being lifted in one of the pictures, and this is where the lobster came from (it was released after we’d had a few minutes to look at it). Actually there were three lobsters and a spider crab in there… all released after their brief visit to the surface. The cliff ledges were teeming with razorbills and guillemots as well as various gulls. The (unpictured) dolphins were happily feeding over the reef and we saw three species of jellyfish. In total, we spent a delightful hour and a half on the boat, and it was a great way to round off a rather stressful week.

It’s easy to forget what a beautiful part of the world we live in… I think we need to make a little more effort to enjoy it.

Hats (and mittens) off

I decided to have a bit of a rummage up in the loft last weekend and came across a box of crochet items that were originally made for sale. I haven’t had a stall at any event for a while, so these had slightly fallen off my radar and I decided to sort some out to donate to charity, adding them to the small collection of hats that I have made recently.

In the end, there were 13 hats and 5 pairs of fingerless mittens. These will be on their way to Knit for Peace very soon. In addition, I added three pairs of knitting needles to the box. Apparently KfP are always in need of needles suitable for double knitting wool – 3.75, 4 and 4.5 mm – so if you too have any of these sizes going spare, they’d be delighted to receive them.

The battle of the bags

I have been seeing a lot recently about the relative merits of paper vs plastic. Having been alerted to the huge issues with plastic pollution, the general public seems to be convinced that wholesale conversion to paper or cardboard packaging is the answer. Purely from the perspective of end-of-life disposal, this is a perfectly logical switch because paper is biodegradable and plastic isn’t. But life isn’t really that simple, is it?

There are various studies which show that the carbon footprint of a plastic bag is way smaller than a paper bag, For example, a report published by the UK Environment Agency in 2011 examined a variety of types os shopping bags:

• a conventional, lightweight carrier made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE)

• a paper carrier;

• a “bag for life” made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE);

• a heavier more durable bag, often with stiffening inserts made from non woven polypropylene (PP); and

• a cotton bag

And here is a summary of some of their results:2019-06-23Source: Environment Agency (2011) Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006

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Paper vs Cotton

As you can see, according to this data, you have to use a paper bag three times and a cotton bag 131 times for them to have the same ‘global warming potential’ as a ‘normal’ plastic carrier bag used just once. Of course, there are all sorts of complicating factors – if you make a cotton bag out of scraps rather than virgin fabric, then that’s an entirely different matter. Indeed, using waste fabric to make bags could probably be considered to have an overall positive impact on the environment rather than a negative one. But what this does show, is that paper bags may not be the a great solution, and it doesn’t begin to take into consideration what a polluting process paper production can be (you can read about the environmental impact of paper here).

However, the data in the Environment Agency Report are a few years out of date and SNS (Nordic Forest Research) recently published a report outlining the climate benefits of forests. It turns out that actively growing young trees assimilate much more carbon than mature trees, so managed forests from which timber is extracted do more to reduce atmospheric carbon than old forests. There are other issues related to conservation and biodiversity, but the fact remains that it’s good to use wood.

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Plastic or not?

Some of the manufacturers, processors and producers who need to use some form of packaging do seem to be exploring different options. After all, there are all sorts of materials available and new technology is delivering various solutions with, apparently, better environmental credentials. For example, for a while now I’ve been buying my coffee from a small company that supports small producers and uses no plastic in their packaging. Last month, however, the coffee arrived not in a paper pack, but in something that looked like plastic. Why? Well, The Roasting House explained their change as follows:

Those of you who have ground coffee will have been receiving the Natureflex packaging for a while now but if you have whole bean it may come as a shock when you get the package so first of all I want to reassure you that it’s no plastic!

We use Natureflex for our ground coffee as it preserves the oils in the coffee and keeps it fresher. The whole bean coffee doesn’t lose freshness as quickly so we’ve sent it in paper for a while for you to transfer to your own air tight container. However we’re starting to move more towards using the Natureflex and less paper in our sister business Plastic Free Pantry. It provides a good air and moisture barrier and is less prone to breakages. But crucially it has a lower carbon impact than paper. The carbon impact of production for the unlined type of Natureflex that we use is lower than plastic, and the manufacturers then use off-setting to make it carbon neutral.

It is compostable in home conditions and will break down in soil and marine environments (although obviously don’t chuck it in the sea or litter it!). If you have a compost bin, it will break down in 12-16 weeks. Alternatively you can shred it and bury it in your garden. If you can’t compost it yourself, you can return it to us for refilling or composting.

So, it turns out that doing the right thing is complicated and that avoiding one problem (e.g. plastic pollution) can lead to another (e.g. carbon dioxide emissions). What we really need is institutional change in terms of reducing the use of ALL resources and I encourage you to lobby manufacturers, retailers and politicians to this end, but it’s also good to take personal responsibility, so reuse what you already have (whatever it’s made of) and REFUSE grocery/produce bags wherever possible.

 

Waiting around

In recent weeks I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in waiting rooms and it’s an activity that looks likely to be part of my life for a while yet…. next up is another trip to see a dentist (my fourth in the past month and not my last). I started off taking my Leftie shawl, but there are various colours to contend with and I took the wrong balls the week before last and so was unable to knit whilst waiting for the car to have its MOT, plus it’s getting a bit big. I, therefore, decided to start work on some simple granny squares to make into a blanket for charity… these have the added benefit that, even when you have toothache, you have the mental capacity to make them.

I had a big cone of dark green yarn that was given to me a few years ago specifically to make items for charity and this seemed ideal for my purpose. In fact, I’m enjoying making simple squares so much, that I’ve done very little work on anything else for the past couple of weeks. Indeed, I have so many now, I’ve started to join them together, using some other donated yarn:

I’m planning to make this into a good big blanket to keep someone really warm – the wool is a bit rough at the moment, but its softening as I work it and I’ll give it a wash once its finished.

So, what projects do you take with you when you have a lot of waiting to do?

Refuse

In my recent post mentioning the three Rs, Textiledreamer reminded me about adding “refuse” to the beginning… a great idea as it’s best not to have that thing you don’t need in the first place. Then, as I was mulling over the concept, it dawned on me that there are two possible meanings in this context:

refuse (noun and adjective) Anything that is rejected, discarded, or thrown away; rubbish, waste, residue; household waste. The earliest citation in the OED is from around 1390.

refuse (verb) To decline to do something or to reject . The earliest citation in the OED is from around 1325.

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historically, we regarded waste (refuse) as a resource… and made beautiful things from it

So we’ve been generating refuse and refusing stuff for a long time! Of course, in terms of the Rs, we are thinking of the latter, but it’s important for us to think about refuse in terms of waste or garbage too. But, let’s not accept the idea that everything we’ve finished with or discarded has reached the end of its life. You only need to visit the monthly ScrapHappy posts to see what creative people are doing with what might be otherwise consigned to the “refuse” (the noun). In fact, perhaps we should refuse (verb) the idea of refuse (noun) and instead both avoid producing it by making long-lived, repairable items, and then consider any item that has reached the end of its life as a resource, available to be repurposed or, if all else fails, recycled.

I think that ScrapHappy Day (15th of the month for those of you who don’t already know) is my favourite blog-reading day. I love seeing the creativity, lateral thinking and sheer effort that all of you who participate put into your projects each month. I encourage any of you who don’t currently join in to consider doing so – whatever material you use, in fact the more diversity the better. If you do want to join in, get in touch with Kate over at Tall Tales from Chiconia and she will add you to the list of participants and send you a reminder a few days before the date that posts are due.

In the meantime, tell me how you are cutting down on refuse and what you are refusing.

Sunshine and showers…

… no, hang on, that should read ‘torrential rain’.

So far this June we’ve had more rain than in the two previous Junes combined. This, of course, provides challenges when it comes to growing and I have been especially grateful for the limery. I potted up all my pepper and chilli plants with a view to trying to raise some outdoors this year, but then the wind and rain arrived and it seemed unlikely they would survive outside, so in they came. Some of the other plants weren’t so lucky and I lost several patty pan squashes that were still in pots – I think they simply drowned.

Nevertheless, we are now eating lots of home-grown food and that is always a joy. I have three courgette plants in the limery and they are way ahead of the outdoor ones and already supplying us with food. The jalapeno chillies (red and purple) are producing fruit, as are the sweet peppers, although none are ready to be harvested yet. We’ve already eaten lots of lettuce and many potatoes. The peas are starting to flower now, so I’m hoping for some of those soon and the little herb garden that I planted up a few months ago is doing well – especially the oregano.

As climate change takes effect, I feel that I’m going to need to be much more responsive to severe weather, so that having both indoor and outdoor growing space available will become increasingly important, as will growing in pots so that plants can be moved in response to the weather (this year potatoes, peas, beans and squashes/courgettes have been planted both in the ground and in pots). So far this year I have managed to nurture a variety of crops, but there will always be years like 2018 when, after the early summer, we were unable to raise things like lettuce because it was simply too hot. This year I’ve diversified somewhat and so we have carrots, parsnips and sweetcorn in addition to our usual vegetables. For various reasons, I haven’t grown any of these for ages, but I think it’s time to have a wider range so that if one crop fails, another might succeed. In short, I am trying to build more resilience into my garden and I hope that this means we’ll be able to supply even more of our food than before from the limited space available.

Brace yourself

We have lived in our house for nearly 20 years now and, in line with our general ethos of trying to reduce our impact on the environment, we have done our best to make things last. Eventually, however, there comes a time when the fixtures and fittings need replacing, We’ve been aware that our kitchen cabinets have been getting more and more tatty in recent years.

We started talking, a couple of years ago, about having them replaced. I got Tim (the wonderful cabinet maker who built our pine cupboards) to look at them with a view to him constructing a whole new kitchen for us. However, he was of the opinion that this was unnecessary – the carcasses of the units were very robust and he suggested that just replacing the doors would be the way forward. I searched and searched for ‘off the shelf’ doors that would match the ones Tim had made before, but had no joy, so I gave the job to him.

He constructed traditional ledge-and-brace doors from pine. and even managed to reuse most of the original hinges. In addition, he was able to clad the ends of the cupboards to make them look even smarter. He also put new fronts on the drawers.

Finally, he was able to modify one of the cupboards so that it has a back door. This may sound odd, but supporting our breakfast bar is a big corner cupboard… you know the sort – so big that things get pushed to the back, never to see the light of day again. Usually, of couse, these are in the corner of a room, but not so ours – it just had a wooden back on it. I asked Tim if he could remove the back and fit doors so that I could access it from either direction and, being the skilled carpenter that he is, he had no problem building a frame, modifying the shelf and fitting additional doors.

You can even see a door of the original cupboard Tim build for us a couple of years ago in the background of the last picture!

So, our kitchen has been rejuvenated. In the end, all the wood, two hinges and the screws were new and three of the existing hinges also had to be replaced. The wood was sourced from a local sawmill and the work was done by a local craftsman – now, that’s my sort of revamp. I feel that we’ve managed to make an enormous improvement whist making use of as many of the existing materials as possible. At some point I’ll have the work surfaces replaced, but they are ok for now and I’m still pondering suitable materials.

I am a very happy snail.

ScrapHappy June 2019

A very small ScrapHappy this month.

Mr Snail has a friend at work who’s just got a rescue cat… a poor kitty who has, so far, spent its life living in a garage. It now has a much more pampered existence and so I thought that it deserved a little present. I dug out at bit of scrap yarn and created little mousey:

hello Mr Mousey

No pattern, I just made it up as I went along. Its eyes and nose were made of a tiny length of left-over sock yarn and it’s filled with (new) wool filling. I hope kitty enjoys it.

-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.

We need to talk about plastic

Today I want to discuss plastic… it’s in the news a lot at the moment and it is always portrayed as being evil. Well, I want to say that I disagree. Please stick with me on this and I’ll explain why I’m worried about the huge number of “plastic-free [insert town name here]” initiatives that are springing up and the way that plastic is presented currently in the media.

Language is very important, what we call things affects the way we perceive them. Call it “global warming” and the immediate image (in the UK at least) is nicer summers; call it “climate change” and that just means things are going to be different, and, after all, we all know that “a change is as good as a rest”; but call it “catastrophic climate breakdown” and there are no comfortable images to hide behind. See what I mean?

The limery… a good use of plastic?

And so to “plastic-free” towns and cities. I know this term has been coined because it’s short and snappy, but it’s also very misleading. Think what your town would be without any plastic; think what your home would be without plastic, First, all my windows would fall out, I wouldn’t be writing this because I wouldn’t have a computer; my sewing machine (mainly metal) wouldn’t have any knobs; the limery wouldn’t exist… I could go on, but you get the drift. The idea of being plastic-free, just doesn’t make sense in our modern world. What we really need to do is stop using plastic indiscriminately and unnecessarily. I don’t even mean that we should abandon single-use plastics, because there are cases where they do much more good than harm: minimising food waste, for example.

However, there are many, many uses of plastic (and other materials) that are completely unnecessary. Ages ago I wrote a post about buying a new set of earphones and the amount of packaging (plastic and card); once unwrapped I was able to fit the entire contents into a matchbox although the original pack was measured 13 x 14 x 4.2cm. Many items that don’t need any packaging at all (cauliflowers, for example) come surrounded by it and many items that are in a container (e.g. a bottle) have some additional card or plastic surrounding them. Lets cut down on such unnecessary use of any materials, plastic or otherwise.

Lots of products come with a plastic “tool” in every pack – balls for dispensing laundry liquid in the washing machine, for example, or scoops in tubs of stain remover. In all likelihood, the ball for laundry liquid will last hundreds of washes and certainly doesn’t need replacing with every bottle. These unnecessary items are bound to end up being discarded because, even if you can think of an alternative use for a few of them, there is a limit. So, they end up in landfill or going to be recycled.

And, of course, there are things that we really should just stop making because they are completely unnecessary and highly damaging to the environment. My greatest irritation in this respect is balloons – especially those filled with helium, a rare and precious element in itself. And the idea of deliberately releasing ballons at events makes me so cross – we might as well go and chuck our plastic waste in the local river.

However, I still think plastic is a good thing when used wisely. In addition, we have a lot of the stuff already around and simply stopping using plastic items does not address this fact. I occasionally read of people discarding all their plastic containers in favour of glass and metal in the kitchen and I think of all the waste being created. There are issues with storing food in plastic (see, for example the efsa information on Bisphenol A, a chemical found in many plastic food containers and linings of food containers such as steel cans), but these can, to some extent, be mitigated by enclosing the food in another wrapper before putting it into the plastic container and also ensuring that you never heat food in the microwave in plastic containers. As with most things, the best way to reduce your impact on the environment is to keep using what you have and not just throw it away and buy something that’s marketed as being more environmentally friendly (hello “greenwash”).

But, what about all that plastic that we are finished with? What about all that plastic that’s polluting our seas and land? Well, here’s the thing: it already exists and we need to think very carefully about how we deal with it. Currently, far too much plastic is simply discarded – being complacent because it goes in the recycling bin is not the answer. Recycling is not the magic solution we would like to imagine, and recycling only works for certain types of plastic under certain circumstances. Similarly, adopting the attitude that all plastic is evil and to be shunned is not helpful. What we need is a sensible approach to dealing with the plastic that has come to the end of its useful life and to that end, we need to use it again, Without a market for recycled plastic products, there is no incentive to do anything other than discard it. So, if you want to buy something made of plastic, have a look to see if there’s a recycled version and, if not, contact the manufacturers and tell them you want to see one.

Some of the big pots already in use for growing peas and beans

Recently I wanted to get some large pots to increase our available growing space. Now, whilst terracotta pots look good, they are heavy and cumbersome to move, especially when full of compost and containing a plant. I was, therefore, delighted to find some 35 litre pots, with handles and made of recycled plastic. It seems to me that this is exactly the sort of thing we should be using recycled plastic for – they are destined to have a long and productive life and deliver many years of vegetable-growing.

So, yet again we return to the 3Rs, in order of priority: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

REDUCE: if we don’t need it, let’s not produce it in the first place.

REUSE: once we have an item, let’s get the maximum use possible out of it – for its original purpose or for something new. Single-use items are bad for the environment and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary (which is sometimes the case… let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water).

RECYCLE: when we’ve had the maximum possible use out of a particular item, let’s recycle the materials and treat them as a valuable resource.

And this is not just the responsibility of individuals – this is something we have to demand from producers and politicians. So, as well as RRR, do some writing. I encourage you to tell manufacturers and retailers what you want: let them know that simply substituting one thing for another is not good enough: we want to see a reduction in packaging, we want to be able to have containers refilled, for example. In addition, let’s try to force the issue by changing the law – write to your elected representatives.

So, what plastic items would you ban? What alternatives would you prefer? And who is responsible?

What a difference a yarn makes

I haven’t been very creative over the past few days… the gum infection transformed into an abscess, the antibiotics made me feel extremely unwell and I had to have emergency dental treatment last Friday. It’s the first time a dentist has ever had to take my pulse and that treatment has had to be suspended whilst I’m prevented from fainting! Oh well… I’m feeling somewhat better today and I’m waiting for an appointment to have a root canal, although I’m back at the dentists for a review tomorrow. Anyway…

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My Yarndale haul

Before all this happened I started (and it seems like ages ago now) knitting a shawl using the beautiful Little Grey Sheep mini-skeins that I bought at Yarndale last autumn. I realise now that I never shared with you much about my visit to Yarndale with my dear friend Mrs Robinson. We decided to go with specific projects in mind and one of mine was to get some interesting colours to use for a shawl pattern I’d had a hankering to make for ages – the Leftie Shawl. In the end I selected six colours: green, pale yellow, bright yellow, orange, pink and purple (for some reason the orange is obscured in the picture of my Yarndale haul – that gold with the big band is for a different project).

I already had a ball of Little Grey Sheep wool left over from the Poison Oak top that I made last year and I thought that this would be perfect for the main neutral colour, allowing all those bright yarns to shine. So, I started off, using the size of needles suggested… and quickly became disillusioned: the colours seemed diminished and the material I was creating stiff and not at all drapy, as I envisioned the shawl

At this stage of creating anything it’s hard to stop – you’ve already put some work in and it feels like a waste to give up. But I didn’t like it. This thing that I had wanted to make for months and months wasn’t turning out well. So, taking a big deep breath, I started again, still using the coloured mini-skeins, but this time with larger needles and some of the fabulous Milburn yarn from Eden Cottage yarns. I had too much of this for the project it was bought for (one that’s currently on hold), so this was going spare. Milburn contains some silk, so it creates a fabric with much more natural drape than pure wool.

And I wasn’t disappointed, the new shawl looks and feels much more like my vision. The coloured wool helps it to keep its structure and the soft silk and wool means it should be a joy to wear. Here they are for comparison, new on the left, original on the right.

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the two versions

Sadly the picture makes them look much more similar than they actually are, but, take it from me (and the Knit Night gang) the one on the left is much more striking than the one on the right.

Despite no progress over the last few days, prior to that I had done quite a lot and I’m rather pleased to be creating something with colours that I wouldn’t normally choose, but that I really do love. I’m so glad that I started again.

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