Open for business

It’s been a hectic few weeks, hence the lack of posts, but I just wanted to let you know that we are now open.

ORIAU AGOR ~ OPENING HOURS

Dydd LlunMonday
Dydd MawrthTuesday
Dydd Mercher10.30 – 3.30Wednesday
Dydd Iau10.00 – 3.30Thursday
Dydd Gwener10.00 – 3.30Friday
Dydd Sadwrn10.00 – 3.30Saturday
Dydd SulSunday

Do come and say hello if you are visiting Lampeter, we are at 10 College Street, SA48 7DY.

One becomes two

You never know what you might find in a property that you buy… our shop being a case in point. As well as loads of old suitcases in the loft (each one containing at least one smaller suitcase), some very dated pillowcases, a pair of “jeggings” (Mr Snail is still shuddering at the word), six dining chairs, a microwave oven, a desk, an engraved knife and some picture frames with broken glass, there was a big, free-standing broom cupboard with orange doors. Originally this was attached to the wall with a bracket, but it was freed from its shackles during the work day our friends helped with and has been looming over the upstairs room ever since.

On Tuesday this week, Sue (Going Batty in Wales) arrived with her friend Lindy to help out. Over coffee I mentioned how much I dislike this cupboard and asked for suggestions about how to dispose of it. Lindy, however, had much more vision than me and came up with the idea of splitting it into two… which she duly did. Of course, the horrid orange doors are still there, but those can be covered over (paint, decoupage, fabric) and actually, I may now have the beginnings of storage for the sewing machines… at least if we add stronger shelf supports. We could put a work surface between the two, using them as pedestals, so that we have a counter separating the two areas upstairs, which would be useful. I have to confess, that they are currently still unappealing to me, but I can see potential now and all this does fit with the make do and mend ethos of the shop.

Sue very generously offered to do some work at home for me, so she went off with one of the old dining chairs to have a go at making some sort of cover to hide the rather dirty and worn seat pads. Again, we are trying to minimise buying new and hoping that, by demonstrating what is possible, we will inspire others to have a go at improving what they already have. It would, of course, be much quicker just to go out and purchase all the things we need for the shop from Ikea, but this is so much more satisfying and environmentally friendly.

A New Chapter

A while ago I hinted that we were hatching new plans and finally I can reveal a little of what we have been up to for the past few months. Basically, this:

The Shop of Happiness

Back in May this year, as I was on my way to Knit Night, I noticed a shop for sale in Lampeter. It made me start thinking… and what I thought was “I’d like to run a shop… something crafty”. I came home and mentioned it to Mr Snail, who said “Let’s go and look at it”. Unfortunately, when he called the estate agent he was told that an offer had already been accepted on this particular shop. However, I kept thinking about it. A bit of discussion and we decided that we’d go and look at some other commercial properties. We viewed several, but none was quite right. Every week I passed the original shop that had got me thinking and every week it still had a For Sale sign in the window. Then one Knit Night, someone looked it up on the internet and discovered that it was actually still on the market. The following morning I contacted the estate agent, was told that the original purchaser had pulled out, and arranged a viewing. The next day we put in an offer. Today, we got the keys and it is ours.

Over the months we have refined our ideas about what we are going to do and I’m delighted to announce that in 2022 The Snail of Happiness Shop will open it’s doors to sell mending supplies and pre-loved craft materials, tools and equipment. We’ll also be running courses on making and mending in our Have-a-bashery. Eventually we hope to have a purpose-built workshop out the back for running the courses, but in the meantime they will be held in the room above the shop.

Many, many people accumulate craft supplies that they never use, which is bad for the planet. In addition, many people inherit someone else’s stash and aren’t sure what to do with it. Charity shops often have no idea of the value (or even purpose) of craft materials and so donating them means that they won’t necessarily be valued and may even be disposed of. What we want to do is make sure that unwanted, good quality materials and tools find their way to people who will use them. In addition, we also want to encourage a culture of mending, so the shop will sell mending equipment: things like needles, darning wool, Sugru, glues… I’ve got a big list!

It’s going to take a few months to get things sorted, but hopefully we’ll be up and running by the Spring Equinox. So, if you are in the UK and having a destash, or have crafting supplies that you no longer want, or are dealing with an inherited stash, do get in touch. We will consider buying any craft supplies, although we won’t be able to give you the price you originally paid for them.

Shop Dogs

Watch this space for more news.

RIP Sam: The First (and possibly last) Aberaeron Terrier — writinghouse

I couldn’t bring myself yo write this, so it’s over to Mr Snail…

Goodbye to our effervescent Sam who burnt bright for so long.

RIP Sam: The First (and possibly last) Aberaeron Terrier — writinghouse

Upgrading

Up until last week, in the whole of my life, I had only ever owned two mobile phones. The first was bought new and the other was second hand (a Nokia 3410, which originally belonged to my dad). Life has mostly kept me at home and I haven’t needed much capacity to communicate when I’m out and about (other than knowing I can call for help in an emergency). However, changes are afoot (more on this in a later post when things have progressed further) and I’m going to need to be contactable when I am not at home. So, a phone that can actually cope with voice mail, pictures and apps and a service provider that offers an affordable contract that I’m not tied into for years were required. I knew the day would come when I had to give up on my old Nokia, but I’m rather sad to say goodbye to it, particularly because of its link to my late father.

When I started to think about a new phone, I kept remembering this:

… but since I really didn’t have any phone fit for purpose, it was going to have to be a phone that somebody else had already owned. Mobile phones are challenging things environmentally, but I can live with acquiring one already in existence. The trouble is that if a smart phone is too old, it’s likely that it won’t function well because of the obsolescence that the manufacturers build in (and can be forced on the phone via its software). So I couldn’t buy a phone that was too old. In the end I chose a Samsung Galaxy 9. It’s several models down the line from the latest series, but it’s still a functional phone that can do everything (and more) that I want to do. I bought it from a company that specialises in second hand electronics and offers a 2-year warranty. It would have been nice to rehome a phone from a friend (like Mr Snail was able to do when he needed to upgrade three years ago), but enquiries did not yield anything, so the only option I felt comfortable with was buying from a reputable company.

I’m pretty sure that this new phone isn’t going to last anywhere near as long as my old Nokia (which I must have had for 12 years or more), but I will nurture it and hope that in-built obsolescence is made illegal so that it can have a long and productive life.

I realise that, because I am so reluctant to throw anything out that might be useful, I still have all three of my phones in my possession. I’m sure that, eventually, Mr Snail will find some use for components of the old ones…

All my mobile phones, ever

Ear Ear, It’s ScrapHappy March 2021

Terriers have little perky ears that stay out of the way and remain, generally, clean and dry. Spaniels, on the other had, have huge ears that get into everything – wet grass, brambles, drinking water, their dinner… you get the picture. And one of the problems with having such big ears is the large surface area leads to a lot of heat loss when they get wet and cold. Not only that, they get dirty and, if not kept clean and dry inside, can be prone to fungal infections.

Daisy loves to snuffle about in the long grass when we are out for walks, so requires very careful ear drying (as well as everything else) when we get home from a wet excursion. I have previously experimented with a spaniel hood made from the sleeve of an old waterproof jacket, but sadly, she seems to be able to get her ears out of it with ease. The answer, of course, is something elasticated. So, I present the Spaniel Snood:

It is made from a scrap of fabric from a broken umbrella, given to me a while ago by my friend Sue A. (who is a great maker from scraps). It’s just a tube with elastic at both ends to hold it in place. Her ears stay clean and fairly dry (it turned out not to be quite as waterproof as expected) and there is a lot less drying required when we return from our walkies.

-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 folks often publish a ScrapHappy post, do check them out:

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda, Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan (me), Moira, Sandra, Chris, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Bekki, Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin, Vera, Nanette, Ann, Dawn 2 , Nancy, Bear, Carol and Noreen

Supporting small

Over recent months many small businesses have found themselves in a precarious situation – unable to open shops, sell at markets – making it all the more important that we support them now to ensure their future existence. We Snails have done our very best to buy from small traders over the past 10 months and have managed to source the majority of our food that way – luckily in our part of the world there are many, many small food producers and an abundance of independent retailers. In addition, we’ve been able to access direct from some producers via the internet. I know that people who cannot go to the shops have found the big supermarkets to be a lifeline, but those of us who are able to shop locally can play our part in making sure that people in our community who have small businesses continue not only to survive, but to thrive. Plus, many of our local small businesses have gone the extra mile to support the vulnerable in our community – delivering emergency supplies at short notice, for example – something that you simply wouldn’t get from big companies. In addition, many small businesses, despite suffering themselves, have donated to local food banks and other charities supporting the needy.

Aside from shops that sell food, other retailers have found the last year even more of a challenge. Even well-established companies are being affected. I noticed that Baa Ram Ewe, producers of fabulous British wool (including the stuff I made my latest fingerless mittens out of), have had to resort to crowd funding to give their business a chance of surviving (here is the link). Whilst I have been at home, I have tried to make the majority of my on-line purchases of materials for making things from small, independent companies, but I also keep an eye open for very small enterprises who are crowdfunding. And this is how I came across Midwinter Yarns, who were trying to collect enough money to produce a Welsh wool to add to their range. They are based in Scotland, but have Welsh connections and their wool sounded lovely (you can read about it here, although their crowdfunder was successful and closed last summer).

My contribution was sufficient to receive six skeins of their hand-dyed yarn. The wool arrived a few weeks ago and so I needed to find a pattern that would be suitable for the amount of yarn available. Having gone out of my usual comfort zone and chosen a sludgy green colour (the photo on the left below is closest to the actual colour), I wanted to make something appropriate, which I think I found with Southern Pines by Dora Does.

It’s worked top down, all in one piece, so there’s no sewing up at the end. I had a bit of an issue early on in the pattern, but Michelle, the designer. was amazingly helpful, even though it turned out that the problem was me being dim rather than an issue with the pattern itself. It will have long (or at least 3/4) sleeves, and I’ll make the body as long as uses up all the yarn – this is one of the joys of top-down garments. I plan to make a skirt to wear with it out of some grey and white fabric I have with a design called “crop circles” (the fabric was from an independent on-line store, but more on that in a future post). So, a new outfit in hand all from small, businesses – long may they survive.

Just a little bit

Garden produce

From the garden

This morning I wandered out into the garden and picked some raspberries, brought them in and ate them for my breakfast. Such a simple thing, so easy, but it made me feel remarkably happy. In fact, right now we are eating something from the garden pretty much every day. The current biggest producers are courgettes, sugar snap peas, lettuce and other salad leaves and some of the herbs. Every time I go out and pick something that I have grown I feel good – I get a genuine buzz from it. But it’s more than that – it means I know what artificial chemicals went onto my food (basically none) and I know how far it has been transported (a few metres) and I know that it’s genuinely fresh; I also know that lots of the nutrients came directly from compost that I made in the garden from “waste”. All these benefits add up to something big for me personally, but also make a contribution to the health of the planet.

Alone, I know I don’t make much difference globally – my small steps mainly benefit me. But what about everybody’s small steps when taken together? And what if my small steps on my path inspire other people into taking small steps on their own path? Making changes can be really daunting, but what if we only consider the first tiny step and take it from there? It makes me think of the quote from The Lord of the Rings:

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

J.R.R Tolkien

But in this case, I don’t think it’s dangerous, I think it’s exiting, empowering, inspiring. Don’t be daunted by the road ahead. Plant a seed, make a change, take someone’s hand or pick up your staff and step out onto that road… somewhere down the line you might end up somewhere amazing.

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.

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.

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