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.


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

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.


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.


IMGP7223In order to support small producers, we buy most of our meat direct, and it arrives by courier. In general, it’s packed in a cardboard box and insulated with a product called Woolcool – basically a thick layer of wool in a recyclable plastic cover. Some of this has been returned to the producers for reuse, but we have also been finding new uses for it, as encouraged by the manufacturers.

There are a couple of pieces of it in the cool bag that Mr Snail carries back and forth to Reading each week with his supplies – it provides additional insulation and stops everything rattling around and falling over. I’ve also used some as mulch in the garden. I had put one piece aside, however, for a specific project which I finally got round to this week

We have an old plastic dog bed that both dogs are rather fond of. For years it’s simply had an old blanket or duvet in it, but the current blanket is disintegrating and so it’s time for a revamp. To begin with, it needs some padding in the bottom, and this is where the wool packaging comes in. The Woolcool is a long thin strip and the bed is oval, so I had to cut the strip in two and then join the pieces side by side, but there was plenty to do this. I used a little fabric glue to hold the two bits together and then stitched them using some knitting wool. As the pad is used the wool is likely to felt, so the yarn and the fleece will probably become one. I made a cotton cover out of some more of that old sheet that featured in July’s ScrapHappy because the paw prints seemed appropriate.

The off cuts of the wool went into the compost heap because I’m very keen to see how well it breaks down, and the plastic cover went in the recycling… I wish they didn’t use this, I’d be perfectly happy with unenclosed fleece. Now all I need to do is make a new blanket… I might just have a few yarn scraps somewhere for that.

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


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.


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.



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.


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.

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.

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?

Brown paper packages tied up with string

… or secured with paper parcel tape… these are two of my favourite things.

OK, I know it was only the string that appeared in the song, but I was truly delighted when two parcels arrived through the post yesterday that were wrapped without plastic tape.


Spot the plastic… oh, there isn’t any

The first was from the All Natural Soap Company – I’ve mentioned them before, because they work very diligently to avoid the use of plastic and to produce their soap ethically; for example, they don’t use any palm oil. They use cardboard boxes for posting things out and seal them using paper parcel tape. The individual bars of soap come wrapped in paper or in cardboard boxes and they use biodegradable packing peanuts (made of corn starch, I think) to stop everything rattling about – I always put these in the compost, where they disappear as soon as they get wet. I’m always happy to be able to support businesses who make so much effort. It’s also worth remembering that soap/shampoo bars are much better than liquid soap/shampoo or shower gel because soap does not require water to be transported unnecessarily with it.

The second parcel was sent by my friend Lizzie and she had created a beautiful string-wrapped package. Not only was there no plastic tape, but the brown paper and string can be entirely reused for sending something to someone else. And inside was some rather special fabric, some ribbon and a crochet dishcloth (for Mr Snail to use whilst he continues to seek out the perfect eco-washing up brush). I’ve already got an idea what I’m going to do with the fabric… I just need to find the time.

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