About that ‘yarn diet’

As you may have gathered, I am on a ‘yarn diet’. This means that over the next few months (at least until the end of the year) I am not going to buy any more yarn. This may sound like imposing unnecessary suffering on myself, but the intention is to encourage me to enjoy the beautiful yarn I already have rather than leaving it languishing in various drawers and cupboards, unappreciated. Many crafters have the habit of accumulating lots of materials (whatever their preference). I do this and, whilst it’s fun to have stuff available to use when inspired, it feels very wasteful to have loads of untouched yarn, plus it does take up a lot of space.

In general I buy yarn for particular projects, but sometimes I never get round to starting them, and by the time I am ready, I have had a change of heart (or even shape!) and so I need to find an alternative. I’m also a bit over-enthusiastic about sock yarn and have ended up with rather a lot of the stuff… more than I need for sock making. As I don’t want to build up an enormous collection of shawls, I have been wondering what else I might do with the sock yarn and inspiration arrived on Saturday. One of the organisers of the 60MT get-together was wearing a beautiful short-sleeved, asymmetrical top, clearly knitted in 4-ply. I asked her about the pattern and now I’ve bought a copy and will use some of my yarn to make Sugar Maple.

Despite the diet, some new yarn has come my way, but I did not buy it. At the event on Saturday, we had a ‘secret Santa’… everyone brought a ball of yarn wrapped up and they all went in a big box, before each person selected a different package to take away. So, I gave a ball of mottled sock yarn (which I entirely failed to photograph), but came home with two balls (yes, there were two balls in the parcel I picked) of Rowan Lima, an interesting aran yarn that looks like it has been crocheted into a chain already:

The two balls add up to the same weight as the donated ball (and, in fact, contain similar colours), so I have made no net gain, and, indeed, a loss, if I consider length of yarn rather than weight. I really am beginning to think like someone on a diet! Not sure what I’m going to use this yarn for – it’s very soft, so maybe a cowl.

As well as working on various existing projects, I’m also trying to restock my etsy shop a bit, as I’ve sold quite a few of the bird roosts. The train journeys over the weekend were split between sock-knitting and bird roost crochet, and I’ve now got several roosts ready to felt:

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three done, one in progress

So, the stash is slowly being used and I’m not feeling deprived because I can’t shop for yarn… it’s a good result so far.

Hug a mug

We are currently in the middle of Plastic-free July – an event aimed at getting people to cut down on single-use plastics. Things like straws and plastic shopping bags are relatively easy to give up for most people (I don’t tend to use either now), but some things are less obvious. For example, disposable coffee cups: with their plastic lids and plastic-coated cardboard that’s generally not recycled or, indeed, recyclable, and often can’t be composted. The answer, of course, is simple – get a reusable cup and ask the coffee shop to put your drink in that.

One of the problems with the re-usable (and disposable) versions is that many of them don’t have handles. Last year, I crocheted a cover with a thin handle for my (very elderly and well-used) cup, so that I had some way of keeping a hold of it:

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cup holder in use (on a train)

When my friend Katie saw this, she asked if I could make her one too. I liked mine, but I decided that it could be improved upon, so I bought a KeepCup and started to experiment. In the end I came up with a cover that has two handles, so that you can easily hold on to your cup, and also give your mug a hug:

This cup and cover is with its new owner now and I’ve had good feedback. Now, isn’t that so much nicer than a cardboard cup that you simply throw away?

Running Hot and Cold

We have just had to replace our 17-year-old washing machine. I won’t go into the details of its demise, but it has gone to be recycled – a service that we decided to pay for to ensure that it actually happened. So, we have had to buy a new one…

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hot and cold

After some research, we chose to buy an Ebac, the only company whose washing machines are made in the UK. The choice was relatively straightforward as they seemed to have the best ethical rating that we could find and we are trying very hard to buy British whenever we can. However, the big choice was between ‘single fill’ and ‘dual fill’. (“Oh,” I hear you saying “what an exciting life you do lead, dear Snail.”) For those of you not au fait with washing machines, the difference is whether all the water comes into the machine cold (single fill) or whether you connect to both your hot and cold supplies so that not all the water heating is done in the machine (dual fill). For us, it initially seemed like a no-brainer: our water is heated overnight using cheap electricity (known as Economy 7), so let’s use the cheap hot water to do our washing. Yes?

 

And then we started reading up on the subject and it appeared that it may not be worth it. Modern washing machines, you see, use relatively little water and tend to wash at relatively low temperatures. So, most of the limited amount of water that is required by the machine from the hot source is supplied by the water already sitting in the pipe (i.e. cool). So the argument goes that you mostly fill the machine with cooled water whilst replacing it with hot water in your pipes, which then cools down and wastes energy. Hmmm.

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the new machine

However, we needed to think about our own domestic situation. Because we live in a bungalow, and because of the way that our plumbing is arranged, our hot water tank is actually less than 1m away from our washing machine… ok, there’s a bit more pipe than that because it goes down and then up, but there’s no more than 2.5m of pipe, including the connector pipes. So, the water runs hot very quickly through to the washing machine. And, therefore, our final decision was to buy a dual fill machine. So far, it seems to have been the right choice- the machine is taking in a significant proportion of hot water, based on the temperature of the pipe, and this means that the machine itself should be using less energy than with single fill. Combining this, when possible, with only washing on days when it’s sunny and the solar panels are working, should be the best option both financially and environmentally.

 

It’s all too easy to read advice on the web and make what appears to be an informed decision. However, a bit of thinking is also good too… the internet cannot replace common sense!

Mendiferous

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All soles

I had a dilemma this week – my crochet slippers developed some holes and I had the choice of finally giving up on them or mending them. A while back, Kate sent me some sheepskin slipper soles that are no use to her in tropical Australia and I plan to use these to make myself some brand new spiffy slippers at some point, but looking at my old slippers, I decided that there was still a bit of life in them and mending would be worthwhile. I did briefly toy with the idea of using the new soles to mend the old slippers, but actually the new pieces do not coincide entirely where the old ones are worn and, anyway, I have some ideas for the new ones… when I eventually get round to them.

This is the third mend of my old faithfuls and each time I have used a different colour to make the repair obvious. First they had new crochet soles, then I added some crochet reinforcement to the sides, and now finally I’ve done some darning:

The original yarn was a mix of sock wool and some 100% wool chunky, but all the blue mends, including the latest three patches of darning, have been made using Axminster rug wool. The original company that I got the Axminster wool from went out of business, but I’m delighted to say that a new supplier, Airedale Yarns, has popped up. I haven’t ordered from them yet, but I can highly recommend Axminster wool for making slippers – it lasts so much longer than any other yarn I’ve tried for the job.

So, my slippers live to be worn another day. I’m pondering whether there will come a point when there is nothing left visible of the original slippers… or , indeed, whether they will eventually become unsalvageable.

Do you have items that are mended repeatedly? And when do you decide to give up on them?

Coming around again

It has recently been announced that there is a plan to relaunch the old Nokia 3310 mobile phone. Back in the noughties these were one of the most common types of phone to see around… and they were good. They were small, the call quality was good and the battery lasted ages. In those days mobile access to the internet was not even a distant dream.

I wonder what happened to all those old 3310s – are they lurking in drawers? Are they in landfill? Were they recycled?

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Still in use after all these years

I never owned one myself, but my dad did pass on a 3410 that he got free, but couldn’t use because it was too small… and I can tell you what happened to that: I still use it. It has never had its battery replaced and it is still going strong. I don’t need a smart phone – I work from home where I have perfectly good internet access and I have a mobile phone to make phone calls when I’m away from home. I also have a laptop that is fine for longer trips away.

 

The constant demand for ever more complex gadgets means that we regard much technology as disposable, and this encourages the production of goods that are not made to last… after all, what’s the point?  I am reminded of this from The Restart Project:

2017-02-25-1Worth remembering next time you are tempted by the latest new bit of technology.

Out of my life

As the year draws to a close I have been reviewing some of the changes that I’ve made in my life over the past 12 months. Every year I try to do things to make my life that bit more sustainable, and this past year has been no exception:

  • I’ve given up liquid shampoo and shower gel in order to reduce transport of water and to cut out a bit of plastic packaging. I did come across some previously unnoticed shampoo in the bathroom the other day which I am using up, but once that’s done with there will be no more. I’m now only buying bars of soap/shampoo packed in cardboard/paper.
  • In goes the second one

    Our own container at the take-away

    I’ve started saying ‘no’ to lots of packaging – taking our own containers to the butchers and the take-away, for example, means a few less plastic bags and a bit less aluminium foil in the world.We also take our own fabric bags and repeatedly reused plastic bags to the greengrocer’s to put our veggies in. Plastic carrier bags have not been part of our life for many years.

  • We are now buying all our milk direct from a local farm. This means much lower energy inputs (transportation, processing) and no plastic cartons, as we take our own churn. In addition, we are keeping money in the local economy and the milk is delicious and great for making cheese, yoghurt and extracting the cream.
  • I’ve invested in a steam juicer, so we have another way of processing all the apples we tend to get given in the autumn. Making our own juice means repeated re-use of the bottles (cutting down on packaging), reducing transportation of processed juice and thus fewer food miles and knowing exactly what’s in the juice we are drinking.
  • I’ve given up fly paper – it may seem like a small thing, but it’s nice to feel that the fly control in the limery is being achieved by plants rather than a manufactured product.
  • during

    home-made brass cleaner

    I’m now making my own deodorant – it’s more effective than the ‘green’ stuff I was buying before, plus there’s relatively little packaging and it’s made from very simple ingredients.

  • I’ve started making more of my own cleaning products: re-usable cleaning wipes, window cleaner, brass cleaner. All of these rely on limited ingredients and I now have supplies of alcohol, white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and essential oils to make what I need when I need it.
  • I’ve increased the amount of mending that I’m doing. Darning, patching and sticking things together with Sugru are amongst my most common types of mending.

I’m not sure that’s everything for 2016, but it seems like some good steps forward. My next challenge is a bit more daunting: excluding palm oil from my life. I think that all our toiletries and household cleaning products are palm oil free, and I cook most of our food from scratch, so there’s none in that, but I do have a problem: my weakness for biscuits. I do like a chocolate digestive biscuit with a cuppa and sadly I have found that McVities, who make my favourite type, use palm oil. So, I have to find a brand I like that’s ethical, make my own, or give them up entirely. I’m now checking all the other products we use that may contain palm oil, just in case…

 

I want to show you my knickers

Let’s face it, sooner or later it becomes necessary to buy new underwear. After all, there are only so many years that a pair of knickers will last. And thus, it came the time for me to seek out new undies. My initial thought was that I would shop with Pants to Poverty . Sadly, when I tried to go to their website I found it was no more, and a quick internet search revealed that they have gone to the wall – very sad news, both for ethical shoppers and for the people they were supporting. So what to do? I know of several other companies that sell ‘ethical underwear’, but I had also read quite a lot about making your own… in particular I have read good things about the Scrundlewear pattern from Stitch Upon A Time. Yo may recall that many years ago I wrote a post about the political symbolism of making your own knickers, entitled Civil disobedience is homemade pants! and finally I felt it might be time to take action.

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One very elderly t-shirt

I thought about it some more and then decided to buy the Scrundlewear pattern and have a go. One of the clinchers was that there’s a version that requires no elastic and that can be made (at least in part) from old t-shirts. Since I have a big pile of such t-shirts that I plan to use only the fronts of (to make a memory quilt), it seemed like a good opportunity to use up some of the ‘waste’ fabric. As well as cotton jersey, some more stretchy fabric is required, and so I used a black viscose/lycra jersey top that I have expanded out of. I really didn’t want to invest in any new fabric or notions at this stage, this being very much a test run.

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the pattern is downloaded as a pdf

So, I set-to with my scissors – I cut out the pattern and the fabric pieces and tried to get my head round the sewing. I’m not a very enthusiastic sewer, but I will do it if I need to. I had a few trial tuns with the fabric and my sewing machine and decided to start by using the stretchy stitch that my machine does… It’s a bit easier to control than a zig-zag stitch and it’s easier to see what you are doing. Although the pattern says you can make a pair of knickers in an hour, I took me considerably longer than this… I suspect that next time will be much quicker.

The Verdict: I chose to start with a pair of what are described as ‘boy shorts’ because these are what I had enough of the stretchy fabric for. I can confirm that they were relatively easy to make. The sewing machine stitch I chose was a mistake – it’s a bit too firm for this use and in future I will use a zig-zag stitch even though that’s not quite so easy to control and I’ll probably need more practice. In addition, I need some ballpoint needles for my sewing machine, as I broke four sharp needles in the process of making one pair of pants. I’ve tried them on and the seem quite comfy, apart from the lack of give in the stitching, but I haven’t worn them for any length of time, so I can’t comment more than superficially. Perhaps the fact that I’ve just ordered some stretchy fabric for the bands is a good indication that I happy with this pattern.

So, probably for the only time ever on this blog, let me show you my knickers…

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these are my pants!

They may not be the colours I would have chosen in a shop, but I’m quite pleased with them, especially since the only new component was the sewing thread.

Preservation, preservation, preservation

It’s that time of the year again when produce is abundant – both in the garden and on the market – and so my mind turns to preserving it for those future lean times.

As a result I had two main jobs this morning: first a visit to the Friday fruit and veg market and then cleaning the family preserving pan. The shopping trip can only be done on a Friday, so I had to miss going swimming. They set up in Newcastle Emlyn early, so I left home at 7am in order to make sure I got there before what I wanted had sold out. I arrived before 7:30 and started selecting my bulk purchases. I returned home through the early-morning mist with two large trays of tomatoes, two trays of nectarines and a bag of 20 peaches. I will return for more produce in a week or two (when, hopefully they will have plum tomatoes like last year and trays of peaches), but what I bought will keep me busy for a little while.

And so to the next task. All this preserving – passata, bottled peaches, nectarine purée – will be greatly facilitated by my second preserving pan. However, having spent several years in my mother’s barn, it needed a little cleaning. A quick internet search suggested that brass could be cleaned quite easily using a mixture of white vinegar (half a cup), salt (one teaspoon) and flour (enough to make it into a paste). All you do is dissolve the salt in the vinegar, add enough flour to get a spreadable consistency, smear the paste on your brass, leave for 10 minutes and then wipe/rinse off and dry. And I’m pleased to say, it worked. I did the inside of the pan twice and the outside once… and if it was for decoration I might do it again, but for my purposes, it looks good and was very easy – no elbow grease required!

So now, there are tomatoes roasting in the oven and for the rest of the weekend I will be getting sticky with peaches, nectarines and sugar syrup.

Take it away

Inextricably linked with take-away meals, it seems, is the idea of disposability. Buy the food – take it home – extract it from its packaging – throw the packaging away.  No effort, no washing up, just trash. But it needn’t be this way. You can have a take-away, without the throw-away.

One of our favourite local take-aways is El Salsa. They have a trailer that they take to all sorts of festivals and events, but they also have it in the car park of our local farm shop several evenings a week over the summer.

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Our favourite take-away

One of the reasons we are so keen (apart from the delicious food) is their ethos:

All our food is made from scratch, using only the freshest, quality ingredients…We are committed to sourcing locally where possible. We buy farm fresh welsh beef, chicken & pork from our local butcher. Cheese that’s made just up the road, we grow our own & source vegetables & herbs from local farms when in season. We like to be kind to our planet & use only Bio-degradable takeaway containers.

But after a few visits, we decided that whist bio-degradable containers are good, reusing containers over and over is better. So, we’ve started taking our own. Finally last night, I remembered to take my camera and got round to taking some photos, which naturally led to a conversation about the subject. And the up-shot? They are now considering encouraging customers to bring their own containers and offering a discount to those who do. How great is that?

 

 

It’s still there even if you can’t see it

Well, Plastic Free July has come round again and so I’m encouraged to think about single-use plastics and what more I can do to cut them out of my life. The actual challenge for the month, if you take a look at the website, is:

Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July. “Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then discarded. If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, try the TOP 4 challenge (plastic bags, bottles, takeaway coffee cups & straws).

I don’t exactly participate in the challenge, but every year I try to think about at what progress I might be able to make to reduce single use plastic consumption.

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Plastic-free-ish

By this time last year I had already ditched teabags (almost all of which contain plastic in the bags themselves, not just their packaging). Sadly, over the past year I have discovered that whatever containers we take to the shop to transport our loose tea home in, the tea actually arrives at the point of sale in packaging that does include plastic… despite my romantic notion that it might arrive in wooden tea chests! Yes, I know it means it’s fresh and there’s less wasted tea, but it appears that unless we grow our own, we cannot exclude plastic entirely from our tea-chain (like a food-chain, but more beverage-y).

And this sort of highlights the problem. It’s possible to think about solutions when you know that something is there, but when it’s hidden you may not even know you’ve got a problem at all. Perhaps I’m cynical, but when I read those stories on social media about the person who only generates a jam jar of waste in a gazillion years, I just think PAH! Unless you are self-sufficient, there is going to be some plastic waste in your life. Go to a restaurant? I bet some of their ingredients come wrapped in plastic – just because you don’t see it and don’t have to dispose of it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Grow your own food? I bet there was some plastic in the seed packet or enclosing the compost you bought.

And so, I’m not beating myself up about plastic… yes there’s some plastic packaging in my life, yes I wish there wasn’t, but hey, I’m trying little by little to reduce and otherwise either to reuse it or recycle it…

…instead I’m being concerned about all those hidden plastic fibres being shed from the fleece I bought because it was made from recycled plastic and which are now accumulating in our seas… sigh

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