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.
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    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

Mend-it May

I’m not sure how Jen Gale came up with the idea of “Mend-It May”, but during the past month, she has been encouraging folks to indulge in some repairs and share them via various forms of social media. I have, in recent years, been trying to get into the habit of mending more, and so this month was not particularly special for me. However, I like documenting my mends if, for no other reason, than to provide a record I can look back on and feel smug about.

One task that I did set myself this month was to look through all our hand-knitted socks and make any necessary repairs or reinforcements. It turns out that Mr Snail is much harder on his socks than I am on mine, and that there were quite a number of holes to deal with… some of which were quite extensive. In future I am hoping that we will notice damage when it is small and therefore much easier to mend. Anyway, here is a little gallery of some of this month’s work:

Some of the mends were made with sock wool and some with darning wool – it will be interesting to see which yarn holds up best. The pink/purple stripy socks were one of the first pairs that I knitted; they were originally intended to be for me, but I made them too big so Mr Snail got them. This is their third mend – they had their toes replaced once and they have been darned once before this time… eventually they may comprise more repair than original.

Because I have been trying to keep on top of repairs I only have a few more to mention. The first was more of a resurrection than a repair and involved some home-made mayonnaise. When we got the chickens, I stopped buying mayonnaise and started making my own. If you look at the ingredients in commercial mayo and compare them with home-made (egg yolk, oil, seasonings, a little vinegar) you will understand why. It’s relatively easy to make, but you have to be patient and it can be temperamental… as was my last batch. As I gradually added the oil to the egg yolk, it started to thicken up nicely. Addition of a little cider vinegar, however, destroyed the consistency and I ended up with what looked like scrambled egg in oil – yuk!

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Possibly the world’s most unappetising mayonnaise ever

Fortunately, as well as being temperamental, mayonnaise is also accommodating and can be encouraged to re-form. So, with a clean bowl and a clean whisk on my mixer, I started again beating a fresh egg yolk. If you then very gradually (and I mean very gradually – a few drops at a time) beat in the yukky separated original mixture, it will all come together and form beautiful new mayonnaise. It requires lots of patience, but it works and it means that none of your precious ingredients go to waste:

An odd, but very satisfying ‘mend’ that one. The other two mends I want to share are not mine, but both involve items that belong to me.

A few months ago, I discovered that the pouring handle on my jam pan had come adrift on one side. I contacted the manufacturer via Twitter and they told me to email their customer services. I did this and simply received no response. I was busy and didn’t pursue it, but I did ask my friend. Alfred “Maker of Things”, whether he thought it was possible to fix it. He said things about ‘brazing’ which were clearly beyond me. However, Alfred came over to west Wales on holiday last week… and brought the equipment necessary to mend my pan. In fact, he effected the mend during the course of a tea party that we were both at. I still need to give it a good polish with wire wool, but otherwise it’s mended. Thank you Alfred.

And the final mend is a major reconstruction and adaptation of our old wooden chicken house. We had dismantled this ages ago and the bits were sitting in the garden unused. After careful thought, I decided that it would be great to have a spare house – it’s really useful for introducing new hens or using as a “hospital wing” but it needed to have the unwieldy run removed and a new roof on both the house and the nest boxes. I explained what I wanted to Mr Snail and over a couple of days he effected the transformation using only waste wood that we already had, a piece of plastic from the old greenhouse and some bits from an old compost bin. I won’t steal his thunder too much because he’s blogging about it himself, but I can tell you that I am delighted with the result. Anyway, here it is in pieces awaiting the mend:

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a very big mend

Not a bad set of things that we’ve extended the lives of… and I’m even coming to terms with darning!

The right materials for the job

This evening I’ve been quietly cursing my way through a repair… in fact it’s still not finished and I’m just taking a break to write a blog post about it.

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They looked good when I made them

Regular readers may recall that last year I was very excited to have joined a yarn club. I paid a subscription and then each month for six months I would receive a ball of hand dyed sock yarn. It worked well in as much as each month I did receive a ball of beautifully dyed 4-ply yarn… the problem (it turns out) was that it wasn’t really sock yarn. To make socks that last you need a good robust yarn otherwise all the hours you put into knitting are pointless because you end up with holey socks very quickly. In fact, it soon became clear that some of the balls of yarn would be no good for socks – they were beautifully soft wool, with no strength. Sometimes the information that came with the ball did not include details of the composition of the yarn and I had to make a guess. In the end, out of the six balls I only used two for socks… and, it turns out what one of those was a mistake.

The most robust socks are not made of pure wool, but also contain about 25% nylon. This may not sound very green but, in fact, they last so long and are so easy to repair that the addition of a manmade fibre is really worthwhile. I have socks that have been worn for years and years and, because they were knitted from good quality ‘real’ sock yarn, they are still going strong.

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Not very impressive

Erring on the side of caution, both pairs of socks that I made with the yarn club yarn were constructed using genuine sock wool (from a different supplier) for the heels and toes, as these are the parts that get the most wear. In both cases these parts are still fine; however the feet of one pair are worn through only 7 months after the socks were made. I am extremely disappointed, but decided to repair them and keep them going a bit longer (I suspect many more repairs may be necessary in the future).

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Darning and reinforcing

So this evening I have been using a really great sock yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners (the one used for the heels and toes) for some quite extensive darning. Needless to say that I didn’t renew the subscription to the club when it ran out. In fact I did succumb to another yarn club from a different dyer… but this one guaranteed to supply yarn that was 75% British Wool and 25% Nylon every single time.

The lessons? Always use the correct yarn for the job… it saves time, money and stress. Oh and Caveat Emptor!

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This one still to do

Lazy cleaning

I have to confess that I really don’t like cleaning – I can almost always think of something that I would rather be doing. The only times I was at all enthusiastic about it was when I had an Open University assignment to work on or marking to do! Since I completed my MEd several years ago and I’m no longer teaching and therefore no longer marking, cleaning is now very low on my list of things I spend my time doing. So, I am always looking for ways to make it easier… and to divide it into manageable bits.

Years ago when I first saw single use cleaning wipes advertised I was sorely tempted… but since I generally try to avoid anything that’s single use (apart from toilet paper) I pulled myself together and ignored them. However, the other day I came across a website with instructions for making such wipes… but not disposable ones. Some of the stuff required I already had – suitable wide-necked jars (they originally came with chocolate chips in them), an old sheet (very thin on account of it being about 50 years old) and various essential oils – but there were some other ingredients that had to be purchased – alcohol (apparently wine won’t do), white vinegar (I had run out and balsamic doesn’t work either) and distilled water. So, I placed an order and yesterday everything arrived.

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Ready to clean!

It’s very simple, although I adapted the recipe slightly from the original because of the strength of the alcohol I had bought. First you cut up some thin cloths – I used pinking shears and made the pieces 20-25cm square. You place these into a wide-necked jar that will seal well (mine have screw caps). Then you mix together 240ml distilled water*, 120ml white vinegar, 40ml isopropyl alcohol (strength 99.9%) and add essential oils according to your preference (I used 15 drops lavender oil, 10 drops orange oil, 10 drops tea tree oil and 6 drops peppermint oil). Give it a good stir, then pour it into the jar, seal and shake it up.

 

I split the liquid between two jars – one for the kitchen and one for the bathroom. To use, just take a cloth out, squeeze the excess liquid back into the jar, replace the lid and your cloth is good to go. Once you’ve done your cleaning with it, pop it into another container to await washing – I have a third wide-neck jar for this purpose, labelled ‘Used Cloths’ to avoid confusion. I’ve tried using them and they are great – the glass shelf over our sink in the bathroom is positively sparkling!

Most of the time a microfibre cloth and some water or just a few drops of detergent is enough, but these are great for instant use and for jobs where you don’t want to reuse the cloth before it’s washed. I’m not suggesting that these will transform my house, but they will be useful and they don’t produce waste… plus the re-use of the cloth and the jars is all part of my grand declutter.

-oOo-

* Necessary to ensure that the mix is long-lasting… I’m not sure whether boiled water would do the trick too, but I didn’t want to risk it.

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