Stirring things up

At the age of eighteen I went off to university with a trunk full of stuff – but not necessarily the stuff I needed. Indeed, I quickly discovered that I was going to have to do a bit of my own cooking (no food was provided in halls of residence on a Saturday night… goodness only knows why). And so, I made my way to Woolworths and purchased some essentials – a plate, a bowl, some cutlery, a small saucepan and a wooden spoon. Over the years the crockery got broken, the handle fell off the saucepan (although only about four years ago) and the cutlery disappeared into anonymity amongst all the knives, forks and spoons in the kitchen. But the wooden spoon survived.

For 33 years I have used that wooden spoon regularly – it has stirred sauces, beaten butter and sugar to make cakes, pressed fruit through sieves, agitated baked beans as they heat (often in that original little pan) and been played like a tiny fake guitar by Mr Snail. Its colour changed over the years and recently flaws had stated to show. I’ve certainly had my money’s worth out of it and its environmental footprint has been tiny. So, I was sad but unsurprised when It finally split into two as I was washing it the other day.

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oh dear

 

So farewell old faithful spoon… when I bought you I could never have envisaged you (or me) getting so old. Your final contribution to our household will be that your cremation will provide energy to heat the water for a cup of tea.

And hello brand new spoon – not wooden this time, but bamboo. I wonder how long you will last.

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do you think it will outlast me?

The three Rs

I’m taking a little time off from paid work to get some things sorted out around the house. Originally I planned to do some decorating this week, but somehow I got diverted and the week ended up being all about the three Rs: Repair. Repair, Repair! Yes, I know it’s usually Repair, Reuse, Recycle, but there was so much of the first that it seems worth repeating.

I reattached the rufflette tape to the heavy curtain over the front door, darned two pairs of crochet slippers (one of which I had nearly convinced myself to throw away, but which turned out to be repairable), sewed a button onto some trousers, repaired a hole in a dress, made a new waist band for a pair of leggings and mended a cap that the dog had chewed.

Several of these jobs turned out to be quite time-consuming, but in all cases I’m happy with the results and the work extends the life of all the items involved. Plus, the curtain should be more efficient at keeping the heat in now it hangs properly.

I often collect repairs and then can’t summon up the energy to do them, but this week the motivation was there and I think that I have now worked my way through all of my mending pile. Maybe I will do some decorating next week… maybe…

Shame

It seems to me that large manufacturers and retailers are genuinely out of touch with the public. As environmental awareness increases and there are more and more demands for reductions in packaging, ditching unnecessary single-use containers and abandoning built-in obsolescence, it’s time that big corporations made some changes. Now I know that it takes dinosaurs a long time to respond, but I can’t help feeling that some of the reluctance to change is because it’s simply easier not to. However, it is not impossible – specifications can be amended, processes can be modified, expectations can be altered. Making the excuse that it’s because of economics just does not wash (economics are a fiction – plastic in the sea killing marine life is a reality).

So, I have decided that I will take action. I already vote with my money, but that’s a rather private action and, whilst it is important, is not going to make a huge difference in isolation. I am, therefore, taking to social media with direct, public messages to companies that I have issues with. Today, via Twitter, I targeted Seasalt, who make lovely organic clothes, claim to be environmentally responsible and pack all their goods in plastic.2018-08-21 (2)They did respond, which is at least something, but obviously it’s easier to blame someone else:2018-08-21 (3)

They haven’t responded further, but I hope that other people will join in and we might be able to persuade them to make the change.

I would like to think that shaming companies publicly might have some effect, because after all social media is a key part of their marketing strategy. Perhaps you’d like to join me? Do tell me about any companies that you have contacted and how they have responded. Perhaps we can support each other and make our ripples into waves.

All washed up

For some time we have been struggling to find suitable, biodegradable washing-up equipment. Mr Snail (who does most of the washing-up) likes to use a brush. Most brushes for this job are plastic and the bristles get flattened very quickly, making them useless. First, I found a recycled plastic version with a replaceable head, but the quality was so poor that the head needed replacing after only a few uses. Then, I was delighted to find a wooden brush with natural plant-fibre bristles and replaceable heads. I bought one, along with spare heads, and we gave it a try. Sadly, the heads seemed to last only a short time too, were a less than ideal shape (round) for getting into all the nooks and crannies and repeatedly fell off the handle. Eventually Mr Snail refused to use them any more and returned to a standard plastic brush. The quest continues to find a washing-up brush that actually delivers all we need: a good shape, durable and made from natural materials.

Mostly, I prefer to wash up using a cloth. Crochet cotton cloths are fine unless you want some abrasion and my old abrasive cloth, which I have had for years but is very worn, is plastic (nylon possibly). I was happy, therefore, that Red Apple Yarn sells textured cotton dishcloth yarn and I just had to give it a go. I decided that a loose mesh was likely to prove most useful, and whipped up a crocheted dish cloth in double quick time. I tested it out this morning* and it does a good job, although is only a bit abrasive (it felt more so when I was working it up). For me this is likely to be a good option; for Mr Snail the quest for the perfect brush continues.

-oOo-

* I washed up because Mr Snail was still in bed recovering from yesterday’s 21-mile sponsored walk.

Start as you mend to go on

Last week we had the disappointment of having to replace something rather than mend it. Our ancient dvd player, which has been making strange noises for some time now, finally gave up the ghost. Mr Snail attempted to render first, and then second, aid, but the problem appeared to combine a mechanical issue and a software problem and it proved impossible to solve. As we have a large collection of dvds and no cable/satellite subscription, our dvd player gets a lot of use. So, we bit the bullet and bought a new one.

We were feeling a bit glum about this defeat, but then I reminded myself that in the past week I have done lots of successful mending and re-mending. The heel of one of my shoes came adrift and this was quickly reattached with Gorilla glue.

I darned a pile of holey socks over the weekend. Some of these have been repaired multiple times and in places there are darns over darns. I also took the opportunity to strengthen some patches that looked like they were wearing, but which did not have holes (yet).

And, finally I patched a hole in the pocket of a pair of Mr Snail’s jeans. I hate the fact that jeans of made of hard-wearing denim, but the pockets are often constructed some flimsy cotton, easily pierced by a key.

A sly repair – no one will know it’s there

And all this mending has made me realise that, despite making a new pair of slippers the other day, I just couldn’t bring myself to throw my old ones into the compost… so I’m going to do a big repair on those too. It is, however, going to take some work:

My very sorry old slippers

Have you mended anything recently? Or failed to mend something you would have liked to?

Plastic is news

Since I last wrote, I’ve been seeing a huge amount in the media about the evils of single-use plastics. It feels like, finally, the rest of the world is catching up with what many of us have known for ages. I’ve seen discussions about un-recyclable coffee cups, drinks bottles, straws, microbeads, microfibres, plastic bags, cotton buds, vegetables wrapped in plastic… the list goes on. I hope that if you’ve read my posts over the years, the issue will not come as a big surprise to you. Perhaps it’s something you have already taken action on – remember every piece of plastic we don’t use, is one less that could become pollution. Some bigger things are afoot, however, as this wave of public concern starts to penetrate the consciousness of politicians and makes retailers and manufacturers worry that sales will suffer. For example:

  • Here in the UK a ban on microbeads in cosmetics came into force earlier this month.
  • There is increasing pressure for a deposit scheme on plastic drinks bottles, and this is the recommendation of the UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee in a recent report.
  • The supermarket Iceland announced this week that they plan to eliminate plastic packaging from all their own-brand products within five years.

But it is important to remember that you don’t have to wait for someone else to take action or to make a difference. You can vote with your wallet and you can, as an individual, make a difference. It’s easy enough to find lists of simple changes to make – say no to plastic straws and disposable coffee cups, buy cotton buds with paper sticks, take your own shopping bags and so on. You might, however, think a bit more creatively.

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home made moisturiser

Cosmetics are particular culprit when it comes to over-packaging, but it is possible to cut down on this if you think about your purchases. It’s easy enough to buy soap in paper rather than plastic, for example. I always used to use shower gel because I found soap too harsh on my skin, but a little bit of experimenting and I’ve found lovely mild soaps that I use all the time now. Similarly, I’ve stopped buying liquid hand-wash and now just use bar soap – my favourite in the kitchen is one that has coffee grounds in it to act as a mild abrasive (what a great alternative to tiny bits of plastic). I also use solid shampoo now, which again comes plastic-free. These days I make my own moisturiser (and I also supply my sister with it) because I got so fed up with all the packaging and the difficulty in avoiding palm oil. The ingredients do come in small plastic bags, but the amount of single-use plastic involved is tiny compared to the lotions and potions I could buy in my local chemist (drug store). In addition, it’s fun to make and very easy (I started with a kit from Aromantic).

In fact, if you have time, making all sorts of things yourself can cut down on plastics. My homemade biscuits involve relatively little plastic packaging (cocoa container lid, golden syrup lid, organic chocolate chips bag) and absolutely no palm oil. My bread only encounters single-use plastic around the yeast and salt, and my leek and potato soup is plastic-packaging free. I know it takes time to shop for plastic-free ingredients and then to combine them into the food you want to eat, but it is such a worthwhile activity – healthier for you and for the planet.

 

Cocktail time

Mr Snail and I have a favourite pub where we go to for dinner and sometimes for breakfast. A few months ago, however, we were browsing the cocktails menu (like you do) and discovered one that we’d both really like to try. There were two problems, however. First it was breakfast time, so it was a bit early in the day. Second, the particular cocktail in question has got lots of crushed ice in it and really needs to be drunk through a straw. Neither of us want to be responsible for adding to the mountain of unrecyclable plastic of which drinking straws are one component.

Our desire for cocktails isn’t constant and so it was only after new year that I remembered. A little bit of a search and I found a small company on etsy selling these lovely things, complete with carrying bag and cleaning brush:

They are now residing in my handbag, ready for use. We just need to a sunny day, so we can stroll down and enjoy our drinks… plastic-free and without the need to drive afterwards!

Going to extremes… or not

I keep coming across articles on the internet about people who have pared their life down to the bare essentials… like Rob Greenfield who only has 111 possessions (you can check them out here). Now I’m all for cutting down on waste and not buying unnecessary ‘stuff’, but I simply wouldn’t be happy with so little. What about creativity? What about owning equipment to make things or repair things? What about tools for cultivating the land? Living a nomadic life with no roots (metaphorically and literally … I love my plants), no money and no ‘safe’ place is just not something that I would want to contemplate seriously. I suspect it isn’t something that would work for many people and, indeed, the earth could support a much smaller population if we all foraged for all our food. I’m not saying that any of those things are ‘bad’, but just unrealistic given our starting point.

So, where do we find a balance? How much stuff should we have? Should we all follow the advice of Marie Kondo and only have possessions that ‘spark joy in our life’? I have to confess that I worry about decluttering simply for the sake of it… particularly where in a fit of enthusiasm for a tidy house, all the unwanted items end up in landfill. My desire for fewer possessions is balanced by my desire to be kind to the planet. An item may not spark joy in me, but if I know that it will be useful in the future, then I’m not going to throw it out.

So, my approach to reducing clutter in out home is currently based around the following:

Not adding to what we already have. This means being a member of the library rather than buying paperback books; not buying more craft supplies when I have plenty to keep me amused; making use of existing electronics (mobile phone, e-reader, pc etc) rather than being seduced into buying the latest model.

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it looked like this in 2012…it’s still working but more repaired!

Repairing. Making use of the materials/equipment that we have to repair things that wear out or break. Mr Snail’s collection of electronic components comes in very handy for repairing… this doesn’t reduce what we have much, but it justifies keeping some ‘stuff’ around. I refer you to the much repaired radio.

 

Being generous. When a friend mentions that they need something that I own but don’t really have a use for or a particular reason to keep, I give it to them. I’ve even started giving away things simply because a friend likes them.

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refreshed and ready to be sold

Finding new homes. This is slightly different to the last one because the driving force is that I no longer want an item rather than someone else expressing a desire for it. I feel guilty about sending anything to landfill, but selling something on, donating something to charity or offering an item for free (e.g. via Freecycle) feels like a positive action.

 

Composting. I have discovered the joys of converting unwanted paper into compost. This means that piles of old lecture notes, financial statements, old magazines and official letters are now part of the foundation for our vegetable crops! Composting also extends to natural fabrics that have reached the end of the useful/repairable life, along with worn out wooden items (bamboo toothbrushes, wood and bristle scrubbing brushes, broken wooden skewers etc), although sometimes we burn wooden items (for fuel, not simply to dispose of them).

and as a last resort…

Recycling. But it’s much better to find ways to repair/reuse/repurpose/rehome before you get to this stage.

And more than anything else, not to be seduced into thinking that buying new ‘stuff’ will make me happy.

So I’m slowly clearing and sorting and selling and sharing… I’m never going to be down to 111 possessions, but I am going to have found new homes or new uses for lots of the ‘stuff’ in my house, and I’m going to love making and repairing and creating with what I do have.

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?

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