Away

In 1856, the Metropolitan Board of Works was established in London and it appointed Joseph Bazalgette as its chief engineer. As a result, Bazalgette embarked on his greatest work: designing and overseeing the construction of the sewer network in London, which effectively removed the threat of cholera and greatly improved the health of London residents and the general environment of the city. With immense foresight, Bazalgette estimated the size of sewers required and then doubled it, meaning that his original system is still coping with the population of the capital today. Nevertheless, his sewers still just diverted waste away and raw sewage was collected in tanks, the contents of which were discharged directly into the Thames a little way downstream at high tide. It wasn’t until 1900 (nine years after Bazalgette’s death) that sewage treatment works were constructed to deal with the outflow.

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Map of the London sewerage system developed by Joseph Bazalgette 1858-1870 (Rudolf Hering, 1882 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

I am in awe of this amazing feat of engineering, but I’m also aware that it is the physical embodiment of Victorian values: the earth was created to serve man and human beings had a god-given right to use natural resources no matter the consequences to nature (which was also there for the benefit of mankind). And so, human waste was neatly and efficiently removed from sight (and smell), improving the lot of those in the city, but actually delivering the source of the problem to another location. Even during Bazalgette’s time, there were, apparently, those who objected to the fact that a valuable resource was simply being pumped into the Thames rather than collected and used for growing crops.

I wonder, therefore, what a different world we might inhabit had Joseph Bazalgette taken a different approach. What if he had valued this resource rather than simply seeing the (admittedly huge) problem? I’m not sure what sort of solution he might have come up with, but that change in perception in the nineteenth century might have seen modern homes not flushing fertility ‘away’, but having their own sources of compost production. Or maybe ‘away’ would have been to digesters or power plants or fertiliser factories.

There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere. Annie Leonard

Making to remake

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Fitted, but made to be moved

In general when we are crafting, we think only about a single finished product, but maybe we should try to have a longer term perspective. For example, if you are making children’s clothes, they may only be the right size for a relatively short time, so perhaps you could design, from the outset, for them to be altered or even taken apart and made into a different garment. If you are particularly fashion-conscious, you may want to change your look every year or even every season, so it makes sense from an eco-perspective to be able to reuse the same raw materials time and again. Equally, you may want to build some free-standing shelves when you live in a rented home, but when you buy your own place you might want to convert them to being wall-mounted. When we had our new fitted cupboard built in the kitchen, Tim the carpenter made it on a frame that could be removed, so we can take it with us if we move house.

If we start off with the mindset that we are likely to want to reuse our raw materials, we can make to facilitate this. This seems like a reasonable suggestion, given the earth’s limited resources, and is something that may eventually be forced upon us. I’ve been thinking about examples and, so far I’ve come up with a few:

  • Use screws rather than nails or glue for woodwork.
  • When knitting or crocheting, weave in all the yarn ends before joining the pieces together, then seam with a new long length of thread.
  • Stitch on buttons or press-studs rather than riveting them.
  • Leave generous seam allowances and hems where these will not affect the fit of the garment.

Do you have any ideas? Do you ever think about this sort of thing when you are making?

 

Bag #2

Determined to get back to grips with some sewing, I have been working on my second bag kit from U-handbag. This one has taken a couple of attempts because first time round I used outer fabric that was too thick (the kits contain everything except the fabric). In the end I used some of the beautiful Liberty fabric that Mr Snail bought me on our trip to London in the autumn.

The closure is a sprung frame and one of the most difficult parts of the make was putting the frame back together once it had been inserted into the channels that hold it.

My next project is, I think, going to be either a backpack or maybe something with a zip. I am, however, hoping to break fewer sewing machine needles in future.

CD salvage

Do you keep things because it’s difficult to recycle them? We do… especially things that we look at and think they have potential. Which is why, high up on a shelf  in our little utility room, is a box of old CDs. Most of these came free with magazines or were the source of long-obsolete software. For a while we used them as slug barriers in the garden, but the advent of the chickens (which clear the garden of slugs and their eggs over the winter, but are kept away from the veg beds in the summer) made this function superfluous. And so, the box sat atop a shelf until a couple of months ago when the subject of crochet CD mandalas cropped up  during a chat with a friend.

I resisted the urge to look for ideas on the internet and just picked up my hook. My first try was rather tatty and my next attempts looked good, but were a little looser than was ideal, but finally I managed a design that I liked. By making two circles and crocheting them together around a pair of CDs (printed sides together, so you just get shininess showing through), I made something that, with an added loop, can be hung up where it can spin around and catch the light (turn the sound off if you don’t want to hear Sam and Daisy in the background):

Alternatively, they can be used as coasters. In fact, the set of eight that are pictured below (both sides) have gone off to two local holiday cottages owned by a friend for just that purpose.

A little bit of further experimentation with the aim of producing a snowflake seems to have turned into a spider’s web. Oh well, I rather like it anyway:

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I might make a spider to go in the middle

I have a pattern drafted, so I may actually get it published eventually.
It’s turned out to be a rather nice way to use up wool scraps and I have about 200 more CDs, so I’ve got plenty of raw materials.

Soap and flannel*

by Patricia Collinspat soapAn American friend sent me these lovely soaps for Christmas and I’m doing my best to work my way through them because of the packaging.  My mother would not be pleased. She had far more patience and self control and would keep soap, no matter how pretty or enticing, in our clothes drawers for months before thinking of using them. This not only scented the clothes, but apparently hardened the soap so that it would ‘go further’ when finally put into use. Has anyone else come across this trick? Usually I still save soap before use, but is there science to prove saved soap goes further?

The reason I’m racing through these soaps is the packaging! Each one is wrapped in a pretty piece of pure cotton. The wrapping is secured with two small stitches so that it comes undone easily, and I just can’t wait to make something of these pretty pieces of cloth. Each one is  7×5.5 inches – I still sew Imperial. For those who don’t that’s 17.5x14cm and I will have five pieces. Any thoughts on what to make? Having complained of poor packaging on numerous occasions, I just can’t wait to get my hands on this lot.

PS This isn’t an ad for the soaps, but anyone interested can see from the wrapper who makes  and sells them via the internet.

-oOo-

* Well, fabric, really

 

Nicely packaged

by Patricia Collins

Back in the Brownies, I learned to tie a parcel.  One evening we trooped into the church hall with brown paper (brought from home and saved from the last parcel that arrived in the house) and string. After the toadstool gathering, the salute and the promise, we set to on empty cereal packets and shoe boxes with just that brown paper and string, a slip knot, round turns, half hitches and reef knots to finish off.  Oh and scissors – proper sharp scissors and 20 little girls bursting with excitement. At the end of the evening we handed in the scissors and took our parcels home with the reminder to untie them carefully and save the paper and string ‘for next time’. This was the Health and Safety and environmental thinking of the day!

A delivery this week – ALL the plastic you can see is tape

I can still tie a neat parcel, but today I’m back at my desk drawer and pondering the problem of sellotape.  For those outside of England – Scotch tape, sticky tape, plastic adhesive tape. And there you have it.  It’s taken me almost all my post-Brownie years to realise that Sellotape is plastic and in that time I have created a much loved and appreciated collection: double sided tape, parcel tape, masking tape, electrical tape and all in several different widths. All of it plastic, all of it non-biodegradable, all of it potentially harmful to our environment.

It’s New Year and I’m sure I’m not the only one full of good resolutions, but what to do? Return to Brownie skills? Get rid of the collection and how? Or use up this store? 

  • don’t use sellotape to re-seal used envelopes etc. Gummed paper labels and staples do this job well
  • don’t use it to mend books or other paper-based documents. It’s the archivist’s pet hate as it leaves stains and weaknesses that can never be made good . gummed brown paper works well inside book jackets or a very thin piece of bandage pasted on pages
  • don’t make sellotape the first choice- think before reaching for the roll of sticky tape – can the job be done another way?

Are there other ways of lessening my environmental impact? I’d welcome your suggestions. Meantime I’ll remember that Brownie promise ‘do your best’

-oOo-

The Snail’s solution

This thought-provoking post from Patricia arrived on the same day that I received the parcel in the photograph above, from a “green” grocery store. All that plastic tape made me wince. I carefully peeled it off and the cardboard went into the compost, but the tape has to go to landfill, I think. When I am packing a parcel myself, I use paper parcel tape and, increasingly, I see that parcels arrive sealed with this. And, of course, there are marvellous companies who ensure that all their packaging is plastic-fee: All Natural Soap Company and Roasting House are two who are helping me keep my consumption of single-use plastics down, although I know how privileged I am to be in a position to make these choices.

ScrapHappy January 2019

The arrival of the new sewing machine and the easy access to it because of it having it’s own cabinet has encouraged me to do a bit more sewing. A project that I have been considering for a while it what I’m going to refer to as ‘Frankenfabric’ – not patchwork, but a different way of using random scraps. So, over Christmas I finally got round to having a play.

First, I laid out a piece of robust cotton furnishing fabric that has been in my stash since I was about 16. Onto this I laid out random piece of fabric left over from cutting out patterns in the past (I think all the bits were cotton or viscose). I made no attempt to match colours or be artistic, I wanted it to be truly random:

A random assemblage

Next, I covered the whole thing with a piece of old net curtain and pinned everything together with lots and lots of pins:

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All held in place

And then I did lots of random stitching with my new sewing machine, gradually removing the pins as everything became secure:

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Starting sewing

And I finally ended up with a robust piece of multi-layered fabric:

I was interested to see what it was like to work with, so I dug out an old zip and made a little pencil case, lined with a scrap of fabric left over from making one of my aprons:

But I didn’t stop there. Once finished, you can see that I put a few pens in it… some of those that have accumulated round the house. If you read the comments following Patricia’s post about accumulating pens, you may have noticed that Sue mentioned that she has the opposite problem and can never find a pen around the house. So, I parceled it up, pens and all, and sent it to Sue.

Scrap fabric, scrap zip and scrap pens… altogether a very ScrapHappy January. Next I plan to use yarn ends between the layers and see what that looks like.

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate, who provides links to other (mostly sewing) ScrapHappy bloggers at Tall Tales from Chiconia on the fifteenth of every month… do check them out.

Spot the mend

Darning, a once detested job for me, has become quite enjoyable, especially when it comes to mending hand-knitted socks. Recently, however, I was presented with a rather different prospect.

We have a muslin curtain to provide some privacy in our living room and when I was washing this a few weeks ago I managed to tear it. It’s not really surprising, I made this particular curtain about 15 years ago, so it has been exposed to a lot of UV and the fibres were bound to start breaking down sooner or later. Nevertheless, I was reluctant to abandon it just yet and considered a couple of options. First, I thought about cutting the torn strip out and joining the two halves back together, The fabric is wide enough to do this, but it would have left a very obvious seam down the middle and I would have had to fiddle about with the top where there is a channel for the rod to go through. I dismissed this plan. My alternative was to try some sort of darn, using fine thread. It wasn’t going to be possible to make this invisible, but I didn’t want a big bold mend either. I, therefore, chose some pale cotton thread and set to with my needle:

It turns out that I achieved an almost invisible mend, unintentionally. What do you think?

I’m not sure Lady Bracknell would approve

For sometime I have wanted to have a go at bag making , but wasn’t quite sure what materials I would need. I was delighted, therefore, to discover U-Handbag, a company that sells kits with all the necessary bits and bobs except the fabric. In the autumn I bought two kits, one for a handbag and one for a larger “carpet bag” (not made with carpet I hasten to add) as well as a couple of books.

I decided to start with the smaller bag and spent an afternoon cutting out the outer fabric, lining, interfacing and padding. There were quite a lot of pieces because of all the layers, but the instructions were clear and there was a full size pattern with all the pieces properly labelled.

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So many bits

I haven’t done much sewing for a while and some of the fiddly bits took quite a lot of concentration, but gradually it came together and started to look like a bag:

 In fact the trickiest part was gluing the frame on – almost the last step. I got some glue on the metal and haven’t quite managed to clean it all off yet. Nevertheless, I’m quite happy with the finished item and it has given me confidence to have a go at other designs. I now also feel better equipped to assess the suitability of various (repurposed) fabrics for the different layers that give a bag structure. My friend Rachel also pointed out that it may be possible to find bags with suitable frames in charity shops that could be cannibalised for future projects. In the mean time, though, I have the bigger one to make from the second kit, with a different sort of closure.

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A handbag!

-oOo-

Oh, and for those of you who don’t understand the title:

From “The importance of being Earnest”

The mighty pen

by Patricia Collins

At the risk of sounding like a fossil, I’ll tell you that I learned to write with a slate and slate key, progressed to a pencil and on to a dip pen i.e. a wooden holder with a changeable steel nib that was dipped in the inkwell that was set into the corner of my school desk and replenished every week by the ink monitor. With a few adventures on the side with chalks, powder paints and wax crayons, this took me happily to the 11+ and the ritual fountain pen.

The fountain pen had a rubber bladder that was re-filled with ink, but it was made of a hard plastic casing and was, as I see now, my first non biodegradable writing instrument. When work for O-Levels commenced, we all yearned for Rapidographs. Wonderful tools for drawing maps and graphs that were like writing with hypodermic needles. I still have mine and see that though it too was re-fillable, it has a clear plastic ink reservoir.

‘Biros’ were considered to be detrimental to our handwriting and were strictly forbidden until the Sixth Form. My first biro was precious; it had a metal casing and was refuelled by purchasing a metal cartridge of ink.

And now – biros arrive in the post as ‘free’ gifts from charities either urging me to support their work or to thank me for supporting their work, arrive as promotional Christmas gifts from local businesses. They also seem to have a life of their own, accumulating in my desk drawer and shopping bag from I know not where.

Many of the charities send pre-paid envelopes with their gifts, so it’s an easy matter to return the pen, and say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to any more.

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Plenty to fill this (c) Patricia Collins

For the accumulation, I’m taking a two pronged attack. Firstly, greater care in restoring pens to their rightful owners. No more thoughtless pocketing of other people’s biros. Secondly, a little sewing project – an oddment of material, a re-purposed zip and a pencil case is born. A sweep of the shopping bags. desk drawers and back of the sofa throws up a nice assortment of spare pens and pencils to fill it. A trip to the EFL centre where local asylum seekers have their English lessons to hand over the filled pencil case.

I can only lament my years of ‘green’ writing and the proliferation of plastic today and realise passing on the unwanted biros does nothing to solve the bigger problem, but at least people in need can practise the great art of writing.

-oOo-

Thanks to Patricia for another thought-provoking post.

Last year, before we passed our old dresser on to my niece, we cleared it out and discovered loads of old pens. I fished them out and Sister of Snail tested every one to see if it worked. Now I have an old cutlery tray full of pens… perhaps I should find new homes for them?

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