Gone, gone, gone

For the first time in the history of this blog I have removed a post – well two actually.

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Organic cotton bath puff

Many moons ago I was interested in environmentally friendly alternatives to nylon bath puffs (scrubbies). I wrote a number of posts on the subject and explored a range of fibres to use. At the time, I was delighted to discover how well reclaimed acrylic yarn worked and I wrote a post about it. At the time, and with the information I had to hand, it seemed like a great way to use something that would otherwise simply be thrown out (yarn unravelled from old knitwear). Now, it turns out it was not such a good idea. Just like making fleece fabrics from recycled plastic bottles, which we all thought at the time was a great way to use waste, new information has made me think again. Using manmade fibres in bath puffs will add to microfibre contamination of water unless there is a fine filter on the bath/shower outlet, which seems unlikely. So, the two posts that mentioned using acrylic yarn for this purpose have been removed to prevent encouraging anyone else to try it.

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Soap and a flannel (the latter made by a friend)

It’s still easy enough to make bath puffs or cloths with natural fibres – cotton, hemp, nettle, or even wool, depending on the texture you desire. However, I like Kate‘s recent suggestion (see the comments in this post) about using loofahs if you want something with a rougher texture for washing yourself or your pots. If I spot some seeds, I may well have a go at growing my own – now that really would be a green solution. However, since starting to use bar soap, I’ve had no need for a bath puff. My favourite soap to use after swimming (ginger and lime) has little bits of ground ginger root in it and these provide all the exfoliation I need – naturally and biodegradably. I have also made myself (or been gifted) several cotton wash cloths/flannels and these are especially useful when travelling or when water is limited.

The moral of the story is that we do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at any given time, but that it’s important not to get stuck in a rut (or get defensive) and to make changes when new information comes to light. Have you had to revise your thinking on anything recently?

A year and a day

Yesterday was my blog’s first birthday, and I missed it – I’ve never been any good at remembering anniversaries.

Over that year I wrote 120 posts and had more than 7000 hits. I wrote about floods and other water-related issues, gardening, death (human and chicken), starting a business, permaculture, knitting yarn, ethics, food, money and naming my hens after Terry Pratchett’s witches.

It turns out that the most common searches that have brought people here (other than ‘the snail of happiness’) are ‘eating slugs’ and ‘knitted bath puff pattern’… and, sadly, in both cases the searchers will have been disappointed. My conclusion about slugs was that, although you can, you probably wouldn’t want to; in the words of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when discussing recipes he’d tried that included slugs:

leave out the slugs

And as for the bath puffs – crochet them, you get a much better puff.

There have been quite a lot of searches for snail cake, and I feel compelled, at some point to make a snail-shaped cake and write a post about this because it seems a popular subject. Mind you, the searchers might be looking for some sort of cake to feed to snails and that’s something I’m not willing to explore. Although I was recently involved in a discussion about starting a snail farm, which might be a good way to feed the hens.

There have also been some inexplicable searches that have led people here; I have no idea what a ‘finger lime tree’ is, nor why anyone would be searching for ‘work in the same box’ and I don’t even want to consider ‘soiled mice caging’. However, most of the searches are relevant, and I hope that readers have found answers to at least some of their questions or pictures of the things they were looking for. One or two of my posts have been inspired by searches, such as ‘can I keep chickens in a fruit cage?’ although, on reflection, it’s probably too late once the search has been done!

So, what’s to come in the next year? Well, hopefully reports of huge abundance in the garden, progress with my diploma in permaculture design, the etsy shop finally opening (and being successful) and lots more inspiration from comments, questions and reading other blogs.

And finally, one thing that has happened, but I have not blogged about is that Mr Snail-of happiness published the conclusion to his novel BATDIG on Kindle a few weeks ago. Check it out here.

BATDIG CoverBATDIG Part 2 Cover

Laughing my socks off

I have just returned from a few days in Devon with a small group of people who are all working towards gaining their diplomas in applied permaculture design. It was billed as a ‘support event’, which sounds like a potentially rather dull way to spend a weekend. However, nothing could have been further from the truth… I have not laughed so much for ages.

We laughed until we cried, we laughed until we were incoherent, sometimes we laughed because we were incoherent, we laughed over breakfast, lunch and dinner and late into the night. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and I think it might be addictive.

It sounds like an enjoyable way to spend some time but not very productive. The funny* thing is, though, that I have come back home inspired and with a significant amount of work done on my diploma portfolio. I did some work on my waste of space design, including a base map and an overlay for my year 1 planting along with some notes about this design. However, the most useful part of the weekend in terms of taking my portfolio forward was a discussion about my business plan.

A sock too far - no more knitting for nothing, it's my business

A sock too far – no more knitting for nothing, it’s my business

I want to generate a small income from making things. My original plan was to make and sell my knitted snails and other permaculture teaching tools, but that has rather stalled over the months and my interest has grown in items like the bath puffs and other items with a wider potential market. As a result of all the discussions, I have started to see first, that I don’t at the moment want to concentrate on teaching tools and, second, that I’ve had the wrong attitude to my creations. For example, until now, I have had a tendency to say ‘yes’ when people ask me to make something for them, even when they don’t offer to pay. I am currently knitting two pairs of socks for a friend (total knitting time about 40 hours)… and in exchange they will be very grateful and cook me dinner. It’s not exactly a fair exchange if crafting is to be my business and so it has to stop… it is a sock too far! So, the current project will be finished and handed over, and then the business will commence. I will begin by building up a stock and I will plan to sell that stock at an event… perhaps a Christmas fair.

My very wise friend Snuffkin (who was there over the weekend) has suggested what I say next time someone asks me to make something for them. She wrote to me just this morning:

I’ve just thought of the answer that isn’t ‘no’! It’s ‘yes of course I will, and they’ll be available for you to buy at **** Christmas Fayre so start saving your pennies’ !!!!!!!

Thank you Snuffkin… I can now relax about making things and I can complete my business design, start making my stock and head towards both an event and an etsy shop.

So, next time you’re stuck for a way forward, get together with some people you have something in common with and have a good laugh!

-oOo-

* Yes, the pun was intended… there were lots of those over the weekend too thanks to Corky who has a sort of punning Tourette’s syndrome!

The frog chorus

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I had been given some yarn that a friend acquired from Freecyle. Some of this was knitted up into fancy pieces that had clearly been destined to become a number of blankets, but the knitter had abandoned the project. I’m not fond of frogging* my own work, but someone else’s is a different matter.

So, I started with a heap of knitted pieces, some of which were stitched together:IMGP0516

I separated them into individual pieces and then frogged them all, so that I ended up with lots of small balls of wool and scraps:IMGP0521

The scraps will be used for stuffing, but the balls had to be sorted into groups of the same yarn, gauge and colour:IMGP0523

The problem with yarn that has previously been knitted is that it has ‘memory, and so it tends to be kinky! Some fibres have better memory than others, so some retain their waviness more strongly. Rolling the yarn into balls helps to resolve the problem and is enough for some fibres, like acrylic, but wool is particularly tenacious and requires more processing to persuade it to forget its previous form. The simplest way to deal with this is to wash it, so next I combined each wool type and colour into hanks, which I then soaked in warm water with a little gentle detergent designed for wool (I use one from Sonett made from olive oil):IMGP0529

I then hung the hanks up to dry and waited to see if this was enough.IMGP0533

Interestingly, this worked fine for most colours, but the reds and pink remained quite wavy. So, I resoaked them overnight and hung them up, but this time weighted down gently:IMGP0534

They still didn’t end up completely straight, but were good enough for hexipuffs. All the hanks, once dry, were wound back into balls ready for knitting with:IMGP0546

In fact, the acrylic had so little memory (it is clearly the goldfish of the yarn world) that just rolling it into balls straightened it out. I, therefore, decided to leave it at this and wash it once it had been turned into finished products, in this case mainly eco bath puffs, pictured here with a couple of hexipuffs made from the straightened wool:IMGP0545

It all sounds like a bit of a rigmarole, but the whole process was very enjoyable (especially the frogging, despite being unable to get the Frog Chorus out of my head for the whole time) and I’m really delighted that I have gained some yarn for nothing more than a bit of time and have prevented something else going to landfill.

-oOo-

*Hang on, I hear you saying, what on earth is frogging? Well, for those of you who are not fans of Ravelry (the knitter’s favorite web resource), it’s unravelling a piece of knitting. Huh? Well, because you rip it, rip it, rip it…

That was the year that was

WordPress have kindly provided me with a review of my blogging year, including some interesting stats… it turns out that my most viewed post was Free Range Chickens and Caged Vegetables and my most commented on post was Jurassic Chicken so, clearly, if I want to maximise my readership I should be writing about chickens. OK, so that’s on my ‘to do’ list for 2013.

I’m delighted to see, however, that my second most read post is The ethics of knitting yarns. I’m currently working on a knitting yarn selector as one of my permaculture diploma designs, so I’m hoping that this statistic bodes well for the popularity of that once it is finished and I have made it available on-line.

Hot on its heels in third place with respect to readership was A green bath puff. Again, a post about yarn but one with a less satisfactory follow-up. I still have not found a natural fibre that has the properties I want in a bath puff, i.e. that will create a good lather, is slightly abrasive and will dry quickly. I have started to wonder whether the answer isn’t to use waste nylon (for example the nylon nets that lemons sometimes come in) as my starting point. No doubt this is a subject that I will continue to explore in 2013 and you can be sure that I will report back.

You can also be sure that I’ll be writing lots more about my garden… hoping that there will be less water and more vegetables than in 2012… or possibly I’ll be turning to aquaponics (like Yambean over at The Great Dorset Vegetable Experiment) or possibly watercress and cranberry cultivation!

Oh and the final statistic I’d like to share with you is that this is my 100th post. So, happy anniversary me and happy new year to all of you!

A green bath puff

A couple of months ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook that he was seeking ‘green’ alternatives to two common items: cotton buds and a bath puff. I decided to take up the challenge.

Cotton buds (Q-tips) are relatively straightforward to find in a more environmentally friendly form than the traditional plastic stem and bleached cotton tip, but bath puffs (also known as bath lilies) are not quite so easy. The standard ones that you buy in the supermarket or pharmacy are made of nylon; this means they are not at all absorbent and they are slightly rough but not too abrasive. Trying to find an exact green equivalent has, so far, proved impossible. However, I embarked on a bit of research to see if it was possible to create something that would at least do the job…

First, I wanted to discover if there were any patterns out there to knit such things. A quick search on the Ravelry website revealed lots of crochet patterns and a few ones to knit. So, I selected a knitting pattern that looked like it had potential and considered appropriate yarns. Various patterns suggested using ‘dish cloth cotton’ – a yarn type that seems to be widely available in the US but not in the UK.¬† The pattern that I had bought suggested a yarn made of 100% nettle fibre yarn that, again, I could not buy in the UK. Some searching of the interweb helped me to identify various potential alternative yarns and several sources for these. Of course, however a seller describes a yarn, until you are using it, you can’t really appreciate its properties, so this is where the experimentation (and associated expense began).

First, I found some organic cotton yarn in an e-bay auction. Although the colour was not what I would have preferred, I managed to put in a winning bid and so received a few balls of yarn to try out. I knitted it up to a slightly adapted version of the pattern I had bought and tried it out in the shower. And discovered that… cotton is remarkably absorbent. That’s why they make towels out of it. What I had created was, basically, a flannel (washcloth) on a string. In fact, it’s quite nice to wash with, but it’s not a replacement for the nylon version. In addition, the pattern that I used made something that even looked rather like a scrunched up flannel on a string!

Organic cotton (L) and Cotton/hemp (R) knitted bath puffs

I decided to try an alternative yarn. This time I tracked down some hemp and cotton blend yarn. I really wanted to test out the characteristics of the yarn, so I decided to stick to the same pattern as before. Once more unto the shower… a little more abrasion this time, but still really quite absorbent… and still looking rather like a scrunched up flannel on a string… and it takes an age to dry, so has the propensity to become smelly if you forget to hang it up in an airy place after use (also, as a result, no good for travelling).

So, next I thought that I would try to address the aesthetics. All the patterns that I could find that looked rather like the original nylon version were crocheted rather than knitted. The problem, then, was my inability to crochet! Not daunted, I decided that the time had come to learn! So, using some more of the organic cotton yarn I created… a brain:

Intelligent bathing?

Well, ok, the colour doesn’t help, but that aside it does look like both a brain and something you might use to wash with. And in fact it turns out to be lovely and soft, and fine to wash with, but not textured enough to provide an invigorating showering experience! And it stays soggy for a long time.

Nettle twine bath puff

I concluded that I had found a suitable pattern, but not a suitable yarn. Cotton and cotton blends seem to me to be too absorbent; anything with wool in is likely to turn into felt with all the soap and rubbing, and so I turned from yarn to what could best be described as twine. This tends to be made out of plant fibres, has a narrower gauge than knitting yarn and is often quite rough. The fact that it is thin means that any pattern designed for thicker yarn would have to be modified, but that is not an insurmountable problem. So, the latest incarnations are one in bamboo and one in nettle twine. Both are still more absorbent than nylon, but I think that this is a fact that I will simply have to accept with any natural fibre. The bamboo is quite silky, so not very abrasive (and the one I made was a bit on the small side). The nettle twine is better, with some texture, so this is the version that I have sent off to my friend… I await his verdict. The pattern needs some modification for use with the twine to make it a little more bulky (the one pictured is a bit loose) but I feel that I am homing in on a solution. I’ve also got some hemp twine to experiment with, although I think that might have a bit too much texture!

This does mean that our house is filling up with a wide variety of things to wash with – some more efficient than others – so if nothing else we should have no problems keeping clean for years to come!

February 2013: After further research, there is a new post here with more information on the crochet pattern and a yarn that seems to work!

October 2013: I now have bath puffs for sale… details to the right and more info and pictures here.

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